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The Feminist Hangover

I feel let down. I put my foot right into my mouth justifying why women want to watch Sex And The City 2 despite the first movie having been such an epic disaster. The second one wasn’t just bad, it was mortifying!

I’m tempted to suspect that the second movie was secretly scripted by men and acted out by guys in reverse drag, all part of the anti-feminist movement. But credit where it’s due (or blame in this case). The SATCmania has spiraled downward into a place where even your best galpals don’t want to follow, or indeed be associated with.

Whininess, cheating (and being condoned), shameless ignorance of and blatant disrespect to other cultures, spoilt-princess behaviour….okay, none of these were ever on the agenda for women’s lib. I feel like I should apologize to all the men I’ve been preaching to over the years about equality and empowerment. This, ah….this wasn’t what I meant.

At another level, I feel like this movie mirrors my own attitude shift in the recent times. A close guy friend (yes, there is such a thing even though he’s straight) said something interesting.

“You know what the trouble with you women these days is? You’ve got your grades and then your promotions. You’re taking care of your families. You’ve got great careers and fabulous lives. And so you believe you’ve achieved everything and that you’re invincible. You know, you still do fall sick, you still need other people too. Everyone does. It’s not a man or a woman thing. But all of you act like no one else matters, run over anyone who cares about you because you think that’s how a powerful woman is supposed to behave.”

I didn’t like hearing that at all. But there was truth in what he said. He was thinking about his ex- who was sacrificing her health for career and lifestyle and refused to listen to his concerns over it. But I was thinking of my own workaholism, my arrogance and ruthlessness. I cultivated all of it thinking I needed it to survive in these times. Well, maybe that’s true or maybe it’s not. But it’s also left me with an unhealthy level of cynicism, I’ve lost a number of good friends over the years, there’s judgement where there used to be connection and oh yes, the health has suffered too. I’m not condoning chauvinism or saying equality was a bad idea. But that’s why this is so difficult. Toughness has meant losing gentleness, caring and indeed some of the most wonderful things about being me, being us.

The other side of feminism was supposed to acknowledge that men had emotions too and could be just as nurturing and caring. But somehow it spiraled into a blamegame, an ugly, vindictive ‘up-yours’ crowing-over. It’s not about equality anymore, it’s one-upmanship (upwomanship?). All of us are losing.

My friend is as torn up over his breakup as I’ve ever been over mine. I just fear his lady is as well but she doesn’t know it or won’t acknowledge it. Remind me again how this is good for any of us? It takes two to build a relationship. How do we proceed when one of us is hungover on power, sado-masochism and inaccessible?

I had another thought about the classic equation of relationships – men trading love for sex and women trading sex for love. At that oversimplified level, all these years were about men reneging on their side of the deal by taking sex without paying back with adequate love while women withheld sex till love was forthcoming. It was a business and it worked with all the bartering, the bad debts and the constantly fluctuating scales on both sides. Today though, it’s women saying they’re not interested in shopping at this market anymore. Why pay for love when you can get its substitutes (power, fame, respect, attention, awe) far more easily? And there are the women who decide to infiltrate the competition and take over the business. Enter the Samantha Jones prototype – a woman who trades for sex the way men have been thought to do.

I’m not going to judge what anybody wants and how they go about getting it. But I do wonder about the fabric of our society, based as it is on the warp and weft of both sexes, the constant barter and transfer of emotions and sex, of needs and provisions.

This is the morning after the party and we’re hungover on that potent mix of power, glory and attention. I don’t think most of us are thinking straight any more. Who’s going to rescue the world now that Superwoman has ousted Superman and killed the collaboration?

The World Of Straight & Gay-Friendly

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Port...

Icon for Wikimedia project´s LGBT portal (Portal:LGBT). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve had the privilege of being the straight voice of Gaysi for a year and a half now. I’ve listened to coming-out conversations. I’ve met openly gay people. I’ve attended the launch of a book about gays in India. I’ve faced my own conflicted confusion and resolved it. I’ve even been hit upon by a gay person. This is all me and how homosexuality fits into my head.

With Section 377 and Indian Gay Prides, my world mirrors the world around. People are talking now, yes. Some agree, some don’t but at least it is being acknowledged. Ordinarily, I should have been an indifferent observer since I’m not gay myself. But I’ve been drawn into the world of these questions, first by friends closetted-suspected-gay, then the blog and finally all the other people and associations that happened as a result. It’s changing my life.

Being a straight and gay-friendly person is not as easy as it looks. Having sorted out (mostly, I hope!) where I myself stand on the issue, I find there’s a whole new can of surprises (and now, let’s not call them all worms) opening up. Some I resolve, some I rationalise and on some, I’m still ambivalent. The list has the four most important areas of my life, which is a good indication of just how big the question has become even for a supposedly uninvolved bystander.

Family

When I first started writing for Gaysi, I worried about what my parents would think. They could be tempted to associate my still single status, my fiery (often anti-male) behaviour with possible queerdom. It took a lot of self-examination before I could stand by my belief without righteous indignation and only a rational stating of facts. I’m happy to say it went through quite smoothly. It’s possible that they may be thankful that I’m only writing about homosexuality and not practicing it but I’m willing to live with that.

Love life

The average Indian male seems to be homophobic, this is true. At some point of time, the question of homosexuality comes up (it has been in the news after all). I’m in a dilemma when I come up against homophobia. I have friends who are gay and to be involved with someone who may not treat them right, doesn’t feel right. On the other hand, I also wonder if this topic is like politics and religion, where differing viewpoints can be respected and need not interfere in the relationship.

That doesn’t sound fair to me.

Friendship

Before introducing a straight friend to a gay friend, I make sure to mention the gay orientation. It’s not part of the general description to make a person interesting (“She’s a film-maker. He speaks 5 foreign languages”). It’s a veiled safety-clause that says, I’m telling you this beforehand so if you have a problem with it, say so now or forever hold your peace. I hate having to state that since in an ideal world it shouldn’t matter. I know it smacks of underhanded discrimination but I’m rationalizing it as a practical solution.

But even this is complicated by the fact that a lot of straight people are not homophobic as much as homo-apathetic. That’s until they’re faced with a situation and then their reactions could go anyway.

Recently, I introduced a gay friend to my companion at a party. It turned out they stayed close to each other and my gay friend offered my companion a lift. Later that night, he called me in a huff. It transpired that in conversation during the ride, my straight friend had asked,

“Are you hitting on me?”

Now it could be that my companion was just joking. Or he may have been serious whereupon it might have been a deep-seated phobia or just an innocent misreading of signals. My gay friend on the other hand, prides himself on being able to discern the gay strain in others, even through confusion or outright denial. He might have been on track there or he might have been mistaken.

It’s an awkward situation for me in the end, even though I wasn’t even a part of the conversation. They’re both friends and I find myself in the uncomfortable position of having to think about who is closer and who I may have to, eventually, let go.

Professional life

This hasn’t actually posed a problem but I’ll add a ‘yet’ to that. I had a coming-out experience of my own kind recently when I dropped my  five-year long anonymity and revealed my identity to my readers. The worlds of social media, writing and work are merging and I’m finding it more practical to consolidate than to compartmentalize. My blogging activities are now ennumerated in my resume. No organisation will openly admit to being gay-unfriendly. But I’ve been a woman in the corporate world and I know all about biases and prejudices that are never acknowledged but hinder you anyway. I wonder whether I’m setting myself up for yet another one of those and I’ve been tempted (several times) to take Gaysi off my list. It’s the easy option but each time I hit delete, I also get that bad feeling in my head that feels like cowardice.

In each of these situations, I’m faced with the question of how important this issue is to me. I’m not gay, I’m not a close relation of anyone who is (that’s to say, I’m not living with or supporting anyone who is). Why then should I bother? Because it’s the right thing to do, this is true.

But there’s just this much I can do. And while I will never endorse discrimination, I often wonder if I can just pipe down instead of crusading for a quest I’m not even a part of. In this world of so many sins, I must pick my battles. Homosexuality is on the list but I can’t honestly say I’ll always have the courage to keep it there.

What To Do When A Friend ‘Comes Out’

The answer is simple. If you are truly sympathetic and supportive, you let it show. You can do it without saying a thing. Just for posterity, I’m going to tell you about two ‘coming-out’ conversations that I’ve been a part of. Each one is a sweet memory, a verbal token that a friend trusted me and shared something deeply personal.

Telling All

He’s a pal, a friend from the times when ‘chaddi-buddy’ was both a literal and figurative description of the relationship. He’s family in that way where I can call him over to cook for me when I’m hungry, make him sit through a rerun of an old Tamizh movie he doesn’t understand and he cribs and complains all the time but does it all anyway.

One Sunday morning, I called him and demanded that he meet me for an early morning movie. He cribbed but he turned up anyhow. And since we hadn’t talked in over a year, I tossed out a ‘what’s news’ line. It led into an unexpected conversation.

How are things?

What things?

You know…are you dating anybody? How’s the dil ka haal, that kind of stuff. I haven’t heard you talk about any women.

I haven’t liked any women.

Turn left here. What were you saying?

Nothing.

It wasn’t nothing. Tell all!

I said, I haven’t liked any woman.

Ah.

What?

Nothing.

Really?

Well…that’s all?

Hmm.

Ah.

Then the movie started and we were both absorbed in it. Later, over lunch, he referred back to the conversation and asked me what I thought. I said,

I think you’re going to pay for lunch. I paid for the movie after all and I’m broke now.

A Silly Girl

The second time was a chat converation with the girl in this post. At the time of writing it, she hadn’t said anything but I knew she had read the post anyway. She went off for a pee-break and when she returned, abruptly typed,

You wrote one post about your gay friend.

Trepedition. Fear. Mischief. I decided to play safe and just replied,

Yesss?

Who was that about?

Ha! I thought and I typed back,

A very silly girl I know and adore.

:-).

Then I went off for lunch. A month later, we were having coffee when she suddenly piped up,

And I told her that you wrote a post about me!

My turn to grin.

Who says laughter and fun can’t be a part of important conversations?

The SmartyPants Fetish

I have a new crush. This is Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory. Of course I’ve read everything that Wikipedia has to say about him, about the series, about what a breakout character is and what ‘experts’ have surmised about his supposed autistic tendencies.

Now this doesn’t really feel either new or unusual to me. One of my earliest crushes after all, was Jupiter Jones of The Three Investigators. Jupe ‘Baby Fatso’ was a short, stocky know-it-all and strangely devoid of the inadequacies that plague teenage boys. Awesomeness.

I’ve sought to explain this earlier as an Elektra syndrome for men in spectacles. I’ve thought at length about the merit of intelligence as a key point on the list of appealing male attributes. I’ve referred to intellectual stimulation, personal growth and entertainment all in one.

I have even contemplating writing a short story, a romance set in a bookshop. Yes, of course I know it’s a great place to check out books..and umm, their readers.

And now I come upon this site. I actually chanced on an article that talked about why this blog might appeal to women. And then I turned up at the blog itself. To my surprise, relief and mirth, Hot Guys Reading Books is just that. Candid shots of men who are reading. I’m clicking through the archives as I wait for this post to save.

And I’m given to wondering – do I need to explain why I like what I do? Have you ever asked a guy why he prefers blondes? Or within the Indian context, women with long hair? Does anyone seek to understand the various fetishes and quirks that different men find appealing?

I knew a guy who only liked Alpha females. And another one who would never date a woman unless she was Fair n’ Lovely. How about the one that was promptly turned off by women who sat on bikes astride when they were wearing salwar-kameezes? He thought it looked sluttish. Well, there’s no accounting for tastes. And there’s no reason to, I think.

Which is why I’m not going to explain my geekboy obsessions. There’s a world of reading men for me to check up on! (This one I particularly like. It’s funny and smart all in one. Oh okay, I’ll stop thinking and go back to looking!)

Understanding Homophobia

Some time ago I was at the receiving end of the unsolicited and unreciprocated attentions of someone I barely knew. At 30, I’ve learnt to deal with such situations, practically on auto-pilot. What made this situation different was that this time, there was a woman at the other end.

The details of the situation are not important. Indeed the matter has been wrapped up and laid to rest. But what struck me was the thoughts and concerns it raised. I agonized and brooded over it far longer than I usually would have. I was apprehensive about my reaction and also more strongly impacted by the other person’s behaviour, than usual.

And at the very base of it, I unearthed something I wasn’t expecting to find and certainly wasn’t pleased to see. I treated that situation differently only because it was a gay person propositioning me and not a straight person. The realisation surprised me because I always thought of myself as liberal and completely open-minded about this.

It’s taken me a good while to hit upon something else though. My response is indicative, not of discrimination or stereotyping. It was an acknowledgment of a situation that was different from what I was used to. I do not understand the norms and the beliefs and the signals of the gay community as instinctively as I understand those of straight people. My extra consideration was coming from the assumption that things could be interpreted differently. If I discovered that at the end of it, they weren’t that different, that’s just, well, learning from experience.

An interesting thought that came my way from a friend was,

A stupid person is a stupid person. It has nothing to do with being gay or straight.

I realized that I had been extraordinarily fortunate in having encountered only insightful, mature gay people prior to this. My attitude so much stems from my experience and it has all been only good thus far.

On the other hand, what if things had been different for me? What if my first ever encounter with a gay person had been someone who was desperate, clingy or immature? Given how little education we get about homosexuality, would it not have been a natural response for me to decide that all gay people were like that?

I’ve taken to asking my straight friends who display homophobia (and they’re mostly men) about why they feel the way they do. A number of them don’t have a clear answer to that and it turns out that they are just going along with what they’ve been conditioned to think, by early influences or popular media. Such people will generally listen to reason and have been even willing to acknowledge that they could be wrong. A sample of the things I’ve heard,

I don’t have a problem with gay people per se. I guess I’m just afraid one of them might hit on me and I wouldn’t know what to do.

There is also another set of responses I’ve received. These are from people who’ve been assaulted, felt up, hit upon (in one case during a job interview) by the first gay person they met. Also considering that this is the average Indian man to whom being the recipient of attention as opposed to the giver is an earth-shatteringly alien experience, you can imagine why this has a diabolical effect on their thinking.

There are no conclusions to draw from this line of thought. Except that my own experience and what I learnt from it, made me understand homophobia a little better. And then again, to tackle something, it’s necessary to understand its origins, isn’t it?

Who Says You Can’t Wear The Pants In The Family And The Apron Too?

The Knife comes up against a different kind of gender stereotype and defies it in his own way.

One opinion voiced in the article was that men cook by rules, follow recipes to the step… wouldn’t know that you can dilute coconut milk powder in water if there is no coconut milk and so on. The argument stated that women are more instinctive when it comes to cooking.

Come again? I think that is a sweeping generalisation. I hate following elaborate recipes. Most of the stuff I cook up are by instinct, visualisation and a sense of balance of spices. And I know that I am not the only one.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

I’m the mirror image of The Knife in that I’m a woman who struggles under the assumption that I’m a good cook while he opposes the idea that as a man, he necessarily isn’t. The kitchen, in my mind, is reminiscent of the dungeons of Harry Potter’s Potions class – warm, dark and full of alien smells and eerie bubbling noises.

My earliest lessons were of learning to turn the pressure cooker off and on and landing the weight right at the top. I was petrified of fire but my parents weren’t too sympathetic with my fears and learn I did. Tea and coffee and rice came next, followed by sambhar and dal. I must add that to this day, I consider Indian cooking extremely indulgent and wasteful. I mean, patriotic sentiment aside, we just don’t have the time and effort to put into soaking spices, boiling the dal, frying the tadka, chopping and stewing the vegetables and then bringing them all together for the grande finale. It just is too laborious and all for something that disappears in about ten minutes.

I carry over that attitude into the rest of cooking as well. I’m a Mumbaiker after all, I’m always looking for the shortest, fastest way to get things done. Three hours of preparation for a ten-minute result and a subsequent clean-up ritual of another hour is just not sensible, no matter what anyone says. Of course, there is the fact that I’m not exactly a foodie and consider food, simply fuel for the human body to be able to do other, more meaningful things.

I can tell you this attitude of mine has not been well-received at all. My otherwise liberal father showed his disappointment in my lack of interest and talent in this field over many years with what he thought were funny lines like…

My daughter can burn water very well!

I don’t think he even realized that there was a fundamental chauvinism in that statement till I stood up to him and pointed out that I cooked every time my mother was not around. Not just sandwiches and Maggi but full Tamilian meals complete with sambhar, curry, salad, rice and home-set curd. I even managed to pack lunches for both of us. Admittedly I did not enjoy it and I was nowhere near my mother’s expert cuisine but my food never sent anybody to the hospital. I dramatically concluded with,

If you don’t think that being a girl entitles me to special treatment, then why do you assume that I should possess any special talents in the kitchen just because of my gender?

He didn’t like it but he didn’t reprimand me for backtalk. He taught me to think for myself after all. Needless to say, the jokes have stopped and each time my mum has been unavailable, dad and I both share the cooking.

~O~O~O~O~O~O~

Other men, however, are not so accomodating (which brings me back to the premise that there just is no one like Dad!). I remember an ad a few years ago showing two girls on a moped, meant to show off the ‘modern-girl’ attitude where one of them asked the other,

What if we start asking the boys questions like “Do you know how to sew? Can you cook?”

It struck me as a brilliant thought and I actually did do that. The first man I asked that to, gulped and goggled at me like I was an alien from outer space. And then – would you believe – he had the temerity to say,

But why do I need to know?

That date didn’t go very far but my confidence in the question increased as did my patience with men’s answers. I realized that most of them had never been exposed to the idea of being truly independent. A career was all very fine but they had always had doting mamas, subservient sisters and later, girlfriends and wives to pick up for them. Well, that’s a little bit of another story but to come back to the point.

All of us eat, don’t we? It’s a human need, non-specific of gender. Isn’t it just as important that a man be able to fend for himself as a woman? Women are learning to take care of themselves in the physical rigours of the outside world. And really, truly, it isn’t because we’re trying to take away something from the men. I think all of us really see it as taking responsibility for ourselves and burden off the men’s shoulders. In turn, should the men also not start shouldering responsibility for their own upkeep and needs? And hence, why should a man not know how to cook too?

Of note, when I raise this question, I’m often hit with the argument that most of the world’s best cooks are men. That is so not the point. I am not talking about finesse in an art, I am talking about possessing a basic survival skill. It does not matter if all the best cooking in the world is done by men. At an individual level, are you able to manage your own needs without depending upon another person, whether you are a man or a woman? I’ve just admitted freely that I am not a great cook. I do not possess talent but I have sufficient skill that I can take care of myself. And that in my mind, is true independence.

And finally, the Knife has my sympathies for facing such blatantly ignorant stereotyping. I have great regard for people who can do things that I can’t and what’s more a man who cooks well, is someone who has overcome both the fears I have as well as social norms. Men in the kitchen, bravo!

Idea-toon: A New Visiting Card

A woman plays a bunch of roles, doesn’t she? My job defies description.

(Click on thumbnail to view idea-toon on a new page) 

alien-anthroplogist

Let’s Talk!

Now this is a post that was in the making before I decided (for the umpteenth time) to commit blog-i-cide. And my blog-i-cide (I lurrrve that word, it’s an IdeaSmith original!) phase was over a year back so this is really a senior citizen of a post. I thought I’d burst when I found it, still lurking in my brain, unposted. Incidently, I was tempted to temper the ‘I-hate-men’ness of this post down but did not. Id don’t feel that way anymore but I guess I did once upon a time. So here’s to honest expression as well! Now proceed to read and laugh plizz….

Good communication, I’m told, is the foundation of healthy relationships. No, I’m not going “Bah, humbug!” The wise one said good communication, not mindless all-out communication. There is a fine art in communicating with men. You see, Martians and Venusians may both speak Earthese but they seem to process them differently. Sometimes I think it’s a wonder I manage to talk to men at all. And yet, since I pride myself on being a good conversationalist, maybe its time to examine exactly why.

A conversation with the opposite sex (when endowed with a brain in the correct head, even if they don’t usually use them…well, they do, at least initially) can be interesting, enriching and delightful. It’s a cross between an African safari and a minefield. It’s almost always a trip through a brave, new world….ooh, how exciting…but watch, watch, WATCH your step (and your words).

Career: Forget about equality in the workplace. Or wait, let’s just understand that better. Men have never bothered much about our opinions of their professional lives, have they? Just so long as we look up to them with adoring eyes and coo over the bread-winner bringing home an extra loaf or two. Here’s to equality then. Why should it matter what his opinion of your professional life is, then? Don’t even go into the potentially explosive areas of who earns more, whose job is more important. I mean, really…you didn’t need him to get a degree, an interview and a job. Obviously he’s curious about what you do (or he pretends to be, in an effort to seem interested). There’s no need to lie, all I’m saying is, there’s no need to discuss your professional goals and dreams with him. Take it from me, he’s not interested…or worse, he’ll feel upstaged and threatened. He wants to know you’re intelligent, sound the part, you don’t have to hold it up on flash cards for him (though the idea has crossed my mind several times….why do men never understand the simplest of things???) It isn’t even an issue if he’s in the same line of work as you are (though it could be if he works with you). From what I see, men can distinguish their professional and personal selves as clearly as they do love and sex. Take a cue from him and do the same. Don’t of course follow suit, when he starts to talk about his work. All little boys like showing off, they do need our approval after all.

Family: There’s nothing more annoying to me than a man who goes on and on and on about mama dearest, the big sister he’s always looked up to and the dad he never got along with. No, actually there are several other things about men that annoy me but this is right up there on the list. So don’t subject him to the same thing. This is difficult, some of us actually like our families and it is hard to make conversation while all the while avoiding talking of the people in one’s life. Well, just don’t overdo it. It’s fine to love your parents and siblings, only don’t take it to the extent where the listener wonders whether you’re just out with them because the family was sleeping in that day.

The past: I’ve always advocated honesty, especially about one’s past, in relationships. However, it occurs to me that there are degrees of honesty. He is not your sounding board or your therapist. He does not need to know how many people there were and what you got upto with all of them. He may be permitted to know that you’ve been schooled in dealing with his kind but really you don’t need to lay out the curriculum for him. This has always been debatable but I find men make a bigger deal of this than women do. Let’s face it, a cliche holds true again: A man wants to be a woman’s first love. Women are more subtle; they just want to be a man’s last romance.

Secrets: Please do not make the mistake of assuming that you can be best friends with him and romance him at the same time. I’m not saying couples can’t be best friends. But a real friendship takes time and understanding. Even more so between people of opposite sexes since they don’t have the intuitive understanding of each other’s randomness (women) or an instinctive grasp of the other’s linear thinking and actions (men). People who are dating are also grappling with the billowing clouds of game-playing, mischievious romance, sexual chemistry and all the jazz that goes into it. It is just way too much to expect to get to be friends as well. I’ve made this mistake myself (several times over, I admit it!!!!). Just because you get along well, does not mean that you can or even should be friends. It just means that you share some great chemistry and both of you like each other enough to play along. Give it some time, get past the clouds, shake out the sparkly dust from your eyes, have a few arguments and then see the other person and think about whether you actually want to be friends with them. And hence corollary to that, please don’t talk about things that you would only discuss with a close friend. Your most embarassing moment, your greatest fear, your wildest fantasy…..these may make for some exciting conversation-starters but they can also turn into demons later on. Sharing little intimacies too early is just an attempt to speed up the ‘getting to know each other’ process…some things just require time and effort so give it that.

A quick check-list of the things one must never say to a man on the first few dates:

  • My best friend is getting married. I want to be married this year too.
  • What was I doing when you called? I was watching Titanic. The scene where Jack dies always makes me cry, wouldn’t you agree?
  • 45 girlfriends! Will you remember me tomorrow then?
  • I really like you. We have this amazing connection.
  • Is your friend single? Because I know this lovely girl who’d be perfect for him.
  • What would I like to do tomorrow? Oh, would you help me pick out a dress?
  • Will you be my date for my friend’s wedding next week?

So now that leaves us with what to talk about? Ah, that’s for another post. In the meantime, enjoy your drinks. And each other. 😉

Let's Talk!

Now this is a post that was in the making before I decided (for the umpteenth time) to commit blog-i-cide. And my blog-i-cide (I lurrrve that word, it’s an IdeaSmith original!) phase was over a year back so this is really a senior citizen of a post. I thought I’d burst when I found it, still lurking in my brain, unposted. Incidently, I was tempted to temper the ‘I-hate-men’ness of this post down but did not. Id don’t feel that way anymore but I guess I did once upon a time. So here’s to honest expression as well! Now proceed to read and laugh plizz….

Good communication, I’m told, is the foundation of healthy relationships. No, I’m not going “Bah, humbug!” The wise one said good communication, not mindless all-out communication. There is a fine art in communicating with men. You see, Martians and Venusians may both speak Earthese but they seem to process them differently. Sometimes I think it’s a wonder I manage to talk to men at all. And yet, since I pride myself on being a good conversationalist, maybe its time to examine exactly why.

A conversation with the opposite sex (when endowed with a brain in the correct head, even if they don’t usually use them…well, they do, at least initially) can be interesting, enriching and delightful. It’s a cross between an African safari and a minefield. It’s almost always a trip through a brave, new world….ooh, how exciting…but watch, watch, WATCH your step (and your words).

Career: Forget about equality in the workplace. Or wait, let’s just understand that better. Men have never bothered much about our opinions of their professional lives, have they? Just so long as we look up to them with adoring eyes and coo over the bread-winner bringing home an extra loaf or two. Here’s to equality then. Why should it matter what his opinion of your professional life is, then? Don’t even go into the potentially explosive areas of who earns more, whose job is more important. I mean, really…you didn’t need him to get a degree, an interview and a job. Obviously he’s curious about what you do (or he pretends to be, in an effort to seem interested). There’s no need to lie, all I’m saying is, there’s no need to discuss your professional goals and dreams with him. Take it from me, he’s not interested…or worse, he’ll feel upstaged and threatened. He wants to know you’re intelligent, sound the part, you don’t have to hold it up on flash cards for him (though the idea has crossed my mind several times….why do men never understand the simplest of things???) It isn’t even an issue if he’s in the same line of work as you are (though it could be if he works with you). From what I see, men can distinguish their professional and personal selves as clearly as they do love and sex. Take a cue from him and do the same. Don’t of course follow suit, when he starts to talk about his work. All little boys like showing off, they do need our approval after all.

Family: There’s nothing more annoying to me than a man who goes on and on and on about mama dearest, the big sister he’s always looked up to and the dad he never got along with. No, actually there are several other things about men that annoy me but this is right up there on the list. So don’t subject him to the same thing. This is difficult, some of us actually like our families and it is hard to make conversation while all the while avoiding talking of the people in one’s life. Well, just don’t overdo it. It’s fine to love your parents and siblings, only don’t take it to the extent where the listener wonders whether you’re just out with them because the family was sleeping in that day.

The past: I’ve always advocated honesty, especially about one’s past, in relationships. However, it occurs to me that there are degrees of honesty. He is not your sounding board or your therapist. He does not need to know how many people there were and what you got upto with all of them. He may be permitted to know that you’ve been schooled in dealing with his kind but really you don’t need to lay out the curriculum for him. This has always been debatable but I find men make a bigger deal of this than women do. Let’s face it, a cliche holds true again: A man wants to be a woman’s first love. Women are more subtle; they just want to be a man’s last romance.

Secrets: Please do not make the mistake of assuming that you can be best friends with him and romance him at the same time. I’m not saying couples can’t be best friends. But a real friendship takes time and understanding. Even more so between people of opposite sexes since they don’t have the intuitive understanding of each other’s randomness (women) or an instinctive grasp of the other’s linear thinking and actions (men). People who are dating are also grappling with the billowing clouds of game-playing, mischievious romance, sexual chemistry and all the jazz that goes into it. It is just way too much to expect to get to be friends as well. I’ve made this mistake myself (several times over, I admit it!!!!). Just because you get along well, does not mean that you can or even should be friends. It just means that you share some great chemistry and both of you like each other enough to play along. Give it some time, get past the clouds, shake out the sparkly dust from your eyes, have a few arguments and then see the other person and think about whether you actually want to be friends with them. And hence corollary to that, please don’t talk about things that you would only discuss with a close friend. Your most embarassing moment, your greatest fear, your wildest fantasy…..these may make for some exciting conversation-starters but they can also turn into demons later on. Sharing little intimacies too early is just an attempt to speed up the ‘getting to know each other’ process…some things just require time and effort so give it that.

A quick check-list of the things one must never say to a man on the first few dates:

  • My best friend is getting married. I want to be married this year too.
  • What was I doing when you called? I was watching Titanic. The scene where Jack dies always makes me cry, wouldn’t you agree?
  • 45 girlfriends! Will you remember me tomorrow then?
  • I really like you. We have this amazing connection.
  • Is your friend single? Because I know this lovely girl who’d be perfect for him.
  • What would I like to do tomorrow? Oh, would you help me pick out a dress?
  • Will you be my date for my friend’s wedding next week?

So now that leaves us with what to talk about? Ah, that’s for another post. In the meantime, enjoy your drinks. And each other. 😉

The Office Spouse

He’s brash, extroverted and friendly. He’s smart and he knows it. He is loud and unapologetic about it. He’s a finance guy. And he’s my Office Spouse. Well, he used to be. Since he’s changed jobs, I’m find myself in a state of singlehood at work as well. Work is good, work is well but I miss my buddy.

He christened me his Office Spouse without so much as a ‘May I?’ but it was done with so much of gregarious charm I saw no reason to deny it. Mercifully there was none of that nasty nudge-nudge sort of gossip…well nothing that ever got to me anyway. He silenced everyone with a booming declaration of,

An Office Spouse is someone at work who you talk to and crib to. Sometimes you can’t stand them but you miss them on their off-days and you wonder how you’d get through the workplace madness without them!

Cho chweet, no? That’s almost better than any of the romantic fluff that’s come my way. And before you wonder, he’s married – happily so. His wife (then girlfriend) was introduced to me with …(what else?) loud-voiced,

This is your counterpart at office! The woman who fights with me at work!

We looked at each other, shrugged and burst into laughter and I knew my Office Spouse was great at picking his women – in his personal life and professional life.

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

So what is this deal with the Office Spouse? My Office Spouse was someone I’d have been friends with, if I’d met him at a party or a friend’s place or school or college too. We didn’t really work together so we didn’t have that much of work-related stuff to discuss. But since we worked for the same company, in the same office, we could share those insider jokes. After a marathon 3-hour negotiation on the phone, I was the one he steamrolled into a coffee break. On an annoying day or in a boring meeting, he was the pal across the table, I’d roll my eyes at, when the powers-that-be weren’t looking.

As work eats into our lives more and more each day…in terms of the hours we spend at office as well as mindspace we give to it, our professional worlds increasingly get to be as big as, if not bigger than, our personal spaces. And in a world of madness, it’s always good to have someone to navigate it with, right?

~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~o~

*Sigh* I do miss my Office Spouse. I was the first to know about his upcoming promotion, his transfer and then later, his move. I haven’t had a chance to tell him about all the things that have been happening in my professional life. And the next chance I get to speak to him, I’m probably gonna holler…

Yo, buddy, whats up in the sticks? Are you managing to survive without me? It just got to be too much without you to nag so I shifted too!

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