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Bromantically Yours, Girl

Let me start with this bromance joke that absolutely cracked me up:

Do guys in a bromance get each other flower

“Dude, here I got you some broses”

“Oh man bro, you read my mind I got you some daffodudes”

I’m in a bromance. It’s with another woman. No, we are not BFFs. We are not almost-sisters. I loathe these terms and I’m pretty certain she does too. I don’t need to ask her that. I assume, reasonably confident that my assumption is right and also that I don’t overstep when I assume.

We are not lesbians. She’s happily married (to a man) and I’m actively single. We’ve each been these things long before we even knew each other. We haven’t known each other that long so no, this isn’t one of those chaddi-buddy things either. We do not talk everyday or fill each other in on every last detail of our full lives.

We took an instant liking to each other at our first meeting. We ‘get’ each other and we also get that the other one gets us without the explanations, caveats and defenses that need to come up with other people. This is true whether we’re talking about digital marketing, lipstick, books, astrology or family.

Each of us has dozens of friends, shared and otherwise. We’ve hung out in groups and we don’t stick to each other on those occasions. But yes, most other people realise we’re closer to each other than we are to most of the others — that knowing nod or nanosecond eyecontact that signals ‘this is bullshit’ passes easily between us.

So what makes this a bromance rather than a regular friendship between women? Well, for starters, there is no such thing as a ‘regular’ friendship. Especially not between women who are the more emotionally expressive and collaborative, relationship-building gender. Yet, associations between women are laden with as many labels as there are for women. The bitchy besties, the babe and the ugly friend, the two peas in a pod, the ‘married to each other on Facebook’ types, the Veronica and the Betty, the girlfriends, the list goes on. I’ve been in some of these relationships and I know she’s not any of them.

What’s a bromance? It’s a close association between two men, much closer than their usual friendships. It also acquires the pseudo-romantic tag since this is a pair that is comfortable being public about their closeness to each other. Notably bromances are usually between straight men who are not otherwise known to be very expressive in their sentiments, especially to other men.

Other than the fact that neither of us is male, we fit all those criteria. She’s more my ‘bro’ than any of the other labels. We’re both macho girls in some way, turning our noses up at the princessy kinds of women. It’s not quite kosher for us to be sappy. Yet, it feels totally okay to get her an impromptu gift or to receive an unexpected ‘Random hug because I miss you!’ from her.

Women frequently ‘explain’ their relationship with other women in conversation. It’s usually, “You know my best friend was telling me” and “Rita, my office buddy was saying” or “I borrowed my younger sister’s dress. I notice myself dropping her name in conversations with other people without bothering to explain. It’s not really easy to explain and to be honest, I haven’t really thought about it till now. Isn’t that rather bromantic too, a closeness that just happens without your planning it and that you can take for granted (without taking the other person for granted)? This is something traditional female friendships rarely do. Ergo, we have a bromance.

Yes, let me be the first to admit that I’m the kind of feminist that enjoys yanking things away from the traditionally male bastion and going “ME TOO! NOW I’M GONNA HAVE ONE TOO!”

Now I’m off to get her some of those broses.

How Girlfriends Make My Life Better

I’ve been thinking about girlfriends a lot recently. Men have comprised a major part of my life in these past ten years. They have been my primary references and the biggest influences on my identity and my relationship with the world. I’m not talking only about boyfriends. There still are more men in the professional world than women. And in the group of people for whom career and what they do shapes identity more than relationships, it’s almost exclusively been a boys’ club. Since my friendships are with people I respect, admire and like, most of them have been men. I haven’t been able to relate to most women. Our differences have come through in the form of competition, judgement and other hostlities that don’t leave room for friendships.

Yet, I have had girlfriends at various points of time. They’ve been really special, possibly because of how rare each of them was, by her gender in my life. Female friendships are different from my friendships with men. This is not devaluing the very many wonderful people in my life who are men. But given the life experience is so gendered in our world today, it becomes more than just (as I like to put it), body plumbing.

Gfs

*Image courtesy photostock on FreeDigitalImages.

J was probably my first ever real girlfriend. We were buddies in school but at that time I wasn’t really conscious of the differences between boys and girls. It wasn’t till seventeen, when we ran into each other again, that I discovered what it was like to have a girlfriend. I was a precocious, over serious teenager, burdened with intellect expectations, heavy books and heavier conversations. J brought out the adolescent in me. She opened my life up to frivolity. Yes, that’s how I saw it even then, and yet it was an important part of life that was missing for me. She’s the one who taught me about make-up and deodorants and clothes (“It’s not lean-ge-ree, Ramya, it’s lingerie!”). My teenage years would not have been truly magical in that way only adolescence is, if there hadn’t been room for crushes, for dressing up, for agonizing over looks and words and strangers.

J left my life around the start of our twenties. I know now that we were always very different people and it was just our common age that brought us and kept us together. Well, also perhaps the fact that we shared some common problems that are huge for a teenager — bad teeth & braces, unrequited crushes and a delayed sense of coolness. I was angry with her for the way things ended, for a long time. But I know it was inevitable. We were both too young to be gentler about it.

There’s P who also goes by the title of Best Friend. This is a difficult relationship to explain. We were friends in junior college (for the exact period of time that J and I spent apart between school and collage). And then we weren’t friends for a span (when J and I were close). And automatically, almost the very minute J and I parted ways, P returned to my life. We were both older, had grown into our individualities and were young women, not awkward teenagers.

P and I don’t really have much in common. Not shared interests, not personalities, not even common friends. Yet, she is the only one who was there, really there when I was in a bad relationship that I couldn’t think straight enough to get out of. Years later, I was the one who met her at the airport to tell her that her father had died. Once you’ve shared trauma or death with a person, you are bound to them in a way that makes it impossible to walk away completely. This about more than gratitude. In the unlikeliest of ways, P really gets what it feels to be me. And yet, she makes different choices, lives a different life. It’s really quite mind-boggling.

This year has been one of reckoning for a number of reasons. For one, it has been two years since the BIG relationship ended. It made me rethink my priorities, my values and indeed, myself. Marriage and a romantic relationship with a man became less relevant in the recipe for a happy life. And it allowed me to think of my relationships with other people and other aspects of the world (including work, health, money, home and my hobbies).

How I relate to men has shifted. In romantic situations, I’m both more cautious as well as less afraid of risk. That is to say, I’m willing to try a lot more with less fear because I am not as scared that mistakes will break me. And at the same time, I’m also less willing to commit because, really, I don’t even know if that’s what I want anymore. But also in other non-romantic relationships, the way I see and relate to men has changed. I do not idealise men anymore. This means I don’t rever virtues in men as much (because now I know believing passionately in something and being able to act on it when the situation demands, are two different things). Oddly, it also means I expect less and am a little kinder on their failings.

So where do girlfriends come into this? Because men don’t form the rocks, the pillars of my life anymore — how could they? The best of them are struggling to cope with being an overcoddled sex and also hold on to their sense of what is fair. The idols have melted. It has left a lot of space in my world to deal with life’s stuff on my own. I’ve been learning to make less of big deal of things, fewer snap decisions based on momentary emotion. So much space has opened up. And in this space, women have popped up.

There is of course, my wonderful Reema. Time, maturity and life were just right for her to happen as she did. We are both intelligent, independent women who don’t anymore need to prove ourselves with heavy conversation. We are also both pleasure-loving, light-hearted human beings who don’t have to live flashy lives of friovolity either. Reema and I talk about books, lipstick, the future of digital media, stupid people, the cities we’ve known, philosophy, family and life. We are different people, with different lives. And we have some similarities. I love the fact that this friendship allows us both to revel in the similarities (it’s always nice to have company) as well as explore our differences in a safe manner free of judgement.

A number of other women have appeared in my life this year too. They’ve come to this place in their lives through differnet journeys from mine. But like me, they are open to the experience of being with another human being who is respectful and fun, not just similar to them in some way.

It’s only now that I have it that I realise what my life has been missing all these years in not having enough female friendships. With men, there are agendas looming over every interaction. There is romantic/sexual interest in some cases. If that isn’t possible, then boundaries have to be constantly drawn and adhered to so that the rest of our lives are not destroyed. These boundaries don’t have to exist in relationships with women. I say don’t have to, because there are still a lot of women like J who value rules over experiences. But there are other women like me who are willing to risk saying or doing things that aren’t socially usual, in the hope of a bigger life.

What’s especially intriguing is how different these women are from me. Two of them are happily married, one of them is a mother. Several of them are making interesting decisions with their careers — one of them juggles an MNC job with sabbaticals to go travelling, two others have diversified from their traditional fields to include more creative elements (like me), two have businesses of their own and are dealing with the ramifications of this level of independence on their family lives. They are making courageous decisions in their personal lives — living-in, deciding to not have kids, going in for fertility treatment to have kids after a certain age, breaking free from family and living on their own, choosing to be part of a joint family, divorce and remarriage.

It occurred to me recently that female friendships are not celebrated. In fact, they are presumed to not exist. After all, it is in patriarchy’s best interest to keep women subservient, stupid and apart, isn’t it? What logic can there possibly be for statements like ‘Two women can never be friends’? When two women become friends, something big opens up for both of them — they are able to articulate things about their lives and worlds that feel incomplete, they are able to gain strength from each other and support each other in challenging these norms and if they are lucky, they go on to live fuller, richer, freer lives. All because of a meaningful friendship.

I feel like I went through the 20s feeling and believing that I was fighting a solitary battle to be me, to be more than the relationships and gender stereotypes imposed on me. But the 30s are bringing me into contact with several other women who are doing these too. It’s inspiring, it’s validation in a way that male friendships can’t provide and it keeps me from giving up. Truly, my life is a richer place because of my girlfriends.

Take a bow, Reema, Jinal, Rochelle, Reena, Meeta, Paromita, Aruna, Kiran, Sveccha, Fairy, Ankita, Samradha, Netra, Aditi, Shweta, Tupur, Avantika, Lopamudra, Prachee, Niyati. Each of you is an inspiration.

Three’s Company

Threes Company*Image (without text) via audfriday13 on FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I love him. I love her. He loves her. She loves him. They both adore me. We’re not a threesome or anything as radical as that. We’re three people who know each other from different times and places. There’s love and loyalty and warmth and sparks, some romantic, some platonic.

She’s the newest entrant into this nexus, new to him as well as to me. But oddly, I think she actually balances us. Not balances each of us individually (that’s so ‘You complete me’) but balances the entire structure. We’re like a three-legged stool in that sense, teetering uncertainly with the first two but perfectly solid and steady as three.

It’s not because we have that much in common, I think. Well, there is stuff but it’s what started our conversations, not what’s keeping them going. He and I are more similar than it appears. And we drive each other nuts when things are imperfect as they usually are. Something about her presence has a way of running our respective electrifying natures to ground and earthing them. And there’s light instead of short circuiting.

Of course it’s more complex than our current natures, being that human nature is constantly shifting. He and I have a history, a long, long time ago, a complex one where attraction charred into hurt, froze into loyalty and solidified into friendship. We also have a history of anger, of heated words, of dramatic declarations and of intense closeness. She’s not part of that history. Maybe because of that, she clears the space of its high voltage intensity and makes it possible for him and me to be regular human beings again.

It hasn’t always been that way.  It only got this way after the two of them became a couple. I would never do anything to hurt her. He wouldn’t either. And because inflicting wounds on each other would mean bloodying the space that she is now a part of, we sheath our poisonous words and put away our tears. Then we all go out to dinner together and laugh about mundane things, like regular people do.

Three is company indeed.

Fear & Insecurity

A conversation with a wise girlfriend you’re seeing after awhile can be food for thought. As you exchange titbits of information about news and the then and the now, there’s realization and growing up that happens in those very moments.

I mentioned a name, quite unconsciously with reference to something else. She picked it up and probed. So I told her some. And she told me what she knew, coming from a different source, a different angle. As we put the two together, her story and mine, we created an idea, based on the framework of the person we discussed.

There are of course the men who never got used to the fact that women got a vote, the right to their own bodies, education and careers as well. But there’s a different sort of man around now. This one has had ample time to get used to it. Maybe he had a strong mother. Perhaps he grew up with an ambitious sister. Or maybe he was just sharp that way and found himself the company of women like that.

That means he’s had the time to not just understand and appreciate their motives but also see their Achilles heel, hidden as it may be. The women of today are just as human as the ones that came before them. And hence, we have our own brand of insecurities and fears.

The thing is, my wise friend said,

A guy who sees that insecurity and tries to exploit it to his advantage.

Don’t we know him? We all do, we’ve encountered him at various points of time. In the case we discussed, there was a girl who my friend described as ‘not conventionally good-looking’. The guy in question knows this and seems to be using this over her as a control game. The reason this clicked was that I know when he tried a similar strategy but with a different tactic. He used age instead of looks.

Now the guy in question is of barely any, if at all, consequence to me. The reason this stayed with me is because it brought me back to my own experience of an abusive relationship all those years ago. It’s been very difficult for me to answer questions like why I stayed with him and what hold he had over me.

The answer is of course that he knew my fears and took advantage of them. No one is so strong that they have no fears. And nobody is so guarded in a relationship that keep all their secrets. But those secrets can turn into ammunition in the wrong hands.

Strangely enough our conversation earlier in the evening revolved around fairness creams. I was trying to explain why the idea of having worked with them at some point of time in my career is something I carry with heavy guilt. She admitted that she had used fairness creams for a good while herself. Then she said,

Strange as it may sound, my moment of reckoning came when I read about the Aishwarya Rai-Salman Khan relationship. To know that a woman like could get battered was to realize that it had nothing to do with looks whatsoever. And that’s when I stopped needing those creams.

Hmm, interesting. So we have our fearful secrets and we have even more furtive ways of getting over them. Those close to us can turn traitor. While those on a completely different world from us, can be our salvation.

Chick Lit

My new literary obsession is Chick Lit. Helen Fielding, Sophie Kinsella and Marian Keyes keep me in chocolate-box mood while Meera Syal and Advaita Kala add the desi tadka. Why, even fellow-blogger/’I-know-this-girl-friend-acquaintance’ Compulsive Confessor flashes her characteristic grin at me from my bedside bookstack.

I found this rather interesting piece on the internet, describing Chick Lit:

“Chick lit” is a term used to denote genre fiction written for and marketed to young women, especially single, working women in their twenties and thirties.

Now, I know I’m doing an about-face, especially after such rabid commmentary. I’m coming to this acceptance with much prior reluctance. I still have trouble accepting the term ‘chick’ to describe me or any woman I know. It’s degrading. However, I’m willing to lay down my shackles and admit that I’ve been reading (and enjoying) the genre called Chick Lit.

Chick Lit is the new Romance Novel. And it isn’t. As a genre it certainly is finding as much favour and spawning as many writers (and books) as the ubiquitous M&Bs. On the other hand, one may argue that romantic fiction was a genre built on common women’s fantasies while Chick Lit inter-twines what we consider our ideal life along with the proverbial gang-cribbing that each of us indulges in with our galpals over men, weight loss problems, career concerns and PMS.

Chick Lit, as most of the definitions state, is usually about twenty-something women, career-minded or not, married or not, successful or not. One thing they all are, is discontent with their lot. The careerwoman struggles with loneliness and jerky boyfriends, the beauty queen is slapped around and paraded as a sex toy/trophy partner and the housewife is wistful about missed opportunities. The Chick Lit heroine is Superwoman who survives on a steady dose of galpal advice, gay friends, alcohol-and-career swings and roller-coaster relationships. Friends are family, chocolate is the manna for all evils and the root of all evils can be summed up into one word – MEN.

Bosses, colleagues, friends, lovers, ex-boyfriends, flings, husbands of friends, partner’s buddies, friends’ partners, gardeners, milkmen, grumpy old men, uncles, teachers, fathers, cheery grocers, lecherous neighbors….men in every possible shape, size and relationship are examined back and forth. It is the Chick Lit’ter’s favorite hobby – Men.

If the Indian versions are different, it is only in that they’re usually set in Mumbai/Delhi instead of London/New York. The protagonists gorge on chicken tikkas and grab their capuccinos from Barista instead of M&S or Starbucks. Their mothers want to see them ‘well-settled’ instead of ‘settled down’. The men are just as committment-phobic, the careers just as unsatisfying, their bosses are just as demanding, their married neighbors consider them just as flighty and sluttish and their credit card bills are equally long.

Why do I like the genre so much? Simple. Because it is about me. That’s my life, my friends, my mistakes and my victories that are getting written about. Every page brings a, “Don’t I know it!”, an “Aha! You got ‘im there, girl!” and a “Bullshit, I heard the same thing from my second boyfriend when he was cheating on me.” It’s almost like having a new set of friends with every book.

You might even say it’s the modern, literary woman’s Soap Opera in a book format. If the women of yore wanted fantasy to keep them entertained, at least this I can say for my generation – we’re thriving on reality…or some warped version of it. Who needs a perfect fairytale when our own messed-up, vodka-spiked, overstressed lives are so much more interesting?

Chick Lit is empowering in a very strange way. It tells me that other women are having a hell of it too. That having a zero social life at twenty, in favour of slogging away at work was not a mistake. That getting married at twenty-three would not have spelt ‘happily ever after’ either. That my smug married, whiz-in-the-kitchen housewife friend acts superior to me but also thinks I’m living the glamourous, carefree life she only reads about in magazines.

It tells me that it’s okay to not feel diva-like at all times, to nurse worries over weight gain and cellulite. That it’s even okay to worry more about these than a missed deadline. That bad temper, unreasonableness and pukey-head-feeling are permissible once a month.

Chick Lit tells me life isn’t perfect (yes, I know someone said that long ago but catch me listening?). I mean look at the titles – The Undomestic Goddess, Life isn’t all Hahaheehee, Shopaholic, Almost Single. It also tells me that each of us is figuring out a new way of perfect. And who knows? Maybe Perfect will be the way I do it – My perfect!

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