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The green-eyed scapegoat

I’ve thought long and hard about this and find that I have almost nothing to say about this that hasn’t already been said before. And yet, I write about it…it seems imperative somehow. In a blog about men and women and shifting gender roles and relationships, how can the issue of jealousy not raise its hypnotic, mercurial head?

Jealousy – good or bad? That’s over-simplification.

Anyone who says they have never been jealous is lying.
Anyone who says that they have never wanted someone to be at least a little jealous of them, for them is also lying.

We’re insecure, we all are. Life is excruciatingly complex and changeable. Security is really a myth…a fairytale illusion that every single one of us wants and tries hard to bring into our life in some way. We feel the need to cling to that which we hold dear and it also makes us feel good (whether we admit it or not) to be held close by other people.

Now to begin with, let’s define jealousy and possessiveness clearly.

Jealousy is rather martial, a desire to keep one’s territory untouched by others, an emotional “Back off! This is mine!” signboard. It is primitive, illogical, selfish, aggressive, very fearful of loss.

Possessiveness is on the other hand, pride in one’s own. It’s rather difficult to explain this well in words. In Hindi, people one feels close to, a connection with are described as ‘apne‘ as opposed to ‘paraye‘…which denotes stranger but also something more….people one does not relate to, one does not feel a kinship with. It isn’t about ownership as much as it is about relationship. Possessiveness then, is an assertion, a recognition, a declaration of one’s ‘apnapan‘ with another. It doesn’t need bluster (though it might need expression sometimes)…it exists confident in the knowledge of its own existance.

It is the difference between

You belong to me.

and

We belong together.

In my most moralistic moments I think of jealousy as an obvious, shallow, base emotion while possessiveness is deeper, subtler and richer. But that’s only when I’m sermonizing which I try not to.

I never thought of myself as a jealous person while growing up. I never felt the need to dictate anyone’s behaviour. On the other hand, I always had a strict code of attitude and emotion, trespassing which, would mean automatic severing of the relationship. Has it been arrogance? Perhaps. Combined with a degree of security. Or ego perhaps.

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I had a good friend who had a habit of dropping in often and was besotted by my father. I understood that she was yearning for a father figure for various reasons I won’t go into and at the same time her own mixed-up adolescence made her friend’s father seem highly appealing. It never bothered me. One time she stayed over and the conversation laughingly turned to the thought that my parents could ‘adopt’ her. She grinned at me cheekily and said,

But won’t IdeaSmith mind? Sharing her parents, her room, her things, her life?

I nonchalantly tossed,

Nope. Stay as long as you like as long as you keep out of my books.

It was a redundant conversation, a game of which everyone knew the outcome. I knew no matter how much my parents fussed over my friends, nothing would ever change the fact that I was..am..their only offspring. As for the books, my friend wasn’t much of a reader anyway. All three of them knew that I wouldn’t openly express deep concern over a relationship. But she did it to needle me, for fun. And I said it to make her feel like her needling had some effect on me.

Sometimes people give you their jealousy as a gift, to reveal the secret of what they hold dear to them. She was asking for mine and I was letting her have some scraps.

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When J and I drifted apart, someone said that I was just jealous because she had found a boyfriend who was taking up all her time. I’ve thought about that often over the years. But no, it wasn’t. Because she always had a life far outside me, a different college, a different set, the church group, family, friends. I was angry with her but it wasn’t jealousy. But yes, it was possessiveness. She didn’t feel like one of my own kin anymore since she went off to be a ‘good catholic girlfriend/housewife’. It hurt that a relationship that we both took so much pride in…didn’t exist anymore. As proof of my non-jealousy, her then-boyfriend/now-husband is also a good friend, a man I very much respect and admire and makes me very happy by virtue of the fact that he fell in love with my friend.

Possessiveness might well be the reluctance to vanquish that which one holds dear. That’s jealousy too I suppose but jealousy is so destructive while possessiveness, in contrast is willing to make some compromises just so long as the relationship is kept alive. Jealousy is momentary while possessiveness is older, wiser, slower. To take hold of and to let go.

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In college I bonded closely with another girl. We became friends very quickly and for two years after that were almost never seen without the other. People started to whisper that we were lesbians which made me scream with laughter and her, look at them contemptuously. I knew the feeling. They just didn’t understand. I still think of her. No one, friend, family, lover has ever made me feel as completely, utterly loved as she did. She just understood what it was like to be me. And I knew her within. I guess that really was the problem.

It was deeply thrilling but also fairly disconcerting to feel such a connection with another human being. Somewhere she sensed my restlessness and it seemed to turn foul inside her. She started to get…clingy. It was awful but after awhile I hated being in her presence and would find ways to go out with other people, knowing fully well it hurt her…in defiance, in rage, in pain. It was awful. And then one day before my birthday (and two days before hers) I told her I never wanted to see her again. That was probably the hardest thing for me to do, ever. I was younger then, far more restless, less tolerant of other people’s behaviour and far less emphatic of their feelings than I should have been. But then, I was only seventeen.

I well understood that her jealousy showed her desperation but I couldn’t bear to be needed so much. Then again…it is a potent poison….that feeling of being needed, utterly desired in your entireity. I have to say, I don’t think a man is capable of feeling this particular shade of emotion, whether it is jealousy or possessiveness…it just is too deep, too vulnerable, too raw. Jealousy that is expressed is touching.

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And finally there was the boyfriend from hell whose torturous treatment of me with the control games, the manipulation, the relentless emotional blackmail and abuse were all designed to hide and assuage deep jealousy. He didn’t like knowing that he wasn’t the only thing in my life and for as long as he could he stifled every other relationship, every other interest I had. Looking back, I know it could only have been deep insecurity, terrible weakness..and that perhaps he was much more afraid of losing me than I was of him. I wish I could forgive him…I almost do but some wounds run too deep and the best I can do is tell myself that I need not think of any revenge for the pain he gave me – just living his life must be torture enough.

I feel vindicated when I realise that I have no desire to hold on to him, not even the thought of hurting him…that’s how little jealous, how little possessive, how little connected I feel to him. Jealousy is love warped and contorted on itself and he is not going to have even that from me.

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It might still have been simple really if life had continued just like that, with other people being jealous/possessive of me while I serenely (or not) carried on with my own way. But life it may seem, has had other plans. I’ve been put on the other side and god, it’s awful. It’s terrible knowing that you shouldn’t be saying the things you are, doing what you are. It is awful seeing yourself as weak when everyone (including yourself) expects you to be a strong, ‘good’ person. It is truly terrible to be afflicted by jealousy.

And yet….what to do, there are just some situations and some people, with whom you can’t help yourself. All rationale and dignity goes out of the window. Somewhere in each of us is a primitive Neanderthal that screams BLOOD when its territory is trespassed. And in all the maniacal clawing and seething, sometimes we lash out and draw blood from the very thing that we are fighting for. I’ve been on the other side, suppressing that monster within instead of fighting it in another. Its like being…or feeling….really poor and hungry and clawing frantically, desperately because you’re out of your mind with starvation. You’ll kill for food but you know all along its wrong and hate yourself for your wretchedness…and somewhere hope for some mercy, some compassion reciprocated from the object of your affection. And at some point of time, even that makes you so angry that you just want to tear up the the whole picture that is your life…anything to stop feeling this way…but then you can’t really ever hurt someone you care enough to be jealous about. Not without drawing your own blood anyway.

I wish you all the very best, then. I hope you find kindness and even if you don’t, I hope you remember to be kind to yourself and to the monster within, which, ugly as it is, is still very much a part of you.

Jealous Guy

I was dreaming of the past.
And my heart was beating fast,
I began to lose control,
I began to lose control,

I didn’t mean to hurt you,
I’m sorry that I made you cry,
I didn’t want to hurt you,
I’m just a jealous guy,

I was feeling insecure,
You night not love me any more,

I was shivering inside,
I was shivering inside,

I was trying to catch your eyes,
Thought that you were trying to hide,
I was swallowing my pain,
I was swallowing my pain.

John Lennon

Past Choices

Some 55-word-stories, related and un-related. Draw your own conclusions and leave your comments behind. Also cross-posted on IFSHA.

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She: I want to meet your ex-girlfriend.

He: What an odd thought! Why?

She: She’s your past and that’s part of you. Getting to know you includes meeting your past.

It’s to know why you like me. If she’s shy, I’ll know its my personality. If she’s sweet, its my attitude.

“CRAP” he was thinking.

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That’s her.

That’s her??? Your ex-girlfriend is gorgeous.

Not the way you are.

Right….you didn’t tell me she was so tall.

How does it matter…I think you are my perfect woman

Shorter than you, you mean?

Quiet now…here she comes

Pretty face, status symbol, too much attention. It must have been about his ego, then.

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XX1: I’m glad to meet you!

XX2: Me too! I’ve been hearing so much about you!

XX1: We must talk about books. He said you have a collection!

XX2: I’ve got a book I hope you’ll like.

She’s just like me. Hmm…he’ll be a frequent furniture re-arranger. The same stuff but with a new look.

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1 new message!

Hi, I’m disappointed you didn’t come for the engagement. We were friends after all. You could’ve left work early. Anyway, here’re the photographs. Wish you were a part of them.

Photogenic me? But I don’t have that complexion, do I? You always had a thing for fair skin. Congratulations Mr.Fair & Lovely.

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She stubbed out the cigarette butt and gazed out of the window, running through the list in her mind. An organized mind aids good decisions.

Ex-girlfriends

The Head girl
The Beauty Queen
The Campus Rebel
The Business whiz-kid
The Journalist
The ex-girlfriend of his nemesis
The Former Colleague

A collector of alpha females.

she concluded.

Reviving chivalry

Cross-posted on IFSHA here.

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He held the door open for me and stood aside.

“Hmm, chivalry, huh?”

I smiled. He said,

“I thought you said that chivalry died with the 60s?”

“No”

I said,

“Chivalry dies with sex.”

Rude, rude, so very rude of me. But I felt I had to be flippant to cover up my embarrassment at not knowing how to behave in an archaic social ritual like that.

There is a whole new dimension to the social rituals that have been conducted so far. My mother thinks if I demand equality, then I shouldn’t expect a man to be chivalrous and offer me his seat on the bus. Fair enough, if we aren’t ‘delicate flowers’, we don’t need to be treated as such either.

But chivalry is really so ingrained in certain rituals that its difficult to do away with them altogether. And what’s worse, retaining them makes them even more obvious as artifacts of the old order and brings a degree of awkwardness to the situation.

Take for example, dating. Now the old question – who pays? Is it fair to demand equal opportunity, earn equally well and then expect the man to do all the spending? It isn’t fair of course and what’s more, it is slightly degrading to us. Some women try to rationalize it like a friend who said,

“Let him pay. His ego is assuaged and you aren’t burning money on a stupid man who anyway wants only one thing from you.”

Well, that’s an extremely practical, if not cynical point of view. The problem is that it broadens the awkward divide rather than bridge it. It isn’t the solution at all.

It is also a little uncomfortable to be picked up and dropped everywhere, ferried around like someone who needs protection all the time. Well, crimes against women are on the rise, to be sure. I’ve taken to leaving early if it means that I won’t need to depend on someone to drop me home. But that’s not it either, is it?

From the male perspective, I hear a lot of men saying things like,

“I am totally open to the idea of my wife earning more than I do.”

I don’t know whether to believe that or not. Personally I think my generation is still steeped in the premise of the man being more successful to be able to accept that easily.

My perception isn’t entirely rooted in cynicism. I notice a lot of these men are the very same ones who are rude and boorish, especially to women. And they defend themselves by saying that they are treating women the way they treat men. Ah, but that isn’t what we ask for. Equality in opportunity but not in behaviour. We are different after all and not just physically.

And whatever happened to respect? I am not anybody to draw the rules on chivalry but if I had to hazard a guess, I’d say the root of true chivalry lies in respect. In being courteous and even accommodating, without making it seem like a favour. The reason these rituals seem awkward now is that we don’t need the favour anymore.

But what if it wasn’t a favour?

Hmm…I think women could be chivalrous too. It isn’t nice to keep someone waiting. And it is extremely bad form to be late and worse still to use one’s sexuality to get one’s way. More of us do it than we want to admit. I’d think its perfectly awful to treat half the world’s population with unrelenting, vigilant skepticism. We all play mind games and it looks like we’ll just be rooted in them, mired with archaic, awkward practices till we learn to be respectful of each other.

Its time we learnt to be ladies and gentlemen, not just ‘equal’ women and men.

Superwomen

Another IFSHA post (cross-posted here). This one was an extension of this poem I wrote so very long ago.

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What is the biggest problem our generation of women faces? What is it that we haven’t yet overcome? What is it that we’re barely seeing just yet until it pops up right in our faces?

Female infanticide, child abuse, rapes, sexual discrimination….we have these and we are working on them. We already have a vote and even equal opportunity (….well, we’re talking about it at least). What then is our problem?

One of my friends was a gold medalist in her final year in architecture college. Then she got married and is a mother now. She still has a job but it isn’t exactly a career. At least not the one she originally set out for. She’s a professional home-maker/mom.

Another friend quit a promising job in a multinational company to settle down in the U.S. where she couldn’t work for over a year. So she went back to college to get another degree. No, they don’t have kids because she says, there’s too much else happening now.

I have a career I feel quite good about. Also an active social life, hobbies and a good family. I don’t have a husband (and I don’t think I need one) or kids (but I’d love to).

Three people, the same age, nearly identical backgrounds and how our lives have diversified! And yet, they are alike. All three of us are part of the privileged class of women who have had access to education, financial stability and independent thinking. All three of us are living life by choices we have made.

Choice…that’s a good word. The key word for my generation of women. What sets us apart from the women who fought for a vote, the ones who burnt their bras or threw off their aprons and went to work? The fact that we have a choice. We are the ones who are enjoying the fruits of their labors, their sacrifices. As much as I crib about the state of things and how we are still backward in our stereotyping attitudes, I know I’m exceptionally lucky.

I don’t have to have a career. I could just as well be an liberal-minded daughter-in-law and then a modern mum. Or I could be an independent businesswoman. I could be a professional, a social worker, a writer, a travel correspondent….anything at all. I could be any combination of all of them.

I think of our generation of women as having the Superwoman syndrome. This does not mean we are more capable or better than our earlier counterparts (or indeed, than men). It only means that we are so spoiled for choices that we want it all and we want it now. We need to be the best. Its platinum all the way and we know how to earn it. Is that a good thing?

Last month I was at a conference and got to talking to a group of my women colleagues from around the world. All of them were in their late 20s, early 30s, reasonably successful in their jobs, smart, attractive and well-spoken. Every single one of them…us…was in the exact same place in life. Of balancing our families’ desires to see us ‘settle down’ in matrimony, following our own dreams of success and also considering marriage, kids and ‘everything a woman dreams of’.

If it makes any sense, the biggest problem we have is that we have too much. And we want more. We want to be the best in our careers, not just better than men but better than anyone else. We also want to be good daughters, perfect wives and girlfriends and wonderful moms. We want to play both ‘careerwoman’ and ‘home-maker’ with equal aplomb. What’s more, we are our own harshest critics. Hence we don’t allow ourselves any weakness, any vulnerability. Where does the phrase ‘cold-hearted bitch’ come from? From deep within us.

I can’t cry…Its not professional.
I can’t let PMS show on my face and ruin the perfect setting.
I can’t behave like losing a family member or breaking up will affect my work.
I can’t let my in-laws see how tired I am since they’ll want me to quit my job then.
Under no circumstances, can I ever admit that I was wrong.
I can’t be. I’m perfect after all.

I can do everything except admit that I can’t do it all. I am part of the Superwoman generation after all. And that is my biggest problem.

Single by choice

Last year, I wrote (though very little) with IFSHA’s blog. I’m recyclying those posts here before I start for 2007.

See cross-posted here.

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These days, one word that appears to dominate life at every step, hanging over like a noose and watching like a big eye in the sky is…..MARRIAGE. Nearly all my close friends are enjoying matrimonial bliss. “So why not you?” I hear my mother’s plaintive cry.

“Because…” and I stumble right there. Well…I don’t have a justification for my singlehood. Come to think of it, it isn’t a crime that I need to justify, is it? I am not married because I am single. That’s that.

I’m not single because I can’t get a man
I’m not single because I have something against marriage
I’m not single because I’m too busy

I’m single by choice. Yes, it is an option.

Matrimony is a thriving market and in a ritual-ridden culture like ours, the stakes are pretty high. Think wedding halls, think jewelers, think fashion designers, think interior decorators, wedding planners, temples and churches and what-nots, priests and singers and garland makers….to be specific there is one particular road in Chennai that is hailed by the locals as being the place to go when you get married since it provides every possible thing that you could need for a wedding. I assume that comes with a fine-print caveat that says

“Brides and grooms not included with package”.

Now it seems to me like the whole world is plotting to pull me into this set-up. After all, seen from the above point of view, I must be another valuable piece of raw material that they just can’t wait to get their hands on to polish and package and present as a finished product with the tagline of “New Bride”.

I’m not cynical about the process. I’m not even against the instituation of marriage. After all, my parents (among other couples I know) have been happily married for 28 years. As I see it, I have a good life. A caring family, lots of good friends, a good job, interests and hobbies, a social life and no major problems. A spouse will do one of two things to this. He will either take away some part of it…..with inevitable loss of freedom, additional responsibilities, financial worries and adjustments major and minor to attitudes, religious beliefs and behavior. Or perhaps it will be an ideal situation and he will be someone who won’t feel the need to control or change any aspect of my life. That’s the best case.

People tell me that there could be a man who actually makes my life better. Personally I can’t see that happening, but in the far chance that it does….that’s a lottery ticket. I’ve never been lucky that way and I’m not about to start hoping now.

In the words of the then bad girl Rizzo from Grease,

There are worse things I could do
I could stay home every night
Wait around for Mr.Right
Take cold showers everyday
And throw my life away
For a dream that won’t come true

Well….maybe it will. But a woman can have lots of dreams. A good husband could be just the icing on the cake of a perfect life. I’ll work on getting my cake ready. Plain sponge cake tastes just as good as gooey chocolate cake.

Its going to be a long way to when people can accept singledom as a perfectly natural state of being rather than an aberration to society.

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