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I Think I’ve Outgrown Men

I met someone last week. After years of settling for insipid encounters with sexist 30/40-somethings and incomplete conversations with scared 20-somethings, I connected with someone close to my age. This microgeneration that I’m told I belong to – the Xennials or people born between 1977 to 1985 – we’re a rare species and most of us (barely) fit into one of the adjacent generations or flit between the two. We’re riding the digital wave that characterises millennials but with caution and maps learnt from Gen Xers. These formed the basis of much of our early interactions.

He didn’t press his phone number, his address and close-ups of vital parts of his anatomy onto me. So that was great. But he did seem in awful rush to write The Great Indian Romance liberally laced with phrases like ‘long, romantic drive’. Still, I haven’t gotten to where I am without knowing how to put the brakes on that gently. Slow and casual, I told him and decided on a Sunday afternoon coffee.

It was pleasant not to have to do the exhausting ‘space/hookup/no-strings-attached/polyamory’ bullshit that characterises the speech of most Indian men I’ve met in the past ten years. I call bullshit because in my experience, none of them are able to deal with the reality of these concepts. So it was nice being able to spend a Sunday afternoon not having to jump through those hoops and dodge, well, dodgy games.

We decided on another date. This time there were other people, gently brushing past us in non-intrusive ways, just comfortable enough to keep this one light. It allowed for a deeper conversation. About what? Oh about the play we saw, the food we ate, the experiences we had had in love, in life, at work and more. Small intimacies were shared. The last heartbreak, the big fear, the major milestone just about survived and people we both knew.

The next morning, I received a text. The gist of it was that he was not working at the place that his profile claimed.

I spent a day and half thinking through this. I’ve lived long enough to realise that LYING is my dealbreaker. No white lies, no lying by omission, no delayed facts, no embellishments, no diplomacy, absolutely nothing. It’s non-negotiable. Yet, this was information he volunteered so did it constitute a lie? Moreover at what point can one expect to draw the dealbreaker lines?

I decided to meet and hear what he had to say. He said it had only hit him the previous evening when I introduced him to other people and that he wanted to clarify before it got too late to. He also said he didn’t know why he hadn’t brought it up in our previous conversations at all. I decided not to push on this. People do what they do, after all and what’s the point pushing for reason post mortem, beyond a point? All one is likely to get is defensiveness and excuses. But I stored the facts away as these in my mind:

  • He had broken up 7 months earlier.
  • He had quit said workplace 2 years earlier.
  • He worked in digital media.
  • He didn’t know how to change his workplace details on his profile.

The evening went on pleasantly. Till he asked what I was doing the following weekend. I had a couple of gigs coming up and I told him so. And before I knew it, I was in the middle of a ‘Come parday!’ death noose.

You know the one I mean. The ‘OMG Saturdays are for chillin’ bro, like with cool folks, whatchu saying, just come, have fun, putyerhandsupintheairlikeyoujesdoncare, parday, parday, parday’. Okay, he didn’t actually say it in this exact manner but how different does this speech get anyway? It used to send me into panic ten years ago; it just annoys me now.

Let’s be fair. I am not a wet blanket. I am not a prude. I am not even antisocial. My trouble always seems to have been too many people, too little time and too exciting a life according to other people. But I do know what I want and I do not want to waste even a minute of my life doing something that doesn’t fit this. Saturday nights, parday parday parday included.

He Just Wouldn’t Listen. Yes, like that.

We were interrupted by an acquaintance from gym passing by, which allowed me to segue into a conversation about fitness. It let me move into one of my silly-serious stories about annoying people one meets at a gym who will insist on doing everything but exercising (showing off, grunting in front of the mirror, flirting with instructors, asking how they can become as thin as me). His response?

“To kya hua, yaar? People like to talk. Usme kya hain?”

I shifted conversational ground to the swimming pool, a space I’m even more comfortable in given I’m much better at swimming than gymming. I told him this story. His response?

“So what? There’s no need to be so…You can be nice.”

And right back to parday-parday-parday mode except about gymming and swimming. You can see where this was going. Push-push-push from him, pushback-nononono from me, more push-push-push from him and so on. Including one

“You are so STUBBORN.”

(Err, excuse me, saying NO multiple times doesn’t make me stubborn, it makes you deaf)

But wait, it got better. He stopped and went,

“Chill, yaar! Relax. Chill, chill, why you getting so worked up?”

If there are any men reading this wondering what is wrong with this, this is condescension piled atop excessive pushiness. This is gaslighting following badgering (which is really harassment). I’ve learnt to draw my lines firmly.It still took me another day and somewhat apologetic messaging to close this encounter completely. And in the course of this, I had to wade through messages of the ‘But you said you liked me too’ variety.  But in most other cases (and indeed with me too, in the past), this would go right on into situations where the man just rode slipshod over everything the woman wanted and decided he was being macho/romantic/whatever-other-entitled-bullshit.

So lies – check, badgering – check, gaslighting – check.

I am not angry. I have learned economy of emotion and emotional labour. I have had to. I have been meeting men in a romantic context for over 15 years now, in different ways, locations, situations. I’ve connected with older men, younger men, peers of different backgrounds and professions. And this just NEVER changes. It gets called lots of names, most incorrect glorifications. But all it is, is men refusing to treat me as a human being with my decisions, ideas and feelings. You can call it toxic masculinity, you can blame it on their terrible upbringing, you can pin it on Bollywood but you can’t deny it.

I give up. I think I’ve outgrown the men on this planet. Anyone know any nice Martians?

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*If you liked this post, you’ll want to follow the Facebook Page. I’m Ramya Pandyan (a.k.a. Ideasmith) and I’m on Twitter and Instagram

 

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A World Of Pain

A thick sheet of plastic over a boiling cauldron of black, festering poison. That’s me. A year – that’s how long it takes to grow this.

I’ve been in a strange mood all month. I lost the entire month of February, being unwell, asleep and drifting in disoriented confusion through questions like,

“What are you going to do next?”

I don’t know and I don’t even know to explain how or why that is the case. Having been a burning force of desire all my life – bottomless want for a goal, an object, a person’s affections, an intangible like attention – has driven me and taken me to achievement as well as over the disappointment of not achieving. Now, I just feel empty. Desireless is dead, as far as I’m concerned.

But today somebody asked me, in a way that I had to answer because I knew the answer and I couldn’t lie,

“How are you?”

And all at once that non-biodegradable, suffocating sheet of plastic formed a little hole and a stream of blackish hurt came oozing out. I talked and talked. And he replied, stopping only when he saw a tear ooze out of my right eye. So I continued talking.

I’m so angry. I’m so, so angry.

I’m angry at myself for having being compassionate and kind and loving to somebody who only treated me with condescension, hostility and cruelty. I’m angry at the utter coldness that must have fueled this big tamasha that was done only to buy my silence for a few months more. I’m angry at the sheer viciousness that plotted setting me up in order to dump me publicly in the most humiliating, debilitating way possible.

I’m raging at so-called friends who shut me up by lecturing me on dignified silences, on the crassness of public whining and the censorship of my writing. I’m burning at the faceless groups of people who banded together with him, making my utter humiliation complete.

I’m seething at the roles of strength and endurance and patience and forgiveness and maturity that I’ve been forced into playing. I’m screaming at the gag orders, the handcuffs, the closed doors on and to my pain and expression.

I’m bursting with shame and indignation and fury at the thought of him speaking for women’s rights, against violence towards women, against homophobia. I’m biting on my tongue and choking back the bile when I hear about the accolades that his art gets when he performs ideas that I fought to bring into his consciousness, even words that were mine that he’s mouthing. So shamelessly. So remorselessly. So much without a conscience.

I’m beaten into submission by the sheer irony of life. A year to the day, he’s out celebrating accolades for something I first pushed him into pursuing. And surprise, surprise – it’s an event in honour of Women’s Rights. Life, you make me want to slit my wrists right now.

Is there no justice in the world? And if there isn’t, damn you for wanting me to crusade but only politely, for wanting me to champion causes being hypocritically championed by such offenders, for wanting me to be the Stepfordian crusader even as I bleed. Damn every single one of you.

I am in a world of pain, that’s how I am.

Indian Relationships: A State Of Anarchy

I saw a Hollywood movie about relationships and love. In one scene, a man and a woman meet in a department store and strike up a conversation over the cash register which continues till they walk out. Standing on the sidewalk, they talk, like any two strangers who’ve just met, of things that interest the other and ooh and aah over what they have in common. Then, just on the verge of that crucial ‘ask for her number’ moment, the guy shrugs and says,

“I can’t do this. I’m married.”

It struck me right just then. They were following a socially accepted ritual. Then they reached a point where an expression of interest had to be made or not. And it could not be made since he was clearly unavailable. The social mores of their world dictated that he not go any furthur unless he was intending to take it forward seriously.

A few years ago, I was in Europe. After much teasing from my group, about Turkish delights and Greek gods, I returned to report that no man had flirted with me. But my mother, told me of one of our co-passengers had struck up a conversation and told her she was very attractive, adding with a snide look at my dad that he couldn’t say the same about her husband. She was highly surprised till we were told that in some western communities, it was considered polite, practically a social requirement to mock-flirt with a lady and compliment her on her fine form. This especially for a married woman, since it was quite clear that it was in light vein and was not intended to be taken seriously. Quite unlike India where it would be considered highly inappropriate to flirt or compliment a married woman. On the other hand, it was pointed out, that it would be equally inappropriate for the same men to have flirted with me since I was clearly available. Flirting would have been an indication of serious intent, a formal expression of interest.

We are still in a nascent society as far as dating goes. Our parents’ generation invented love marriages in this society; we are the generation that brings in friendship between the sexes as well as socially sanctioned romantic/sexual relationships before marriage. We haven’t quite learnt where to draw the line between friendship-comfort and attraction-commitment. We are still experimenting with how far we go with being funny/cool/charming and where it trespasses into flirtation.

Think about some of the relationship scenarios that are very real to us today. The ‘best friend’ of the opposite sex that makes the girlfriend/boyfriend so uncomfortable. The good friends (sister-brother…this is really the most convoluted one of all) who vehemently decree that other people have dirty minds. The older colleague/father of a friend/friend of father/husband of a friend who are really friendly, but perhaps a little too much sometimes?

Don’t we all know a guy who promises the world to every second girl, believing correctly, that she’ll keep it to herself because, it still isn’t done for a girl to admit that she’s been with a guy? There is nothing to check him from repeating the same over and over again, no one to brand him for the cad he is. Even after the crime is complete and guy is far away, possibly chasing a whole new set of girls or actually married, how many of the women he has wronged are actually going to speak up? How about the committed ones who pass off their behaviour as harmless friendliness? There’s a general ‘kehne mein kya harz hai?’ syndrome working here. The problem is that people do fall in love, hearts get broken, trust is rended and lives are shattered. You can deny those are very real crimes, nasty things that people do to people.

As modern women, we are expected to be ‘okay’ with a certain degree of liberal expression. The question how far does that stretch? It’s okay to know a lot of guys, it’s fine to go out with them, even flirt with them, get into relationships with them. But all of that provided it ends in the institution of marriage or at least a ‘stable, steady relationship’. But from meeting a guy to ending up in that last socially sanctioned comfortable relationship, it’s a long way. We stuff our best-looking side into our public persona and bury our insecurities. We put up with a guy who is ‘comittment-phobic’ for months and months because we don’t want to be nags. We’re okay with the ‘just good friends’ tag. We even tolerate cheating and tell ourselves patience is a virtue. You can be sure a crime of sorts has been committed but who’s going to haul in the offender?

And if you’re thinking this is equally true for women, I agree. With one small exception. Men who have been wronged in this manner can speak up about it and they do. Where else do we get such nasty phrases like slag and tease from? On the other hand, a woman who has been wronged cannot speak up. Liberatedness be damned, when such a social crime is perpetrated, the woman (more often than not) doesn’t dare speak up since even friends would call her stupid for having believed such a guy in the first place. Well, you live, you learn.

We are a society in a state of transition, this is true. Many of us feel like we’re stuck in the stiff rules of conservative India while being seduced by the liberatedness of the West. We navigate our lives through some complicated mixture of the two. But while trying to have the best of both worlds, we have the safety of neither – not the security of a protected society, nor the societal support system of an individualist one. The touts that flourish in any anarchy are well and alive in this one too. Let me end this by just saying that glorious as this rule-free state may be, the very lawlessness of it leaves each of us vulnerable to social crimes.

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* An earlier version of this post is here. A version is also posted to Yahoo! Real Beauty.

Relationship Lawlessness & Social Criminals

I recently saw a movie about relationships and love. In one scene, a man and a woman meet in a department store and strike up a conversation over the cash register which continues till they walk out. Standing on the sidewalk, they talk, like any two strangers who’ve just met, of things that interest the other and ooh and aah over what they have in common. Then, just on the verge of that crucial ‘ask for her number’ moment, the guy shrugs and says,

I can’t do this. I’m married.

It struck me right between my eyes just then. They were following a socially accepted ritual. Then they reached a point where an expression of interest had to be made or not. And it could not be made since he was clearly unavailable. The social mores dictated that he not go any furthur unless he was intending to take it forward seriously.

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

Last year I went to Europe on holiday. After enduring much ribbing about Turkish delights and Greek gods, I returned to report that no man had flirted with me. My mother, on the other hand, told me of one of our co-passangers who had struck up a conversation and told her she was beautiful, adding with a snide look at my dad that he couldn’t say the same about her husband.

She was highly surprised (even though I spend all my time telling her that she looks at least a decade younger than she is – and she does!) till I added that in some western communities, it was considered polite, practically a social requirement to mock-flirt with a lady and compliment her on her fine form. This especially for a married woman, since it was quite clear that it was in light vein and was not intended to be taken seriously. Quite unlike India where it would be considered highly inappropriate to flirt or compliment a married woman.

On the other hand, my father pointed out, that it would be equally inappropriate for the same men to have flirted with me since I was clearly available. Flirting would have been an indication of serious intent, a formal expression of interest.

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

We are still in a nascent society as far as dating goes. Our parents generation invented love marriages in this society; we are the generation that brings in friendship between the sexes as well as socially sanctionable romantic/sexual relationships before marriage. We haven’t quite learnt where to draw the line between friendship-comfort and attraction-committment. We are still experimenting with how far we go with being funny/cool/charming and where it trespasses into flirtation.

Think about some of the relationship scenarios that are very real to us today. The ‘best friend’ of the opposite sex that makes the girlfriend/boyfriend so uncomfortable. The good friends (sister-brother…this is really the most convoluted one of all) who vehemently decree that other people have dirty minds. The older colleague/father of a friend/friend of father/husband of a friend who are really friendly, but perhaps a little too much sometimes?

Don’t we all know a guy who promises the moon and earth to every second girl, believing correctly, that she’ll keep it to herself because in the larger sense, it still isn’t done for a girl to admit that she’s been with a guy? There is nothing to check him from repeating the same over and over again, no one to brand him for the cad he is. Even after the crime is complete and guy is far away, possibly chasing a whole new set of girls or actually married, how many of the women he has wronged are actually going to speak up? And if you say you don’t know such a guy, give me a call. I have a private ‘Hall of Shame’ of these social criminals.

How about the committed ones who pass off their behaviour as harmless friendliness? There’s a general ‘kehne mein kya harz hai?’ syndrome working here. The problem is that people do fall in love, hearts get broken, trust is rended and lives are shattered. You can deny those are very real crimes, nasty things that people do to people.

As modern women, we are expected to be ‘okay’ with a certain degree of liberal expression. The question how far does that stretch? It’s okay to know a lot of guys, it’s fine to go out with them, even flirt with them, get into relationships with them. But all of that provided it ends in the institution of marriage or at least a ‘stable, steady relationship’. But from meeting a guy to ending up in that last socially sanctioned comfortable relationship, it’s a long way. Most men fall short far before that. Or I suspect a lot of them aren’t even intending to go that far but try and drag out as much as they can get before they need to rat-tail it ‘before it gets too serious’.

We stuff our best-looking side into our public persona and bury our insecurities. We put up with a guy who is ‘comittment-phobic’ for months and months because we don’t want to be nags. We’re okay with the ‘just good friends’ tag. We even tolerate cheating and tell ourselves patience is a virtue. What happens when he dumps you to go chase another girl and propose marriage to her in a week? You can be sure a crime of sorts has been committed but who’s going to haul in the offender?

And if you’re thinking this is equally true of women as well, I agree. With one small exception. Men who have been wronged in this manner can speak up about it and they do. Where else do we get such nasty phrases like slag and tease from? On the other hand, a woman who has been wronged cannot speak up. Liberatedness be damned, one of those aforementioned crimes was perperated on me. I didn’t dare speak up since I knew even our common friends would just think I was stupid for having believed such a guy in the first place. Well, you live, you learn.

Last month, I was flirted with by a committed man. I was unsure on when exactly I could draw the line and just relieved to get away without too much embarassment. As I’m writing this post, I’m being propositioned by a married friend. This relationship is sometimes questioned by my friends who believe (quite correctly) that he is a social criminal. I agree and yet I continue to be friends (only in every sense of the word) with him. But few relationships are this manageable and heavenaloneknows that this one wasn’t easy either.

Let me end this by just saying that delightful as this state may be with its glorious rule-lessness, the very lawlessness of it leaves each of us vulnerable to social crimes.

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