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Unequal Affections

A famous couplet by W.H. Auden goes,

If equal affection cannot be, let the more loving be me.

I thought it was desperately romantic but also insightful. Even in the most compatible of relationships, there is a certain inequality. Of power, of responsibility, of initiative and yes, even of love. At any point of time, one person seems to be giving more, trying harder and the other is demanding more, needing more.

In an ideal world, these things ebb and flow and balance out over time. These equations are probably not static and shift over time as both partners grow. But as we all know, human relationships are anything but ideal. So should we live the idealistic dream of pursuing someone we can’t bear to be without, for whom we will do just about anything (and also bear the risk that they may not reciprocate, or worse, misuse our affections)? This after all, epitomizes living to the fullest, with and for the object of one’s passionate affections. Or should we take the practical path of looking for someone who is willing to meet our needs, supply all our demands and needs us so much, that they will do as we please? It’s the safer option, especially in today’s cut-throat times but it needs a careful rationing and rationalizing of emotion.

Quite simply, is your ideal relationship with someone who can’t live without you or with someone you can’t live without?

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A version of this is on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

Fabulous, Not Single?

I miss being fabulously single.

I’ve been it for so long, it has become a part of my identity. A huge, glamorous, proud-of-it, reveling-in-it part which is the one thing that conflicts with being in a relationship. A good relationship is wonderful in a number of ways. But it still involves a lot of adapting and even letting go of other things that were good in their own right. And that’s not always easy to do.

Fabulousness came to me as a concept through the pop culture interventions of SATC and chick-lit. It encompasses being successful, smart, stylish, sexy, confident, independent and cool. It is the epitome of ‘having it all together’. It isn’t quite the same as ‘the swinging bachelordom’ but it’s probably a female complement of the same thing.

It’s not that I’m not happy. It’s lovely to have someone, just have them. The closeness, the togetherness, the delightful joys of being part of a couple…I haven’t grown up so much that I’ve lost the ability to love those. It’s a fairytale dream come true. Friendship, laughter, trust, shared interests, freedom.

It’s just that this is a new shade of happy, one that supposedly replaces the older ways I devised of doing so. It may seem materialistic and frivolous but my old life was a polished, complete packaged finished just the way I wanted. I had my downers, my deep wells of loneliness and the clashes with locally accepted norms of what my life should be. I braved them all and I emerged as someone I was really proud of being.

Oddly enough, what I miss is not what you’d think. It’s not the freedom to date anyone I please that I actually miss. Really, being with the right person is so much better than twenty fun dates with different guys. But being fabulous is living the knowledge that you have truly and well put it all together all on your own. It’s the heady high of breaking the rules as well as the sheer power of making new ones of your own. It’s the solid comfort of an identity that you’ve defined for yourself, outside of your relationships. It is the arrogance of knowing that you rule the world you live in. This is not a feeling most girls grow up with. It’s not something most women ever have a chance to experience in their lifetimes. I have and it’s so amazing, I’m having real trouble letting it go.

There are times when I slip into my old self. Snarky, biting-sharp. It’s not always meanness, some of that has become part of the way I am, quite literally my biting wit. But that way of being is only possible when you’re really and truly a loner. You hold the world at a distance and it keeps you on a pedestal as well. You entertain, you protect yourself and you bask in the attention. It isn’t a bad thing. I enjoyed every minute of it and I’m not apologetic about missing it.

I still can’t get used to the idea that I don’t have to keep an eye on my watch when I’m out so I can get home by myself, that there is someone who’ll see my home safely. I’m still grappling with the awkwardness of the extension of my identity, where I find myself having to explain my new relationship status to friends who’ve been out of touch, to people I bump into at social events.

Last week I had a very brief and timed chat with Adi. It had to be since I was getting ready for an evening out and he was on his way to a date. Our schedules have not matched for a few months. Add to that, weekends devoted to the significant others, evenings for other social dos, one working while the other sleeps….and we find we haven’t really spoken in months. But it was Adi after all, so we were able to laugh about it. Then we spent the last 5 minutes of the call figuring out a time when we would both be free to talk without having to get back to work or falling asleep or neglecting our important others. Co-ordinating two busy people’s schedules wasn’t easy; now it’s four calendars to be matched.

If I’m not single anymore, can I still be fabulous? Why would I need to be, I can hear the voices of dissent ask. But that’s the crux of it. Being fabulous may have seemed like a consolation prize for being in a relationship but it turned out it wasn’t. I genuinely enjoyed the life I had and I miss those wonderful parts of it. Maybe it is possible to still be my fabulous self as well as one half of a happy couple. But I haven’t figured out that balance yet. You see, fabulousness just is such an extreme, self-involved idea, I can’t put it together with concepts like moderation and sharing.

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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

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?

Everyone Wants To Get Into My Wallet!

Late one night as I was driving down the city, I looked up at a huge billboard of Sushmita Sen, an advertisement for Kiah jewellery, which said,

You are the occasion
You are the celebration

I told him,

I really love that ad!

He smiled and said,

You would. It celebrates you, after all.

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

Earlier in the month, I wrote about my first experience with luxuriant self-indulgence, the retail therapy way. I wear my diamonds with pride, a pride that comes not exactly from their aesthetic value but from the knowledge that I earned the power to buy them for myself.

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

A few years ago, I wrote about the Superwoman. I don’t know whether to be happy or not that it’s turning out to be prophetic. Take a minute to think about my words..

I am the center of a marketing model titled “High income single decision maker”
I am the brief given to fashion houses when they design the new Prada suit
I am described as ‘Joan of Arc meets Helen of Troy’

We are indeed, the hot new consumer demographic. Urban women, financially self-sufficient with all the trappings of our successful professional status – the need for new status symbols combined with the ability to pay for them.

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

Our parents’ generation saw the upsurge of women at work and all the initial beginnings like the glass ceiling, women bosses et al. Our generation in contrast is the one that gets to enjoy it (and be taken advantage of). We’re prominent for our purchasing power and marketers have been quick to pick up on the need for our own set of status symbols and paraphernalia. I speak as the target group of a woman who earns and has the independence to spend. I also speak as a marketing professional, seeing the other side of it, so to speak.

Successful men who earn well have been well tapped into as a market and are induced to spend on everything from their own selves (personal gadgets, cars), social settings (restaurants, pubs, sports activities) and all sorts of dating-related paraphernalia (presents for women, tokens of what makes them an ‘ideal partner’). What do their opposite numbers in our sex have?

We have shoes, clothes, bags, accessories, jewelery, make-up and personal grooming services. If the men-targeted products homed in on the traditional masculine need to be macho and an alpha male, we are being targeted for our vanity and need to be ‘the babe’.

Of course, the more complicated dynamics of women actually competing with each other in these stakes is well played out. What else do you think Bhala uski saadi meri saadi se safed kaisi is?

The more expensive products are obviously affordable only to a certain type of woman – she has a career, she’s ambitious and wants to be respected for her intelligence, she doesn’t want to stand in anyone’s shadow, she has a personality of her own. And hence diamonds, super-expensive shoes and clothes come with the messages that they respect your individuality, celebrate your independence and will take Visa as well as American Express.

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

I was invited to the premier showing of the big Hollywood release of Confessions of a Shopaholic. I saw the movie with a group of girlfriends and all of us identified with the heroine. We would, she’s based on us after all. While the movie is meant to be a really light-hearted comedy, it points to something deeper.
I got to wondering about the phenomenon of shopaholism. Is it a reality that we’re likely to be facing very soon? All manner of excess is driven towards filling a need that hasn’t been satisfied earlier. So women who binge are thought to be unconsciously compensating for a lack of affection in their lives. What unmet need are we trying to plug with this excessive buying?

Becky Bloomwood in the movie nails it on the head when she explains her addiction,

Because when I shop, it feels so pretty, so nice, so good! And then it doesn’t so I have to shop even more!

True to all successful marketing strategies, this one also gives us a taste of what we like and then leaves us begging for more. Shinier hair! Higher heels! Bigger (and smaller) bags! Cooler sunglasses! Brighter make-up! Lotions, creams, gels, powders, liquid liners, sticks, brushes, concealers, colorants, rinses, crayons, cakes, gloss, sequins, beads, rhinestones, denim, silk, linen, velvet….the list never ends.

So for all our gloss and gorgeousness, we are nothing more than the product of a very successful marketing program designed to relieve us our newly-minted paychecks. ‘Fabulous’ is the bait they use to lure us in and the looming bill at the end of the month is the hook.

It used to be about too many people wanting to get into my pants.
Now everyone wants to get into my wallet!!

Superwoman

I am the only kid on the tree in pigtails
I am rejection & peer pressure superimposed on intelligence & expectations
I am the daughter who will one day be the ‘man of the house’

I am the big attitude-no boyfriends Alanis Morisette of the peer group
I am the feminist preaching to ‘the boys’ in between hanging out with them.
I am the second lead in an ‘all-male’ rock band.

I am the token female candidate in a job selection group discussion
I am one of two women at a client meeting, six months later
I am the slender figure balancing a laptop, files and a mobile phone and refusing a seat on the bus.

I am a solitary memo marked “Dear Madam” atop of a pile of “Dear Sir” notes
I am one who knows which detergent brand sells highest but not which cleans best
I am a woman who hates cooking and is proud of the fact

I am the one publications write about when they describe the new work ethic
I am the inspiration for a new wave of soap operas and talk shows
I am the author of a scathing article on fairness creams

I am the center of a marketing model titled “High income single decision maker”
I am the brief given to fashion houses when they design the new Prada suit
I am described as ‘Joan of Arc meets Helen of Troy’

I am a social butterfly, the party animal, the cool lady who always leaves alone
I am a modern day Cinderella looking for a perfect foot to fit her shoe…and none ever do
I am the last of my friends to get married but mine is the grandest wedding of all

I am an overflowing inbox of memos, bills and ads after my 2-day honeymoon
I am the ‘expert cook in 10 days’ since I am always the best
I am the 5 am alarm for the milkman, the 10 am board meeting, the working lunch and the home cooked gourmet dinner on my first anniversary

I am a romantic SMS keyed in surreptitiously at a meeting
I am two daily planners to be co-ordinated for any family function
I am performance anxiety, loneliness, guilt, fear and ambition all masquerading as PMS

I am the ‘equal half’ of a DINK
I am the face that receives a slap for being better
And only sometimes, am I the fist that hits back

I am the luggage with a tag from every single metro in the world
I am the signature on the exclusive gold card
I am a posh address that is more a museum than a home

I am the employee code on a maternity leave application tacked to the bottom of a report
I am the voice on a conference call from home to 2 countries
I am the emergency Ceasarean operation due to hypertension

I am the lovely lady at the end of the day while my mom is mom to my kids too
I am the signature on a delivery receipt for a dollhouse and an encyclopedia set
And on a resignation letter that speaks of ‘time for family’ and not a word about sacrifices

I am music lessons, art classes, camps, sports teams and tuitions after school
I am the good manners, language fluency, social etiquette and grades all at 7
I am the hands that dress the star of the show in a kindergarten play
As also the signature on a report card that says “Shows aptitude for figures. Is very quiet and withdrawn”
I am the mother of a brilliant, talented 3-foot stressed know-it-all
….…..the wife of a resentful, guilt-wracked escapist
…….…the lover of a ‘new-age’ sensitive weakling
and the owner of a picture perfect 40 going on 25 face

I am the compartmentalized fragments of what was born a human being
And lives as ..and will one day die as…..Superwoman

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A version of this post appears on Yahoo! Real Beauty.

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