Last month I had a conversation with a friend I was meeting after a long time. My failed engagement came up. It would, of course, it’s one of the biggest things to happen to me in the past ten years. The good thing is it’s not THE biggest thing, only one of the big ones. Others have been quitting my job, writing two books and a column, going freelance, losing a grandparent and an uncle, getting a business partner, being an entrepreneur, changing professional streams, becoming a spoken word performer and moving houses thrice.
I talked about all the things that I thought might have gone wrong. Then he asked me something that stopped me midway through food as well as through the “I’m okay” trajectory I seem to have been on since the breakup. He said,
“All these warning signs. Why did you go through with it? Why did you stay with him?”
I sputtered at first and said, what what warning signs? I can’t see them. But I know what he sees as warning signs. An abusive childhood. A product of a broken marriage. Dysfunctional relationships with the family. The angry activism. No, I’m still not seeing it. These are not a person’s fault. Would it be fair for me to walk away from someone because these things had happened to them?
Yet, after everything I experienced, I often wonder whether this relationship was my punishment for being empathetic, for wanting to look beyond a person’s past and family and love them for who they were. It’s convenient to say that it’s not. But I’m left with a broken relationship with someone who doesn’t have the capacity for respect, let alone trust or love. And none of that is my fault, so why should I be bearing the social stigma, not to mention the humiliation and heartache of this?
Then there’s the other side of it. Let’s say I start heeding the ‘warning signs’. Where shall we draw the line on what comprises these? A person who has had many relationships before? A manipulative parent? (Hah! Find me one Indian with ‘family values’ who doesn’t have this). How about a fluctuating career graph? Well, I’ll need to blacklist myself then.
Suddenly, I’m finding a lot of people in my age-generation are getting divorced. They were living the ideal dream of my generation. This is the breed of people that emerged into adulthood in the millenium, grabbed up the professional avenues that the internet, IT, offshoring & mobile telephony offered and married in their mid-20s. A lot of them had been ‘average’ or even underachievers but the millenium brought new promises in the form of foreign shores, multinational employment, early entrepreneurship etc. It brought its own problems too — displacement, several culture shock, stress, opportunities and motivation to cheat. So, I’m not actually that surprised at this happening.
Many of them are friends and there’s even an old boyfriend or two in there. Suddenly, there’s a new pool of people available to me for friendship, relationships and more. I say friendship too because this group of people just like their more traditional counterparts sunk their lives and time within their marriages, leaving no room for other interests and associations. But they’re all citizens of the world and they’re surviving the shocks in a multitude of ways. One has reverted to the bachelor lifestyle, sharing ‘a pad’ 90s Friends style with two flatmates. Another has gone on a rampage of the classical wildchild sort with red hair and serial hookups. In addition to these so-called vices though, they’re also starting up new ventures, quitting deadend jobs, taking off on solo trips, signing up for marathons and rallies. The flash-and dazzle has not gone out of my generation yet.
A part of me is heaving a sigh of relief at this happening. Obviously, I’m not happy that something like divorce is happening at an individual level to people I know. But I feel a little less alone in my own unconventional choices. I have people around me who suddenly understand that relationships are not bedrocks of reliability and that life is too short to waste on one company or profession.
In addition, the twenty-somethings I’ve been dating for years are starting to feel like a compromise I’m not required to make anymore. There is nothing wrong with them. But they’re working towards goals that are not mine, struggling with life choices that I’ve experienced enough to know they’re not important. I cannot impose my lessons on them. These are experiences one must live through and be shaped by, on one’s own. But people who’ve faced these the same times as I have, they’re coming back into the space of being available and accessible.
We’re a new kind of people with our own never before seen problems and challenges. We’re having to redefine who we are, let alone what relationships and other people mean to us. Now, what are the ‘warning signs’ I’ll need in order to navigate these people with care? I can only tell you after I’ve been down the road and put down the markers for the ones who come after.
Now here’s something that popped up on my browser window. I don’t know exactly how it came to be there. It may have appeared via an inadvertent click on a Facebook ad or a random link on my populous Twitter stream. I just know I’m going to get some flak on this one but it was so bizarre to me, that I just had to blog about it.
My first reaction was, “ARE YOU KIDDING ME??” As it turned out, they weren’t. Date IITians appears to be a social network/dating website. Here’s a little something that appears as part of the revolving screen.
Someone is waiting for you
You may admire a girl’s curves at the first meeting, but the second meeting shows up new angles.
And it gets better when you go in further:
Its the new era of Online Dating !
Thousands of IITians’/IIMites’/NITians’ profiles.
Make buddies, flirt & date your soulmate.
Develop a long-term relationship.
There is a certain kind of IIT guy that I deplore. I call them Pedigreed Pups and they are defined by nothing more than their degrees. It’s like they’re walking/talking certificates with zero emotional intelligence. But hang on, relationships & dating are about emotional intelligence.
Pedigreed Pups are human males too and to them I ask – is your self-esteem really so low that you have to resort to flashing about your college name to get a girl? Do you really, really think that no girl is ever going to take an interest in you otherwise? That’s really sad, man.
Never mind the sort of men that a tagline like that is bound to attract, what about the girls? What girl in her right mind would consent to being showcased like a piece of delectable meat (curves indeed!)? I’ll tell you – a gold-digger is what.
Since, and only because the IITs are institutions that India prides itself on, because a stamp from them ensure the entire nation’s never-failing respect and admiration, I have a problem. Firstly, does this not sully a strong, respectable brand? Secondly, what does it say about us as a people that we look up to the glorification of such crass values as gold-digging, blind objectification and gender stereotyping?
If IITians are the most intelligent minds in this country, how do they not get this? Or is it too much to hope that this is all a grand parody? They also have a blog, whose delightfully sincere and helpful posts tell me they’re serious. Oh well, different strokes for different folks I suppose. Now you know where to get your ISO certified dates from.
This is an old post, reprised from my archives. Here it is, a few years later but still valid.
Dating can be a good way to meet a prospective partner. But the process can involve various situations, not all of which are savory experiences. There is a lot of advice available on things that one should do, in preparation of, during and after a date. Even so, people make simple mistakes which put off their date and potentially lose them what could have been a great relationship.
If you are a man, here are a few actions that you should cross off your list and ensure that you never display to your date:
1. Staring at her bust
There is just no excuse for this. A woman might be willing to accept that a random guy on a bus or across the street may do this. She might reason that he has the right to look where he wants. Then remember that she also has the right to mentally strike him off the list of people that she’d ever date. But when she is on a date with you, she don’t have that option anymore. If she’s reasonably polite, she has forgone the option of crossing you off at least till the end of the date. Respect that and don’t treat her like a sex object the very minute you start your date.
2. Ogling other women
Some men use the excuse of ‘I can’t look at you so I’ll look at others’. Remember that you’re out on a date. That means you and she got together to spend time with each other. Focus on the last three words. One date does not tie you to her but it does warrant the courtesy of your undivided attention, at least.
Showing off is a natural biological action peculiar to the male species, especially when in the presence of the opposite sex. Animals do it, insects do it and human men do it too. Just don’t go on and on about it. The showing off is a mating ritual among the aforementioned life forms and ceases once the connection has been made. Assume that the connection has been made the minute the date has been accepted. There’s really no reason to go on and on about the number of foreign trips you go on, how earth-shatteringly important you are to your company, how you were having tea last week with the Dalai Lama and how many thousand books you read in the past year. It’s off-putting and most importantly it’s boring. You can safely assume that your date tuned out the minute you started throwing numbers at her.
4. Not listening at all
It’s a conversation. That means both people talk and listen. Talk some, she’ll listen. Then let her talk and you need to do more than stare around the room, ask the waiter for refills and interrupt to talk about the movie you saw. Assume that she can interest you with more than her bust. She could have a sense of humour, an opinion and intelligence too. Give her a chance to show you that too.
5. Calling her names like ‘Babe’, ‘Sweetheart’ or ‘Honeybun’
It’s a first date. She could be your girlfriend but she is not, as yet. The two of you could be friends but you haven’t gotten to that place, right now. Undue familiarity and worse, sexist phrases are instant turn-offs. She has a name; use it. In time, she might permit you to give her a nickname, but at least be original.
6. Playing SuperShrink
You’ve probably heard that women dabble in pop psychology. Maybe she has issues. Everyone does, it’s normal. But don’t put her under a microscope and psycho-analyze her on a date. It’s immensely offensive to tell her that she’s afraid of getting too close to men because of her Electra complex. If you’re a doctor, that’s work during a leisure activity. BORING. If you’re not a doctor, it tells her that you’re just being a creep.
It’s not cool to be commitment-phobic. Your messy love life and your crazy work schedules are not her concerns. You can go for a movie alone or have lunch on your own if these are true. If this date is happening, it’s because you agreed to it. Don’t waste her time and yours by coming to a date and then talking about why it can’t go further.
8. Bringing other people along
Are you serious? Friends? Parents? Siblings? Colleagues? If it’s a date, it’s between two people. Any more and it’s a party, a group or worse – an orgy. She may not mind meeting big groups of people. But not on a date. You ask people out because you want to spend time with them alone. You accept a date for the same reason. For group dos, you get invited and drop in or not. It’s different. Please get that, it messes things up if you don’t.
9. Self-help style follow throughs
This is important. If the date went well, it’s okay to keep in touch. Strike that, it’s good form, it’s good for you and for her to keep in touch. Please forget what you heard about waiting three days before calling (or whatever it was you learnt in school and college). Those games are for adolescents. Send a text message saying it was fun and you’d like to catch up again. Add her on Facebook. Email or drop her a note. Open a chat window and say hi. There are loads of embarrassment-free ways to say that you liked what you saw and would like to know more.
10. Being a jerk
This is super-critical so listen up: Do everything or anything in point.9 only, repeat ONLY if you are interested in going out again. There’s no easy way to say that it didn’t quite ‘happen’ so just don’t say anything at all. But don’t prolong the agony by keeping up the conversation. You’ve spent some time in each other’s company. If it didn’t work out, there’s no reason to waste any more of each other’s time. You don’t get brownie NiceGuy points for acting interested when you are not.
If the date didn’t go as well as you thought, just tell her so. She may be disappointed but that’s better than being disgusted. And if you’re that terrified of telling the truth, at least wait till the date’s over. Don’t scuttle it with games or lies while it’s in progress. People can always tell. She may not like it but she’ll respect you for honesty.
Also posted to Love Beckons.
Recall a fairy tale-esque moment from 2011. An epic kiss? A triumphant victory? A Wonderland-esque adventure? How did this momentous or fanciful happening affect your outlook?
Years ago, a close friend told me about the early days of her relationship. She’d married to a man who’d lived in the US for years and moved overseas for the first time in her life. Before that, she’d lived with her parents, under her grandmother’s guardianship and later, shared a room with another girl.
She said the first year of her marriage was all conflict, fighting all the time. Being fiercely independent, she hated the fact that she had no life outside of him. Her only friends were his friends. All of that changed in their second year, when they moved houses. It turned out, that he had shifted to a bigger place just before getting married and furnished it as he thought a couple would like. But they were all his ideas and how well did he know her then, after all? Their second house was one that they found, furnished & decorated together. She said a lot of their problems settled after that. It sounded incredulous to me.
The boy moved within a couple of months of our dating, to a bigger house that was closer to where I was. It was already furnished and his sparse bachelor possessions (gaming console, microwave & single bed) fit in somehow. I didn’t like the house. The wall-sized poster of a garden, right out of a bad 80s Bollywood movie was just the start. Then there was the clunky furniture chosen by the elderly couple that owned the flat, which they didn’t have space for anymore but couldn’t bear to get rid of, either. There was the construction site right next door, which made it impossible to open the curtains. There was the musty smell hanging about the entire house, the cheesy stuffed toys displayed everywhere and the garish chandelier right in the center of the hall.
I didn’t think that much of it back then, since I thought it wasn’t my house. But we did spend a lot of time in that house. I’d be over on most weekends, holidays and even some weekdays. I soon had a key of my own. I’ve spent time there alone a few times, when I was in the area and had to wait for my next appointment. It was an odd place that I spent a lot of time in, but had nothing of me and never felt like home to me.
Earlier this year, following all the problems of the house, including skyrocketing rents, water supply issues, horrible neighbors, tyrannical landlords and infrastructural problems, we moved. I say we, because it is a shared space. It took us a year to realize it but home is a space you share with the people who spend a lot of time in it.
Our new place is in a different area, a far less posh & upmarket one. It is smaller. But you know something? I love it. Few places have felt like home, like this one does. I remember the exact moment when I pulled out a set of colourful prayer flags, a memento from a friend’s visit to Ladakh. These used to hang outside my bedroom window and cheer me up with their sight, the first thing after I opened my eyes. They are now strung across the large window in the hall. The belief is that when they wave in the breeze, all the good wishes and prayers printed on them, come true. They’ve certainly brought more than just colour into this new house. They’ve brought joy, peace and a sense of peace that the earlier houses didn’t have.
Other little touches have been added. A Wolverine poster on the door, that was a gift from his friend. A seed in a pot, that I grew into a happy, green leafy plant. A stack of books on the window sill, his and mine. My movie DVDs mixed in with his XBox collection. The beanbag that used to sit in my room, next to his computer table, that now holds the TV.
This is our Wonderland, one that we made together.
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I wonder if, at some point in the relationship, a woman feels more like a single mother than a girlfriend/wife. I know I certainly do. And I have one of the good ones. He’s not abusive, he doesn’t cheat, he’s not a male chauvinist. And yet, here I am.
I’ve refrained from talking about my relationship, except in very general terms on this blog. It is after all, a source (and showcase) of my work. It doesn’t feel very professional to do that. But then, my profession as a blogger/writer, is to talk about my personal life and what I draw from the events in it.
Here’s me saying, I’m exhausted. I wasn’t prepared for this. I went through my childhood being groomed to be a good wife and even an adarsh daughter-in-law some day. Along the way, education & exposure added their double-edged knives of modern thought and also high expectations of the opposite sex. I signed up to be a modern girlfriend, an equal partner. Nothing was said about the duties of a babysitter/complaint register/personal secretary/housekeeper/nurse.
There is the kind of pressure that’s obvious, that rams at you like a megaton truck, flattening you in its sheer force. That’s what we ‘modern’ types speak out against, the social stigma attached to a woman’s deviation from the norm, the enforced stereotypes and the over harsh punishment to those who stand out.
Then there’s the kind of pressure that the West has labelled passive-aggressiveness. There are only two people in a relationship. If one shies away from issues, it automatically falls to the other person to handle them. If one partner refuses to acknowledge that there is an issue, it still means that the other person has to deal with it, on top of carrying the elephant in the room.
There is more to life and indeed, a relationship, than having a good time. And when it comes to those routine, mundane realities, a relationship is supposed to feel like a team. Chores are nobody’s idea of fun. But lapses in performing them signify a bigger problem than is obvious. There’s the chore itself that has to be performed by the other person, in addition to their own. There’s constantly having to look over one’s shoulder, the niggling back-of-mind concern over whether it gets done. And more often than not, when things are not done when they’re supposed to, they get harder. How is all of this not a problem??
If I have to hear, “I’ve had a hard day at work!” one more time, I swear I’m going to scream. Because my day begins the minute I wake up and doesn’t end till I’m ready to drop dead. Most days, even with that, there are things left undone. I don’t get weekends off from managing the house, monitoring the service staff. There are no sick days off from being the subject of everyone’s scrutiny on my dressing, my life choices, my career, my looks and anything else possible. My family and friends don’t recognize ‘I am tired’ as a valid excuse for not being a daughter & friend. Hell, I can barely get away with that even when I’m flowing blood & the hormones are having a party in my head. I’m a woman and that’s my job. It comes with no perks, no respite, no bonuses and no accolades from anybody at all.
The temptation to chuck career, dreams and everything else that it’s possible to, simply to let up the pressure, is overwhelming. But that’s a lose-lose situation. Quit all these things and I lose the right to a strong opinion, the voice of a ‘Modern Woman’.
There are days when I feel like the only way I can stay sane is to assume that I’m with someone who is less than me. That’s the only way I can justify having to take more responsibility, worry more and do more and still care about someone who is neither touched by the same sense of responsibility nor emphatic to my stress. It’s easiest to believe that I’m dealing with a child.
Imagine that. I’m a single mom without ever having been pregnant.
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* Image via Wikipedia
Getting married, let’s talk about that, shall we? Not the relationship itself or the state of being of its practitioners. That’s right, practitioners. Just because everyone does it, doesn’t detract from the fact that marriage is indeed, an artificial human construct, a social order and a belief system. Because it is all these things simultaneously, we find ourselves at the complex crossroads of ‘What am I supposed to do?’ and ‘What can I live with?’. I am talking about the WEDDING.
The fact is that human beings have evolved, and with them, the societal constructs. Why, then, are we stuck with the same template for matrimony that our ancestors seven generations prior, used? Let’s consider some of the better known rituals.
Dowry has now gained the status of a social taboo. Its premise of bartering human beings has been rejected as unethical and demeaning. Why are we then still holding onto ‘kanyadaan’ (which literally translates to ‘donating the girl’)? Doesn’t that jar on the ears just as much as a certain other word that has to do with a man who peddles women?
Then there’s jewelery, without which no self-respecting Indian wedding would be complete, the larger, blingier and more expensive, the better. Traditionally, gold was investment, supposedly the wealth given to a woman to assure her financial security. Now, first of all, gold is not an investment anymore. Jewellery that is bought, essentially becomes a sunk cost since the emotional upheaval associated with having to sell it is an impenetrable exit barrier. Associating too much status value & sentimental attachment with gold has thus devalued it as an investment commodity.
Secondly, it is not the only source of financial security available anymore. Wouldn’t property or bonds or even money in a bank account be wiser than a physical piece of gold that can easily be stolen, damaged or mislaid?
Thirdly, (and need I even say this?) the origins of this archaic practice of covering a woman with gold stem from the same root as concessions made to the ‘weaker sex’. Admittedly, there are any number of women willing to be waited on hand-to-foot so they don’t need to do any work. Propagating regressive attitudes isn’t solely a male thing. Add to this, the massive marketing machinery, that ironically enough, contorts jewelery into a symbol of women’s empowerment rather than its exact opposite. Being a woman (and a vain one, at that) myself, I’m adequately appointed with enough baubles & trinkets to look shamefaced about it. I live with myself with the (albeit weak) stand to limit these to non-precious ‘artificial’ jewelery. I also baulk at the idea of expensive jewelery as a gift. (I mean, would you expect me to be grateful if I were gifted a ball-and-chain?).
Finally, let’s talk about the elaborate rituals that vary by caste, community and geography. Who even knows what they mean anymore? Even among those who believe and insist on their practice – typically senior family members – how many actually understand what is being recited, the significance of a ceremonial fire, the value of that thread or the meaning of the rice-throwing, the turmeric/vermillion application? My bet is that this question will be met by one of the following:
- Stony silence
- Declarations of solidarity with faith, religion or country (mystifying, this last one)
- Accusations of being ‘too logical’ (mysteriously a character flaw at such a moment)
- Tears, angry words, threats or insults
- All of the above
And yet, none of them answers the question. Why are so many of us willing to embark on what might be the most poignant adventure of our lives, with practices that we do not know, understand, identify with or believe in? What bodes it for the future of a relationship that begins by buckling under pressure to appease a third party altogether? What does it say about a couple who make the commitment of a lifetime by pandering to other people, regardless of their own beliefs?
A ritual without meaning is just a farce. And out of context, it borders on hilarious. I’ve never seen a bridegroom on a white horse that didn’t look horribly uncomfortable and somewhat sheepish. Every single married friend I have testifies to the wedding album creation as an ardous, unpleasant process of photographers barking orders and plastic smiles pasted on for hour. Nothing strikes me as more artificial than the queue of people lining up for a couple of minutes on a stage to hand over a gift, shake hands with the couple (standing in front of the ubiquitous gilt chairs with red upholstery), pose for a photograph and then make a beeline for the food. Most ironical of all, food, that one surefire indicator of the ‘success’ of a wedding usually ends up being something that the bridal couple itself ends up having no time for.
What’s with the ‘success’ tag of a wedding anyhow? Since when did beginning a personal relationship get associated with providing mass-level entertainment, social pandering and budget overflows? I don’t see anything holy about this state of matrimony.
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So another month draws to a close and we’re nearly at a year of link-love on my blogs. Do drop me a line and tell me what you think of it!
XX Factor‘s first guest-contributor, The Single Married Man has been bringing this blog a whiff of freshness with his own brand of relationship musings. This month he talks about getting back into dating. There’s more to come from him and in the meantime, you can also catch him on Twitter.
There’s another guest-contributor coming up sometime this month but I won’t tell you anymore for the time being. Any suggestions on the kind of perspective you’d like to see here at XX Factor are welcome!
And here’s the month’s features:
- Yes, I’d imagine this would be ridiculously funny…except that I can’t imagine a man actually going all the way to this. ‘A Post Gender Normative Man Tries To Pick Up A Woman At A Bar‘ (via McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, link courtesy GautamGhosh)
- LOL @ Personal strength no.2!!’Romance Resume‘ (via McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, link courtesy GautamGhosh)
- ‘A Guide To Geek Girls‘ (via OldBoysNetwork, linked to by GautamGhosh)
- I was ROFLing all through and then I saw the last one and I pretty much fell out of the window! ‘21 Things We Secretly Suspect About The Opposite Sex‘ (via Cracked)
As I wait for the divorce to come through (maybe I’ll do a post on the complications of divorce in India someday) friends have started asking,
“So have you started dating again?”
The question used to make me recoil with horror. Because while I am attracted to confident and beautiful women, I don’t feel ready for a relationship. And I really don’t know if I ever will be. A divorced man (and woman) is seen as flawed by members of the opposite sex and society as a a whole.
So I don’t really know what they mean when they ask me if I will start dating again. Do they mean I should start dating other separated and divorced women or women who are spinsters over 35 and are desperate enough to marry a divorced man paying money to his ex-wife for child support?
Uncannily, thanks to Facebook, I have connected with two old female friends (who I have never considered in a romantic way) and discovered that they are separated/divorced – a fact that changed the way I thought of them. Would they be interested? I think not… but my reaction to their relationship status intrigued me.
Then there are single women who want to chat with you – but knowing that they are 12 yrs younger than you makes you cringe as you wonder
“Are they closer in age to my kids than to me?”
“Come on! 38 is not old! Why are you making yourself older than you are?”
Then there are the older women – 33 to 40 yr olds who, after knowing your status, want to meet for a coffee. My previous marriage was a decision based on a month of dating.. and I am now really scared of people in a hurry in relationships (even myself)
As I focus again on a single life – I hope to figure out the changed rules of dating… and will keep you updated
August saw XX Factor introducing its very first guest-writer, TheSingleMarriedMan. I’ve been asking him to write a guest post for ages but he only recently consented. He’s newly single (after a longterm relationship) and is bringing his own brand of humour, cynicism & wisdom to XX Factor. I’ve also been on the lookout for alternate voices, male or female for this space. The battle of the sexes, relationships, dating & love are too big for just one person to talk about, don’t you think? If you or someone you know is interested in being one of the voices of XX Factor, do write in to me at ideasmithy at gmail dot com. And until then, here’s what we were looking at in August:
- ‘Indian Relationships: A State Of Anarchy‘: In this age of limitless social interaction, are we also setting ourselves up to relationship predators? (via Yahoo!RealBeauty)
- Tips for women on dealing with a male friend in the throes of divorce (via TheSingleMarriedMan)
- You’re never too old for a crush! (via Yahoo!RealBeauty)
- ‘Socially Obliged‘: A passionate viewpoint on being single & the way society may be heading (via Facebook)
- ‘Would you want women-only subway cars to stop sexual harassment?‘: An angle on street harassment – should women have to be segregated on public transport for protection? The question is raised by a US citizen for the US but the discussion holds valid everywhere, even ‘safe’ Mumbai with its ladies’ compartment. (via TheFrisky)