I was watching Sex and The City (the first movie). This story with all its flaws and shortcomings, served as a reference point for my early feminism and navigating gender politics and relationships. I saw the film when it first released in 2008 with the mild boredom and indulgent disdain of someone who knows she has outgrown an early affection. I saw the movie a few times again in the later years but it was tainted by my opinion of the second film. I swore off, relegating Carrie (whom I never liked that much) into the bin of my cringeworthy-taste-in-my-younger-years bin. All I saw was the whitewashing, the self-absorption and the deep flaws in the central character. But today, today I saw her pain. And it brought back my own.
My wedding ended, quite the same way as Carrie Bradshaw’s. After years of toiling and struggling and stiff-upper-lipping, just when I was ready to believe that I was getting my dreams, it shattered. It was abrupt, cruel and deeply humiliating. And it ground me down in a way that I couldn’t ever imagine I’d be ground down. It has been over four years since that happened.
The first thing that struck me, stung me, was the fact that Carrie Bradshaw had a rock-solid fortress of her friends that she could retreat into and let herself shatter. I did not have that. I had a family that took me back, yes. I have lived with feeling immense gratitude for that. After all, I am part of a culture where daughters are killed by their own parents, in the womb, at birth and even as adults to protect their honour. My family did not do that. But they do not think that a ‘relationship’ is the same thing as a marriage. They believe a breakup is a silly, minor thing, not to be compared to the devastation of divorce. I do not blame them. They’ve gone far beyond what their generation and our culture has taught them.
But my friends and everyone else around me? That’s a whole well of pain. Time and again, over four years I’ve heard various versions of,
“Who cares about him? Forget him.”
“But you are a strong woman. Get over it.”
“Snap out. You’ve got a great life ahead of you. Live it.”
I have been shamed for being upset. I have been judged for wanting to hide. My anguish has been brushed aside in favour of shopping expeditions, party plans. And I’ve been logicked to prove that I must not feel anything.
I am so angry.
Last week I spoke to Xion after several months. And he told me he would always be grateful to my ex for pointing out that I cared about him. Am I supposed to applaud my ex for pointing out the obvious? Is he to be deified for ‘not saying anything bad’ about me? I didn’t cheat on him. I did not gaslight him, abuse him. I did not curb his friendships, his art. I did not ask for dowry. How does his behaviour get compared with mine, when our provocations have been so different?
For my own sanity, I’m learning to walk away from the terrible relationship that I fell into and struggled and sank in. But I have not been able to get past the profound sense of betrayal I feel from people who were around me then and should have been my support. Why not? After all, I’ve been there for each of them. I’ve not thrown ‘tough love’ at them. I’ve not tried to jolly them out of their breakups, their familial problems, their health issues, just because it’s inconvenient to me. I’ve listened, been as gentle as possible. Why do I not deserve the same?
And what is this ‘Strong Woman’ business? My ex threw it at me all the time as a way to shrug off any responsibility towards treating me nicely, being on my side in front of the world or even doing his share. This tells me that the people I thought were my friends, are not different. It’s not convenient to them, to have me down and out.
Four months after my ex threw me out, without warning, without even the courtesy of an explanation, I was on my feet. I had a job. I went and made new friends, found new interests. I didn’t go to pieces or burst into tears at the drop of a hat. A year later, the pain started to ooze out as I watched my ex exploit what he put me through, into a glorification exercise for himself. I crumbled and tried in vain to patch the leaks, with Landmark Forum, with new friendships, with Tinder, anything. And still, my friends said,
“This is so undignified. Get over it.”
“You are so negative. Look at him, he doesn’t even care. Why are you wasting your time?”
Last year, my insides just collapsed and all that was left was a hollow darkness. I lost my way, lost myself, just lost track of what light looked like. Reema and Adi stood by me, wading into the muck of my emotional gutters and carrying me out when they could.
I ran into my ex unexpectedly last month. It was strange. I didn’t feel a thing. The person in my memories, the monster who ravaged my universe, has nothing to do with the person who walks around by the same name. It was heartening. My ticket out. Validation of the thought I’ve clung to since 2012 that I would not, will not let this horrible experience become my identity. I refuse to settle into the label of the jilted woman, the abuse survivor, the damaged abla nari.
So it was a shock when I found myself reduced to tears today, watching an old, not-even-that-good movie. Reema lit a candle inside my crying. She told me it was okay to feel pain. She told me that this wasn’t about wanting to get back with a bad ex; it was about processing grief. And she said, that takes its own time.
We are in a culture that only allows for grief processing in certain circumstances and for specific situations. If I had been married and my spouse had died, I would have been allowed to grieve for years. If I had let myself descend into fits of crying, into broken fear, I would have been petted and cared for. But because I refused to let this defeat me, because I took it head-on, the people around me decided that my pain was not worthy of their compassion. Adi says most people find other people’s pain inconvenient and that makes them behave like douches.
Well. I’ve spent the day crying, then speaking to Reema, then putting my cupboard in order, speaking to Adi, doing my chores, doing my work, speaking to Reema, eating an icecream, speaking to Adi. I am still walking, still writing. A little compassion did not hurt either of them to give but it took me a long way.
I suddenly feel no guilt, no doubt anymore about letting go of pretty much everyone from my past. My pre-2012 world let me down, very badly. I deserve better – people who can stand through my pain as well as my joyful affections. And people who do not punish me for breaking down suddenly.
Pain, it demands to be felt. And there really is no sane way to grieve. I’m just glad it’s finally happening. There will be a morning after that and perhaps that one will have more kindness.
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It’s an important question. A BiFF can change your whole outlook to the opposite sex, to love, relating, societies, work. A good BiFF is all good things rolled into one, a sort of Human Being Plus. I’d go so far to say the BiFF is like one of the X-Men. Wait, what’s a BiFF, you say?
A BiFF my dear boys and girls, is a Bisexual Friend Forever. I’m a big believer in friendship with the opposite sex so my BiFF has to be a bisexual man. Let me tell you why BiFFs are so amazing. But first, what do we know about bisexuality?
Rainbows are everyone’s favorite cause on the internet and we’re steeped in images of men kissing men, women marrying each other and matched pairs everywhere. Where do we stand on people who swing both ways?
At one end of the spectrum is the Sex and The City school of thought that sees bisexuality as a kind of greed, of not wanting to settle with just one sort. At the other end…well, need we call it an end since it’s pretty much the rest of the icebBoyerg? Yeah, anyone that’s not matched into One Male-One Female is not human. That. Let’s return to Sex and the City since that’s pop culture’s most recent revolutionary offering around sexuality. It’s over ten years old and that in internet years, could constitute four generations. I don’t know how bisexual people felt about it then but I’m not going to worry about that now.
Let’s set aside the theory bits and let me tell you about what I’ve seen. My first interaction with an openly bisexual man was when we were out on our first date. He told me that he had kissed another man. And then he paused in his story. What I said went on to define who I am (and I’m so proud of this),
“Did you like it?” I asked.
When he completed his story, I thanked him for sharing something so private with me. He smiled and told me that it was test to see whether I’d think of him as weird. No, I thought considering, not really. It felt as normal as anything else and I couldn’t find anything inside my reactions that felt revulsion. He went on to introduce me to John Mayer and Sex and the City. He was the only guy I knew who had even heard of the show, let alone owning the entire VCD collection. It would be a few years before I became involved in the rainbow cause and longer still for friends to start talking about their own bisexuality.
Here’s what I know about bisexual men. They have none of the homophobic hang-ups of the straight men I’ve dated. This means, they’re a lot more relaxed in their own skin. They aren’t as horrified by women’s power as most straight men (obviously or otherwise). They are not defined by limited notions of what constitutes manly behavior. Interestingly, some of them are even alpha males.
At the same time, they are not as weighed down by the discrimination meted out to the gay community (of course this may just be the specific people I know). They are not either screaming themselves hoarse waving rainbow flags or devolving into sulky passive-aggressiveness against straight people. Their sexuality is just one more thing about them, like the colour of their hair or their favorite food. Isn’t that interesting now? By being pan-sexual, sexuality ceases to define them. Think about a man that is not defined by who he chooses to sleep with.
I’ve always thought that homophobia and low self-esteem are both led and reinforced by straight men. Okay, a very specific kind of straight man. It’s that guy who keeps alive notions like, ‘Ooh boys’ night out! Because women are terrors to be gotten away from’, ‘Woman on top! Yay, porn! No, not in real life!’ You can see why I think the Bisexual man is an advancement on this breed.
Once upon a time, the gay best friend was a fashionable idea, conjuring up images of boy/girl duos shopping for pastels and ogling men together (“Is he for you or for me?”). In reality, the friendships are nothing like that. Shopping and bird-watching are the most trivial of pursuits two people can undertake together. And with people who are supposedly as emotionally evolved as women and gay men, really is that the best one can come up with? In truth, I find the conversations boil down to who is feeling more marginalised, more discriminated against (Women, of course! We’re the biggest mistreated minority in the world! But then I’m biased). If a conversation goes beyond that, it’s because we are two people who like each, regardless of our sexuality. And the sexuality bit is just something that well, we don’t have anything in common. Gay relationship dynamics are very different from straight ones.
But bisexual men make for great friends to women. They think like men but they are also able to relate to the way straight women think and feel. Picture this. You’re getting ready for a first date with a hot guy. Turn and ask your caricatured gay friend for advice. Run around wheeing and clapping hands and jumping up and down. And then the rest of the week agonising about the date.
Instead ask your BiFF about the date. He’ll give you a once-over and say,
“Looks good. Less lipstick. I know you like it but if I were him, I wouldn’t want to kiss that. If you want to get kissed, lose the lipstick.”
So you go, “Hmph. It’s a first date. We are only going to have dinner.”
“So?” he counters, “Don’t you want to have sex with him?”
“I haven’t thought about it,” you bluster, “It’s only the first date!”
“You met him on Tinder,” he replies and looks away.
No, he isn’t being respectful and giving you time to wipe your tears in private. He noticed someone hot walk across the room.
“Your hair looks really nice, by the way,” he interrupts your stream of thought, as he starts to get up. “See you later.”
He pays, his eyes never leaving his target and reaches for you with one arm. You sigh and resign yourself to the side-hug. “Call me if you need to get away” he whispers into your hair and vanishes.
Yeah, like I said, the BiFF is all things good about a man. What happens if your date is a creep and you have to call him and he’s busy? Well, that’s the subject for another post.
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 pop culture reflects the mood of the people, this generation is quite high on an oestrogen-and-botox laced cocktail. SATCmania is a phenomenon. I know I said I didn’t like the book much. The first movie was quite bad. Even the TV series that spawned the wave of hysteria petered out in a rather disappointing way (Alexsander Pietr what?!). I know it’s not smart, it’s not politically correct and yet I stay true.
The second movie is out and hits Indian screens in a few days. I’m queueing up for tickets as soon as they’re available. And this time, I’ve even actively looking for wonderful, fabulous, fashionable friends to go with. We’ll all deck up, wear insensible (and gorgeous) shoes, touch up our make-up every few minutes and scream and oooh in the theatre.
The last time round, there was a collective shriek from urban women worldover while the men struggled for cover. Well, you guys better shield your ears this time round. You’ve been warned. And in case you’re interested, here’s making sense of the phenomenon that has men baffled – Sex And The City!
5. The crazy costumes. SATC proves the premise that fashion is entertainment; humour, drama (even melodrama) and horror! From Miranda’s funny hair to Samantha’s bling skirts to the mother of all fashion screenplays…Carrie Bradshaw herself!
4. Priveleged whining – For the same reasons that a KJo movie is fun, for the same reason hundreds of Indian women tune in to the ‘K’ franchise on TV each day. Credit card overdrafts, catfights, relationship angst. The problems are magnified, too grand to ever happen to such mundane mortals as us and it makes us feel better that even Fabulous has problems.
3. The Old Girls Club. Yes, it’s bitchy, it’s sluttish, it’s venemously anti-male. Okay, modern female bonding rituals are still works in progress. They feel good anyhow.
2. Samantha Jones. She’s the ultimate fantasy. She’s bold, brazen, cares not a whit about what men think, is a great friend and dresses on whim. None of us could actually be her. Most of us have too much of Charlotte (prude) or Miranda (pragmatist) or Carrie (chicken) in us. But that wicked, whimsical streak in us all responds to Sam’s flash. Hooo girl!
1. Habit. The story has been done to death. Big-Aidan-Big-Aidan-Big-Aidan yet again. Gay men are either adorable or bitchy. Friendship lasts forever. Bad ex-es get their dues. Good ex-es come back when you’re getting bored with the current. Yes, yes, yes I know. But think of it this way. You already know the ways a ballgame can end. One side wins or the other or occasionally there’s a tie. And yet you watch each one with rapt attention. It’s sort of like that. It’s a chicklit saga on steroids. We’re hooked and we’re going along till the ride ends.
My latest obsession is Sex and the City. For the past few days I’ve been wrapped up in the love lives of Carrie, Samatha, Miranda and Charlotte, dazzled by the wardrobes and their lifestyles, amused by their incessant man-izing (!) and thoughtful over the dilemmas they face. Okay, I know I know, I’ve taken the late train, but hell I’m driving it!!! I’ve been watching the early seasons of the show back-to-back. Desperate Housewives (still on air I think) didn’t do the same thing for me. The other program I liked so much was Ally McBeal.
Do these two have something in common? Oh, apart from the fact that they feature sucessful, rather neurotic, ‘with it’ urban women? Errrm, it’s the same life. The same story. So Ally sees dancing babies in then midst of a courtroom drama on human interest issues in New York(?) while Carrie and her friends explore and demonstrate the vagaries of Manhatten’s delights. Ummm…and I battle Mumbai’s crowds, enjoy its movies and pubs and obsess over my men. Oh and I also enjoy Sapna Bhavnani’s column where she shows us a glimpse of the mayhem within our own heads.
So why do we identify so well with these women and their lives? And why not with the protagonists (and victims) of the K-serial brigade? We turn up our noses at their over-the-top antics, their crazy plotlines and their melodrama. But of course, getting sloshed on Cosmopolitans the night before a photo-shoot, maxing a credit card on shoes and running after dancing babies is very rational.
Their fashion sense is disastrous!!! Think plate-sized rings, think snake-shaped bindis, garish sarees and pantomime make-up. We think they’re too painted up! It’s Prada, Dolce & Gabbana and let’s not forget Manolos only for us, dahling.
Their value systems are oh-so-archaic and warped!! They make it sound like the only way a woman can be strong is by being bitchy and venomous!!! Ah yes, it is very progressive to obsess over the ticking biological clock , go into depression over a good-looking man’s committment-phobia, benchmark ourselves by the bedroom standards of ‘how-many-notches-on-the-bestpost’ philosophy and live with erectile dysfunction, cheating and abuse just for the magical ‘MARRIED’ tag.
Now before I get branded a woman-hater as well (the anti-feminists are up in arms already!!!), please go back and read the first paragraph of this post. I, like most other women in this set, watch and enjoy these shows. I echo these sentiments. But I have to wonder, what makes me so different from the ‘typical Indian bahu’ who supposedly watches the K-serials with the same fervour that I devour SATC? Is my mania with lingerie and perfume that different from her obsession for jewellery and silk? Are my television idols any less insecure, confused or noble than hers are?
I’m blessed with all the insecurities of my gender and I relate to women who live these out on-screen, in lives that look like mine. And they do the same. But I’d turn my nose up at their taste and they’d probably right me off as trash (brown trash since I’m Indian?). We’re all as hypocritical and shallow as each other. Or no, that’s not fashionable. They’re cynical but I’m just jaded, dahling….pass me another cocktail.