I met somebody recently. Someone who has known me for nearly a decade, only I can’t remember them at all. All the references check out, the dates line up, the stories match. And yet, there’s a gaping hole in my memory where this person should be.
All I can find to explain this is, that when we first connected, I was sunk deep in a toxic situation. I could barely keep my head above water and also put on a cheerful front (because it always feels like the world is full of vultures waiting for a chance to pounce). I have a way of buckling down to the business of survival when this happens. And clearly this happens often enough for me to have a way, a system even and one that happens on autopilot. It involves minimising contact with other people, including what I let into my mind because everything, everything hurts so much. I still haven’t gotten over the shock, the grief of losing so many years, so much to such painful experiences.
A friend and I talked about how surviving an abusive relationship can involve a form of PTSD. Disjointed memories, feeling violated by things that happened years ago and you thought were long resolved, confusion when you know fully well you’re a very intelligent, high-functioning person — aren’t these signs of PTSD? Yes. I struggle, I still do. I probably always will.
I’ve run away. It’s too hurtful. This person’s existence is a reminder of horrific things in my past. It’s a reminder of how badly I fail to erase a monster from my narrative, how ridiculously I crash in my intention to not let it define me. Trust feels dangerous. I never want to enter a minefield again and it doesn’t matter how many times I’m told it’s a crop field, not a minefield.
I made the mistake of watching JOKER last evening. It’s a mistake because I’ve been more careful these past few months about steering clear of triggering stories. And this one came gift-wrapped with all the forms of toxicity popular media has — toxic masculinity, white male privilege, glorifying rage, escalating abuse cycles, violence. I’m so tired. I just thought it would be nice to watch a movie.
It’s time to go to sleep. I don’t know if there is anything else one can do with shell shock. For now, while I can still fall asleep, I will.
The Beatles sang,
“All you need is love”
and they may well have been right.
In our increasingly urban world of nuclear families and zero work-life balance, the emotional support system of a loving, caring partner becomes even more important. Ironically, it seems like the demand for such a person is going up just as the supply is diminishing. It’s not that our capacity for love and caring has diminished.
But it seems like trust is so much harder in our times. Break-ups and emotional upheavals are as commonplace as economic fluctuations. Leading a person on with no regard for commitment, is a socially approved activity with the disclaimer of ‘String along or be strung along’. An abusive or cheating partner is entirely your problem. While the world clicks its collective tongue at such occurrences, that’s about as much sympathy as you’ll get, and even then, grudgingly.
And after you weather the misadventures of these cruel times, what’s left of your heart to share with another person? Multiply that by two and it makes the fate of love seem very dark, indeed. Love maybe a universal need but relationships are certainly not for the faint of heart.
A version of this appears on Yahoo! Real Beauty.
A friend asked me yesterday how I would feel if my boyfriend took off on a trip with my best friend. I thought for a bit and said,
I trust my best friend implicitly so I think I’d feel a lot safer if my boyfriend went with her rather than with some other woman.
The question however opens up a plethora of other questions. How much should one trust one’s partner? How far to go before one meanders into naivete? How much to hold back before transgressing into paranoia?
Some years back I was seeing a guy who used to travel often on work, to Bangkok. On one of those trips, I received the following message from him:
I’m sitting in a café and being served by a pretty waitress in a very short dress. She’s been giving me the once over more than once. What should I do?
My reply was,
Commitment isn’t a piece of paper or spoken words. It is a state of mind. Do what you please.
I didn’t ask what he finally did and he didn’t tell me. A few weeks later, he cheated on me with someone who called herself my friend. It was a soul-tearing experience. Other than the obvious low self-esteem and the humiliation, I was plagued by doubts about my own trusting nature. Should I have controlled the reins a little more? Should I have been more watchful of him? Should I have trusted him less? This was not the only time my trust had been laid waste after all.
And yet, despite all of the above, after all the crying is over, I find myself coming right back to the same thought. If I’m in a relationship with someone, I have to, I absolutely must respect that person as a responsible adult, as someone with a mind and conscience of their own and trust that they will do the right thing, by themselves and by me.
Every occasion of thwarted trust seems to imply that this is foolishness, rose-tinted naivete at best. And yet, I know I couldn’t stand to be with someone who didn’t treat me the same way; someone who didn’t want to face their insecurities but thrust them on me in the form of control games, instead.
The point is not that insecurity and feelings of jealousy don’t exist. Indeed it would be unnatural to think they don’t. I think if you care for someone, you fear losing them, you worry about losing face, you are scared of being hurt. But these fears are our own, our individual responsibility to deal with and it’s criminal to dump them on the object of one’s affections.
As an afterthought, I added to my answer,
I think I would feel quite bad about the fact that my boyfriend was going off with another woman (even my best friend) but I probably wouldn’t say anything about it. I mean, if he didn’t understand that, then what was the point of telling him? It would be my problem to handle but I wouldn’t feel guilty about feeling that way. After all, wouldn’t he feel the same way if I had done the same thing?
At the end of it, all I can see is that trust is a tricky thing, a lottery ticket. You take a chance, stake your emotions and hope that they will be reciprocated, respected and cherished. If they aren’t, that’s just too bad but it’s the price of looking for a relationship. If you decide to fall in love, don’t expect a safety net, that’s all. You may fall, you may survive, it’s up to you to decide whether it’s worth the risk.
(Image courtesy Osho Zen Tarot)
You know its interesting at the brink of relationship, twenty somethings like me, really have this question. Men have always been known to not trust women, and women on the other hand trust men, but in this age, how does it really work out?, hows the new age indian women when it comes to trust her partner. In the age of prenuptial agreement, and pre marriage sexual health certifcation, it looks really important how much do we trust each other in terms of our emotional side, would we for example share a difficulty or a mental crisis we have been having without hesitation?. would you?
That’s exactly what I was observing in my last post though I didn’t delve into the details.
How much do we trust? Do we even remember what trust is about? I guess none of us are born cynical. But with the experience of disappointment, comes withdrawal and fear.
The last guy I felt close to would often complain that I never shared my problems. My rationale was that I didn’t want to burden my troubles on someone else, especially so when I could handle them myself. And he would tell me that it made a person feel wanted and needed to be able to help.
One particular episode stands out in my mind. Over six months back, I developed a sudden ache in the side of my neck, which I put down to sleeping in a wrong position. I applied some balm and decided to forget about it. Except that it got worse and upto a point where I couldn’t hold my head up without supporting it on the palm of one hand and even that ended in excruciating pain. Rather reluctantly I went to the doctor who (prone to freaking out over things, I must add) pronounced,
I gaped. Arthritis in the neck…and at my age?
It was a horrible moment, one of those few ones where I really wanted to curl up and cry and be told that it would be alright. My best friend was not reachable just at the moment, mum’s phone was switched off and dad was in a meeting. That took care of the three people that I would unquestioningly trust. With no choice and not very happily, I dialed his number. He wasn’t reachable either.
I don’t have a logical explanation for what I did next. I just switched off my phone, stumbled home and went to bed. The next morning I woke up with the same ache but I held my head up stiffly and went to work telling my parents that I was fine and not to make a big deal out of it. He tried calling me through the day but I didn’t answer. I wasn’t angry with him. I just needed to sort it out in my head. I wasn’t ready to talk about it to anybody else and I actually didn’t.
Two days later, the tests revealed that all was clear and I was just suffering from that affliction of most computer users – overexertion and resulting stiffness of muscles. A bout of physiotherapy exercises put me right back on my feet (or my head in place). It was only then that I felt comfortable enough to tell him what the doctor had suspected. I still wonder why. Arthritis is painful but it isn’t a disease with any negative associations and it certainly isn’t fatal. I guess I was just not ready to admit that I was less than perfect – and even worse – how vulnerable and afraid that made me feel.
It was a tricky situation and one that was never resolved satisfactorily. At the root of it, I think, lay a fundamental mistrust. I didn’t mistrust him, per se but I just didn’t have the faith that anyone else could be expected to understand my problem and also be involved enough in it to provide a good solution. The only person with a real stake in the problem was me and hence the best solution would also come from me.
Like I said earlier, none of us are born cynical or mistrustful. My attitude may stem from my experience where most other people have not been of help or support and in some cases have worsened the situation for me, deliberately or otherwise. I find it is just easier to not depend on anyone else and take care of my own self now. At least my mistakes are my own and there’s no one around to blame me or make fun of me for them.
The more difficult part was the other side of this policy, viz. other people. I have no issues helping the people I’m close to with their problems and in my mind, sharing one’s troubles isn’t like a mathematical equation, a proverbial, “I’ll tell you my sorrows if you tell me yours.” thing. If you don’t want to tell me, I’m fine with that too. I trust that you know who is the best person to advise you on your trouble and if you think it is just you, who am I to dispute that? But if you think I could offer help, feel free to ask. The trouble is a lot of other people don’t see it that way and seem to feel affronted that I don’t ‘pay them back’ by sharing my own troubles.
It is a dilemma and one that I don’t have answers for. I don’t know if I necessarily speak for other ‘modern women’ when I say this. It does seem to go hand in hand with being in a relationship and for a fact, I haven’t really been in an honest-to-goodness relationship in ages. All I know is that when I’m asked how I am, my default setting is to say that I’m fine.
This occured to me the very first time I saw ‘The Namesake‘ but laziness and other such things kept me from blogging about it right then. I’ve just finished reading Jhumpa Lahiri’s book. As an aside, it’s a lovely story, the book even better than the already excellent movie.
You know what was the most striking aspect of the story for me? The contrast between the relationships in the two generations.
Ashima (Tabu) and Ashoke (Irfan Khan) meet each other under the scrutiny of their parents eyes. She decides in a few minutes that he is the one for her, because she likes his shoes. Which prompts her to speak confidently in the following conversation,
How will you manage all by yourself in America?
Will he (darted glance at …) not be there with me?
The couple takes off to foreign shores, in those heydays before the the internet, email and affordable ISD. They start a life together based on complete trust in each other, something that is never spoken about but expressed in their everyday actions.
Like any two human beings, they take time to adjust to each other. When Ashima shrinks Ashoke’s sweater in the dryer and he reprimands her for it, she doesn’t protest but goes away to weep by herself. He stops and soothes her by singing a silly song. There is a sweetness, a gentleness in both of them, encapsulated in that sequence, that touches the viewer.
Gogol (Kal Penn) and Moushumi (Zuleikha Robinson) on the other hand, are a modern day couple. They date in the privacy of a restaurant and their own apartments. They talk, intellectualise and laugh together. We are taken to their bedroom on the night of their wedding. Right after making love, he asks her how many lovers she has had before.
Their relationship is one that a lot of us could probably relate to. The common backgrounds, the yuppie couple lifestyle they lead, the friends-as-well-as-lovers implications. And yet, for all their conversations, their marriage has started off on trust being questioned and ends with it being betrayed.
Do we really know how to relate to each other anymore? Or have we just had so much of freedom (too much of a good thing) that it makes us sick with paranoia now?
I see the gentleness of Ashima and Ashoke’s love in a lot of couples of that generation and the one before them – our parents and grandparents. People who’ve probably never said ‘I love you’ to each other but are completely happy in each other’s company. And I’ve said ‘I love you’ to a lot of people but at the end of a decade of dating, I don’t know a single person I could stand for more than a few days.
I don’t remember any man ever having treated me with as much trust and gentleness as Ashoke treats Ashima. And I also have never trusted any man so unquestioningly.
Maybe we’re just a generation of too many questions and not enough trust.
* I read this book on my flight back from the South trip. And on the cover was written, ‘The greatest journeys are the ones that bring you home.’ I stay hopeful.