There is something about being in a steel tube hurtling at 100s of miles per hour, up in the air at over 35,000 feet. Air travel is significantly safer, at least statistically speaking, than most other modes of travel. For the most part, other than the take-off and landing periods, it feels almost like nothing is going on. We might just go about the day, eating peanuts, watching a movie, enjoying the airline food or taking a nap, not remembering that we are indeed a mile high in the air, in a closed container, hurtling through at rocket speed. If we take the time to think about it, we probably will have a few moments of anxiety till we reason with ourselves that it really is quite safe, that we are being taken care of by professionals and that there is absolutely no reason to worry at all and that it really is OK to just go back to enjoying that book or whatever else.
What does air travel have to do with love or relationships, you might ask.
There is, of course, the oxygen mask warning that every flight mandatorily talks about before take-off: In the unlikely event of an emergency and cabin pressure dropping, oxygen masks will drop from just above your seat, to pull one and put over your face, tug on it to get the oxygen flowing and breathe normally. And then, there is the kicker: put on your own mask before assisting any one else, and that includes children and your beloved. That is of course great advice for any of us on self-care first.
Let’s look beyond that and consider what is it that triggers the oxygen masks falling in the first place. It is the loss of cabin pressure. There is an optimum amount of pressure that is needed to be maintained for passenger comfort, for everyone to be able to breathe normally, feel comfortable with the air temperature and just be OK.
If you think about it, relationships are much like flights. They are wholly improbable events that somehow magically occur every day for millions and millions of us. At the outset, it feels absurd to think that two people can actually stay together for years and years, hurtling through careers and society at breakneck speed, staying afloat through turbulent air pockets and be calm and relaxed right through. And yet, it seems to happen all the time, and quite successfully at that.
What is that cabin pressure that couples bring upon themselves to maintain that sense of comfort in the face of fairly hostile environment? What keeps relationships from crashing down?
We may not often realize it, but relationships need to have that bit of healthy pressure being maintained. Just the right level of expectations, regard and respect. Too much and it implodes. Too little and the whole thing drops, and it is a “Put on your own oxygen mask” situation of each for themselves first.
Enjoy the flight. Keep the pressure on.
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
As kids in school, we studied The Gift of the Magi by O Henry in high school English. This famous story is of a loving couple, too poor to buy each other Christmas gifts, and too desperately in love to not do that. One sells off their long hair to buy watch straps for the other, while they sell off the beloved watch to buy combs.
We also read The Nightingale and The Rose by Oscar Wilde that year, with its story of the sacrifice it took to make a rose red a precious gift for a beloved, and how it is tossed aside for something else, casting away in that bitter act what it meant to sacrifice for love’s sake.
Between those two tragic love stories, our heartless English teacher had us teenagers in tears, more so because we were expected to write ‘precis’ versions. Does love really require gift exchanges? Would it really be impossible to love and be loved without ever exchanging gifts for birthdays, anniversaries, festivals, etc? Is it humanly possible to be perfect gift givers, or are designed to be tragic magi in our gifts, irrespective of our levels of poverty?
So much of our culture is built around ceremonies of gift giving. Traditions dictate what gifts are appropriate and when. There is a whole list of what to give for which anniversary. One could interpret it as anything from a handwritten card to money, to property, or, going by certain movies, divorce papers!
These gifting protocols may have helped some people but for many others, it also builds expectations. One is ‘supposed to’ give wood for the fifth anniversary. Sure, you could Google something that sounds appropriately woody enough, or close enough to hopefully pass, but then, it also has other expectations that it needs to be personal, it needs to have value for the recipient, something that they can cherish because otherwise, it is just a useless gesture.
Why has gifting come to occupy such an important place in relationships? As a measure for how much one loves the other in its physicality and demonstrability, gifts seem to offer some value, but it really is hollow if gifting is the only measure of love offered. If those high school stories really hold any truth, it is this: Gifts aren’t as important as love.
So this Christmas season, gift only if you really want to.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
For many of us working in corporate and corporate-like spaces, end of year means one thing, and one thing only – performance appraisal time. Some companies do it once a year, others twice or quarterly. A few do the appraisal at end of the calendar year, promotions and things at the end of the financial year, and pay hikes at the end of the first quarter – just to keep their people around, like the seasons of How to Get Away with Murder. Whatever the means and ends of it, appraisals are something one cannot escape if you are working in an organization of some sort.
The question we are asking today is quite simply this: If performance appraisals are such a key part of your work life, how come they are not so systematic as far as relationships go? Why wouldn’t you and your partner invest some time and energy in appraising your couplehood to see how you both are doing, what your goals are, where you are doing well and where you need to improve?
Granted, there might not be much of an opportunity for promotion or pay hikes. There is no ladder to climb as such in the relationship and it is certainly not a simple matter of getting a better designation or a pay scale so you can plump up your CV so you can get the more lucrative job at a fancier address. Any such aspirations might in fact work against you and get you a tight rap on your knuckles.
Still, there is a lot to gain from a systematic performance appraisal of the relationship.
The reason why organizations do performance appraisals in a systematic manner is that there tends to be so many dimensions to a job. If we don’t sit down and focus on each dimension, we might get carried away by the latest, or the most obvious, or the largest – and miss out on everything else that makes a person well-suited to the role they perform. Similarly, a relationship is a lot more than just an overall sense of contentment or happiness. There are so many aspects to it – the social, the physical, the fiscal, the sexual, the familial, the personal, the inter-personal, the spiritual, and with each of these having a few key wishes or aspirations. You might find yourself adding more to this list, of course.
If we were to sit down and appraise where we are in our relationship in each of these dimensions, what we might see is something quite different and actionable. It might help you set some real and much-needed #RelationshipGoals for yourself, than a picture of Michelle and Barack Obama sharing a moment together at the Trump inauguration, or an aww-inducing video of an old couple helping each other cross the street on a lazy Sunday morning or any such thing.
So, are you ready to put your relationship up for a performance appraisal? Can you work with each other on a performance improvement plan, if needed?
As written for and published in the New Indian Express
What would you say if someone told you that in any loving relationship, there are always two children who are in love? No, we are not talking of puppy love between cute 4 year olds.
What we are really saying is that each of us as adults have our own inner child within us, and when in a loving relationship, what we are really seeking is for our inner child to be able to relate to the inner child of our beloved. The inner child is not merely a metaphorical child within us, but almost a literal one – it is like a younger version of us is very much there living inside us, carrying with it all the playfulness, the attention-loving, the creativeness of that child.
Often, that child gets socialized out through our growing up years. We strive in growing-up to achieve a very different ideal of the cool, calm, collected adult who can make great decisions, is goal-driven, is purposeful and resourceful. Such adulting is seen as a goal in itself and given tags of ‘maturity’ and ‘objectivity.’
Of course, it is really important that we do become such strong adults, but it is so often at the cost of that inner child, who gets stifled and bottled up, forgotten like so much of the music and dance that we might have learned and enjoyed as a child. Somewhere between senior school and university, the child gets ignored or worse, actively shunned or repressed, or just retires to a corner. The playfulness and competitive joy of games and sports gets relegated to weekend hobbies to make space for the serious business of being an adult.
Now, when two people fall in love, is it really the adults falling in love with each other’s eruditeness and ability to balance their accounts? Or are they falling in love with the undertones of mischief, fun, play and joy that are there if you scratch the surface of the seriousness of their education, jobs and social connectedness?
Chances are that it is the two children within us connecting and falling in love. It happens quite unconsciously. Think of any romcom that you like – be it the When Harry met Sally types, or the Modern Family types, you are very likely to see the romance click through in those cracks when that inner child shines through the cultivated adultness. If you look at your own love, you would see it as well.
When we do find someone that we really connect with and fall in love with, it is more often than not seeking to somehow make that inner child come alive again, but within the safety and security that the adulthood offers. The challenge is that often times, that connection again falls prey to the pressures of adult life and succumbs to the pressures of EMIs, Career progression and the such.
But what if we could be conscious of our inner children? Wouldn’t it be amazing if we could let them live and love forever?
As written for the New Indian Express
One of the lasting images of a really successful, bonded relationship of love is when there seems to be a great degree of synchronicity between the people in it. The image of the two almost dancing their way through their life in perfect harmony, whether they are doing dishes or making love – everything happens without much need for any verbal or other communication.
They just know it. One person is washing the dishes and the other is ready with the dishcloth, exactly when needed. A person leans in for a hug and the other already has their arm out. They go to bed together, kiss exactly right, and know exactly what buttons to press and when. Hardly a word is exchanged, and yet everything happens so very smoothly.
Our movies celebrate it, our stories and poetry do, and there is no denying how much we have set such an image up as an ideal for relationships. The question we are asking today is not even whether this is really true, or whether it is even a possibility, but whether this ideal is a healthy one for love to really deepen and broaden. If we keep looking up to such an ideal, will we really be able to communicate, ask for consent and engage in a respectful and meaningful connection with the person we love?
In the Aww-inducing image of the perfectly in-sync relationship we described above, there is so much consent taken for granted. In a Utopian world, perhaps it might be true for some people. In reality, consent is something people need to engage with over and over in their lives with those they love. Constantly. Starting from the very mundane, “Can I use the loo before you?” or such negotiations over a shared living space, to talking about sex, intimacy and personal space. We are constantly in situations that need consent every living minute, including when we are asleep.
Some days, the kiss you want in the morning before leaving for work might not be forthcoming. Do you then force the kiss anyway? Or demand it? Or sulk about it? Or do you talk about it and figure out what’s happening? Turning the tables, if you don’t feel like a kiss, are you able to say No, or do you give in? Quite often, we end up doing things in relationships without necessarily wanting to or consenting to – and while the one-off exception might seem a necessary thing to keep peace, they often add layers of resentment which do blow up some time or the other.
Can we then resist this cultural pressure to act as if consent is to be taken for granted, and that it need not be re-negotiated every time? Just because someone said “I Do,” it doesn’t mean that they said “I Do now and forever, whenever and wherever and that is never going to change even the slightest.” We know it instinctively, and yet, somehow the ‘ideal relationship’ we look up to denies the need for dialogue. Can we change it?
As written for and published by the New Indian Express
Can you think of one thing that can really tell if you and a prospective partner have a future together or not? Many would say that the crucial thing would be to see if you have compatible friends, or to meet the prospective in-laws and see how that visit goes, or better still, to get both families to meet each other and see who survives the evening.
All good trials, but to really test a relationship, there is just one true test and that is to travel together for at least four days and three nights. Seven nights would be ideal, but three nights at a minimum. Seven nights, so that questions of laundry and the such come up, and even if one can keep up a facade for a couple of nights, seven will surely test it.
Everything from deciding when to go, how long and where, are great ways to get to know each other. Does one say beaches and other say hills? One says scrimp on travel and splurge on good food, and the other says stay in luxury but go easy on food. What about shopping? And time spent in museums, or heritage sites? How about whether you take that GoPro along or avoid electronics altogether? Are either selfie-obsessed? Or take pictures of every food item consumed for your Instagram feed?
What travel reveals about the person’s tastes and preferences are endless, but even more fascinating is the insights you get when sharing a room together for so many nights. You get to truly know their intimate physical selves, and that’s not talking about sexual aspects - just the every day things. Do they like the right side of the bed? Do they brush before bed? What does their morning face look like? What is their real smell like, devoid of all perfumes and other stuff? Do they snore? Do they hog the bed sheets? How are they to travel with as a companion? Are they pleasant, can they stand complexity – what if a train got cancelled or the hotel bungled up the booking or you made a mistake? What is their personality like at 3am after a 10-hour drive to the hotel and you find that you had mistakenly booked for November instead of October?
Nothing reveals more about a person as much as what you can see of them when travelling together. Best done by yourselves, but a couple of friends might not make it bad. If you can survive a week-long trip, chances are you will survive the other tricky things like planning a home together, meeting families or friends and more.
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
It is October 10th today. Happy World Mental Health Day to everyone!
This year, the theme was to be about young people and mental health in a changing world.
Atleast for India, that changing world is so clearly symbolized today with the #MeToo and #TimesUp momentum, that in reclaiming its voice and in its cathartic wake is turning around things for a young generation so tuned into media. For many months and years now, we have only read about abuse and assault, and for the young now to read about #TimesUp, and see the impact it can have in getting people and institutions to be accountable, to know there is no one (hopefully!) too big to fall - what does it do the mental health of young people?
For generations, young people going through molestation, assault and other humiliations on an everyday basis, society was telling them to shut up about it, to learn to get by, to avoid people or get blamed. We were, at best, told how to protect ourselves but hardly ever to confront or to demand that what made us unsafe change. Children carried pins to poke at the pinchers and grabbers in the bus. Kids learned what walls to avoid walking past, where the flashers might lurk. They learned to be in pairs or groups. They had to. If they risked asserting their own, independent forays into the world - they were blamed for whatever happens.
It is not even so long ago - just the other day the bishop of NYC was basically implying that boys above 7 years old were complicit in their assault by members of his clergy! There are documentaries on how in Haryana, people blame the girls for what happened to them.
For all of us who were the young people growing up under the umbrella of such advice and direction from our adults, it has impacted how we deal with power, with violence. This is part of how we have learned own powerlessness and how we have learned to distract ourselves, to discount our hurt, to compensate, to ignore. All the time, our rage and pain, whimper in sad, scared voices, stunting our growth. So many of us lost years and decades to healing wounds that need not have been in the first place. So many of us walked through in depressive spells, not connecting as fully and as safely to the world.
So much loss that we still grieve.
Does this changing world then where #TimesUp, show a different possibility to the young people of today? With all this conversation around #consent, #toxicmasculinity, #bodypositivity, #NotInMyName, #BlackLivesMatter and so much more, are young people of today more #woke ? Can they claim their lives and their world now as they happen, instead of having to go through all that hurt and work through their adulthood to reclaim their selves?
Do we dare dream that the momentum of the #MeToo campaign, in its cleansing avalanche that is destroying so many monuments to #patriarchy and power structures, will leave a clean and bright new field for our young people today? Can they have better mental health, lesser hurt, more opportunity?
Do we dare say that the future looks better?
Think back to the first tingles of when you really fell in love. The feelings are not always pleasurable. In fact, sometimes they are downright unpleasant and come close to sensations one associate with being ill.
There are the butterflies in the stomach, a nameless ache, a longing that seems to sap your energy, a moodiness that keeps one from enjoying all that one usually did. In fact, the descriptions of falling in love are the stuff of every other sitcom. One of my early favourites had the lead describing all these feelings to the beloved sidekick who exclaims, “You are not in love. You have got the flu!”
From a different perspective, falling in love has been described as being equivalent to a cocktail of psychotropic drugs.
Something that elevates your mood to dizzy heights, and brings you down crashing again, and puts you through that wringer so many times.
One could describe it all chemically and biologically through hormones and other substances and that we are genetically programmed to react in such a manner to prospective partners, and it is really that age-old game of nature playing over and over again.
One could also turn to romantic literature, or even spirituality to understand the whys and the wherefores of this falling in love. Whatever the origin of this falling in love might be, the one undeniable fact is that the experience of falling in love is quite something else.
The question we are asking is this: Can the sensations of falling in love be addictive? If we are indeed comparing just that falling in love feeling as equivalent to a cocktail of drugs, could it be possible that one gets so addicted to love that one just needs to keep on falling in love, over and over, again and again, with different people each time at different places? Could one be a love chaser?
The short answer is: Yes!
Though not quite a clinical diagnosis by any stretch, one could exhibit quite a bit of addictive behaviour about love. For some people, the chase and the falling in love is where all of it begins and ends. They may be so taken up with those early feelings, that when the rubber hits the road and it is time for love to mean something more and become a relationship, they might just scoot, and go on to chase another love.
The difference between a more ‘real’ love and this kind of addictive love chasing is simply this: Is the passion and the attraction shallow, or it is a deep, profound and life-changing connection? If it is the earlier, then chances are that the charms are superficial, the attention surface-deep, the romance and the wooing more momentary, repetitive, patterned and sensational – and above all, the focus is more on one’s own feelings of being in love, rather than the person one is in love with. So, look at your own love feelings: Are you in love with love, or with your loved one?
As written for published by The New Indian Express
The last few years have seen a major upswing in how many horrific sexual assaults and violence have been getting reported. Just when one thinks this is the worst that could happen, every new month even more such stories emerge, each with unbelievably sickening histories of how, where, how many, for how long and so on and so forth. With social media being so active and so many news channels on the air and in print, there is no shortage of public discussion and outrage. The call for action is palpable in every public arena possible.
A person must literally be living under a rock to now know about all this happening.
While there is so much in the public arena, let’s talk about what might be happening in the more private and intimate spaces of a loving relationship when such news breaks.
Often, there is nothing.
Early in the relationship, many unspoken rules get formed. We make a pact as it were, on what is OK to talk about, and what is not. Sometimes, it is directly spoken about and agreed (“I don’t want to hear about what you discussed with your school friends unless critical,” for example or “I don’t understand your work at all. Please don’t bug me with details about some issue you solved.”) Mostly though, these rules come about based on what we observe. How did your partner react to a movie scene showing the hero forcefully plant a kiss, for example. Or, what did your partner do when you talked about a friend who was molested in the metro, or when there is some more innocuous news on TV, say for example on an inter-community marriage.
One makes decisions pretty early to say how much the relationship can bear, and one edits oneself accordingly – and that’s generally OK.
Thing with news reports such as on sexual assault is that for many people who have gone through sexual violence in the past, these news stories when they break or when they are being analysed and spoken about in detail, it can be triggering. The new reports might bring up old trauma and pain, even after having spent much time and effort in getting some degree of healing. It is at such times that one starts to really feel the need for a safe, loving space to just talk and if there is any kind of spoken or unspoken pact that the relationship is not open for such painful but necessary conversations, then it gets really tough. Sometimes, it can even threaten the relationship itself.
As a loving partner, if you think you need to be the one to be able to support your partner through any such pain, that you want to be the shoulder that gets leaned on, remember that you cannot suddenly become that person overnight. It is a privilege earned through all the small interactions. Watch yourself on how open you are for the small conversations if you want to be there for the big ones.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
If you were going out on a date, would you expect to split the bill or would you think whoever initiated the date should pay for it? Would you look at reciprocating gestures so that there is some kind of balance, or do you believe that there are expected social norms that are to be followed?
It is not just about who pays for the bills. Even if we were just talking about a simple dinner date, there are more than half a dozen questions that come up in as much as etiquette of the date is concerned: Who gets to make the date? Who picks up whom, and how? Who holds the door open? Who enters first? Who sits where at the table? Do you stand up if someone is leaving the table? Who finishes first?
Something as simple as going out for dinner is fraught with questions and questionable habituated practices. In most places, the restaurant staff go with a certain protocol on how and to whom they present the bill, for instance. Whenever we bring up these questions into conversations on love, relationship and the such, it gets sideswiped with comments like, “It is just good manners,” or “this shows good breeding.”
Of course, it is just being a nice human being sometimes. One expects these things when there is a person in need around. You give up a seat in the train for anyone who can’t really stand for long. You open the door for someone who asks for assistance.
When these things happen between two perfectly capable people in some sort of a relationship, one wonders if these so-called good manners and chivalry come with a flip side. Are there unstated expectations that cement a power structure? Does having the door held open for you come with the unstated expectation that the keys to that door are in the hands of someone else? Does having someone pay your restaurant bill go alongside an undesirable notion of being judged for what you order, or worse? When someone just lets you go first in the queue, are they doing it to just be nice, or are they saying something to the effect of, “You really shouldn’t be here, so I’ll let you go right ahead so you can get back home where you belong?”
In love, it is nice to have things done for you. As much as it is nice to do something for someone you love. It is great to spend time with each other, sharing thoughts, being thoughtful. However, when things happen only in one direction, or there are very firm rules on what one person can do and what the other person ought to do – is it really an equal relationship? Is it really love?
What do you want in your relationship? Do you want the person you love to treat you as you, or because of a social code that tells them how to treat you, and tells you how to treat them?
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.