So, you walk into a party and notice this old friend of yours with a particularly attractive, charming new person. You can see everyone’s eyes on this new person and there is a buzz around. What would you do? Quite likely, you’d either ask the host of the party or other friends who are already there, or if you are particularly risk-friendly, ask the friend themselves – “Who is the arm candy?”
Maybe they are in a deep and meaningful relationship. Maybe it is something new they are trying out. Or maybe it is a one-night thing – just for fun. One never knows, but you and probably much of the party has asked this question. Maybe you have been someone’s arm candy yourself or had your own arm candy for a while.Now,imagine that this person persists in bringing someone new, attractive and charming every once in a while. A new arm candy, so to say,very often. Just stay with that image for a second. Imagine what it feels to be the person bringing someone new to a party, and imagine what everyone else feels and what the new person goes through. Pause for a second with that memory and ask yourself this: Who is experiencing what for whom in that scenario?
If I were a betting person, I would bet that there are all sorts of feelings floating around in the room. At the first instance, one imagines there is envy, lust, jealousy, admiration and disbelief. Emotions that might reflect how the person with the ‘arm candy’ wants to be seen by their peer group and a lot lesser about how they feel about the person they are bringing in. Really then, this is them interacting with the group, trying to position themselves as somehow more powerful, attractive and sought-after.
This is them in love with themselves and maybe in love with the group as a whole – not necessarily with the persons they are with. Again, as the pattern continues, if there is a new person often, those feelings of envy, jealousy and admiration, might either solidify into a thinly cloaked hate, or it might mellow into an amused tolerance – mostly depending on where each person in the group is with their own lives.
If someone has been struggling to even meet people let alone form relationships , they might react differently from others who have their own steady relationships. If you are the arm candy though, watch out if your new found love interest is asking you to meet friends at a large party. Have your guard up if anyone refers to you as someone’s arm candy. It just might be a signal that perhaps the relationship is not between you two. You may end up getting hurt if you go in without knowing that you are only an object in someone else’s love games with their group. Of course, being arm candy can just be fun as well.
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
Ever noticed how people in love call each other ‘honey’ and 'sweetie'? There is hardly any reference to other tastes. Occasionally, we might see a reference to a hot chilli or a spicy pepper, but that is more about sexiness and attraction rather than feelings of love itself. And no, it isn’t yet another western notion that has come to India. People in India have been calling their lovers ‘laddoo,’ ‘jilebi’ and what not. I haven’t heard anybody call their sweet-heart ‘mysore-pak’ or ‘kaaju katli’ but someone out there probably does use these terms for their loved one. A ‘paal payasam’ or a ‘kheer’ might be stretching it, but other more solid sweets – there is probably a person high on love somewhere calling out to the object of their affection with what could be the menu card of their local mithai wallah.
When we are not sweetening it, we are quite likely babying it. Babe, baby, coochie-pie, kutti, kanna and every other thing that we last called a cousin’s 6 month old.
What is it about love and sweetness and cuteness? What makes us become a melting pot of sweet, gooey chocolate when loving some one? Why do we go on and on with sweet nothings ?
Are all these terms just empty calories that is going to fatten up the person, or is there anything actually nourishing to the soul about these sweet endearments that make us use them?
It really shouldn’t be a surprise, but it turns out that we are all suckers for the kind of desire that the sweet words imply. When our loved one addresses us with the sweet endearments that show us we are special to them, we react with a specialness as well. Often times, even without realising that we have kinda softened, we reciprocate in some similar fashion. We may not use the sweet words ourselves, but we might be paying a bit more attention to them, feel a bit less hostile or angry, be less agitated or upset.
Try it out next time you are having a fight with your beloved. For the first couple of times, have the argument using only their given name through the whole fight. No pet names. No sweet terms. No terms of endearment. Just see how long it goes and how bad it gets before you both work it out. Observe yourself, and observe your partner. A few days later, when you have the opportunity again (and I am sure there will be) use your pet names for them, use the terms of endearment, the sweet talk – and observe again what happens to the fight. Are you fighting as hard or as bitterly? Does it go on for as long? Are you both more willing to make up, or less so? Just notice what happens.
For the everyday conflicts, I would bet that fights where you remember to use your sweet somethings (and mean it) are shorter, less harsh, and more easy to recover from.So, go on. Use those endearments.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
There was a joke going around the internet the other day: A couple is talking about what it would be like if one of them were to die, whether there would be a second chance at love for the survivor, and after a few minutes, just to cut the conversation down, one person tells the other, “Let’s make a pact. Whichever of us dies first, I will marry again.”
Joking aside, talking of death and dying is a seriously difficult thing to do among lovers, especially where there is no immediate pressing need to talk about such things. There are, of course, the semi-flirtatious use of loss and death in conversations like in the joke above to reaffirm commitment to each other, with the expected answers being in the lines of, “I cannot live without you,” or “Love dies for me the day either of us die,” or “You may not have been the first person I kissed, but you certainly will be the last.”
Even in non-romantic situations, trying to start a conversation about it can be met with: “Why such dark thoughts?” or, “Stop. You are scaring me!” or, “Are you OK? Should we go to the doctor or something? Shall I call your mother?” We don’t want to engage with these topics at all thinking them to be bad omens and macabre.
With the Supreme Court ruling a few days ago on dignity in death, and allowing for passive euthanasia and living wills, these conversations really do need to happen in living rooms and bedrooms across the country, and yet it is the rare couple that seriously talks about death, its effect on them and what might be needed to work around it.
If you are in love with someone, and you trust them with your life, your bank account login details, your google mail password and even your old Tindr account, then why not trust them with death as well? Let’s face it. Death is an integral part of living, so why should it not be a part of loving as well?
We are not talking stuff like the Gerard Butler movie P.S: I love you, or for a younger generation, The Fault In Our Stars. Though loving in the face of death, like in these movies, is important as well, the emphasis is on whether we should wait till death announces a date with us? Would we really know, anyway? Quite sadly, in all likelihood, each of us know a few people lost tragically too soon to accidents, incidents and illnesses.
So. can you as an act of true love, talk with your lover about death? What you’d like to happen in the event of? What worries you or scares you about it? What projects of yours would you hope outlives you? What of your other loved ones? What secrets would you want handled? What do you feel happens after death?
Of course, keep it clear, direct. Don’t bore your loved one to death over it.
As written for and published in the New Indian Express
A heartbreak, scientists have proven, causes us to feel as much as pain as a physical heart attack. It even has the sinister sounding name of ‘Tako Tsubo cardio-myopathy,’ or more simply, the broken-heart syndrome. The person is in major distress, and there is that intolerable pain in one’s chest, and yes – there is a real physical damage possible to the heart even though one’s arteries might be clean as a whistle, ECGs regular and nothing might have indicated a potential for such pain. People recover from it, of course, but yes – the broken heart syndrome is real.
Love hurts, or at least, has the potential to hurt. The pain of losing someone you love is an awful, awful pain. It is bad when your lover leaves you quite unexpectedly for someone else, or just like that. It is worse when your loved one dies or is hurt, and all that love has nowhere to go.The hurt and pain is so much that often times, it scares one to imagine it. Some people come to fear loving itself for fear of the pain possibly hiding in the wings. The only true way to not ever face the pain from love, after all, is to never love at all. But then again, all it does is to leave you in another sort of pain – a dull ache, a loneliness that eats you up from the inside.
Scientists have proven that loneliness may lead to serious illnesses, including cancer. No – not the same scientists who studied the broken-heart syndrome, this is from researchers from UCLA who actually proved that chronic loneliness can actually trigger changes in gene activity that affected antibody production and anti-viral responses. Feelings of happiness and love cause our body to flood with cortisol and oxytocin, and their findings were that without these, something happens to our immune system.
Is our choice then between heart-attacks and cancer? Are we doomed to be hurt? Are we ganged if we love, and darned if we didn’t? What other choice do we have, really? Turns out, there is another way - a more healthy way to allow love to be a healing, healthful force in your life. It requires that we allow ourselves to love and to be loved without seeking to possess or be possessed.
If we can love with the joy of the here and now, be present for what love has to offer, and yet also hold that love in its beautiful joy also shifts and changes, and that in its ebbs and flows, there will be some hurt, some joy and if we can cherish all of what love brings as a human experience, and allow it to be without demanding of it, then perhaps, we can love without hurting or being hurt – at least, not too much.Sometimes we might teeter on that cutting edge at that abyss of pain, and at that time, friends help. Poetry helps. Philosophy helps.
Science? Well, the jury is out on that
As written for and publisjed by The New IndianExpress
In many of the mythological stories one grows up with in India, as well as in the more western fairy tales of romance and love, there is often the tests that love has to go through before it is hailed as true and worthy. In Indian mythology, there were stories of the lover travelling across seven seas and seven mountains, battling untold miseries, demons and temptations, to get a token that the beloved asked for in a moment of whimsy. Or bows had to be strung, flowers plucked from treacherous mountain tops, jewellery made or houses built. There were royals who decried that the suitor must prove worthy of the royal heir’s love by solving a dozen puzzles, battling wild animals and what not.
Other cultures had similar stories as well. Japanese stories of star-crossed lovers who wait eternities to meet their loved one, Hawaiian stories of a lover chasing the moon where it meets the sea to bring pearls like never seen before. Hundreds and thousands of stories of lovers proving their love’s true worth before the happy ending.
In real life, or IRL as we know it nowadays, do we still test love before accepting it? We may not ask for the moon or jewels or what have you, but test we still do. All the time, some times. The tests are often quite small: “Give me your phone, I want to see your pictures.” “What’s your password for your google mail?” “My mother wants to meet you. What are you doing this weekend?” If the answer is not quite what is expected, the grades on the love test start to dip. There are so many other little tests, like when you are walking together and you are reaching out with your hand, and though both of you are looking ahead, you still look if your hand is being held. Or that time when you are in a mall, and you watch to see who your lover is watching.
Even after years of being together, the testing continues in subtle and not so subtle ways: could be about who brings the milk in, or walks the dog on a rainy day, or who gets to decide where one goes for the Sunday dinner.Then, can you really stop testing ever? How long before you know well and for sure that all the testing is done and it is a given, now and forever? Or are we doomed as a species to forever test and be tested, with only the intermittent lulls of peace and quiet, like summer and Christmas holidays between unit tests and term exams at school?
An old friend once had an insight to offer: the real test, according to them, was if you could scratch where it itched and let your body be as it will, making whatever sound it would, whenever it needed to, without feeling judged for it. “Have you found that love?” I asked, and that friend laughed, “No, I still judge!”
As written for and published by the New Indian Express
There is a popular story about Socrates on gossip, on how when a disciple comes to the senior teacher asking if he knew what was being talked about his favourite disciple, and at that moment, the teacher decides that this was a major teaching moment, and enunciated the famous triple-filter test: Do you know if this is absolutely true? Is what you want to say a good thing? And lastly, is this a useful thing for the listener to know?
The true-good-useful filters have famously been used to check on malicious gossip, and have been adopted by a number of thinkers and doers, including a modified version by the Rotary Club as: Is it true? Is it fair? Will it build goodwill? And Is it beneficial?
If you are in Bengaluru, you could see them engraved on a bronze plaque under a bust of the Rotary Founder on Lavelle Road.
By the way, there is a side story that claims that because Socrates was so vehement on applying this filter that he never heard gossip and therefore never confronted his partner about a supposed affair. We don’t know if this is documented in history as having happened, but most people hearing the story and this particular side story, apart from having a good laugh, nod away as if agreeing that it served Socrates right for being so principled.
Would you listen to gossip about your loved one? If a friend says they have heard something about your partner, would you apply the three (or four) filter test?
For a lot of us, we will want to ask the questions of truth, fairness etc after we hear a bit of the report. We would let them say some, if not all, of what they want to say, say nothing and go check with the partner in question, or harangue the teller of the story then and there about how they know what they said, how they could prove it etc, showing concern if not outrage, or succumbing to tears and despair, depending on what is the story.
More pertinently, it really is based on your own assessment of yourself and your relationship. If you feel secure about yourself and your relationship, you are very likely not to listen at all to any gossip about someone you love and conversely, if you are quite insecure, then you will likely listen to every scrap of gossip possible about yourself, your partner and your relationship.
If you look at it from this lens, then really, your readiness to listen to gossip about your partner is a test alright, but a test for how secure you are about yourself and you relationship. If you fail that test by listening to gossip, then you may want to think about what is making you feel less that secure and work on it. Talk with your partner by all means, but not necessarily about the gossip – talk about your insecurities and how you need to work on them.
As written for and published by The New Indian Express
Should relationships start with love and then desire allowed its space, or do they start with desire and mature into love, and can both stay through the relationship? Ideally, in a relationship, one hopes that there are both. There is a healthy amount of desire, physical attraction and sexual chemistry, and there are strong bonds of love and emotional intimacy.
Often times though, they seem to go their separate ways even if at the start of a relationship there are tons of both love and desire, or it starts with a huge amount of desire and love catches up, takes a big lead and soon desire falls behind – way behind at times.
Why is that? Are we biologically coded to fall into love and lose desire along the way? Is the function of desire and sexual attraction really to get people to fall in love and once that job is done, desire withers away or gets directed elsewhere? Are different people coded differently – some built more for desire, and others more with a tendency to build intimacy and safety?
Can people continue to have desire for the person they love? Often times, how we experience desire is so different from how we experience the need for love, comfort, affection and intimacy. Our mind thinks of these quite differently. It is almost as if wholly different sections of our brain are working when it comes to these emotions – just like there is a section for music and a whole different section for movement in our brains, or for any other function for that matter. If you are sceptical about it, try this exercise, loosely adapted from Esther Perel’s work: Take a sheet of paper and write down answers for the following questions: What makes me feel loved and cherished? What do I feel like doing when I love someone? What kind of activities do I feel like doing with someone I love? What kind of person do I generally find myself loving? What ten words do I most associate with the word ‘love’?
Once you have written your answers, go away for a while. Watch a movie or have some dinner, or take a walk, and later when you feel different, turn the page around, and write down answers for the following questions: What makes me feel desired? What do I feel like doing when I desire someone? What kind of activities do I feel like doing with someone I desire? What kind of person do I generally find myself attracted to? What ten words do I most associate with the word ‘sexy’?
When you look at your answers to both sets of questions, chances are that you have very different responses to both – a kind of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde situation at the extreme, but even if not as drastic, there are bound to be strong differences. Don’t worry though - you are not a two-faced character just because of how different these responses might be. In fact, it is quite normal. The challenge then is to recognize and make space for both in your life – knowing that both are valid, both need expression and both need acceptance
As written for and published in The New Indian Express
A game that has lasted for decades, if not centuries, is the good old ‘Flames’ game. In many schools, when the teachers are droning on about trigonometry, the various wars of the nineteenth century, dissecting poor old Wordsworth or any subject to their wards in the eighth, ninth grades, and finding their students busily making notes, in reality they might have been busy playing ‘Flames.’
If you never played the game, the rules are quite simple. You simply write your names down one on top of the other, and then scratch out letters that are common to both till there are no matching letters left, and then count the number of letters left. If you had four left, then you count four into ‘Flames,’ reaching ‘m’ which then means ‘marriage’ is on the cards. If you more than six, you just count another cycle till you get one of the letters.
Flames stand for Friendship, Love, Affection, Marriage, Enemies and Siblings. If you think about it a little differently about what each of the letters of ‘Flames’ stand for, an interesting thing stands out - there is this gradation of so many positive feelings. There is friendship, affection, sibling, love, and let’s count marriage as positive as well, and only one negative feeling – enemy. Nobody plays to find if between them and this person there might be, for example, jealousy, envy, disgust, irritation, worry, anger, regret, sorrow – say Jedi Wars for short. (Hey, did I just invent a game?)
In fact, even when Flames is played, the interest is really at what level the positive feelings are towards each other. Are they merely fond of each other, is there a friendship, has it matured into some kind of love or might it get into sibling territory or might it really go all the way and become a marriage and stay presumably forever? That is the real curiosity. If you don’t like each other and are ‘enemy’, nobody particularly bothers to see what kind of negativity is supposedly there.
In all likelihood, since you play the game pairing one name with some person of interest, if ‘e’ does come up, or if you didn’t like the result the first time around, you might try with your full name, initialled name or other spellings till you get the result you wanted. That’s half the fun of it as the reaction to what the Flames reveal, intuitively reveal to the people that are playing the game what they really feel about the person they are being paired with in the game
It is quite a confusing set of emotions between friendship, affection, lust, love and the lot, and with all the rules we have about what’s OK in one and what’s not OK, it can be so scary to see ‘s’ when you know you are having very different feelings. Just getting to acknowledge what you really feel, that’s what games like ‘Flames’ is about. What after you get to know what you feel? Well, you are really in the fire then
As written for and published at
Have you read the ‘Sleeping Beauty’ fairy tale, or seen any of the half a dozen movies Disney has made on it, both animated and live action? You probably have. The story itself is pretty classic fairy-tale material: A princess is cursed and is awakened by true love’s kiss. In the movie ‘Maleficent’ the true love’s kiss is that of the supposedly evil fairy queen played by Angelina Jolie – a love that is quite maternal. Most stories though have the kiss from a handsome prince who gets besotted by the sleeping beauty’s irresistible looks and just has to kiss her.
That pretty much is what this article is focusing on. Is t really OK to go and kiss a sleeping beauty?
Let’s re-imagine this story in our everyday context. We will call our central character “Joy” for the heck of it. So, Joy got all decked up and happily went to a party. It is a great party. Let’s imagine that this is Joy’s best friend’s birthday party. Everyone Joy knows and loves is there. And some guests. Everyone is having a great time. There are glances exchanged, and little gestures of attraction and interest between different parties – not necessarily the same people one came into the party, to be sure. It is all well and good. No harm. No foul.
So, the party goes on into the wee hours, and most people have left. Joy is sleeping over. It is, after all, Joy’s best friend’s house and why not party till really late, get up the next morning, talk the party over as you clean up the mess, get some breakfast and have a chilled day? A few other are sleeping over as well.
Now, and here’s the crux of it: Our sleeping beauty, Joy, who zoned off and is lost to the world, wakes up in the dark hours before dawn, to the sensation of being kissed – and sees that it is some stranger, supposedly besotted with how beautiful Joy looks when sleeping. What do you think Joy might feel? Would Joy really feel the tingles of true love, or would Joy feel bugged and irritated, or more intensely, outraged and violated?
One would think that Joy is certainly likely to be really, really angry. And rightly so.
If the argument is that the ‘kind of kiss’ matters, and that the fairy tale just refers to a light brushing of lips, and it is not really so bad, and in fact, actually sweet, or that it is a cultural thing – that in ‘western countries’ it is quite normal to do that, one would still say – not amongst strangers. Perhaps with old friends, or family where this is custom. Not among strangers.
The point of talking about this is simply that these stories do more harm than good. We need better reference points for stories of love, coupling and relationships. Sleeping beauties might be a classic fairy tale – but kissing any random sleeping beauty? That is surely a no-no.
As written for and published at
Here is an exercise: Tell your beloved that you need their help. Tell them to get a paper and a pen. This is a writing exercise. Ask them then to think about you, and more specifically, your body and how you look and that includes how you express yourself – your sense of style, your clothes, how you carry and present yourself. Ask them to write ten things that the simply adore about you – no copping out and writing about your intellect, humour and all the other things that make you. Those can be a different list, a different exercise for another day. This is just about how you look.
Let them take their time. Don’t peek and let them keep that list with themselves till you do your part. You too need to think about yourself, your body, your clothes, hair, appearance, makeup and everything else about how you look. You don’t have to look at yourself in the mirror, or record yourself and play it back – this is not about looking at you in a completely factual manner. This is just a simple exercise. Now, you too write down ten things.
The catch is, make your list about ten things that you DON’T like about yourself. Things that you wish you could change or are already working on changing. Perhaps it is that nose, or those extra-huge earlobes that dance with their own momentum. Maybe it is your dorky glasses which you wish to lose and get lenses instead. Maybe it is your hair. Or lack of it. Whatever it might be. Just let it flow. We want ten, and if you find you are writing a lot, allow it to be maybe twenty, but stop at that.
Now, here comes the fun part: Take your beloved’s list about things they adore about you, and take your own list about what you don’t particularly care about yourself. Look through it, item by item, and see what’s the overlap.
Chances are that there are at least a few items common to both your lists though you both wrote it from wholly different perspectives.
Think about that. How is it that our loved ones adore things about ourselves that we may not even like? Who is weird in this perspective then? Should you recast your own assessment, or do you feel like dismissing your lover’s perspective as coloured with their love for you? And if indeed it is coloured with their love for you, what does that tell you?
Of course, you might be among the small set that has no overlap whatsoever. You could take that as a sign of a really true self-image, or just that it has no importance. That said, for far too many of us, our loved ones see us so much better than we see ourselves.
What if you could really see yourself the same way your loved one sees you? Would you adore more of you? Would you be less self-critical? That would be nice, wouldn’t it.
As written for and published in the New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.