We Indians are a nosy bunch. It does not matter where you are – school, college, family function, railway station, security check, maybe even public toilets, people are bound to ask personal question. Very often, intimate questions are asked as if they are a conversation starter, and there is genuine surprise if you take offense at it.
Even with close relatives and family, the questions never stop. Are you single, why aren’t you dating, why aren’t you married, why no kids, why only one, why three kids, why no pets, why dog, why cat, why divorced, why together. There is nothing that cannot be questioned, and no stage in life that one can be perfectly conforming to some mythical standard of life.
A guy friend who looks like he is somewhere in that indeterminable age bracket of 25 to 40 given his looks and how he carries himself, often finds himself being asked, “Do you have any kids?” It really annoys him. It was one thing for the neighbourhood uncles and aunties to ask when he is out buying vegetables from the street vendor and they are also there. He could excuse it thinking they are trying to see if they can pass on their kids to his home for play dates and give themselves a free hour or two. It is quite another when random people come to him in the gym or in the metro and ask, as if it is a filtering criterion for making friends.
Of late, he has been answering such queries with, “None that I know of,” or “Why, has anybody been claiming they are my child?” and other such responses, finding that by having a sense of humour for himself atleast he gets a laugh out of it.
The ability to make a joke out of this and just laugh one’s way out of it is not easy and is certainly not everyone’s cup of tea. When you are dependent or in a socially difficult position, or in some other way vulnerable, these questions can be really scary. It can be hard for someone with nothing to report, and equally scary for someone whose love is different, for example, someone in love with a person say eighteen years older and/ or from a different community or any of the other dozen odd parameters, questions can be really scary and causing one to hold their love secret even when you know that it is a perfectly consensual, adult relationship.
Keeping something as powerful and as personal as love a secret is never easy. We are social creatures after all, and want to share, want to be visible with our love, want to celebrate it and live the relationship with a sense of being accepted if not encouraged.
So, what do you do if the questions keep coming and you don’t want to answer them at all?
The simple answer is: Don’t answer them. Learn to say No in the way appropriate for you in your social situation.
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The question of ‘type’ comes up every now and then. Mostly on lazy Sunday brunches with friends or late night after-parties. Some people are very clear about their type, and others claim they have no type at all and that they are quite versatile when it comes to their choices of who they might be with.
When there is a lot of time to kill and enough goodwill, the latter usually finds themselves the target of a whole lot of ‘What about X person’ questions, starting with celebrities and public figures, and narrowing slowly to inner circles, waiting for tell-tale blushes, stutters, throat clearings and other giveaways which can then lead to some proper ribbing of the ‘ A and B, sitting in a tree, K I S S I N G’ types, till finally some sort of confessional emerges or people just get bored and move on to the next entertainment.
Thing is: Do people really have a certain ‘type’? What is this ‘type’ anyway? It is about looks? Age? Social life? Culture? Fitness? All of these?
What one is attracted to is often so unpredictable till it happen, and when it happens over and over or you find that attraction sticky and it refuses to go away, there you go – you have a type. It would be simple enough if we could just have that ‘A Ha’ moment and go on merrily with our lives, meeting our types and just having a good old time.
It is never that simple, is it. Somehow, social norms develop around what ‘types’ go with what. In sitcom language, the jocks go with the cheerleaders, the nerds stick together, the brainiacs do their thing. There are laws in the jungle, so to say. It is all nice and easy when the types all fall right in line, but that is so often not the case. The exceptions to the norm are so many that one questions if there is even any real ‘normal.’
If you find yourself different from your general peer group in the ‘types’ that you are into, it can lead to some serious heartache. You might hesitate to introduce one to the other, keep things secretive and private as much as possible till inevitably the worlds collide and you have no option but to be out with it, or suffer for eternity.
Negotiating your social circles when you have an unexpectedly different love interest can get tricky. It can be met with curiosity, humour to downright discrimination and hostility. It can really test you – are you really committed to this person and the lifestyle it means? Can you bear with social differences and awkwardness till people get used to it? Can you help those around you understand and accept your particular choice, and treat you and your love with respect?
It does take some effort, and the only thing that makes it easier is the ability to first be quite comfortable with your own type. If you aren’t, well, you got some work to do on yourself.
As written for:
In one of my favourite movies, at the start of the movie, our hero is with his lover, who after a whole day’s romancing and after the inevitable outcome of all that, as they hang around in bed together, asks, “Do you know what you could do to improve?” Our hero, still flush from his exertions, smiles indulgently and asks, “What do you think I should improve?” expecting some sweet romantic nothing. “Your obliques. Right now, you are flabby. You really should work on it.”
They split up soon enough, and as movies go, our hero meets another person and again a whole lot of romance later, the scene repeats itself. This time when the question comes, our hero warily asks, “What?” to hear this time, “Nothing at all. You are perfect as you are!” At the movie hall, a collective “Aww” went up, leaving everyone feeling warm and mushy.
That’s the movies for us. In real life, often it can be quite another story. When someone tells us we are perfect as we are, we often think they don’t know what they are talking about. They are blinded in love, or are saying sweet lies just to get you hooked. Or worse, that they are really undermining you - this person actually wants you to be unattractive to others and therefore is saying you are already perfect, so that you don’t work on yourself, don’t get better and they get to keep you forever.
We are often unable to take a real loving compliment because we just don’t love ourselves enough. We see our imperfections a lot more and so we can’t accept it when someone loves us enough as we are and are brave enough to say that we are actually quite ok.
It isn’t our fault, really. For the most part of our lives we are told to aspire to higher and higher standards of looks, fitness, academics, employment, art and every other aspect of human life. We are not just told that, we are actively told that we will be lovable only when we attain and maintain those standards. Like in the movie I am talking about - if the first lover’s words hit our hero hard, he might not be able to take the second lover’s overtures, and instead of pulling into a grateful, loving embrace, he might quickly say bye and hit the gym, wondering if those obliques he had built up had thawed back into gentle love handles.
We want our lover to be a source of motivation, of strength and support in “becoming the best version of me,” and yet, we also hold the entirely opposite of “I want to be loved as I am.”
Which is it? On the face of it, they seem such opposite things.What if the answer is something different: Can we love ourselves as imperfect, striving people? Can we then allow ourselves to be loved by imperfect people as imperfect people, all striving together?
Perhaps, that is what is really love.
( As written for The New Indian Express)
Here's a #veryshortstories to start with:
"When they announced free counselling for everyone for any issues at the office, I was very hopeful. I have been really wanting to talk to someone for a while, but never knew how to find someone I can trust. I passed by the counsellor's office for many weeks, contemplated knocking on that door. Sometimes, I almost did, but every time my hand went up a voice in my head would say "What if they don't understand? What if my manager or team got to know?", and I would walk away.
But today was different. I really felt the need to talk after the incidents of last week, where my makeup kit fell out of my bag as the whole team looked on. I thought I was quick to cover it up by saying my sister must have put this in my bag, and laughed it off. But I have this strange feeling where I feel I am being watched closely. I'm cautious of the way I walk, talk and dress - but why are these people still staring at me? Do they suspect anything?
So, I risked it. As I slowly open up to my counsellor, I start feeling that they are not getting me. "I am gay," I clarify, assuming that as counsellors they would be OK, but they freeze. "Why do you feel the need to bring that sort of behaviour to office? Don't you think that's calling for it?:" I leave as soon as I can - I cannot trust them, and cannot work here anymore."
When organisations institute counselling support, there is still a need for ensuring that they are capable, and that their partners can really support all their employees.
Watch this Diversity Dialogue to undertand how an EAP provider can partner with an organization in building inclusion. #inclusion #lgbtiqa #mentalhealth #diversitydialogues
now that the academic year has restarted in right earnest, as classmates get back into their groups, many are discovering that in the few weeks that people have been away, somehow, quite magically, so many have coupled up. People suddenly have boyfriends and girlfriends, or are seeing someone though they haven’t labelled anything yet or are just chatting.
If you are one of those that didn’t get coupled up, and haven’t yet for a few years though everyone is coupled up around you, h probably have mixed-up feelings about it. Your best friend barely has time for you, and when you do meet up, all you get to hear is about the lover and no real interest in your part of the story. Even if you say you got into your dream college, you might get a “That’s so great! I am so happy for you!” before segueing back into talking about the special someone. You look around and you notice everyone around seems to be interested only in hanging out with their sweethearts, and when you get invited or tag along anyway, you get quite conscious of being the third-wheel that it gets tiresome.
Sometimes, you even have fights with your BFF over how little your friendship seems to means now, and you say hurtful things like ‘Did you ever even like me? Was I just a stopgap till you found someone?’ There are cycles of feeling upset, fighting, crying, making up, and again feeling distant. You are good for about two days before it is back to the same old pattern. It is a mess.
Being single never feels as much of an issue as it is when surrounded by coupled up people.
While for most, it is a mere annoyance and a change in social circumstances that need some adjusting to, for some, it can become really, really painful as they tell themselves that they have somehow got left behind, that they ought to have been coupled up as well and that they now are not good enough. Meeting someone and becoming a couple gets treated as if it is a race, or a competitive exam and not being paired up becomes a social nightmare. There is an urgency to then meet someone, and more often than not, the urgency leads to less than great choices, and that leads to cycles of its own misery, including breakups and patchups, neither because you really want the person, but because “something is better than nothing.”
If you really question that idea, you’d probably hear a more rational voice saying something is definitely not better than nothing when it comes to these matters. Being by yourself is not nothing, and just being coupled up is not something special and can even be something horrible.
What we need is to respect that if people are coupling up, that’s fine – we each have our own life paths. It is not a race.
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Happy anniversary, InnerSight!
This week, InnerSight is six years old, based on its official registration.
The last year saw us consolidate and grow, and we are glad that the growth is in terms of our conviction in our ethical practice of counseling, and our ability to bring those principles into all the other related work we do such as our corporate work, our diversity and inclusion work and work we do with communities and educational spaces.
We are especially glad for all our counselors across Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai, Delhi, Kolkata and hopefully, soon in other places too, who share our goal of Affordable and Affirmative Counselling.
Thank you to all our clients, friends and partners for this wonderful journey. You give us the strength in our conviction.
Choosing whether and when to say 'I love you' or waiting to say 'I love you too' can be such a frustrating problem for any of us. How do you decide?
Here's what we have to say on the subject:
PS: If you are a grammar nazi and correct the 'I love you too' to 'I too love you,' be warned. The love may no longer be reciprocated.
Sabotaging is to deliberately destroy, damage, or obstruct something. Now, imagine doing this yourself that to your self, diligently, day in and day out year after year. That's some serious self-sabotaging.
It is not that we are consciously choosing to sabotage ourselves. It happens as if it is an automatic program, a program that got embedded in childhood, a non-stop tape inside our heads that constantly speaks to us in a voice that tells us what's 'wrong' with us, why we cannot succeed despite working hard and how things will never be any different. It is a program that tells us we are not OK, and it keeps getting reinforced till it becomes so scary for us to come close to actually tasting real success, or find our true potential, that we scuttle our chances, we sabotage ourselves so that the 'I knew I couldn't get it' program can win, yet again
What constitutes self-sabotaging behaviour ?
The self-sabotaging stems from a firm belief that we are undeserving of love, unworthy of victory, incapable of achieving goals and with every successive 'I told you so' the belief hardens and this in turn reduces our ability to achieve what we want. With every failed attempt, we are proving ourselves that we are incapable of being good at anything. Seeking success of any kind makes our this program kick in, and we start anticipating failure, pain and emotional hurt.
To try and protect ourselves from this anticipated pain, we do something or get into behaviours that make it impossible to even attempt and certainly difficult to succeed. That's self-sabotaging behaviour. Self-sabotaging in that sense comes from a need of self-preservation. We create something that can take the blame for the failure. We now have a reason for why something didn’t work out. Our failures therefore are not a result of incompetence but an outcome of choosing some other thing, or an act of nature or just plain bad luck.
Sometimes, self-sabotaging behaviour comes across as simple forgetfulness ('Oh, dang! I forgot my cell phone. Now, I just cannot call her to ask for a date.') or procrastination. At other times, it can even seem altruistic and magnanimous - like giving to a competitor your key insights and work products. It can get really dangerous as well - like the dancer who literally breaks a leg for fear of getting on that stage, or the lover who deliberately cheats because this relationship is getting serious. Over the long term, such instances of self-sabotage can become patterns of really harmful behaviour: self-medicating, substance abuse and other ways of self-harm, and that can really be a challenge
Depression is a state of hopelessness. It is a hopelessness about oneself as much as about the world.
When depressed, everything can seem pointless and too much of effort, because one's critical mind mistakenly reasons that everything is doomed, nothing will ever be right and anyway it all falls apart. The brain is in a loop of ever deepening negativity, a whirlpool that sucks the hapless soul into black pits of nothingness. Happy thoughts and motivation struggle to swim against it, and often it is just a sinking feeling. There is a constant loop of negative thoughts, self-defeating beliefs and mood is depressed.
Even as we look at depression as a mood and thought disorder, at another level, it is an issue of love and compassion, for both oneself and the world around. Part of depression, when deeper, seems almost like punishing oneself. It is like a dictator has taken over the land, and is ruthlessly putting down every good thing - the hard, critical voice takes over and churns out unloving, uncompassionate messages that sap one's ability to believe in positivity, in people, and the world around them. That difficulty in experiencing self-love and self-compassion erodes esteem and confidence, setting into motion vicious cycles of self erosion.
Getting through depression requires attention to defeat these critical beliefs and thoughts at the first level, but it requires something more - it needs us to start being able to love, start to again be compassionate, and as the saying goes love is needed most when it seems to be deserved the least.
When our depressed brain tells us we aren't worthy, the world isn't worthy, that's when we need the love the most. In our quest to fight depression, let's be conscious that this isn't a war on depression. No weapons of mass destruction are needed. No aggression. We aren't fighting. We don't need battle armour and sharp, hard objects, or explosives. We need weapons of thought monitoring and whole lot of love and compassion.
We need to teach all our children and talk to all of them with comfort and confidence on sex, sexuality and body, about consent and privacy, so that the world moves away from the stifling silences around these topics and the harm they perpetuate. Ajanta De and Enfold speak with TheNewsMinute
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.