As written for and published by The New Indian Express
The initial period when you are falling in love can be quite heady. You are seeing someone, and they seem just perfect, you are both doing everything you imagined you would be doing, and all is swell in the world. You are floating through your day with a smile so big that nothing can shake it. Your time away from each other is spend dreaming up ways to spend time together, and it is so difficult to keep your hands away from your mobile to just check your messages, or look at their insta post or somehow just connect. It is such a beautiful and content place in the privacy of the cozy little world of just the two of you.
Love can be addictive like that.
It takes a while, but eventually, you recognize that your worlds need to integrate, or maybe it is just that your friends pester you to be introduced to your special someone, and you give in. You will probably do a whole lot of preparatory talk on both sides – talk about your new love to your friends and tell your lover about each of your friends, their quirks, interests, their weirdness and all that you can think of, before engineering a situation where both worlds can collide and you can do nothing more but stay back and watch how things unfold.
It is one thing if everyone loves each other right away, but what when not all your friends don’t seem to be OK with your new love? In fact, some of them are a lot more than not OK – they seem to see a whole different person than what you see and love. Where you see a charming, goofy person, they see an intrusive, obtrusive person. Where you see a naive, guileless person, they see a self-absorbed, social climber. Where you see a spontaneous, affectionate person, they see an aggressive, irritating person who doesn’t respect boundaries.
Or vice versa: your new lover has strongly negative reactions to people you have known for years.
You may not even pick up that there are some hostilities in the air as everyone tries to play nice. They probably give each other a fair bit of time, and you start to relax when – Boom! Things hit the roof, and everything is in the open, and it becomes one versus the other. You might try to mediate, but nothing works.
What do you do under such circumstances? How do you choose between a new love and old friends? There are many break-ups because the new love can’t stand your old friends, and possibly equal number of lost friendships because the two worlds just couldn’t see eye to eye. Is it the headiness of your love that blinded you to your lover’s unsightly underbelly? Or, are your old friendships so stale that they can’t see this new, bright light and seek to undermine it?
Short of extreme negative revelations, you just have to choose as you can and only time can tell which love was more true.
Recent social media campaign #MeToo brought to light some intimate and troubling stories, as well as those with courage and strength. But could sharing these personal anecdotes affect your relationship?
Is there no need for exchanging thank yous or sorrys between those who love each other?Salman Khan’s first movie Maine Pyar Kiya set this notion for the 90s kids with its catchy “No sorry, no thank you between friends” dialogue and that has stayed on in our general culture for a while now. The idea that friendships and especially love meant that things just get understood and appreciated automatically, and that no real expression of apology or gratitude was needed, has stuck for such a long time. There are literally hundreds of movies across languages reflecting that sentiment now.Does love really not require expressions of gratitude or apology?Should your lover just trust and have faith that you know and appreciate everything they do for you, and should they automatically forgive any and every transgression in their ever-loving generosity of spirit because they know that deep within, you only love them?
It can seem such a romantic idea – this notion of implicit trust and faith in love for one another, but it is actually quite a harmful notion. One that hurts both people individually, and certainly hurts the relationship. As with everything else, trust has to be built and maintained over time, and the way trust gets built is by open expression of all feelings, including hurt, anger, joy and happiness.
So, how do you say thank you to someone you love? Are words enough? Do you need to show your gratitude – like “I scratch your back if you scratch mine?” Do you need to be public about it – let their friends and family know how grateful you are?
What constitutes gratitude and exactly how much you need to be thankful before it becomes creepy or icky can get tricky. Too little and you might get a sulk, and too much and you might freak them out.
With apologies, the intensity and frequency aside, there are a few things that are quite important: One, no apology is worth its salt if there is a ‘but’ attached to it. That will nullify it altogether and only get you a kick in the butt. Two, the apology needs to be specific about what behaviour you think has been offensive. Just saying, “Whatever I have done to offend you, please forgive me – I was just being playful,” or something like that just won’t cut it. In fact, it only means that you haven’t a clue as to what was offensive and you aren’t taking accountability for it whatsoever.
Don’t be surprised if you get a severe lashing in response for such ‘apologies’. Third, don’t make the person to feel awful if they don’t immediately accept your apology and forgive you. Real apologies and real gratitude is vital in strengthening loving relationships. In love, it is, “ No sorry? No, thank you!”
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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)
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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For any body starting a relationship, there is such a lot of pressure to get (or to not get) physically intimate. This is not just for young adults starting off in their first relationship, though of course that is specifically more challenging, but also for others. Think of people starting a new relationship after a break-up, or after the loss of a long-term partner. Think of people with disabilities or other challenges.
It can be a challenge for anybody
Often, we hear scary stories of the effects that getting into it without full readiness can have, including damaging one's sexual expression, changing how one feels about themselves, or as simple and yet devastating as changing the relationship dynamics. Of course, when you are ready for it and take this step, it can be a beautiful and life-enriching experience.
So, how does one really know when to take this big step?
You should ask yourself questions like - Why do I want to get physically intimate? Is it because of peer pressure? Is my partner forcing me? Do I know the person well? Why with this person?
The most important thing is to listen to yourself, and trust yourself.
At any time, if the answer to any of the above questions is tentative or unsure, then perhaps wait a bit, and strengthen the relationship. Take the time to really know yourself and prepare, both emotionally and in other ways, including educating yourself on safety and being sure that you are in a comfort zone.
It is never easy when a marriage or significant relationship ends. A breakup launches us into uncharted territory. Everything is disrupted: your routine and responsibilities, your home, your relationships with extended family and friends, and even your identity. Grief is a natural reaction to loss, and the breakup of a romantic relationship involves multiple losses:
• Loss of companionship and shared experiences
• Loss of support (financial, social, emotional etc)
• Loss of hopes, plans, and dreams
Allowing yourself to feel the pain of these losses may be scary. You may fear that your emotions will be too intense to bear, or that you’ll be stuck in a dark place forever. Just remember that grieving is essential to the healing process. And no matter how strong your grief, it won’t last forever.
So what can you do:
• Don’t fight your feelings: It is normal to feel many conflicting emotions, including anger, resentment, sadness, relief, fear, and confusion. It is important to identify and acknowledge these feelings.
• Talk about how you are feeling: Even if it is normally difficult for you to talk about your feelings, it is very important to find a way to do so when you are grieving. Journaling can also be a helpful outlet for your feelings.
• Seek help if you need: Seeing a counsellor or joining a support group can help you come in touch with your feelings and express them. Seek least one place where you feel comfortable opening up.
• Give yourself a break: Give yourself permission to feel and to function at a lesser than usual level for some time.
• Make time each day to nurture yourself: Do something everyday that you find calming and soothing - a walk, music, enjoy a hot bath, get a massage, read..
• Stick to a routine: A relationship breakup disrupts your life, amplifying feelings of stress, uncertainty, and chaos. Some regular routine can provide a comforting sense of structure and normalcy.
• Take time out: Try not to make any major decisions (change of job, home etc) in the first few months after a separation. Wait until you’re feeling less emotional.
• Explore new interests: A breakup is a beginning as well as an end. Take the time to explore new interests/ activities.
• Remind yourself that you have a future: It is hard to let go of the dreams you had. As you grieve the loss of the future you once envisioned, be encouraged by the idea that new hopes and dreams will eventually replace your old ones
(previously published in the Frazer Times)
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.