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
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
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!”
As published in:
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.
As published in:
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.