One of the lasting images of a really successful, bonded relationship of love is when there seems to be a great degree of synchronicity between the people in it. The image of the two almost dancing their way through their life in perfect harmony, whether they are doing dishes or making love – everything happens without much need for any verbal or other communication.
They just know it. One person is washing the dishes and the other is ready with the dishcloth, exactly when needed. A person leans in for a hug and the other already has their arm out. They go to bed together, kiss exactly right, and know exactly what buttons to press and when. Hardly a word is exchanged, and yet everything happens so very smoothly.
Our movies celebrate it, our stories and poetry do, and there is no denying how much we have set such an image up as an ideal for relationships. The question we are asking today is not even whether this is really true, or whether it is even a possibility, but whether this ideal is a healthy one for love to really deepen and broaden. If we keep looking up to such an ideal, will we really be able to communicate, ask for consent and engage in a respectful and meaningful connection with the person we love?
In the Aww-inducing image of the perfectly in-sync relationship we described above, there is so much consent taken for granted. In a Utopian world, perhaps it might be true for some people. In reality, consent is something people need to engage with over and over in their lives with those they love. Constantly. Starting from the very mundane, “Can I use the loo before you?” or such negotiations over a shared living space, to talking about sex, intimacy and personal space. We are constantly in situations that need consent every living minute, including when we are asleep.
Some days, the kiss you want in the morning before leaving for work might not be forthcoming. Do you then force the kiss anyway? Or demand it? Or sulk about it? Or do you talk about it and figure out what’s happening? Turning the tables, if you don’t feel like a kiss, are you able to say No, or do you give in? Quite often, we end up doing things in relationships without necessarily wanting to or consenting to – and while the one-off exception might seem a necessary thing to keep peace, they often add layers of resentment which do blow up some time or the other.
Can we then resist this cultural pressure to act as if consent is to be taken for granted, and that it need not be re-negotiated every time? Just because someone said “I Do,” it doesn’t mean that they said “I Do now and forever, whenever and wherever and that is never going to change even the slightest.” We know it instinctively, and yet, somehow the ‘ideal relationship’ we look up to denies the need for dialogue. Can we change it?
As written for and published by the New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.