How often do you go out for a meal?
In these days of food delivery apps and heavy traffic, it often feels so much easier to be at home, put on the latest season of Master Chef from one of the streaming services, settle into your favourite couch and just chill.
If you are single, it is that much rarer to go out to a nice restaurant for a fine dining experience. Most times when one goes out alone, it is to a tried and tested, familiar hole in the wall place where one knows all the staff and the menu, and one might have gone there so often that the staff probably know what you want to order before you do. Fine dining by oneself is a rare experience for most of us. It can be quite a daunting experience to go by yourself to a nice restaurant and ask for a table for one. In most places, tables for one are relegated to the most unattractive places to sit, like next to the restrooms or at some other obscure corner as if to hide the singleness.
Restaurants do make a great deal of fuss about people in relationships come over. It is very much a sweet spot for them, especially because so much of dating revolves around food and drink, where each date matters because of what it says about each person to the other.
Post the early dating period though, when one is in a steady relationship, more often than not, one would just have a quick and easy meal at home, whatever is available or fastest to make on most days, leaving the more elaborate meals for weekends or holidays and perhaps the one meal a week that is had outside, just for a change – and again, even that one meal out, is probably in a selective set of restaurants. You would have three or four of your favourite restaurants that you cycle through whenever you want a break from home cooked food. Most often, the special dining out experience is reserved for holidays and special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries.
We often accept it as the natural course of events. People in relationships will get into routines and stay in their comfort zones. Food is one place it is most obvious in but we do it everywhere – the clothes we wear, the way we groom ourselves, the conversations we bring to the table and so on. Thing is, these so-called natural courses are really entropy in action – that old principle that all systems decay and disintegrate, unless there are other forces in action.
If you ever find yourself thinking your relationship has been in a nice little steady state for long, just be careful – it might actually be getting into a rut, that there is increasing entropy. You need to shake it up a bit, make a few shifts so that the systems are back buzzing and alive.
Go. Eat out or do something like that. Even if alone.
As written for the New Indian Express
Food is such an integral part of relationships. What we eat, how, when and where we eat – all make a big difference. If the people in a relationship cannot quite get along on these matters, there is likely to be a fair amount of conflict. If I eat meat, and my partner doesn’t like meat at all, we might more often than not, go for the least common denominators, which would be the vegetarian. Even if we do go out to a place with more food options, will there be equal respect and space for everyone’s food choice?
Chances are that there are differences. We make so much meaning out of food. It might be as simple as, “Don’t kiss me, you are reeking of garlic!” to “You are smelling of beer! I hope you are not going to sit belching all night!” to a lot more direct criticism of the food eaten, bringing in everything from environment and ecology, to politics and economy.
It is easily one of the most loaded subjects in a relationship, and perhaps one space where people really look for some levels of compatibility before moving in or living together. When looking for a partner, food preferences are one of the first things one checks on. Is the prospective partner from a similar food heritage? Are they as excited (or not) about variety of cuisines, do they have a favourite few, and do these favourites match? What do they hate, what do they love? Are there allergies? Preferences?
Sometimes, other emotions feel that much more important than food, and despite vast differences, people do get together. Thing is, very few houses run multiple kitchens to accommodate the food habits of the people living in it. Mostly, people run their households to the minimum common program, or the lowest common denominator. If there are food allergies or preferences that limit the possibilities for some person, then the common kitchen in the house will likely be designed for that, with anyone desiring more variety having to step out for a special order or get something special for themselves delivered home.
They seem reasonable choices to make and easy enough to accommodate for some time, maybe even a few years, but over time resentment could be slowly growing on these divisions, like layers of dust settling on furniture. Why can’t there be that one meal a week as per your choices? Can’t the others compromise for a change? Should you really have to settle for this much lesser than what you know you can enjoy?
Food is never really just food. It is culture, tradition, heritage, freedom, variety, fun, pleasure, companionship, adventure and much, much more. Relationships can be built on food, and can break on food.
The old saying “A family that eats together, stays together” does have some merit in it, and when the food one eats is so different from each other, then being able to eat together and stay together requires attention to everything food means for each other – not just compromise.
As written for The New Indian Express
When you are in a relationship, especially one where monogamy is presumed or has actually been talked about and agreed to, the presence of an old flame can be one of the main thorns that keep coming up for the people in the relationship. This is even more so if the old relationship was a fairly serious one, in that the person was someone who was really attractive to your partner and it was a case of some missed opportunity or circumstances.
Imagine this: your partner had this high-school sweetheart and they had been dating each other on the sly for years without either family getting to know about it. They had super-hot chemistry, had spent a lot of time together, talked about everything under the sun and just happened to be discovered in their relationship by jealous relatives or friends who report it back to their respective families. Those families, for whatever reason, did not approve of the relationship and made the couple break it off. In India, there is no dearth of reasons for families to interfere and control relationships, is there? It could be anything from religion, to caste, community, economic status, career not begun yet, older siblings and cousins who are still in the queue, too young, too old, or that you are not really an independent entity and that it is the parents who need to decide for you even though you are an adult, or even just plain meanness. In such a situation, where the young sweethearts call it off, go their separate ways, find other loves, get into other relationships which now include you, and then rediscover each other one fine day, how comfortable would you be?
It is one thing when there are every day flirtations with some new attractions that crop up in work circles or social spaces. You could tell yourself that you are aware enough and could cut it out, nip it in the bud and move forward, but with an old flame that was only tragically cut off, it is a whole another deal. You very likely know the whole story, commiserated with your partner and even helped each other heal. You may feel you even know this person so closely from everything you have heard from your partner and perhaps even the family. It feels a lot more dangerous and a very present danger.
You might on one hand want to allow them to have a more adult closure to their old relationship, or you might want to keep a really close eye on that person, perhaps even create a friendship between the two of you in the sense of “keep your friends close, and your enemies closer,” or you might think about putting down the law and telling your partner to stay far away – that there is no knowing when an old flame might reignite.
The anxiety really isn’t about the old flame, but about the strength of your love. Your actions need to be about this relationship, and not necessarily about the other.
As written for The New Indian Express
We are in an era of merchandising. There are hundreds of corporations working overtime to ensure that we have this going on. That, multiplied with the celebratory zeal that comes from having named days, weeks and months for every possible named relationship, dozens of different activities, specific cultures, traditions, religious holidays, and other occasions of celebrating one thing or another, and with each of them taking up very specific colours, objects and rituals coded for it – there is a mind-boggling number of objects and ideas being sold to us every day.
A lot many of these celebrations and the merchandising associated with them are designed for love and lovers, wooing them from the days of initial attraction, or even before that putting up love as something to be desired and to be sought, to every day of the relationship, and even end of relationships. Every possible moment in a relationship seems to have merchandise designed specifically for it, advertised and sold to the masses through every media possible.
Add to that, the very specific merchandise that marks a relationship. These could be small mementoes from the first date, to travel souvenirs, random pieces of paper and objects like movie tickets, a napkin with a scribbled number, hair clips, the toothbrush that they had used after the first sleepover - we can make pretty much anything an object of much meaning and specialness to a relationship. Then there are specially marked days such as birthdays and anniversaries of the first meeting, the first kiss, the first “official” date and so on. Add to that, other gifts given that mark particular occasions – the objects that mark fights, the making up after a fight, cards, stuffed toys and other objects signifying given for forgiveness, for gratitude, or just because one decides to surprise the other.
Thankfully, we don’t have as many printed photos anymore. If we were not living in the cloud so much these days, there would likely be hundreds of printed photos as well. Thanks to the mobile phone camera revolution, we have millions of photos now, but thankfully, very few of them ever get printed anymore. The few that do get printed, are on fridge magnets, coffee mugs, mobile phone covers - and there are plenty of those.
Is it any wonder then that relationships are one of the largest sources of clutter in one’s lives?
As individuals, we seem to accumulate a fair bit of clutter anyway, but the degree of clutter seems to explode into another dimension altogether when there are relationships in the picture. We accumulate boxes and closets full of things, few of them of much everyday value, or even great long-term meaning, but we hoard them, loathe to dispose them off, each object a memory marker of some significant moment of loving and being loved.
It is painful enough to declutter and say bye to objects from relationships that have ended badly, but how about all the personal treasures from joyful relationships, ongoing or otherwise?
Do we let our loves clutter our lives?
As written for The New Indian Express
Almost every newspaper and household magazine carry a horoscope column. Some carry multiple columns – a daily one, a weekly one, a monthly prediction, one based on your birthdays, another based on the shifting of planets from one constellation to another, lunar ones, solar ones. There are some unusual ones as well – one based on the numerology of your name, or esoteric calendars like the now-defunct Mayan calendar, for example.
The columns have a great readership. Many might just give it a passing glance for a quick check-in “just in case” or for a little light reading along with their daily dose of Calvin and Hobbes and other syndicated cartoons, for relief from all the stories of murder and mayhem. For others, it is a matter of particular importance, and even for the generally cynical population, convinced of the irrationality of 9 billion people’s lives being stuffed into a dozen predictable patterns for the day, there may be times and places when these columns become an important part of their fixture.
Consider a person falling in love for the first time and wanting to really time their confession of love and other feelings to the object of their adoration, or somebody wanting to take their relationship to the mythical “next level.”’ They might be looking for anything that can help shore up their chances at success, time their proclamations, and just get some courage. Horoscopes often become one such tool. They might eagerly wait for the daily newspaper, skim over news of elections, defecting politicians, world cup matches, climate crises and so much other important news, and go directly to the horoscope columns in the penultimate page of the paper, just so they can read their own prediction, match it with that of their beloveds, and look for clues in the two.
What if Scorpio says, “This is a good day for love and lovers. Venus is in your sign and it is the time for love and shows of affection,” and Libra says, “Be ready for annoyance. Mercury is in retrograde and people you don’t like are likely to be a source of irritation to you. Avoid them.” Would the poor lovelorn Scorpio take the risk of professing undying love to the Libran, having been forewarned thus by the daily horoscope? Or would the crushing Scorpio stay crushed under this warning, and wait for a better day with predictions that are more encouraging?
As human beings brought up in cultures of mysticism and the occult, even the very rational amongst us sometimes catch ourselves looking for signs and we read meanings into random occurrences, just to give ourselves a little solace, some comfort and maybe a bit of courage. If it stays a harmless foible, then it just is something for people to share a laugh over. If it becomes a potentially crippling dependence or ends up hurting someone, then of course there is nothing funny about it.
Lastly, here is an idea: What if there were predictions for the relationship as a unit based on the date the relationship was born?
As written for The New Indian Express
Once upon a time, in a busy market, a flower-seller and a fish-seller started to fall in love. They would meet each day at the market, make googly eyes at each other, and playfully call out each other’s wares, enjoy each other’s successes and were just lovely with each other.
Over time, their friendship matured into a relationship, and what started at the market, moved into long walks by the riverside, conversations over shared plates of food and all the regular stuff till finally the fish-seller invited the flower-seller home, and after a long evening, when they went to sleep, the fish-seller slept soundly while the flower-seller twisted and turned missing the smells of the flowers back home, but being a good guest, did not tell anything much. The next day, the flower-seller called the fish-seller home, and again they had a good time and when they finally went to sleep, this time the flower-seller slept easily surrounded by familiar smells, and the fish-seller couldn’t.
After a few weeks of such tossing and turning, they confess to not being able to sleep well at each other’s houses, much as they love each other, and it becomes quite an issue. Finally, they reach a solution: the fish-seller would bring an old, empty basket of fish to keep close when visiting the flower-seller, and vice-versa!
Both were now able to be relatively happy at each other’s place. The point of the story is this: Are we markers of space? Do we need our space to be marked with our things to claim it as our own, and imprint our characteristics on it so that it feels like home and we feel comfortable in it?
It is not easy to be in an impersonal space and there are always some things that feel more like one’s own.
One might be able to sleep wherever and be comfortable for a few nights anywhere, and yet, feel that much more at ease when back home. Isn’t that every tourist’s experience? It is great to be travelling around, seeing the world, sleeping in amazing hotels and camps, and yet it is all so much nicer when you have your own home to come to, your own bed to come back to and your own things around you.
For some of us, the need for our own things is much higher. We take a little bit with us wherever we go. Maybe it is a pyjama, a toothpaste, a bedside kerchief, a mala of beads, a book – it could be anything. It is the rare person amongst us who doesn’t ever need anything of their own and can feel at home anywhere and wit anybody.
If we can’t make space for another’s need for a few of their own things, is it really love? Could the fish-seller really love the flower-seller, but not allow for a bag of flowers?
As published in The New Indian Express
Smart phones are so ubiquitous. People use their laptops and personal computers only when they need to really type out large pieces, or work on multiple documents or when they have to work on software that is only designed for such computers. All other connected life is on the phone now that phones operate with equal or greater computing power as compared to computers, and there is internet everywhere. Very few actually use their computers to access social media, dating sites, news or anything else that one gets around to on a daily basis, unless they are on some kind of digital detox and are limiting their access to their mobile phones.
More and more smart phones these days come with fingerprint and face scanners that can unlock the phone. Gone are the days when the only option was a complex pattern or a numerical pattern were the ways to lock a phone, now it is your own face or finger that does the job. Most people set the unlocking pattern to their thumbs or index fingers, and sometimes, just for convenience, store all their fingers as unlocking patterns on their phone. It makes sense if you think about it – what if a couple of fingers get hurt and are damaged, or in full masala movie style, you are in trouble and only your little finger can reach the phone!
Jokes aside, smart phones and their being locked or unlocked is often a sticky issue with people in relationships. It is much more common to find people insisting that they have access to each other’s phones rather than have people who are quite OK that phones are each other’s private spaces and do not need to be accessed. Many take the half-way path where they ask for and get access (“just for emergency sakes”) and give the same open-door policy to their partners. The rare person uses their partner’s finger to unlock their phone when the partner is deep asleep or not in a conscious state, adds their own into the security system, just so that they will have access should there be need to have such access at all, and maybe not let the partner know at all because they want to avoid arguing over something that might never really happen.
How people in relationship access each other’s smart phones then becomes quite an important issue for many people in relationships. They want to be able to see each other’s WhatsApp conversations, messenger history, browsing history and everything else. With people taking their phones to their toilets and glued on to the small screen, with wireless ear-phones on almost all the time, there is very little that others in the relationship get to know of one’s lives unless there is an open sharing.
Issues of consent, transparency, connectedness and so on that have been the key concerns in relationships. More than rechecking your phone’s security protocols, people need to talk about these issues with their partners, or risk them playing out on a screen very near you.
How do you decide what shows to watch? Earlier, even with just the TV and all the cable channels, deciding what to watch with your beloved was not easy, unless you happened to luck out and both of you enjoyed the same things, and weren’t pretending through your courting period just to get each other’s attention.
Now with all the streaming apps offering shared subscriptions and “Netflix and Chill” becoming part of our daily language, there are thousands of hours of programming, season after season of shows from every corner of the world right at your fingertips. All this content is available on every kind of screen now, from TV screens, to iPads, mobile phones and other stuff. There is apparently a fridge with a screen that can stream content. Coupled with the very best of headphones that cancel out noise, it is convenient for people to watch what they like, independent of each other.
If you are out sprawled on your couch watching Game Of Thrones and all its gore, your partner might be three feet away but watching old reruns of The Big Bang Theory and getting ready to mourn that it was ending as well. Of course, for the most part, your partner might be in another room altogether, and telling you to call when it is time for dinner.
It is becoming harder than ever to bond over your favourite shows. You really have to up sell the content you want to watch, or search for shows that appeal to both your tastes. You find that odd Korean drama that also features vampires, or the 90s documentary on serial killers and it somehow gets both of you piqued enough to share a few hours together as you binge watch it all in one night, and then you have to trawl all through the suggested links to find something else.
There are silver linings if you look for it. If you are an older couple, maybe you would rediscover some old favourites that you could both reconnect over. Maybe you’d watch Friends again, or older classics – re-watch the whole lot, and then watch the rebooted versions, admire the hotter, younger actors, the more polished production values and yet diss how the show has lost its earlier charm – think Star Trek. You might find yourself introducing each other to new content or find yourself bonding over content that neither knew you would like.
It is a toss-up, whether these unlimited choices will bring you together, or separate you from each other. There is no telling what it will do, unless you really think about this together. When we are free, it takes so much more effort to stay together.
As written for The New Indian Express
Travel is a metaphor for life in so many ways. Are we travelling for travel’s sake, or are we travelling to a destination? What is more important, the journey or the destination? And is there one destination? In real life, few don’t travel at all, and hardly any journey is done with the one destination. And yet, if we hold travel as a metaphor for life, we are told to look at relationships as if it is the one destination that we are all supposed to arrive, one way or another.
If one is single, everywhere one goes, parents, grandparents and every other relative one could meet in everything from a baby’s naming ceremony to a funeral asks the big relationship questions: Why so late? Do you need introductions? Is a relationship the one destination that we are all supposed to head towards?
Even in travel, it is not as if we celebrate the one traveller who travels from point A to point B and never ever travels again. Nor do we celebrate someone who never travels, or the traveller who is incessantly travelling, so much that there is no saying where they were or will be.
We travel as we want to, stay for as long as we like and leave as we will. The travellers we really celebrate are those that have a story to tell. They may have never ever travelled, or barely, or lots – none of that matters as much as how their travel adventure was, how much they experienced in it and how deep they could relate to their experiences.
What if we treated relationships the same way? Do we really need to treat relationships as if they were a destination to arrive at and never leave again, like the Hotel California from the Eagles song? Instead of chasing being in a relationship as if it were some mythical giver of bliss and everlasting happiness, what if we simply saw it for what it is: Just one other possible part of one’s own life journey?
In our mythologies, we celebrate the celibate as much as we celebrate the once-married and those with 16,000 partners. The celebration of such deified lives is not because of whether and how many they were in a relationship with, but because of the lives they led, the values they upheld and the heroics of living as themselves in the face of many odds.
A relationship can be a witness for a life well-lived, but it is not the golden ticket to a meaningful life – there is none. Our life is meaningful because we give it meaning by how we live it, how we strive for what we value despite the odds, and what we make if it - not necessarily whether we were in a relationship, many relationships or none. Life is the journey, and the destination
As published in The New Indian Express
Ajanta, Mahesh and other InnerSight counsellors and guest contributors are happy to share their thoughts here.