Monday, June 25, 2007

That's what Friends are for...

Something happened. The exact event is commonplace and quite irrelevant. But it has led me to question all my beliefs when it comes to friends and what friendships imply.

I've never put too much stock in 'romantic' relationships - i understand that even if two people adore each other to bits, there are circumstances in which they cannot live with each other. That doesn't reflect badly on the sincerity of the feelings thereof, just that sometimes, shit happens.

But with friendships, the rules are different. More often than not, they're platonic to start with. Immediately, things like sexual tension and jealousy are done away with. And what's brought into sharp focus are the really important things like value systems, integrity and character - archaic words in the world we live in, i know... but i'm old-fashioned.

And in light of recent developments, i've come up with my own definition and list of friendship rules and why they're important.

A friend: Someone you know and like because he/she does the right thing by you and others without compromising his/her own values. Thus, someone whose value-system matches yours to a large extent.

1) Don't fraternize with your friend's ex without permission from the friend. If you do, it means you're ok with people hurting your friend. If the ex is the hurt party, and you want to be nice to him/her, without your friend being ok with it, then it means you're making a choice between your need to do the right thing, and your friend's need not to. If he/she isn't keen about doing the right thing, value systems are obviously out of whack.

2) Keep your friend's secrets. Unless ofcourse the friend's secret is hurting him/her - like drug usage, abuse, etc. Chances are, your friend knows that he/she is in trouble, but is terrified of the solution. Your job is to give them support, and perhaps a backbone. Not to spill the beans. They're not your beans to spill.

3) Accept your friend - quirks and all. Mostly because it takes all kinds to make the world, and if you try to change him/her to better fit your idea of what a friend should be, then you're not being much of a friend anyway. And hence, not worth the trouble of changing for.

4) Make time for your friends. Even if it is in the middle of the night. They wouldn't be calling if it wasn't important... to them atleast.

5) Don't take advantage of your friends. Know that some of their most vulnerable parts are known to you, which is a privilege. Don't use them for professional advancement (unless you have their permission), don't use them for personal grand-standing.

I'm sure there are several loopholes to the above few, and several additions that can be made. But what it essentially boils down to is respect and trust, the two cornerstones of any relationship. A friend asked me recently why it was that i couldn't keep a romantic relationship going - what is it that i was doing wrong. And i have to start wondering, am i expecting too much?

Friday, June 22, 2007

A Fairy Tale

About two years ago, one of my closest friends - Samantha - got married to a guy who adored her. Her wedding day was one of the most painful days of my life.

Many years ago, we had made a pact - that we would be true to our hearts, never compromise on love and never settle for less that our due. We'd been 17. And at the age of 28, after being whacked senseless by life and love, when she married a guy because she 'didn't care either ways', i felt betrayed. This girl, dressed in silk and gold, wearing a blank expression on the 'happiest day of her life' wasn't the friend i'd known and cherished all these years.

Months passed, during which phone calls were the usual mode of contact. But everytime i asked how she was doing, her brittle over-bright voice would travel across the phone waves assuring me that "Things are perfect." After a while, even those infrequent calls petered off - after all, it's impossible to have a real conversation when you're trying to ignore the elephant in the room. However, a few months ago, she called me and told me that she had filed for divorce. She sobbed about how horrible her marriage was, how she didn't love him, how her mother was making her life miserable because of the divorce, etc etc.

I was furious. How dare she expect me to just sit here and listen sympathetically when she knew exactly what she was getting into? And if what she was getting into was so anti-code, then how could she agree to it at all? And now, i was supposed to find it in me to understand her playing a victim? While i mouthed the meaningless platitudes that are meant to comfort and support, inside i was screaming, "What have you done to my friend?"

Then, a few days ago, i read a line that jumped out of the page and practically bit me in the ass. It went like this: Everyone, without exception, is leading their fairy tale life. What????

And then i thought about a conversation i had with Samantha, all those years ago. We were drinking coffee at my place one morning, playing hooky from college, and laughing about how it'll be when we grow up. I was going to be a high-powered corporate executive, having a series of highly intense monogamous relationships, while she was going to be an atleast-twice-married sexy Mama, with a string of admirers. Seems we were living our fairy tale lives after all....

Maybe that line was right. Maybe not. I called her anyway and really listened to her. And while doing so, i sensed my friend there, albeit in flashes. We spoke for an hour, and as I hung up, I promised to visit.

And then i sat down to rewrite my fairy tale.

Yours, Unattached

(After thinking about it a while, i've edited my original post. I think it perhaps now says what i wanted it to say)

A kid i know at work tried the "i'll read your signature" line on me. It was a slow day and i'm just stupidly drawn by things that promise to reveal some hidden aspect of my personality to me - so we sat down and the first thing she said to me was, "You don't like to own things." Wow. I must admit i have heard a variety of truisms like "you've been hurt before, you're very strong", etc etc... never something as specific as this though.

The reason i mention this is because over the last couple of weeks, my latest acquisition has been getting a lot of attention. My house. I bought it in the suburbs last year. To give you an idea of just how much of a big deal this is, let me explain. I prefer a laptop over a PC. Soft, light-weight bean bags and mattresses have been the preferred choice of furniture (i use the term loosely). I've never bought a TV or felt the need to. My only piece of furniture was a dismantleable spare-design burma-wood table and bar-stools and cupboard for clothes. Anything else would limit the 'up-and-move' quality of my existence, as seen from the average of 7 residences in as many years.

To a very large degree, this 'up and move' aspiration has been reflected in my romantic relationships. Anyone brought up the M-word, it would usually be the beginning of the end. Suddenly, things that were accepted as normal, would begin to irk - his need to just go off without leaving a note, his video-game dependency, his possessive streak, etc. And behind all the irrational arguments and the nagging nit-picking, would lie the question, "This is what i'm supposed to live with for the rest of my life??" And the answer, unfortunately, was more often than not 'NO'.

But now i own a house. It doesn't up and move. You can't pack it up and carry it with you to unpack on a hillside with beautiful views. In fact, there is little you can do with it except come back home to it every night... and repair its blemishes. And keep investing in it - your time, money, patience, peace of mind.

Much like a marriage. I find myself working really hard to keep my house looking just-so. No, i'm not anally-retentive when it comes to dust, or a bit of clutter, but i like my house to be mostly sorted. It helps me relax. It helps me unwind after a long day filled with agravations. Things that get broken have to be repaired. Things have to be bought. There is no out. You can't just leave because at some level you don't want to - it's home. Like a marriage should be.

The thing is, I didn't really buy the house. My parents bought it for me. (No, i'm not a spoilt brat...not a materially spoilt one, in any case.) This particular investment was done for various reasons - great investment opportunity, convenient base in Bombay, but most importantly, giving their only daughter roots in a rootless life. Mom even bought me plants that now i have to keep alive.

Ever since that time, things seem to be going completely out of control. .. or atleast the kind of control i'm used to having my life in. First there was the house, then there was heavy, wooden furniture, then a JOB to battle the vagaries of freelancing income to pay the EMIs, and now talk of getting a car.... All this, while there's still little to eat in my refrigerator and i'm fantasizing of just 'up-and-move'ing to Barcelona and earning my living as a bartender.

And this is where things get really freaky if i take the analogy forward. If my house is like a marriage, does that mean that even when i'm in it, i'll be constantly fantasizing about getting out, and more importantly, will i have to be kicked out of my inertia-driven state and almost forced into it?

The bottom line is, I sense myself growing roots, and the worrying part? It's not an entirely unpleasant feeling. A minor concern stays - When i look back at this time of my life 20 years from now, will i think that this was the point when i started losing myself and becoming the complete stranger i find staring back at me from the mirror now-then? Maybe. But for now, i love that in the mornings, bright sunlight streams into my living room, and the pretty flower-buds of my potted plants peek at me as i stand there, idly flipping through the papers, wondering whether i should order pizza for breakfast.

It's cozy. If this is marriage, it's allright.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Who, Me?

I've never been a popular kid. Through school i was always on the fringes of the 'in' crowd. I couldn't break into the Debating teams because i truly understood where the other guy was coming from; the dramatics team was a mystery as it was impossible for me to be 'natural' while playing 'little bo peep' and the basketball team had a height criterion.

I struggled with the fact that i wasn't ever going to be the 'hot chick' in school, that guys would always think of me as the back-thumping-never-crying-best-buddy and beautiful would never be a term applied to me. One day, while going through my delayed entry into adolescent agony, i despairingly asked my professor, "What if i'm no good at anything?!" And she wisely said, "Sometimes it's enough to be a good person." She obviously hadn't lived in the Bombay media world.

In my contrary state of mind (telling the world to go to hell while begging for acceptance in the same breath), i found solace in my diary (my older brother did too apparently, when he read out bits of my self-loathing to his friends, but that's another story). It became a place where i could be completely honest about what really mattered to me - and where the slow realisation hit me that little really did. But more importantly, it became a place of habit.

And today, when that habit has led to intensely private navel-gazing on the hugely public forum of the internet, i find that i finally have a much-appreciated fan club (you know who you are). But really, if truth and a healthy disdain of how people perceive you is all it takes to 'win friends and influence people', i wish someone had told me and saved me years of heartache. Then again... maybe not.

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Faking It

Yesterday, a friend of mine told me about this embarrassing malfunction he had in bed. According to him, it has 'never happened' (yeah, right) and now he thinks it's because the woman he was with, just didn't have 'that special connection' with him. I looked at him askance, wondering whether he'd left his thinking mind along with his libido behind.

Then he brightened up and said, "But she did cum so that can be my goodbye gift to her." Uh yeah, sure. I was pissed off. Here was this guy i consider a friend who was being a total jerk about a girl who had gone out of her way to fake an orgasm for him. The moron didn't realise that that had been her goodbye gift to him.

Faked an orgasm??? Yes, sir. What followed was a lengthy discussion on orgasms, faking it, and how most men don't think their partners ever have done it. Finally it ended with him asking, "Why don't they just tell men how to give them an orgasm instead of being all romantic about it? I'm not a mindreader!" Reminded me of a blog i'd read where the writer almost begs for directions to a female orgasm. I wrote a comment on the same blog... which i'm reproducing here.

I must say, the demand for a "roadmap" to orgasm is so typically male. It's like saying - fixing the kitchen shelf needs a power drill, a saw, glue, etc, and helping my lady attain her orgasm needs a left here, a right there, slight u-turn.. and voila!

Really, come on!

A male orgasm is a physiological thing. From the age of 13 or younger, boys are taught, usually by their well-meaning older brothers or friends, how to get rid of that 'funny feeling in the pants'. A female orgasm - well, now THERE's a different story.

An orgasm for a woman is literally a way of letting go. She lets go of her inhibitions, her phobia about cellulite, being seen as imperfect (particularly by the male world which sees Claudia Schiffer as perfection), she puts away all thought - guilt over liking the 'dirty act of sex', of being considered a slut, of her laundry not done, of whether her underwear is sexy enough, etc etc. When she lets go of all of this - baggage - only then does she orgasm.

Being the sensitive, caring man of the 21st century, is actually about being able to help her do all of that - mainly by making her feel beautiful and cherished. And that process starts in the head, way before clothes are thrown off and strewn across the room. Unfortunately, there's no road map for that. Except for the big glaring word that men seem to just not see - it's called FOREPLAY.

ForePLAY. It's not supposed to be a chore. It's supposed to be stolen kisses, hand holding, raunchy messages in the middle of a board meeting. It's playful, teasing, surprising and joyous, because THAT is what sex is about. Or should be.

Women aren't trying to be mysterious or mystical about having an orgasm; it isn't a great secret that we don't want to share with you. The thing about orgasm - single or multiple - is that, while many women (not all, mind you) recognise it when going through it, very few women know consciously about these complicated but crucial elements that go into it.

What does happen is that, over the years, she goes through several men (or few men several times) who try really hard to satisfy her (bless them), who try to be the "sensitive, caring man of the 21st century". Some of them manage to do so, some of them don't, and its only in that process, she learns what makes her tick. And, like a learned trait, it becomes easier to let go, and easier to tip over to the side of a full-blown orgasm.

Then, why do we fake it? Just as the female 'orgasm' has burst onto the male sexual arena recently, even women have to deal with the pressures of "Did you cum? How many times? Was it good?" Jeez! Something that was supposed to be fun, and private, is now suddenly dinner table conversation, with women being called a variety of names - 'frigid, cold, unresponsive, weird, unwomanly' etc etc - if she hasn't "had one." And this is from other women, by the way.
In defence, women have learnt the fine art of 'faking it'(THAT is easy - remember Meg Ryan in "when Harry met Sally"?)and just enjoying the liberation of sexual intimacy hoping that while faking it, the real thing will come along, without the added pressure of looking for it.

The modern woman is not always swayed by material things because lately the modern woman can buy herself her own shiny baubles including the diamond ring. But the modern woman does enjoy "the weight of a man", and hopes to come across one who will help her drown out all the noise in her head and be able to say, in that glorious moment of ecstacy, "YES!!"

Monday, June 4, 2007

Do I look like a Dating Service?

There used to be a time when i would look forward to having everyone i care about - friends, family, etc - in one location as i truly believed that people important to me should know each other. This was a dream that had its basis in movies revolving around Thankgiving, where dysfunctional families got together for a whole day of torture. But i always thought they were hilarious. The dysfunctional family i could provide, the 'weird' friends would show up, and atleast for that one day/week/month, i won't have to miss anyone because everyone important would be there - though probably in different rooms.

Needless to say, the stars haven't yet aligned for that to happen. With family and friends scattered all over the world, with different schedules and different life cycles, it's understandable. But, at my end, i continue to try and stay in touch. Practically everyday, i'm out with someone for a drink or dinner. When that doesn't happen, phonecalls and emails rule. And as far as possible, i manipulate occasions where different groups of friends can meet and interact, and preferably form bonds that are independent of me. After all, that's how true families are formed.

Until, lately, i find a lot of my friends come up with a very annoying line of conversation. It goes something like this:

Friend: Yo! What plans tonight?
Me: Nothing major. Have a birthday party to go to. Wanna come?
Friend: Are there gonna be any cute/hot chicks/guys there?
Me: No idea.. i'm sure there will be some fairly interesting people.
Friend: Who?
Me: Well.. Name1, Name2, Name3...
Friend: they're not hot/cute/ oh lord, them again??
Me: They're friends. That's why i'm meeting them.
Friend: DO they have hot friends..?
Me: why?
Friend: Otherwise there's no point.

No point??? Almost everyone i count as a friend is attractive, funny, charming, mildly eccentric and interesting (including the irritant). I don't categorise them as shaggable or not, although i'm sure they would be considered so by someone. But what really gets my goat is the attitude that dismisses what an evening can potentially be by simply shutting your mind to the idea of the unexpected.

"If i'm not getting laid, then i'm not interested." Well, honey, if you aren't interested, you aren't getting laid.

Maybe people are getting more impatient about discovering each other. The speed-dating syndrome and the Sitcom/Movie world {where every half hour episode has so many beautiful (thanks to make-up and lighting), funny (thanks to a good script probably written by someone who isn't as hot as the people saying the lines) people} has leaked into our real world expectations, that we now have no time to read beyond the superficial.

Snap judgements are made on the basis of boob-size, butt-shape, hair-length, complexion, etc, before even bothering to actually 'see' a person. They don't notice that under the not-so-perfect boob-shape is someone who's tone-deaf and loves dancing, that the guy with the not-so-perfect weight category is someone who loves to race cars, that the obnoxious guy sitting in one corner of the room sullenly smoking cigarettes is a guy who's rather shy about big groups of people and hopes that someone will just talk nicely to him instead of being sarcastic.

I'm not saying it's easy. It just takes a temporary suspension of paranoia so that we can actually listen to what someone is saying without being convinced that he/she is malicious. It implies taking a break from being yourself, and giving that other person the same chance.

And if they can't do that, i just hope that they can stop pestering me to introduce them to my single, cute friends. Because whatever i may be, i'm not a dating service. And if that doesn't work, i really hope that the day when i'll have everyone under one roof isn't that far - that way, everyone will meet everyone i know and then they'll stop making "new hot friends" a pre-requisite for just hanging out.