Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Li'l Miss Psychopath?

Over the last few weeks i've been asking myself if i'm perhaps borderline psychopathic. The term came into common, everyday use with the episodes of Dexter (what a show, right?!?), but these days i find myself looking inward quite a bit. The thing is - i don't feel much of any emotion really. Yes, i have cried tears while watching a film - mostly about peoples' solitude and its various expressions - because somewhere it obviously touches a chord. And ofcourse i feel irritation and anger, and i find humour in situations. But it's all 'in the moment'.. as in, i don't think there's any... sentimentality?.. linked to the people or the occasion. Sometimes i think that maybe because i'm so acutely aware of my aloneness is why i may have gone to the other extreme and shut off my sensory valves.

It all came to a head one day when i decided to watch a favorite band play. I invited about 8 people to come along. ALL of them cancelled, and mostly for perfectly legitimate reasons too. One wasn't well, two were out of town, one's friend had recently died, one was at work. But there were a few who were just out of line (or maybe i felt that way because i so really wanted to go for the show and i hardly ever impose on my friends to do anything!) - one who forgot to return a phonecall to confirm his attendance and the other - Vinter - with whom the conversation went something like this:

Vinter: Just got back home

Me: Great. I'm still at my edit, So why don't i see you directly at the venue..?

Vinter: Oh.. umm.. by what time will you be done?

Me: I'm almost done, it'll just take me a really long time to get back home, pick you up and then head out...

Vinter: Oh.. you know the traffic is a nightmare..

Me: Yeah i know, i'll be facing it too

Vinter: Umm.. You've got company right? Apart from me?

Me: Nope..

(a pause)

Me: But listen, if you're not upto it, it's fine..

Vinter: Really? If you want i'll come

Me: Yes ofcourse i want you to come (that's why i invited you a week ago, right?) but if you don't want to, then that's ok..

Vinter: Umm..

Me: So..?

Vinter: Well, if you're giving me an out, i'll take it

Me: ofcourse you will.. allrighty, gotta go.

And I used to count her among my closer friends. Notice the past tense? I figure if a friend takes an out that is there, then what makes her any different from the thousand of other acquaintances i have?

Lately, i find myself referring to a few other close friends as 'acquaintances'. Sony Mony who, through her own admission, was using me for my 'talents and contacts' to further the reach of her business. Her exact words were, "Have i chosen the wrong person to ask to do something for me?" To put this in some kind of context - I was helping Sony Mony create written material for her business - ideas, presentations, workshops, etc. It was mostly as a favor. Then, when i'd forgotten to mail her something, she called me out of the blue and went on the offensive. Not good. When Baz Luhrmann said about some unexpected things coming at you at 4 pm on a tuesday afternoon - this is what he meant. After 2 weeks of the silent treatment, i finally broke and asked her if she ever wanted to discuss what had happened that afternoon of her unprovoked outburst and she said, 'Really? I hadn't even noticed that anything had happened." Well, if i haven't been missed, then i guess i'm not that important. Why make someone a priority when you're just an option, right? So, that's another "good friendship" that got tossed out.

The thing is - apart from a mild irritation (like a burr in the bonnet) and a sense of injury - i don't really miss either of them. They hail me every now and then and i'm always polite, but... it's gone. On good days i figure that it's just deadwood that's been sloughed off - people who treat you badly do not deserve the consideration that they have been receiving. On other days, i wonder if i'm a psychopath - unfeeling, untouched, destined to be alone forever - and maybe just a little too stringent in my standards of friendship.

And then i wonder, if the true mark of a fulfilled life is how you are, how you love, how you treat yourself and the people around you, then am i screwing up irredeemably?

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Lessons from my "Marriage"

So sometimes i take life's really big steps as an experiment on myself. I do it with a slight sense of anxiety but mostly it is a "WTF" moment followed immediately with a "How bad can it possibly get?" and ending with a "One can always leave" reminder. This is not to say that one wants to leave, but a lot of the bravery comes from knowing that one does have that option.

I'm talking about my arranged "marriage". There's no other way to look at it. Some people call it "love and arranged".. in my case it was (apart from the above mentioned thoughts) "Kinda Like, Let's See Where it Goes." It was my first business venture in a partnership.

I started a company with my long-time acquaintance-friend. Honestly speaking, i'm usually one of the first people waving the red flags when it comes to working with friends. Apart from the usual problems of different temperaments and things getting sour over issues of money, work ethic, commitment - in a boy-girl partnership, there's also the niggling undercurrent of romantic-sexual tension/expectations.

And this is what i learned:

a) you never know what a person is really like until you start working with them - in a company or in a marriage. No amount of theory or "pre-nup" contracts does anything to ease the actual pain of adjusting to another person's baggage.

b) there is no thing as an equal partnership. One is always the child, the other is always the grown up. Once in a while, you may switch roles, and be happy to do so, but the majority of the time, one is throwing a tantrum, the other is counting to ten.

c) No matter what anyone says, there's always a subconscious testing of depth - depth of love, depth of trust, depth of support, how much is too much, why is too much "too much", keeping track of the wounds - real and imagined, and ofcourse - the retribution.

d) Money is an important thing. Doesn't mean you have to have a lot of it, but you do need so much that you don't mind parting with a bit of it to oil the wheels of togetherness. Whenever i say this, i have the idealistic light go on in my friends' eyes and their mouths start saying things like "money doesn't buy happiness" and "money is hollow" and "i don't believe in money." For them i have this to say: the romantic coffee, the walk in the sunset on empty white beaches, the candle lit dinner, the surprise small gifts - ALL of it is MONEY. There is more ofcourse. But there IS money.

e) Love is the other thing. Not just for each other - though that is important. But i think between people, LIKE and RESPECT are much more crucial. LOVE is for something that the two of you are working towards. It could be a company, a common future vision, family, live music, old hindi songs, antique curios, making home made wine, etc. To love something, and to work on it with someone you like and respect and yes, love too, is the kind of heady experience that is hard to duplicate with anyone else. If that is not there, then the focus shifts to how much the individual is gaining out of this partnership - and that's bad news because there's no end to individual greed and delusions of worth. A partnership works only when, in its entirety, it is greater than the sum of its parts.

f) Communication.. ah, that nightmare. Don't get me wrong, i've read the books and heard the chat shows that go on about it. But, let's admit it, communication is very hard to do. Sure, in an ideal world, all of us would be able to express ourselves in a clear and concise manner (without sitting on a therapist's couch) where we shall be understood for our good intentions and even better content, by an audience that is totally receptive to us. That's a Utopian illusion. In truth, in any relationship, at that critical time, the right word or the right phrase escapes us, but we blather on regardless, usually causing hurt and offense. And this without even considering the labyrinth of non-verbal cues that one has to navigate to get to some modicum of understanding. There's no real solution except to keep at it until we get it close to adequate.

g) Every partnership is fraught with conflict situations. Time, family, deadlines, work, even sheer lazyness sometimes bring us into "unstoppable force meets immovable object" zone. These conflicts - small or big - are exhausting. Inevitably, we become more discerning and pick our battles, choosing which ones are really the ones that are critical to our continued presence. These are the compromises one makes - all for the future goal that we love. This is not a bad thing. Successful war strategists down the ages have employed this very 'forward and retreat' approach to gather some of the world's greatest riches. We compromise on defending our ideals simply because we don't have the energy to do otherwise while struggling to get to our Goal. Between reaching our Goal with our partner (who's crucial to the exercise), and spending our energy fighting every battle, we choose to survive and fight another day. This is Good.

h) However, there are days when anger, irritation and resentment - mostly about the many compromises we have made - threaten to tip us over. Many many times when walking out is just a heartbeat away. At times like this, communication is also clearly not an option. This is when S P A C E is the only saving grace. This space could be a separate room, a crowded club, a really loud opera concert you listen to full blast on your headphones. The only rule is - this is where you go to shut out your partner. No phone calls. No long emotional texts. In this day of e-communication, mails and texts suffice to provide factual data to make the day or the work continue. This is also a good thing because it allows all the eddied emotional waters to settle and be calmed again before you address them. Hopefully with better results.

i) You find yourself constantly Re-EVALUATING the partnership. You wonder if all the effort and nonsense - and there is a LOT of both - is worth the "goal" you love. This is again a good thing. It also needs to be a highly individual thing. Your partner will not change. S/he has spent the last many years of her/his life becoming who s/he is, has successfully avoided changing for the 5000 or more people s/he met before you. The reason s/he thinks you're special is because you probably came closest to accepting her/him for who s/he is. Things won't become better or worse with a new partner - just another version of the same thing.

J) And now i finally come to the sex part, which in a business context, becomes 'playfulness' or 'fun'. You have to be able to have fun with your partner. It need not always be the whole start-to-finish-asm, but there must be a certain lightness - of touch and of heart - that makes every day that much easier to get through. It's the barometer of our personal happiness and is crucial.

Recently, i completed two years of my partnership. Today was a bad day. But after writing this, i think i'm ready for Round 7659809.