Wednesday, November 8, 2017

"You're So Great, But..."

People ask me sometimes why I think so much about relationships and examine my past and analyse what people could really mean when they say things. The truth is, when the same questions get asked of you over and over again, you have no choice to keep thinking about it until you find an answer that rings true.

For example, just recently two people I regard with some fondness asked me the age old question - “Why are you single?” This was inevitably followed by - "I mean you're so... (insert a list of my apparent best qualities - smart, attractive, fun, cool, etc). Sure, you're also... (insert a hopefully shorter list of my obvious ‘problem' areas - commitment phobic, too many exes who are still friends, not 'wife-material’ in the pleasing-mom-in-law and cooking well ways, etc). But still... Why are you single?"

The standard defensive, conversation-stopper responses popped into my head but the truth is, as I mentally scanned through my romantic history, I realised I had never yet come up with a response to that question that made sense.

After all, why was I single? It wasn’t for lack of opportunity nor an adventurous spirit. It wasn’t even for a very hard-to-achieve preconceived notion of romance. After all, as long as there was laughter and chemistry and mutual respect and communication, it was as good a place to start a relationship as any. So then why was it that with this winning combination of traits and quirks, I was single?

Because none of my relationships worked out.

This reminded me of something someone famous once said (and I’m probably paraphrasing) which was - If there is a problem with every relationship you’ve ever had, then you have to consider that the real problem lies in the one common element i.e. you. Or, in this case, ME. And looking back at my romantic history (yawn!), I have to agree.

See, the problem has always been me - or rather, my feelings of insecurity in its fairly literal sense. I have, quite simply, never felt safe with anyone. This goes back to some deep-rooted stuff. Like for example, my father whom I adored left me when i was not even in my teens and for the longest time, I thought that it was because he didn’t like me. Sure, over time and distance and increasing maturity, I know that couldn't possibly have been true. But deep down, I have to admit that that’s my psychopathy - the fact that I believe that people I love will reject me once they get to know me fully because then they will discover something about me they won't like. I mean, if my father discovered something about me that made him leave his wife and two kids and even his country after 12 years of being around me - then I can hardly blame anyone else, right?

This insane belief was reinforced subtly by everyone I ever was with. There was always that one thing about me that someone didn't like. 

My college boyfriend thought everything about me would be perfect if only I wasn’t so angry and aggressive. The one after that thought that I was great except for the fact that I couldn’t love (him). My next boyfriend felt I was wonderful but if only I was more ambitious and the list went on. If one wanted me to be more grounded, another wanted me to be more feminine or more tactful or less commitment phobic or not-so-needy or friendly or fucked up in some other way. And this was when I was pretty much on my best behaviour!

The thing is - when someone says the same thing about you over and over again, you start to think that this stuff matters. When it's someone you love and trust saying the same thing, you start to think there's something seriously wrong with you. And then you start to think - "sooner or later he's also going to know that something is seriously wrong with me - and then he'll leave. Because that's how it is."

And thus, I never felt safe with them. It always felt like there was a Damocles sword hanging over the relationship because sooner or later they would discover the quality that they didn’t like or that I couldn’t change fast enough and they would leave. And they did. I wasn’t blameless in that equation because I helped speed us the process. After all, I'd rather know what the breaking point was sooner rather than later. So if someone worried that I was sexual - bring on the Nymphomaniac! Someone felt I was unemotional - Voila! I bring you the Sociopath! Someone thought I was not ambitious enough - I present to you - the Couch Potato! 

I'm not proud of it, but somehow being single always felt better than being with someone who was working out his insecurities by stirring up mine.

The thing is - being with another person is hard work. It requires you to be mature and accepting, sensitive to another person's needs and all those things. Entire scientific studies have indicated that people in relationships are stronger and more stable, and thus more prosperous and more adventurous than single people - probably because of all that character-building hard work. I buy that entirely. After all, we're always better together, like the song promises.

But at this point, not knowing what the future will bring, or even knowing if my epiphanies have the power to change my neural pathways, I think the real reason I’m single is because the only time I feel safest is when I'm home, with my cat, in ugly pjs, eating messily in bed and not caring for a second that someone I love is somewhere saying a sentence that goes like - “She's great you know… except for one thing…"

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The Shape Of Our Lives

I’ve been thinking of what the last 4 minutes of La La Land were really about. I mean, logically, if Ryan Gosling had kissed Emma Stone the minute she stepped into that club where he was playing the piano, that would be sexual assault. But somehow, despite our knowledge of that, our having witnessed the lives they lived otherwise made that sexual assault and everything that followed so much more preferable. I think it’s because deep down, we know we’re fuck ups who continually cock up our lives because we don’t have the fucking balls to fully embrace the possibility of the other. And we know that sometimes, we really need criminal assault to get us out of the ruts our lives our in.

Like the other day, I bumped into Mark. After years of not having spared him a thought,' I met him just out of the blue. It happened as I was driving towards work and I saw him waiting for a cab. Instinctively, I stopped and offered him a ride. He said something nonsensical, I berated myself mentally for having presumed too much, and finally after 4 long interminable seconds (yes, seconds) of an interaction, I drove on, feeling stupid. And cowardly.

And then just a couple of days ago, I met him again at my job. He’d come to meet my boss and I was just leaving her room. I wasn’t unaware that we may see each other, so I'd had time to mentally prepare myself for a better interaction. I knew exactly how the conversation would go. He would be shocked to see me there, and his entire body language would change setting to ‘Implode’. He would frown as he examined the floor or the walls trying to settle his facial expression to neutral asshole - rumour has it that it's his go-to expression when dealing with others. I can’t really complain since I believe I had a hand in making him who he is today. 

In any case, I would stop in front of him, smile and say 'Hey!’ Given the norms of polite behaviour, he would say Hi and I would explain to him that his meeting has been delayed by 15 minutes and would he like to wait with me outside. Looking at the sea of strangers around him, and the confidence that I naturally exude on my home turf, he would say Ok. We’ll step out and as we wait awkwardly over coffee for a few minutes, neither knowing what to say, I would blurt out my congratulations for his film that is doing well, and then explain how I still had to go watch it. He would smile and nod and look impatiently at his watch, wondering how quickly he could politely excuse himself and get away from me. I would take that opportunity to say that I felt really silly about leaving him on the road side the other day and how I should have insisted but was afraid I was being presumptuous. He would smile awkwardly, disarmed by my candour, and say that he understood - and will acknowledge that even he'd felt weird. 

 We would smile briefly and then he would be called in for his meeting. We would look at each other - a hug too intimate, a handshake too silly - and then we’d wave to each other as he went in to work while I took a breath. On his way out, he’d ask my colleague if I was still around and she would say yes and call me and I would come downstairs and he’d tell me that he needed my number because he had to send some literature across to me to read, as my boss had said. 

A few days later, he’d call me and instead of talking about the expected literature, he would ask me if I’d want to have coffee again. I’d say yes. And we would meet and it would be just a little bit less awkward, and maybe we would laugh once. Like we used to. We would both know that we couldn’t possibly go back to who we used to be, but maybe we could reintroduce ourselves, see if our grown up versions, the people we both had a hand in shaping, if we would stand up to the test of being scrutinised and appraised. And if, for just a few moments every day, we would dare allow the other to affect us again. 

These coffee meetings would lead to early dinners to hanging out with significant others to house parties and dancing and there will be laughter. Incrementally, but surely, there would be a dropping of our guard. And maybe, just maybe, one day we would tell our story to a third party friend who will sit across from us and wonder what it takes to build a real friendship in today’s world of social media alienation and we would say, looking at each other, that you have to let the important ones shape you, and then forgive them if they fucked up the design, but still allow them to shape you, and then learn to love the shape of you that the other made. And vice-versa. 

I knew all this in those 3 seconds as I walked towards him when he entered my work place. And I smiled and said Hey! And his brain imploded when he saw me, and I said that he would have to wait for a few minutes before my boss would be ready to see him. And he said, “What? What does that mean?” And I said, “You’ll need to wait…” And he said, “I don’t understand…” and suddenly something struck me. I said, “You’ll need to wait for a few minutes - not necessarily with me…” And his body language setting changed from Implode to Relaxed Neutral Asshole and he nodded and said Ok. And then my colleague said, “Let me show you to the conference room” and he said OK. And I nodded, and we walked away from each other towards two separate destinations. 

Maybe at that time some assault is exactly what was needed. Not the kissing kind - *shudder* - but more the assertive Bitch Taking Control kind where I would have stopped him from walking away and said, “No he’ll be waiting with me outside where we shall be having a long-fucking-overdue conversation, Even if it kills us.”

Maybe it’ll still happen. At this point however, I feel really bad for that third-party friend who will never hear this awesome story of friendship and redemption and how something amazing can still be salvaged out of our meandering repetitive lives and then there will be nothing to stop him from making the same stupid mistakes that we already lived every excruciating fucking detail of.

It’s really him I feel bad for. Otherwise, I’m fine.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Committed to Sadness

Last night, I asked VJ out. I did part of the whole "date" shabang (I say "date" because I'm not sure any of us date anymore. But - another post, another time). I made a phonecall, invited him out, got dressed up, made reservations, arrived there early, etc. In my head, he was always locked away as the one who got away, the what-if, the One-if-only-I'd-had-the-balls-to-put-myself-out-there. And it was nice. There was conversation, and some laughter, and good food. At the end of the day, I'm not sure if the dinner plan was a good one (we've never really ever had a conversation so I wasn't entirely sure about what he enjoys except his work) but I was happy that I had created that opportunity. Later my friend asked me how it was, and I said - it was nice. Nicer than many other situations I've found myself in. 

And therein lies the problem. The Nicer. The Better. The Comparison.

 Just recently I was having a conversation with my friend Rob about his marriage. It was on the rocks, and as part of the alimony, his lovely wife was demanding to be knocked up. And Rob was considering it. Now, I'm not a particularly maternal person, and I’ve never felt the call of my womb to be filled with alien dna or the desire of my vagina to shoot out a watermelon-sized spawn into the world. That said, I do know that some women still do - what baffled me was this woman’s need to do all of the above with someone who was not interested in sticking around, and whom she despised enough to legally eject from her world. 

And yet, she wanted a piece of him inside of her, and around her, for as long as the little one survived. He, on the other hand, just saw the sperm as the next step, not someone who would become a living breathing embodiment of parts of you you didn’t even know existed, but just something he had to get over with so he could get his freedom.

A recipe for disaster, right? Maybe. 

But the roots of this gigantic mess lie in the words “She’s not like the other girls….” And thus starts a story with its foundations in quicksand. The problem is - Rob (and possibly many others out there) made a choice about a life partner based on all their experiences of other people out there. In today's world of dating, there is no lack of options. If you’re reasonably attractive, clean, well-mannered, well-spoken and even passingly employed (or have prospects), it won’t be hard to find someone to hook up / hang out / netflix and chill with. It’s easy, and that’s really great. 

The downside to that is the sheer empirical knowledge that there is someone better out there. Of course there is, so why bother investing in this person in front of you when a better one is right around the corner, right? And in this world of spotting the best deal, you meet The One. And she’s great.

She’s not like S who was a vegetarian and always made a face when you ordered a cheeseburger.
She’s not like A who used to hog the sheets and didn’t like football.
She’s not like D who had hang ups about sex.
She’s not like N whose parents hated you
She’s definitely not like E who was always smoking up
And not like SS who - well, something was off about her. Total Psycho.

But The One - She’s not like SADNESS at all. You’re not quite sure what she is about, but since she’s not like the others, it’s a good place to start. The problem with this method of elimination is that you spend more time thinking about your experience of SADNESS than you do about The “One” in front of you. Sure she doesn’t hog the sheets, but she doesn’t brush her teeth either before breakfast. Ofcourse her parents really like you but they insist that you join them for morning prayers every weekend. And for sure she doesn’t smoke or imbibe any kind of hallucinogens, but her closest friends are ex-heroin addicts with whom she may or may not have had some kind of sexual history.

My point is this -  When we talk of commitment, what exactly are we committing to? My friend Rob said, “I married her right? That meant I was committed to her.” Did it though? Does signing a piece of paper - that can be negated by signing another piece of equally available paper - mean you’re committed to un-sexy things like a person’s happiness, well-being, growth and future? Are you committed to even changing yourself if that is needed to achieve all those things? Is that even possible when all we know about them is that they’re NOT SADNESS?

And all this makes me worry. 

I worry about Rob and Tom and Alex and all the others out there. I worry about myself too. I worry that we have all lost the ability to see a person for who they are and make the effort to discover that something which is extraordinary about them. Not just that, I worry that even when we find something amazing about them, we find it almost impossible to commit to it, to provide the active participation needed to nurture it and see it flourish. And further, I worry that if someone does in fact recognise the beautiful and unique in us, and volunteers to provide the care we need, we refuse to accept their particular brand of nurturing because - well - there are better, warmer, more charming, more networked nurturers out there.

Most worrying is the simple truth that even when we sit across from the potentially amazing at a dinner table, all we see is how easy or difficult it is for us to be around them, whether they love us for who we are without demanding the exact same thing from us, if they validate our illusion of ourselves without expecting that we do the same for them.  And in that process, we manage to deal ourselves out from the wonderful that they are and we could be because we preferred to minimize them to what we had known and thus, who we had become.

And that's what's really sad.

At the end of the day, I worry that in the process of running from all the SADNESS in our lives, sadness is the only thing we're comfortable committing to.