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bicyclewithoutafish

Fighting like a girl

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Relationships and Dating

An Ode to The Love(s) and Losses of My Life

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A few nights ago, I was counselling a friend of mine who was grieving the end of a 2 year relationship. My advice to her was to put herself out there. Embrace singlehood, get on Tinder and meet some good looking (?) men.

Her expression told me she didn’t take me seriously, but she then remarked: “I love how you’re still so positive about love in spite of your past experiences with men”.

“Past experiences with men”: 7 years of dating, the good, the bad, and the ugly, summed up in a neat phrase that sounded so very mature.

My love life has been a source of endless amusement (and sometimes concern) to my friends, my family, my parents’ friends, relatives and pretty much anyone else you can think of.

7 years is quite a while, and it’s been marked by my choices in men that I can only politely describe as…diverse.

I was a fairly awkward teenager (and I’ve carried that social anxiety with me through to my twenties), and my interactions with men were limited. Suffice to say, I wasn’t the epitome of grace and poise those days, waiting outside school so that I’d catch a glimpse of that guy I had a massive (still an understatement) crush on, only to stutter and make an ass of myself in front of him. Young love…sigh.

My first relationship (if you can call it that) was with perhaps one of the nicest guys I’ve ever known. He was a drummer in a well known band, smelled amazing (!) and was lovely to me. I guess my 17 year old self didn’t know how to cope with the affection and I eventually had to admit to myself that unfortunately good cologne couldn’t be the basis of a strong relationship.

Soon enough, I met the (first) love of my life- again, such a good guy, The Bengali Intellectual, and I, the Rajma Eating Punjabi. We had a good run, only to figure out that no matter how much you tried, Rabindra Sangeet and Daler Mehndi would just not go together (I feel like I need to apologize for the metaphor, but you get the drift…).

Little did I know that my next heartbreak was just around the corner- the (second) love of my life, a man of few words (and I mean, REALLY few) with a fascination for guns and cars (yup, I told you it’s pretty diverse). I absolutely adored him, and perhaps my adoration spiralled into obsession and the few words he said to me quickly turned into zero.

That one took me a while, and some questionable decisions to move on from: the stoner with delusions of grandeur, the so-called ‘relationship ‘with a guy who had shockingly dismal knowledge of American Presidents (Kennedy? Who’s that?)… It’s an eclectic list.

A college internship led to the start of my longest relationship- I was (still) young and impressionable, he was older, smarter and charming. For the first time I felt like a real “grown up”, I felt like this could be it- but of course, it wasn’t. It was the first time I realized I couldn’t be with someone whose politics differed so vastly from mine. That ended rather badly but I remain thankful to him for some valuable life lessons (and for numerous plates of momos that were consumed in the many, many evenings I spent in his house)

A close friend then tried to set me up with The Doctor: my first blind date and for a change, I felt confident. My palms weren’t cold and sweaty and I walked into the restaurant and knew I’d have a great time. Several cocktails later, I knew I’d see him again, and I did. However, that fizzled out due to my own stupidity, because why be with a perfectly nice guy who you have a good time with, when you can pine over men who treat you like shit?

And then I moved to a new city: I was struck by the severe lack of men on campus and beyond, and decided to download Tinder (as detailed in an earlier post). I met someone, went on a few fun dates, (Netflixed and chilled?), but that met with a rather unfortunate and quick end.

The past year has been peppered with rather brief and disappointing encounters (except one or two :D) , yet I remain, like my friend said, positive.

If there’s anything I’ve gathered from my myriad experiences, it’s that every relationship has something to teach you. Honestly, there are a range of lessons to be learnt: from don’t date a guy when you can’t tell the difference between when he’s sober and when he’s high, to never date a man who belittles your achievements and makes you feel like you aren’t enough.

So yes, I continue to look forward to meeting new people, forming relationships (no matter how short lived), because I love the feeling of liking somebody, of being with someone. But I also now know that I am enough. There’s no such thing as a “better half”. We are all enough, by ourselves, just as we are.

Picture Courtesy: Dead Poets Society

Tinder, Dating, and The Feminist

Being a student of Women’s Studies can be extremely frustrating- everything you thought you believed in is deconstructed and proved to be total bullshit. You feel guilty every time you sing along to Honey Singh (yes, I know the words to Chaar Botal Vodka). You feel guilty every time you enjoy pretty much any Bollywood film. You realize that Shah Rukh Khan really was a douche in Kuch Kuch Hota Hai-” Rahul” wasn’t exactly the ideal man. You feel guilty for taking the “Is He Really into You?” quizzes in Cosmo-but let’s face it, sometimes only Cosmo can answer life’s big questions.

However, none of this compares to the conversations I’ve had to have with people about my subject. When I say the words “MA in Women’s Studies”, I am met with looks of what I can only describe as polite confusion, usually followed by one of these responses:

  1. The “Oh, so you’re a feminist?” response.
  2. The “Oh, I need to be scared of you”, response (Yes, you do-only if you are a misogynistic pig)

And my favourite:

  1. The “So, do you like, hate men?” response.

I find this one particularly funny, because anyone who has known me for more than two days will know that this couldn’t be further from the truth. If I had to make a list of all the men I thought were the loves of my life, it would probably run into a few pages- from the dance instructor at summer camp when I was ten, to that guy in college I thought was oh-so-cool because he was “too stoned to attend class” (his words, not mine) – I have adored them all. Moreover, my dating history has been rife with choices that range from good to highly questionable.

Dating is complicated enough to begin with- there are so many questions with no right answer: Should I ask first? Who’s going to pay? Will he text after? Should we hug or shake hands? And somehow, being a feminist, .i.e. woman with an opinion, just seems to complicate matters further.

Being single in a new city, I decided to download Tinder- I hesitated initially, thinking it was of course something *I* would never do. I was too cool. I didn’t need to do this. But, turns out I did. With a pretty much non-existent social (read: love) life, I needed to take matters into my own hands.

I have to admit, there was something oddly satisfying about swiping left. While I knew I too was on display for men to reject/ accept, it did feel good to have the same kind of power for once. I got a few “matches”, which I must confess did a lot of good to my self esteem, and I should perhaps consider myself “lucky” that I didn’t receive any gross/ abusive messages. Most were harmless, ranging from “nyc name” to “do you believe in destiny?”

I did have great conversations with a couple of guys who didn’t have the usual clichéd responses to feminism in general, and my subject in particular. So I did something I’ve never done before and went on a date- I was scared, what if he turned out to be a serial killer, or worse, a misogynist (:P).  I tried not to worry about what people might think, but I did. Maybe writing this post is a way of casting off the shame associated with particularly women who indulge in online dating.

The evening started off well. He showed up on time and looked like he did in his pictures so that was obviously a plus point. We got to talking and he asked me the loaded question: “So, are you a feminist?” I said yes, and asked him if he was one too. “No. I’m not.”  Ah, I felt my heart sink. There was nothing wrong with him. He was intelligent and attractive and the conversation was flowing well. I had my ears trained for any offhand, casual sexist comment so that I could launch into a diatribe on male privilege and misogyny-but he hadn’t said anything even remotely close. Dating a feminist could be difficult- we analyze, critique and question possibly everything we come into contact with.

So, I remained calm and pleasant and asked: “Do you think men and women should be equal in all respects?” He answered in the affirmative, thank god. “So then you’re a feminist!” He looked confused- saying that he was told feminism meant reversal of women’s exploitation, man-hating and so on. I replied saying it was nothing of the sort- “Very simply, we believe in equality between all genders”. He asked me questions and we had a conversation on feminism in which I spoke of public spaces, harassment etc, in which he seemed to be genuinely interested (or so I hope) – and at the end of it he realised that he’s a feminist too- and everybody should be. I did a little victory dance in my head and went on to have a fantastic evening.

Maybe Tinder isn’t just a den of vice. Maybe there shouldn’t be such embarrassment attached to it. To me, it seems pretty damn cool- it challenges the idea that the hook up culture is a purely masculine one, and allows women a space where they are allowed to look for whatever it is they want (though no online space can be truly safe for women) – whether it is a relationship, sex or a friendship. So let’s stop demonizing and shaming women (and men) for being on an app that is de-stigmatizing online dating- and swipe away.

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Love, Patriarchy and Other Drugs

I overheard a conversation at a parlour here a couple of weeks ago that has been on my mind ever since-a woman was getting her hair cut, and the hairdresser suggested that she highlight her hair blonde-to which the woman replied: ‘Oh no, he wouldn’t let me. He likes my hair dark.’ Then, laughingly, she added, ‘There is no me anymore’.

I was immediately taken back to a conversation I had with a friend a couple of months ago. She told me she was having problems with her boyfriend. She talked about how the only problem with her relationship was that he couldn’t control his temper. That he yelled at her whenever he got angry, he said a lot of horrible things to her and then apologised right after because of course he didn’t mean any of it, and then the cycle repeated itself. However, she added, it wasn’t all bad. ‘He’s great otherwise, you know. He lets  me wear whatever I want, and he doesn’t mind me hanging out with my guy friends.’ I remember wanting to grab her by the shoulders and shake her and tell her to run as far as possible from this guy. I found it ridiculous that someone as smart as her would put up with this kind of shit which was nothing short of emotional abuse.

Relationships are confusing, everything seems to be a grey area, and when a relationship ends, the person you thought was the love of your life suddenly becomes a stranger. It can all be quite overwhelming. As I sat with my coffee a couple of days ago and read a beautiful blog post on love written by my best friend (http://lifeinparaphrase.tumblr.com/) , I thought about my relationships, the people who were once such a huge part of my life, and now play little or no part in it at all. I thought about my close friends, a group of smart, beautiful, opinionated women-who have each also been with men who have treated them as inferior, who felt they were entitled to pass judgment on their lives, to control them in insidious ways.

‘Don’t wear that.’ ‘Don’t drink’. ‘Don’t go out at night.’ ‘Don’t meet your friends so often’. ‘Don’t talk to that guy’. ‘If you’re going to be so focused on your career, how are you going to be a good wife?’ ‘Why are you using lipstick, are you trying to attract other men?’ ‘You’ve become too loose ever since you moved away from Calcutta’-just a few things we’ve been told by men we were once in love with.

Yes it is our patriarchal, misogynistic society (for lack of a better term) which teaches men that they have a right to control their partners-everything from the little choices to the big ones.

But what is it about love that turns even the smartest of us blind to these glaring faults in our partners? What is it about being in love that makes us put up with those precise things we swore we would never tolerate? And what is it about love that puts us in situations that we would scoff at others for being in? Perhaps its some kind of misplaced hope- Maybe he will change. Maybe this is the last time he’ll scream at me. Maybe this time his apology is genuine. Maybe he won’t cheat again. Maybe this will be the last time he hits me. We hurt ourselves over and over and over again, in little ways- Maybe he has just been busy, that’s why he didn’t reply, and in big ways-Maybe someday he will leave her for me, because of course  this is meant to be.

Its so easy for us to give others advice- ‘Just dump him’. ‘Cut him off’, and so on. Unfortunately though, relationships and people are more complicated than that. When misogyny, violence and simple disrespect comes from the person we love, lust and like, it can be hard to let go. Even otherwise, sometimes things just aren’t meant to be, and that can take months, sometimes years to come to terms with.

On a pleasant note, I will say that I do believe, and everyone should believe in love. Its a beautiful feeling and each one of us deserves exactly the kind of love we want-whether its the flowers-and-teddy bears-everyday kind or the eating- Chinese-take out-in-bed-in-pyjamas kind, or both. However, in the words of Maya Angelou- ‘When someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time.’

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