Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Fourth Way

Unless you are a woman all of whose girlfriends are married, chances are that you often find yourself listening to someone who is going through relationship problems and wants to share their woes with you. Over the years, the common theme I have seen come from these outpourings is one of feeling extreme emotional vulnerability. This state of mind is particularly confusing to a woman who views herself as liberated, open-minded and a free agent doing as she pleases without being beholden to societal expectations of her gender.

Fifteen to twenty years ago in India, it was not commonplace for women to be in a physically intimate relationship before marriage. That has since changed. Those who moved west at the time were able to bring such change into their lives even earlier. "Empowerment" to live freely came to both only at different times in their lives.

Up to this point, it all sounds good. The girls no longer feel like their net worth in the marriage market is dependent entirely on the possession of an unruptured hymen. Sadly, other problems have taken their place. In the brave new world, desi women are willing and able to enter into a physically intimate relationship without having a wedding date calendared. However, to alleviate the feelings of guilt associated with being in such a state, they allow (indeed require) love to lead them there.

So when men turn out not to have any serious intent or are simply not prepared to take on the responsibility of marriage but want to continue in a friends plus benefits arrangement, women start to become progressively unhappy. They are no longer sure, if what they have going on is what they really want. The happiness of unbridled freedom is soured by a gnawing sense of doubt often tinged with hopelessness. Then there are all the complications that come into play with the man morphing suddenly into Mama's boy who allows his family to find him a bride and pretends the relationship did not even exist. Often, that's where a girlfriend such as yours truly is called and gets to be the much needed damp shoulder.

As much as I want to be helpful to my sisters in times of distress, I can't but help point out the fatal flaw in their ways. I don't say this from any kind of moral high ground at all. I have told several of them that they need to recalibrate a little and things will improve dramatically. If they feel the need for intimacy they can just have that and leave. There is simply no need to perpetuate a very temporal thing into an unnecessary relationship in order to feel less immoral about it. It is not enough to merely shed physical inhibition (which clearly they have done), it is far more important to rise above the cultural conditioning and shed the moral ones - a far more subtle and therefore insidious impediment to their desire to be free.

It's fair to tell a man that's what it's going to be - a short duration liaison with no end game and they can go their separate ways after that. It is important to end things definitively and not leave them unresolved and therefore the door open for emotional entanglement  - something I notice girls don't do so well. If someone looks like serious marriage material then this would clearly not be the way to proceed. One woman said "That's like using and throwing them". I agreed that may be a way of looking at it except when the rules of engagement are made clear from the start, the word "use" does not apply any more.

Being that men generally like women to be emotionally involved while in a "relationship", intimacy without that connection is often quite meaningless to them. Many will never agree to be part of such an arrangement. Having enjoyed the privilege of being the party that decides when and how to end things, it may be quite painful not being able to do so.

Alternately, I suggest they could go through the motions of being deeply in love with the man and keep themselves emotionally detached. So when the end comes, there will not be any broken pieces to be picked up. The man gets to have a well satiated ego and she is truly free. It seems to be a win-win situation (unless you count the inability to trust or become be the kind of person someone else cannot trust) even if based on deception.

If neither works then they have no choice but to become like me - a non-participating bystander watching the dating gaming shenanigans and providing acerbic though not necessarily astute commentary. It is fairly entertaining but provides little else besides. "Isn't there a fourth way ? Like two people starting as friends, being in committed relationship and then getting married" a woman asked me recently.

That is entirely in the realm of possible but the more I hear form my girlfriends about what they go through in the process of trying to find (and keep) love, the more the "fourth way" sounds like a modern day Cinderella story. The only difference being these women don't wait for their prince to show up with the glass slipper. They have taken matters into their own hands and are willing to kiss many frogs along the way to finding their man. Somewhere in that muddle of mixed metaphors of fairy tale references, the frogs end up remaining frogs, kisses notwithstanding and the other slipper goes missing along with the prince who was supposed to find them.


Mayuresh Gaikwad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
meetu said...

Well-thought and well-written! And I agree with Mayuresh. And there's positive outcome of that on the relationship too.With a no-strings arrangement the 'burden/obligations' that comes with the relationship would be lighter and the expectations would most likely be kept in check.

My issue with the two options that you give are like many Hindi film ideas, they sound brilliant on paper. How do you execute them?

The spell it out in the beginning I assume would make it awkward and I doubt emotional attachment detachment is something we can control.

But lots of thoughts to ruminate about, so will go do that now ;)

Heartcrossings said...

Mayuresh - You are right about the 18-25 demographic and yes they don't care how young or old the woman is :) Also agree about the beta and omega types being more amenable than the alphas.

Since these girls are in "relationships" that they believe have potential to turn into more (read marriage) the guys tend to be a little older, financially stable etc and have already had their share of fun and games. They think they may want to get serious now and want the women to believe that.

However, when time comes to really act on "being serious" they are highly likely to bail without any explanation. It is with this kind of guy, I suggest that my girlfriends take one of the two routes I mention in my blog.

Being that they bring more to the table than the average 18-25 year old, they don't appreciate being "used and thrown". So the second way is possibly the only way for a woman to get what she wants without suffering heartbreak.

Meetu - I am hardly qualified to give advice on executing my ideas :) That said, from what I have seen desi women need to overcome their moral dilemma as they try to free themselves from their social and cultural mores. I am sure it will happen in time.

The age group I am familiar with are probably the first generation who discovered freedom. Give it another ten years and women will become just as adept as men (if not better) at "using and throwing" in relationships.

meetu said...

HeartCrossings That's the point I loved about this thought you've penned down. Liberation from within, yep it will come. Maybe sooner than we think. I look at my 6 year old daughter and know it's going to happen. Not only in relationships, but in absolutely letting go of anything that doesn't make sense to them.

Visitlife said...

A very well-written post.
The common thing which you will find in India is all men (18-25) are ready to hook up with women who have so called shed their inhibitions. They will date, sleep, and have love affairs with them. However, when it comes to serious relationship and marriage, they will need a women with a clean past. I agree that they stay committed to their new relationship, but only after they have already had their share of fun. And surprisingly, they have no spring attached with their past.

In all this, the one who is left sexually and emotionally hurt is the women, who is not as physically casual as their western world counterparts and is always followed by a feeling of guilt. They enter new relationships and get married but with inhibitions and bad memories from past.

Heartcrossings said...

Meetu - Sometimes women don't recognize that their inhibitions are internal. They figure since they are living free, they must indeed be free. When circumstances challenge this idea, they suffer. You are right - desi women will get there sooner than we think.

visitlife - The "clean" past desi men seek in their wives is non-existent in today's world. They forget that it is the same pool of women that men in the 18-25 range are sleeping around with casually. Knowing this to be a fact they have trouble trusting that their wife to be. To that end, committed relationships drag on for over without translating to marriage. It seems both parties lose out in the end - just in different ways.

Anonymous said...

i don't know.
i had my share of "fun" before marriage. lots of flings, sexual intimacy etc.
my wife had her share of fun too.
no one is complaining.
i think you are making too much out of some anecdotes. india is a very big country. millions of youth frantically coupling with each other every weekend, no hassles. generally nobody thinks so much about emotional inhibition or whatnot. youth fuck. that's what they are biologically programmed to do.

Heartcrossings said...

Anon - It's great to know that you guys have it all figured out and no one's complaining. Better still if your experience is representative of the vast majority of the "frantically coupling" Indian youth. Who needs angst ridden youth anyway ?

The neat thing about India is that your perspective can be entirely different depending on who you are and what you have seen.To that extent there can be several versions of the truth. Seems like what I have seen and heard is fairly common experience as well.

Mayuresh Gaikwad said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

It seems like you think women without inhibitions would be better off but this is not true.

When lot of women just start sleeping around without seeking relationships, it also results in utter chaos that is US dating scene right now.

Most women between 16-28 have no problem sleeping around with alpha guys and have fun. Then at 28+ when they start seeking relationships/marriage, alpha guys don't want that. SO they move on to beta guys. Beta guys were marginalized in dating game till age of 30 and when they start seeing they are getting so many good women, they start to date women just for sake of it and do not want relationship. They are however not upfront about it and women cry foul that all guys are liars.

Only reason this is not happening in India is because alpha guys are under huge pressure to get married. So by the time Indian women get comfortable sleeping around for sake of doing it, men would be comfortable not marrying at all.