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I’ve recently discovered the best group of friends I’ve had in my whole life. It’s like I didn’t know what friendship was really, really like until I was 27. I moved cities a year ago for work and I wasn’t expecting much. But over the last year my friends from work and the people I’ve met through them have turned out to be so special to me. I feel like I can really be myself with them. All the things I have carefully kept hidden, not even like BIG things, even the small crap I can really discuss with this group. And this on top of also having a group for the first time that I actually have a lot in common with, interests-wise. I felt so lucky.
And about three months ago I started seeing one of the guys in the group. Well, seeing might be a bit of an exaggeration. I don’t know what to call it. When we all hung out we’d always sit together. He’d play with my fingers, sometimes pick me up, always drop me back. Not that the other men or even women in my group didn’t do those things – everyone is very warm and friendly. But there was a definite shift. Then after a couple of weeks of this we had sex. We hung out a whole weekend and had sex many times. Then he went out of town and then when he was back we had sex again and hung out again for a day. I was really happy those weeks even though we weren’t in touch a lot when he was away. Not like calling each other everyday or anything like that. I was just really really happy. I woke up every morning with a smile on my face.
Then I am not sure what happened, but in that same gradual way we were suddenly not seeing each other. It was all so puzzling I wasn’t even sure what to say to him. He didn’t sit next to me and play with my fingers anymore, but neither was he mean or anything. Sometimes he still dropped me and picked me up. I tried to see if hanging out with the other guys in the group would make him jealous, but if he was I didn’t see anything. About a month ago I began to feel like this would suffocate me if I didn’t talk to anyone. So I talked to one of the girls in my group and she was very sweet and took me out shopping and we hung out. But she was also like: don’t take it seriously. She cursed him and said he is an idiot. I don’t know what is wrong with him. She of course wants me to get on Tinder and stop thinking about him.
I can’t seem to though. I am not into drama so I am not like crying every night or anything. I go to work. I go out. I smile at him. Sometimes I wonder whether I will have to smile and do all this everyday for months and years while he goes out with other girls and that’s a horrifying feeling. But I also tell myself: it was just sex. Nobody made any promises. Why be so tragic? Is it that I loved him and I didn’t realise? I am just miserable, that’s all I know. Can you love someone and not know?
—Sleep Won’t Come
♥ ♥ ♥
Dear Sleep Won’t Come,
You remember what Amitabh Bachchan said in Namak Halal? English is a very phunny language. English is not alone in being phunny though.
Words are shape shifters, sounding different when spoken aloud, and different when we say them to ourselves.
Nobody made any promises, you say. What is a promise? Is it something made with the merging of blood and the signing of bonds? Is it something declared with a solemn speech? Or can it be conveyed, by looks and actions and gestures too? Can making love and sharing warmth and making a connection be promising – without being a promise. In which case, what is the value of the promise with an ing at the end?
But we are scared to say words like promise in our times because, we feel they will make us sound not of our times. If we ask many of our friends what is love they will say – take light boss. Or they will say everything is love, man.
Is everything love, by the way? I don’t know what you think, but I don’t think so. I think love is a very precise thing, really. I think love is a way of treating people with value. It is the act of really seeing that one thing has many meanings, and not looking away from that truth. It is not a unilateral activity, but a mutual one, through which we learn to open ourselves to others and be open to them.
From everything you say, it seems that the man in question – I will call him Rain, for he comes and goes as he pleases – isn’t obnoxious. But he seems unilateral, or in other words, he acts disingenuous, because no promises have been made, even though some promising times have been shared.
You say you are puzzled – yet you chose not to ask the person who could resolve the puzzle for you but one of the girls in your group. It’s difficult to ask yourself why you did that, but that’s the real question you will have to confront.
Just like we are sold impossibly linear tales of love and romance, so we are also sold so many circular tales of friendship. We all want to be part of a group that gets along perfectly well, that’s an alternative family. You say you can be yourself with these friends, not hiding a thing. Yet, you are hiding your unease in front of them. Why are you doing that? Are you scared that it will put you outside the group? Are you worried that you will seem gauche because you don’t ‘know the score’?
And well, what is the score? That two people, part of a group, share an intimacy – which means their dynamic changes – and then one of them goes back to acting as if that had never happened and expects person 2 – meaning you – to catch up?
We are told that this is the liberal way to be. But can anything be more illiberal than to impose this supposed liberalism on others – or even on yourself – without being sure the other person shares your perspective?
There is no liberal standard – screw that. The fair, the loving and kind thing we do to each other is take each other into confidence. To assume everyone feels the same way about relationships is to be in a relationship with yourself, not others. Assuming that words and actions and relationships mean the same thing to everyone is to simply assume that everyone wants what you want and that’s – to put it simply, unfair. To imagine that just because we all use the same words, that we mean the same thing by them, is a very careful miscommunication.
Just as relationships are difficult, so are friendships. No one wants to rock the boat. Your woman friend from the group asks you to forget it, not take it seriously and move on, because that’s what you are supposed to do as per some kind of unquestioned norm of new casual relationships.
But you don’t have to conform to a norm. If you would like that someone tells you when they feel they do not want to continue the relationship in the same way, there is nothing wrong with wanting that. Sure, you can’t insist that relationships take the form you want – the outcome of any encounter is not much in our control. But to be taken into account in any decision – that is a perfectly reasonable desire.
You may not like the answer – Rain may say he doesn’t want to continue because he got bored or his curiosity about you was satisfied. He may say his sexual interest has a seasonal cycle. It’s his prerogative to feel what he feels, and yours to want an explanation or understanding.
Asking him might make things awkward. It may cause you to be angry or wounded or badly behaved in a way that the Central Perkiness of the friends group might be affected. So be it.
Friendships are hard to find for a reason – like every other relationship they have to weather the moment when you realise that you don’t mean the same thing when you use the same word. That love, power, choice, politics, freedom, kindness, casual sex, commitment, coolness mean different things – and have different values for different people. The true test of any love – romantic, sexual or friend-love is the discovery of difference and accepting that difference. It is of having shown the part of you that’s not like everyone else, that might make them cringe or roll their eyes or look away or be horrified by – and to get past that moment and learn to alter the rhythm of your particular relationship’s dance.
We come upon these moments from time to time and the results are not always dire. And then again, sometimes they are. And sometimes it takes a long time to get past them and find something of the friendship still exists to build on, in a new way.
Is this a male-female dynamic? I don’t know – it doesn’t necessarily have to be. But if you are so tight with your group then why did you choose another woman and not also a man or instead a man to talk to? The fact that your friend told you – he is an idiot, shop a little and then just move on may or may not be what she believes works for her. But if that’s not what works for you – because you quite clearly can’t shrug it off – then you don’t have to do that. And that she didn’t ask you what you would like is also indicative of something.
I would go out on a limb and say this – a lot of women feel that if they express discomfort with the casual behaviour that comes with casual sex, they will show themselves to be old-fashioned, not really feminist i.e. not really knowing the score. They fear they will be subjected to the taunt that “all girls want is marriage and long term commitment.”
But life is not two simplistic poles of no-strings, no explanations or shaadi and shehnai. There’re a whole lot of other gradations of relationships in between. And being respectful, kind and mutual in every gradation is actually not negotiable as an idea. It’s when that happens that we can take that long, low breath and say, everything is love, man. Kehne se nahin ho jata, as our aunties might say.
You were happy when you were sleeping with Rain. Something that transpired between you seemed sweet and joyful. When your friend tells you to get on Tinder as a solution, she’s implying that men are interchangeable and some good sex or another connection will help you forget. In other words there was nothing special between you and Rain.
But everything is as special as it is ordinary. If it was special to you but not to Rain that does not automatically mean you are stupid or inferior and he is more sophisticated.
You know, romantic life has changed a lot and we all are working hard trying to define these new romantic equations that appear on the window glass as we look out at the, forgive me, rain. There is no template for it. For women even less, as the idea of a woman in an open-ended, experimental, liberal intimate life is relatively recent; it has few cultural precedents, desirable or otherwise, like men have, of bon vivants and Casanovas.
But it’s not necessary to base new relationships and new erotic life on those earlier templates alone, is it? We’re forming these things together. Those who insist that templates are inherently progressive risk being oppressive, of being erotic fascists.
I’m not suggesting that this is necessarily the case in your friendships – but you won’t know until you say what’s on your mind to your friend Rain, rather than to your mutual female friend, you know?
You may be disappointed, you may be surprised, you may be bruised or you may feel lighter. You may have to give yourself a little space to get past whatever complicated feelings you feel and not hang out with the gang for a while – and that’s alright. As long as you let yourself feel whatever you are feeling, without blaming others and second-guessing and trying to rationalise yourself to yourself, you’ll eventually get past it.
If your friends find this un-cool, then, I don’t know, maybe you need to just rearrange these friendships, or wait for them to get past it too.
And should you get on Tinder? It’s not a bad idea – but only to find your own sweet spots, not to erase the memory of an earlier spot of romance.
Moving Tip #28 by Ross Berteig via Flickr/CC by 2.0
February 14, 2016 at 9:28 am
theladiesfinger why do I get the feeling that this is gonna be a superhit 😉
February 14, 2016 at 11:30 am
theladiesfinger Your own brand of Kranti, guys. Me says it’s a blockbuster. The heart is happy, so are the ovaries.
February 14, 2016 at 12:17 pm
nandita_j thank you! 🙂
February 14, 2016 at 3:49 pm
Take a bow, theladiesfinger – that was a very, very tough line to walk, and it was very, very, well done.
February 15, 2016 at 9:01 am
Loved your response Billi. What you’ve said is so true, and resonates on so many, many levels!
Will be following this column.
February 15, 2016 at 10:01 pm
This is written so well, I guess a lot of people will be able to relate to this on so many levels. 🙂
January 25, 2018 at 1:02 pm
Brilliant advice, another column to look forward to which is as enlightening as Ask Polly. Saving this for future reference