In these (politically and social-media driven or) charged times, I have begun to feel the need to confront the multiple dichotomies that exist within me. I feel it’s not enough to only mouth what you think you should feel. It’s also not important to only talk about what one feels. It’s necessary, for me, to bring those two planes on the same level.
It’s important to acknowledge all the areas in my life where I might not actually do as I say. I have never felt it more strongly. The more I look around, the more I see this everywhere, and in everyone. Where everyone, including me, reads one set of facts and reaches another conclusion, that suit us individually perhaps. So what makes my right more right that of that person whose opinion I despise the most?
Some dichotomies that stand out more starkly that others I can’t spot yet:
- For the feminist in me who is not able to stand up and honestly state her opinion in social situations
- For the feminist in me who is not able to be charitable to women who have no patience for my way of thinking
- For the modern person in me who constantly wonders about her worth because she does not draw a conventional salary
- For the girl/woman in me who is able to help friends think about their bodies objectively (I think) but uses extremely hateful terms with herself (and has a continuous bad relationship with the mirror)
- For the friend in me, who is not able to call out other friends for their obvious disconnect
- For the writer in me, who is not able to shake off the feeling that I have been living on the surface
- For the friend in me, who can’t believe the friends who stuck with me and wonders about those who I thought I would be stuck with
The next step perhaps is trying to reduce the distance between these two persons.
I don’t know if this holds true for parents in my generation but I am noticing (more and more) that when it comes to boys their mothers tend to be more accepting of them, as they are. Their relationship is not dependent on the how they look, or how they fare in school or how many friends are acceptable or not. Mothers of boys love them as they are, and as they grow up, tend to stay unshakable. There is blanket acceptance. This acceptance changes how the relationship evolves. It starts from always giving them what they want, whether its food or clothes or any other wish to it becoming a version of constantly wanting to serve your grown son. This acceptance is unshakeable. No other relationship in the son’s life can change this acceptance.
But girls and their mothers are never that way. Girls, from a young age, learn the nuances of looking good, being good, scoring better, constantly trying to outdo what they did the last time in order to stay the favourite. Affections from their mother also varies depending on which phase of life the daughter is going through. More love when the daughter gets married and goes “away” while less love when she isn’t acceptably married. More love if she is prettier than her peers. Less love as puberty approaches.
An aunt, while speaking about her son, went on to talk about her anxiety about who his wife would be because how would her son stay her son if he didn’t marry the right girl. But, the end of that sentence dismissed her daughter and her marriage because daughters and mothers always stay close, she said. It’s her son and his wife that she was thinking about.
I was brought up in a family of two girls but I still feel, to this day, that the relationship with my mother ebbs and flows based on current happenings in the family. I can think of many different occasions where I would lash out at my mother, demanding she stand by me or believe me rather than people who did not belong to our family. I don’t remember a single time when I can say that I got the same blanket acceptance I see my husband getting even today, from his mother.
What’s worse is that I don’t think my mother (or me, for that matter) even realised it is missing. I realise that as I have grown older my mother’s expectations from me have completely changed. Not only becoming a care giver but even taking on the mantle of unravelling so called family knots. On the other hand, I am also to become a care giver to my husband’s family, who have their share of knots. But he stays unshakable, comfortable in the knowledge that his mother is there whenever he needs her. This thought made me realise why that acceptance rankled so.
It’s because I have never known something like it.
I remember, even in my early twenties, I had strong opinions about having children.I did not want to have children. Then I thought it was just rebellion to not want children of my own. As I grew older it became clearer to me why I didn’t want children.
I didn’t want to pass my genes on.
As my younger self the world frightened me and I didn’t think I wanted to be responsible for bringing another human being into this world I was finding hard to navigate. Why would I willingly inflict it on someone else? If my parents had given me a choice I would have wanted to skip this life (in the whole karmic cycle of rebirth). As I grew older I became convinced of this viewpoint, along with not wanting to pass along my genes. Only recently I realised I inadvertently subscribed to the Darwinian theory of evolution. Weeding out the unfit (and by that I only mean gene-wise, or rather my gene-wise) to keep the strong evolving.
As my views crystallized, I met men who thought like me and convinced me it was the right thing to do. But once I got married I thought about it once again. And reviewed my experiences in the interim years to see if I felt different.
I but it got me thinking about people I knew who had had children. Most of them had children early on in life (I should add here that I mean mostly women). Women who forgot (for the most part) their identities and roles, except that of being a mother. A mother who became synonymous with earth mother – all giving and the best role you could play in a lifetime. Not having one of my own and openly voicing my thoughts of having one made me very unpopular and almost made me lose friends. Of course good friendship survives but then there are days when you wonder what happened to your Facebook feed.
Then I remembered the adults – older women – who thought their sons were the best thing that happened to them. Sons who were now grown, functioning men of society – but whose mothers saw their sons as their be all and end all. These were women who were great, entrepreneurial women who could achieve what they set their mind to. But these were also women who have said to me how mothers and daughters always keep their relationship alive but sons, that’s a whole different thing. “So I pray that my son marries a nice woman who takes care of him,” said one mother to me, about her unmarried son. Another stopped eating food items her son liked. Even when he wasn’t around. Another chose to go out with me for drinks, worried her son would not approve. Who was I? An ex, at the time. Mothers who wax eloquently about their sons and how difficult it is to let go, to watch your child go out there, brave the world on their own.
I have to add here that growing up I’ve known many a sisters; including my own mother who raised two daughters, and I have to say – never heard mothers of daughters talk of their daughters in a similar vein. Glorious, stars-in-your-eyes, and unequivocal. But that may be conditioning.
It got me thinking even more. Why would any one want to have children? To be continually tethered all your life? While I still don’t have an answer to that question but I know my answer. Unchanged.
I mentioned earlier that I missed feeling comfortable in my skin. In the last year, I have had ample time to assess and reassess why I thought and felt so.
New city, new country, new culture and new relationship — all of which did mostly nothing to make me feel out of sorts. It was the expectations that I put on myself (and then not meet them) that led to (and continually lead to) make me feel out of sorts. The realization came in small bursts but when I tried to apply it across situations that made me uncomfortable, I realized it was not the situation but what I expected from them situations.
It became an interesting journey, one that I am still on, of expectations. There are so many times in a day or week or month that I am unhappy or dissatisfied. I can choose to wallow in it or learn that it is what it is. This realization on your stomping grounds is good, even great but in a place where you know very few people and have fewer places to turn to for comfort, this realization, on some level, makes you feel truly alone.
That’s when I realized I wanted to feel comfortable in my skin again. I loved that feeling. In India it meant not caring what people thought of me, my looks, my choices and to be able to truly make decisions on my own. It means different things here. Here, where you are literally not understood, it means a whole different thing to just do your thing.
One year later, I feel like I am more in control of the ride on this roller coaster. But who knows? May be am just acclimatizing better and learning to say carmel (for “caramell”), red light, trunk and of course, the ‘zee’!