Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Being Together Blues – track two

Relationships are hard work. Yes, I’ve said it before, am saying it again, and will continue to say it for a long, long time. A fellow bloggers words having sparked off my own train of thought on whether it is even possible for people to live together under the same roof at all, I spent the first few hours analysing the family, and family life, and all the problems I see in the way families function around me. That’s HERE for anyone who is interested in checking it out. In this installment, of the being together blues, it’s time to look at interpersonal relationships within a romantic, committed, or married framework

People wouldn’t really get what the fuss is about. For many, it’s a simple matter. You get a girlfriend/boyfriend, you DATE (which has its own strange meaning in Indian English). And then you either marry or you don’t. if you don’t marry him/her, you eventually marry the nice little girl/boy your daddy/mummy chooses, and that’s that. The concept that a relationship needs to be built, worked on, or kept going doesn’t really exist in out combined mental ethos because relationships for us, culturally, are never interpersonal. They are never between two people, two individuals, because out cultural emphasis is emphatically NOT on the individual.

Marriages, relationships, society, it’s all about collectives for us. The individual exists merely to serve the greater unit – the family, the joint or extended family, the biradari, and so on. No surprise then that we don’t really pay attention or even think about relationships much on the whole. Marriages happen because they have to happen, because that’s the way it is. And then that’s how it goes. You live under the same roof, have a few years of sex, bear and rear kids, and sort of drift off into a relationship coma where you tolerate and coexist with each other because that’s become a habit, and anyway…there’s no real or visible reason to break up, and the concept of compatibility or the absence of it doesn’t really exist.

Still, we are learning. Magazines and newspaper articles, TV chat shows and international films are finally introducing the concept of thinking about relationships, at least to a certain segment. So, how easy is it for two people to live together? The old school would see no sense in that question because the concept of easy or hard doesn’t arise. It just happens … people live together. What the quality of that cohabitation is, and what that relationship really gives to each partner aren’t really issues at all. The new school, however, does worry about these things, or has begun to.

Yes, it is hard. Eleven years into my own commitment, I can unqualifiedly agree to exactly how hard it is for two people to exist under one roof, especially when they are from different backgrounds, different kinds of upbringing, and different thought processes. And no, it does not get easier with time. The two stages of a relationship – the pulse pounding, can’t keep your hands off each other, oh so much in love stage, and the more sedate, calmer, deeper, later stage – have their own kinds of challenges to be dealt with, in their own different ways. And the challenges only morph into other types and shapes, and do not ever disappear altogether.

When that early relationship glow colours so much of your time together, it can be easy to expect everything to just magically sort itself out, and for love to conquer all. However, as anyone who has ever been in a real, and serious, relationship knows – that doesn’t really happen. This is the time when the initial kinks have to be worked out. When my liberal upbringing clashes with your more conservative one, when my messy habits irritate the neatnik in you, and when the toilet seat up or down controversy is at its strongest, merely because you are not used to making those changes in your habits. This can be a time of huge fights, it certainly was for me, which are part of the negotiation and explanation of being a unit as opposed to a single individual. (of course making up is so much fun that sometimes you might pick a fight just to be able to make it up afterwards :D).

Later though, if things go as they should and you have worked out some of the initial kinks, things tend to settle down a bit. Unless the relationship is floundering, or there is a serious deficit of compatibility and communication, this is a calmer, more quiet time. The nitty-gritty has been sorted out, and much of the little differences evened out by time and habit, and the partners know each other a lot better by now. This is when things can start to go south in the form of a lack of communication, a taking for granted of the significant other, and a slowing down of physicality. Life tends to become much more routine, much more predictable, and much less spontaneous. Things settle into a kind of daily rut and rhythm and conversations settle down more to a “we need rice and tea” rather than discussions of the state of the world or Egyptian history.

With jobs, kids, chores, and whatnot, physical intimacy too becomes a rarer thing. Along with the pressures and tiredness of daily lives, is added the thought that since they are going to be around, its not entirely necessary to grab every second. First stage sex is a kind of race to grab all you can while you can. While this second stage sex is more a matter of the rare occasion when your schedule and libido happen to coincide with mine, since there is no hurry, and you are not going anywhere. What this means though, is that the extra boost of intimacy you get from the pillow talk and the post coital giggling sessions gets rarer, leading to the possibility of distance building up. Add to this the fact that small resentments and misunderstandings are often not cleared up because of the routine nature of much of the conversation, and the danger of distance increases.

This is the stage when the real challenge is to keep the communication channels open, and the intimacy going as much as possible. The problem is that most people are not geared to having fun with their partners. Just hanging out, talking, adda, drinking, dancing, chilling…. These are things we seem to prefer to do with friends, with or without the partner present (often without, at this stage), rather than “just the two of us”. What we miss out on is the building of a friendship, a fun equation, and a compatible companionship, to augment the waning animalistic passion of the first few years.

Making the effort to take the conversation out of the domestic grind, and into the fun/intellectual realms can and does make a huge difference, and having fun with the partner automatically increases the desire to extend that fun to the bedroom. Yes its tough to live with anyone, parent, sibling, partner, child. But with a little bit of rationality, and a little bit of readiness to be flexible and accommodating, not to mention the giving of LOTS of space, it can work, and work really well. Eleven years have taught me that, and seeing those adjustments leading to the relationship going strong (he is still one of my closest friends, and one of the few people I prefer to discuss philosophy and politics, and art and culture with), has confirmed to my mind that this CAN be done.

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