A strange thing happened. I only noticed it recently but I think it began several months ago. Back in the summer, at an event, some people thought that a friend and I were dating. I knew a couple of them slightly so I was surprised they didn’t know I was single. I put it down to the over-hormonal college canteen-type atmosphere at the time when everyone is crushing on someone or about to break up or about to fall in love or something equally melodramatic. A couple of weeks later, I was having coffee with one of them and he couldn’t believe that the man and I were just friends. What does that even mean? As if friendship is a trivial relationship, (such a redundant assumption in our current times of urban families).
“You guys seem so close!”
We are, I assured him, but why would that mean we had to be dating? I don’t think he really believed me but I put it down to his having been a nerd most of his life and marrying a family friend early in life (by his own admission). Maybe the concept of close friendships between men and women that were just that, was new to him.
But I was alarmed when a friend of a few years wondered if I had ever dated this same man or had had a crush on him or currently had a crush on him. No, No, NO, I said, why is this even a question? Just think about it then, she said. It made me want to scream. If this is not a thing, maybe it is never going to be a thing. I’m a pretty intelligent person and so is my friend and if we aren’t a couple, maybe that’s by design. Being in a relationship is not such an obscure idea that it couldn’t have occurred to at least one of us in the eight years we’ve known each other. And finally, I hit the panic button when two close friends mentioned it on my birthday.
I spoke to my friend about this and he’s as mystified as I am. I am one of his many close female friends. Apparently in the last year, he has been subjected to similar questions about us. He’s stumped by this, having never had to deal with this his whole life. He reckons it’s about (his) turning 30 and everyone else’s need to couple the world up neatly.
For my part, I’ve seen this through college and to some extent in my 20s. The latter came from concerned family that wanted to see me ‘settled’ in the traditional sense of the term. I understand that the relationship references for their generation are different from mine so it never bothered me. But I can’t fathom how people in my generation are choosing to make these mistaken associations. Have the generations regressed again to a time when a friendship between a man and a woman can’t help but devolve into sex and romance? ‘When Harry Met Sally‘ and ‘Maine Pyaar Kiya‘ both came out nearly 30 years ago and it’s a poor call if we’ve gone back to the kya-ek-ladka-aur-ladki-dost-ho-sakte-hain mindset.
I find this deeply unsettling. First of all, it makes it clear to me just how much peer pressure probably goes into making romantic relationships. What is the value of a relationship that you get into because your friends & family think it’s a good idea? Suddenly, in all the popular narratives around me (namely movies, both Hollywood and Bollywood), all I can see is the tug-of-war of two people’s denial and the rest of the world coaxing/forcing/manipulating them into being with each other. Cupid may look cute in paintings but his real-life manifestations are just plain annoying. I have never needed the world to push me into reaching for what I want. If I like somebody, logic, wisdom, good sense be damned and anyone who has known me for a few years should know that. He is the same.
“How do you know??”
comes the infuriating question. Should I explain exactly when, where, how many times and in what words my friend and I have reached that understanding about each other? What is this thought that one knows better what’s good for two people than they do themselves?
“But what if he’s not telling you how he really feels?”
which is when I’m ready to burst a blood vessel. This assumption is so ridiculous and so disrespectful. A less adamant person or a weaker relationship might allow doubt to come into their interaction, at this stage. And that really, really bothers me. People who ask you questions like these wear smug, holier-than-thou expressions like they’re doing you a favour when what they are doing, is poisoning your existing friendship.
Secondly, it is such a judgemental, limited view of human relationships. Admittedly most people don’t think that much about other people but these are friends and close ones we’re talking about. It’s a bit hurtful that these folks would rather slam us into convenient, superficial boxes than deal with the reality that every relationship, just like every human being, is unique and follows its own narrative.
He summed it up in his less angry but still very dramatic way when he said,
“A relationship is something two people build together. You and I have built this, over the years. And we like it the way it is. It’s like we’ve built a museum, exactly how we want it. And the others keep trying to get us to turn it into a house. I mean why??!”
So dear world, it’s great that you’re so interested in other people but how about allowing them to live out their own fairytales the way they like and you focus on getting your own right?