“I Love You If….”: The Transactional Nature of an Indian Man’s Love

I’m finding that there’s something extremely transactional in nature, about the Indian man’s love. Let me explain ‘transactional’. Indian men can be loving and supportive. They can be romantic, soulful, understanding, patient. They’re protective, chivalrous, generous even. They can be all of these as long as it is within a defined universe, to a very specific kind of woman.

As Indians, we live in very tightly defined social structures, even today. It doesn’t actively occur to us in our daily lives but we are governed by a complex maze of social norms, conditioning and rules. I realize this fully only because I question and defy a lot of them. Doing this is a fulltime job, practically a lifetime, an identity by itself.

How do other people react to someone who doesn’t live by their rules? That’s the oldest story in human behaviour, of course. The thing is Indian society is mired in a labyrinth of heavy, conflicting, sometimes obsolete rules. It’s like being caught in a house full of naked wires, broken steps and crumbling ceilings. A single misstep could be fatal and there are so many possible that the living is no more than survival, just barely.

Snapping out of that gristly metaphor, how does this translate in everyday life? People do not treat you well if you do not follow the strict rules. Deviations are seen as aberrations.You get treated badly, not because you have behaved badly (lying, cheating, being mean or rude to, being selfish). You may treat people around you with respect, gentleness and affection. But none of that is considered if you do this while breaking a social rule.

It is considered perfectly acceptable to be mean or rude to someone who has defied a social convention (“What does she think of herself, dressing that way?”). It is fine to treat a woman less than respectfully if she does not dress and behave the way a ‘good Indian woman’ should behave. It’s not that a woman who makes different choices about her life, does not need affection, love, support and yes, protection from unsavory elements. ButΒ since she chooses to flout those rules, all of these get increasingly restricted to her. Affections and respect are paid out in direct proportion to the adherence to social norms. That is what I mean by transactional.

This may be as seemingly minor as the major she pursues in college, never mind that she is getting an education, a conventional one at that. It may be as inconsequential as choosing to keep her hair short in a family/community where women usually keep their hair long.

It may be a little more complex such as refusing to sit in a certain seat or room because of her gender. Doesn’t this last one sound ludicrous? After all, the Indian law does not see us as a gender segregated country. But family functions, even wedding banquets appear to be places that you must only socialize with people of your gender. Down to today’s modern-day get-togethers and dinners, notice how the women crowd into the kitchen or into bedrooms while the men sit in the living room and discuss politics, sports, business and work? I’m talking about Mumbai in 2013, not Madurai in the 1800s.

It may be something as personal as her own beliefs, not even as major as the religion she follows but that she chooses to not let religion get in the way of her political views or her friendships. How do you think an agnostic woman who believes that Muslims are being mistreated, is treated in a religious family? Or if she is vocally supportive of gay rights, why does that affect her prospects of being in a (straight) relationship?

Now certainly both sexes are equally guilty of this kind of a rabid reaction to defiance of convention. Female cliques are alive and kicking and the terror mother-in-law remains very much a key character in Indian drama. However, I am thinking about an emotion that goes beyond logical distinctions, defined rules and intellectual discourse. We love people for who they are, for who we become when we are with them, for that unique something that they and they alone bring to the universe. It may be harder to love someone who is different from your notions of what a human being should be, but it’s not impossible. What’s more, those notions being so tightly, suffocatingly defined, are any of us likely to find real love?

In the many patterns I see in the men around me, there is this. I’ve experienced love and loyalty and friendship, all my life. But they’re all contained in these tiny spaces of time when I’m being who they expect me to be. Put one foot out of place and all these things appear to vanish. They are supportive (extremely so) when they see me falter and fail. But they are nowhere around when things are fine and I am not a tender creature that they need to protect. They are there to chastise me when I slip up but almost never to bounce ideas off as equals and hardly ever to applaud me when I’m successful.

There’s the praise that comes my way when it is in a setting that follows convention. An academic achievement in a traditional school/college, a promotion in a steady job – these things are celebrated. But a more unconventional achievement that nevertheless brings joy is not seen as something that deserves acclaim. The new age Indian man may be openly proud of a very educated woman in his life, who has a high-flying corporate job. How often do you catch him boasting about a woman in his life writing a book, going on a car rally or starting up an e-business of her own?

Aren’t love, support and loyalty 100% things? There’s the support you need when you’re down but there’s another kind of support you want from your people when you’re just fine and when you’re great too. I find that severely lacking in the world around. And I think, my world loves me only when I’m miserable and down and begging for help. It’s transactional, indeed.

14 thoughts on ““I Love You If….”: The Transactional Nature of an Indian Man’s Love

  1. You’ve expressed this so well ! Yes the Indian man’s love is so conditional and comes with riders. If you do what I say I love you.. Love your blog ideasmithy, only you can put things in such a straightforward and lucid manner.

    1. @Liveonimpulse: Even with the nice men, they don’t seem to realize how conditional their affections and support for you are! And thank you for reading and for commenting this time!

  2. Loved the lines..

    “We love people for who they are, for who we become when we are with them, for that unique something that they and they alone bring to the universe.”

  3. Hi Ideasmithy, I am a regular reader and really do enjoy reading your articles.

    I think I disagree with this post a bit, primarily because almost everything is a bit transactional in nature. And what you really speak is true of women as well. And can be true of the more obvious tangible things.

    How many women (independent, etc.) say they ‘fall in love’ with a smart guy and then seem to lose it all when these ‘smart’ guys lose jobs and the societal branding?

    All of us fall in love (atleast to start with) with a certain set of things in a person. Embracing the other things that come along is acceptance. And is true for both genders. While there are a lot of places where I see what you say hold good, I for one, definitely think many sections of the society have managed to move on.

    There are guys around who will embrace a woman for what she is; not for what she cooks, how she behaves/fits with societal patterns. Maybe they are fewer in number, but they do exist.

    Even in places like th US, relationships could still be transactional, but may be on a different set of expectations.

    1. @Tina: Hi and thank you for commenting!

      True, there are women who exhibit that transactional behavior as well. I don’t think that justifies men doing so. What’s more, the reality is that Indian society is governed by the way men treat women and under no circumstances, can it be considered healthy or good.

      This post is about that one particular aspect of Indian men which makes them treat women who do not conform to their ideal, as badly as they can manage. I’m talking about harassment, humiliation, lying & cheating. This isn’t minor instances that can be brushed off as thoughtlessness but vicious, deliberate acts of treating women badly to punish them for not being who they are ‘supposed to be’. A lot of them think it is perfectly acceptable to cheat on or lie to a woman because she is open about her relationships & sexuality. The notion is that at some level, she is ‘modern’ which translates to ‘does not merit civil, respectful treatment’.

      It shocks and saddens me when I find this in my own close & personal relationships. I feel like a lot of the men in my life only care for me when it panders to their ego to help me. When things are going well and I should be treated as an equal, they’re distant, even resentful to the point of trying to (unconsciously, in some cases) sabotage my efforts.

      The reason this post was about Indian men is because they are the ones I know best and see in every aspect of my life. Perhaps men all over the world are like that to varying degrees, but I cannot comment on that, in good authority.

  4. This is in reply to the following comment by Jodi365 on Twitter: “Enjoyed reading “I love you if…”, but aren’t you conflating “conditional” & “transactional”?”

    @Jodi365: I had to look up the word ‘conflate’ to understand what you meant. πŸ™‚ I think there is a shade of a difference between ‘conditional’ and ‘transactional’. Conditional implies aspects that personalize your choice of partner such as ‘I’d like to meet a girl who reads’ or ‘I want a man who respects me’. Conditions are necessary, else any of us could hook up with any other human being (since sexual orientation and age barriers are conditions too).

    Transactional on the other hand, implies that a relationship has been reduced to specific give/take equations. These exist, in their strict form only in mathematics. Even business (though such transactions are deemed ‘businesslike’) allows for grey areas since human interactions are not easily quantifiable. In a non-commercial relationship, even more so, it seems counter-intuitive to bring in such a ‘If you give X, I will give Y’ attitude.

    I hope that answers your question.

    1. Not quite, in that “The Conditional Nature of an Indian Man’s Love” still seemed to be a more-fitting sub-title. However, a re-reading of the column, especially of the following part, brought the point home:

      “Affections and respect are paid out in direct proportion to the adherence to social norms. That is what I mean by transactional.”

      Such Pavlovian conditioning does have a transactional element to it.

      It may not be comforting to recognize that men too can be at the receiving end of such conditioning. Even if they were, at the hands of women, we agree that that doesn’t condone such controlling behavior.

      Please take heart in the undeniable existence of self-aware, thoughtful people out there. May you soon find yourselves surrounded, in your personal and professional lives, by enough of them that you won’t feel pulled down by the occasional but inevitable insensitive remark or action!

      1. @Jodi365: Thank you for your good wishes. It’s certainly heartening to know people are willing to at least listen and engage in conversations about this.

  5. Sure. I see where you are coming from. And it is absolutely true, a woman who is more open is just deemed be morally inadequate and hence seems to deserve less respect, while guys on the other hand will just be lauded for being a romeo.

    Disgusting, but true.

    Do write more!

    1. @Tina: Well, refusing to accept it will go some way in forcing people to think about the injustice of it, I hope. Drop by again! I love conversations.

  6. I don’t even want to admit it really but I live with an Indian man. A love marriage. We’ve been together 5 years and I’m a gori, not Indian. Even though I moved to India, left my family behind and spent over a year sick trying to be with him there, his love was/is still transactional to a high degree. We left India so I didn’t have to stay sick anymore and now he’s here in the states and he doesn’t respect me the same right now. I’m the one working to support us while he works on settling here, getting a job and a drivers license, etc. I don’t see many of the same loving, affectionate qualities in him now that I saw in India when I was mostly confined to our room. The more I read of your post the more things sank in for me. He’s not rescuing me here as he has been for most of our married life. He does comment from time to time that I “don’t need” him. Now I think I understand that a little better. πŸ™

  7. hi, i like your blog. now i am not an indian, but was raises as a latin. and i know that in the latin culture we say it is a give and take. the woman gives 70% and the man just 30%. it sounds similar to what i read in your blog

    1. @solarius: That sounds like one of those cultural aphorisms that have significance all over the world. Yes, I think I’d agree to that for most couples I see around in India too. And, welcome to my blog and thank you for commenting. I hope you’ll speak up again. It is interesting to know how people in different parts of the world deal with the universal gender conflict.

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