“What is college like?”

Is it just four years of your life that you will spend a lot of money on, trying to be an adult, knowing that your family and financials are a safety blanket which you don’t need to immediately worry about? Is it the four years of your life when you discover that a science or an art that you wanted to make your life about is something you detest completely and that you’d rather do something else? Is it the guilt of exploring better options out there with someone else’s money or hoping that whatever else you find better be an investment which brings returns? Or the shame that you are wasting youth and time and emotion in trying to attach a few meaningful letters after your name when the trauma is done?

Is it the beauty of discovering independence? Of learning that sometimes loneliness can evolve into quiet nights of watching police sirens blink away three blocks from your dorm window and feel comforted knowing that at least you will never grow into that person? Of learning that there are times when the sun rises and you are trapped into a conversation that is stripping your soul of lies? Of discovering the true dimensions of people as they show and hide different aspects of themselves?

Is it the competence of doing your laundry right? With the colored clothes sorted into one pile and the white things in another? Is it realizing that the high of managing to complete your gym routine, homework, breakfast and room-cleaning before 10:00AM is the same as the turning out to be the only student in class who scored 94% and that this, in turn, is the same as being asked out by that shy boy who you secretly crave looks at your eyes more often than he does by hiding them behind his fringe? Is it the awkwardness that will follow when you realize that he thinks you’re a creep and that the line between romantic and weird is very fine? That superficiality is sometimes heavier than souls and thicker than the measurement of your chest-waist-hips? Is it wondering if they are even on the same quantifiable scale?

Is it just the four years of eating extremely oily pizza and a ton of bagels and oceans of cream cheese knowing that you’re one of those few girls who will graduate with your body looking the same, but being exhausted from within, deprived of the enforced maternal nutrition at home? Is it just the four years of coming across people who will have parents who have been in jail, who will have parents who will have cheated on each other, who will have parents who are unable to fund their child’s education for lack of understanding their child’s major, who have parents who have only dreamed of higher education? Is it the four years of learning why alcohol, drugs, drinking, sex and depression, TV, badly-edited writing and five consecutive bottles of Nutella are extremely dangerous because these things let a person run away from the reality that will inevitably slap them in the face? 

Is it the pride with which you will tell your stories back home, by saying, yes, I go to this college and how prestigious it is and look at all the things I’ve accomplished? Will that matter so much to their glazed over eyes who are waiting for you to tell them that you have not found affections in a “foreign” boy and are keeping yourself chaste and perfect and naively unaware of things like depression, suicide and bars? Will that matter so much when you try to explain what your research project is about when they are too busy trying to use you to inspire their own children into poring over books they hate? Is it the shame you will feel when they will hold you to be the perfect example, and your conscience coughs loudly at the back of your head, knowing that at their age you were no better than them and the atrocities you have committed to yourself and to others are nothing compared to what this sheltered oppressed being can comprehend at the age of 13/14/15?

Is it praying that your “gentle” preview of life will carry you though right when each semester sets fire to a different part of your soul and carves mountains out of another? Is it praying that this accompaniment to adulthood is not just the engineering degree but also the capacity to negotiate, argue, deduce and rationalize or even philosophize life into terms that you will feel less terrified of running away from? Is it the many nights of parties in cramped rooms and bent objectives bouncing off the walls as stress, tension of unexplained natures, political and sexual maneuvers and finding the right to belong in an ocean that sweeps in the new everyday?

Is it realizing that you are no longer a child and yet, a child of the world?

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On judging and being judged

Judgement (Image Credits: thetarotdieter.blogspot.com)

(Image Credits: thetarotdieter.blogspot.com)

I’ve spent a large portion of my adolescence watching and discovering other people. I think one of the sole reasons that I am an extrovert is that I tend to absorb a lot of the world that is around me, visually and aurally. Given my compulsion to over-analyze details about my life and a pseudo-flimsy self-esteem, I think this bad habit was something I indulged in with unhealthy frequency.

It’s odd how I suppress all these internal realizations as I am a very transparent extrovert. I have difficulties lying or deceiving. This is not due to some obligatory moral ethos holding me back. I am simply unable to fake it. It can be construed as a good or a bad thing. Good in that, I am intrinsically honest. Bad, in that, it allows other people to manipulate me rather easily. One of the easiest ways I used to get embroiled in high-school battles was because someone would approach me, pretend to care about me, tell me of their emotional problems and expect me to agree with them. I’ll admit that I gave in to that all too easily. Empathy seemed like the only route for friendship to a lonely person.

Despite all my transparency, I could not openly express anger or spite as well I needed to. Through some force of personal grooming, I would isolate myself and let the negativity fester inside me till it had permanently stained the memory of that event.

For all my aggression, I mutely accepted the world’s rubbish by excusing them as immaturities. It dawned on me that at some level this was intentional. People did want to hurt me for no fault of my own. Or perhaps some perceived fault of my own. But despite that, I tried not to let these instances cloud my general opinion about that person. I make mistakes, too. It’s only right that I forgive someone else’s.

Except that’s not how the world always works. Positive slogans that claim, “Treat others as you would like to be treated” are not often followed by people. You do not get treated by others the way you treat them. Some will treat you like princesses even on the days when life seems gloomy. Some will spite you no matter what. Some will merely smile back politely and make small talk as you wait next to them in the elevator. I learned that everyone, under the external layer of politeness, was judging me, evaluating me, closing off parts of themselves to me, categorizing me into some stereotype or niche in their head. For some people, this first impression process is cast in stone, with others, the labels change with time.

I’m not going to be very self-righteous and say that I don’t judge people, because I do. There used to be a point when I wanted to make friends with everyone so badly that I didn’t set up any stereotypes in my head at all. I wanted to know people for the actual real people they are, not what they represent. This liberal outlook was rewarded with coming across some very unhappy people all the more willing to siphon off their negativity onto me. But, like chasing all the good things of life, I persisted.

I am lucky that this trait has survived with me. In some way, how a person presents themselves to another person does influence my understanding of them somewhat. One of my prime judgmental criteria lies in how people talk about things around them. Are you constantly complaining? Are you using way too many superlative objects for mundane things about life? What are you passionate about? Those are the things that I will notice about you. If you show passion and dedication, or appear knowledgeable about a subject of your choice, you have endeared yourself to me. I may not necessarily agree with your opinion, but I will appreciate the loyalty with which you stick to it.

After high school, as I started meeting more of the world, I realized that there were other criteria as well. People liked me because I was skinny. People did not like me that I wasn’t pretty enough for their attention. People did not like me because I wasn’t fair enough or something. I still don’t quite understand how you can judge a human being based on their physical appearance, because I don’t they can help it. You are born and have grown the way your genetic structure and health habits have led you to. But pessimism, optimism, sarcasm and the like are all cultivated, by the person’s own choice, so everything about that is under their control.

I got into an argument with a friend once. She claimed that she would date only guys who fulfilled a certain physical criteria, as in tall, well-built, fit, etc. It sounded (and still sounds) rather shallow to me. She justified by saying that a well-maintained body shows some dedication and passion. Her stance was that a guy who knows how to look after himself is equally well capable of looking after her, if she should choose to be in a relationship with him. Physical maintenance seemed to be a way of showing how much a guy was willing to invest into well-being. While I cannot disagree that health is important, I still cannot reconcile that to the idea that all fit people must “look” a certain way. You can be fit and not be skinny. You can be fit and not have a six-pack.More so, she then turned the argument and asked me whether I didn’t estimate the dating potential of a guy through his looks. I didn’t and I’m proud to say that I still don’t. I may casually notice aesthetics, but even that is at an arm’s length. I start observing about you the instant you start talking. That tells me not just of a guy’s dating potential, but also of his friend potential.

The reason why I was compelled to write this rather rant-like post is because I have this acquaintance, who judges people and proclaims it proudly. We call each other our friends, but more often that not, he is brusque and nasty. More so, he isn’t afraid of dealing it out to me. Through the last few months, when my self-esteem was convalescing, I’ve shrugged it off. But now I have this instinct to hand my opinion of him on a platter. I try to tell myself that I am more mature than he is and that I shouldn’t let it bother me so much. He is not necessarily a bad person, and maybe I’m simply overreacting to his twisted humor, but somehow, I don’t think that I should accept his bad treatment. Pardon me, I seem to be reverting back to the behavioral cycle I referred to in the beginning. I think I’m just going to avoid him, minimize contact so I don’t have to invest mental energy in worrying about whether I have evaded his scathing criticisms.

Which brings me back to judging. Why should you judge someone? After all, do they not deserve an opportunity to feel special in their own right? Some people say that judging is a defense mechanism. Somehow by categorizing someone else in their head as something demeaning, awful or caricatured, people try to boost their own self-esteem. Blame it on my naiveté, but I honestly didn’t know that could be true. Until I heard a story from another friend who told me that the guy she liked rejected her because she was “too chubby” and then went on to gloat about it. I’m not here to evaluate whether or not my friend is chubby or isn’t or maybe she has self-esteem issues or whatever. But I do blame this guy for having such a shallow criterion. Are you really going to abandon a girl, walk out of her life, break her heart into possibly irretrievable pieces the day her clothing size grows by one unit? I realize I may come across as slightly sexist with the number of male antagonists in this piece, but I know that this sort of opinion is not just limited to gender, age, shape or any demographic.

There are many ways to shrug off the feeling of being judged. Usually, the most effective method is to ignore. I’m sure there are several others, but learning to ignore is the most effective tool I’ve cultivated thus far. Don’t worry future self (and readers), someday, we’re gonna be above these nagging doubts that keep trying to claw us down.

Envy

Jealousy_by_chpsauce (1)

Image Credits:  Jealousy by chpsauce at http://chpsauce.deviantart.com/art/Jealousy-122103700

It was the same old day in school. She was radiant, brilliant and amazing. But I sat and sulked in the corner, because I thought nobody liked me because of her. It was childish in retrospect, but I wanted to be popular and loved. As the only child who never really had to compete for parental affection, it took me a long time to realize that there were only some people in the world who would accept me for me. For the rest, I had to either serve their needs to keep up an appearance of doing so. Even then, it didn’t quite help me get over being jealous.

Strangely enough, I think one of the reasons I liked her was also because she was funny and charming and so amiable. It was really impossible to hate her, but I did and yet she was one of the few people who still cares about me. Looking back at it, I park those days under the list of things I’m really ashamed of myself for. More than the sentiment, it was perhaps my methods of dealing with it which make me cringe even more so. One of the things that truly rankled me about her was how people let her get away with almost everything because she could be so charming. I felt it was unfair how the world expected me to be good and righteous and serious all the time, but she could goof off and nobody complained. In the beginning I used to preach to her, until one day she confessed to me that despite my earnest and “well-meaning” admonitions, she really couldn’t help being carefree. People accused me of being overbearing and attempting to change her into another version of me. I was appalled, because I self-righteously thought I was doing the right thing. But now I realize they were right. I was trying to pull her down into some level of being equated to me, even though we were two different people.

Then, it came to a point where I had to learn to deal with being in the shadows. I didn’t mind it too much, I suppose, but I still couldn’t help begrudging her. Often, I would throw temper tantrums at her and walk away, but she, the amazing person that she is, would come back after me, apologize for some fault that wasn’t even hers and employ her charm in winning me back. True to its reputation, it worked. This left me feeling even more confused than ever How could she be so nice to me when I hated myself? I’m really glad that she chose to forgive me, and we are still good friends, albeit a lot far away than we used to be. Sometimes, it made me wonder why she chose to forgive me and I promised to be patient for her sake, in some sort of tribute to the beautiful person that she was.

Unfortunately, I wish I could say that my annoying propensity to be jealous had a short life-span. For almost years that nagging little voice kept complaining in my head, “Look at him/her. They’re so awesome / brilliant / accomplished / attractive. Look at your puny self. What are you?” Compelled by some self-fulfilling prophecy I would then despise myself and then attempt to resolve the cognitive dissonance by projecting my hate on them, citing them as the source of my weaknesses. Through the progression of time, it grew into a multifaceted mutant. It wasn’t just collective appreciation I was looking for. It was now appreciation from a very specific person that I was seeking and which I was denied. “What is it about her that makes her appealing?” was the fundamental premise of that argument. In my mind, I would try to reconstruct these people as objects of affection and then evaluate them against some set criteria dictated by society. There were times when I took a malicious delight in discovering their not-so-apparent flaws. But more so, I often discovered what made these people truly special. In being jealous, I had learned to appreciate them.

Another step in silencing that voice came from the idea of being myself. I was tired of being unique and different and being cast aside. But then, I realized that the very thing I was trying to push away was actually an integral part of my identity. I was not them. I was never going to be them. But hey, I was me, so I had to make the best of it since that was the only thing I could be. To my surprise, as I started wearing my own skin better, I realized that I had people who liked and admired me too. I didn’t have to force myself to be someone else, and in doing so I discovered my own potential to be something more. This may sound weird, but I’m grateful for all those times I forced myself to be someone else. It made me realize just how different other people and personas can be. More so, there is nothing as refreshing as rediscovering yourself.

Worries

A letter from a child to her mother. It’s a very telling story of how sometimes, the issues we have and the problem of body-image comes from those around us trying to make us fit some prescribed mold.

Mad Queen's Delirium

Dear Mom:

I am scared. A little bit. But above all, my chest hurts.

 

I am scared because I feel I (if not “we”) have reached a point where I can’t even talk to you. And I have no idea when exactly we reached this point. I am resorting to writing to you now, instead of talking, because it’s just not working anymore. But why does this have to be, mom? I love you so much, and you know this, I know you do, even if sometimes you like to put words in my mouth, and then yell at me for them. And let’s face it, I am no saintly victim either. I jump at you, as soon as you open your mouth I jump and stance myself in defense mode, even though I know you love me too. But why?

I feel like we have reached a point where…

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Is “Sixteen” not sweet anymore?

This trailer is for a movie that is soon to be released. The description of the movie says that “Sixteen captures the life of these teens, as they go through their loves and heartaches, dreams and destruction in their school, home and the outside world. Sixteen is the story of their friendship and turbulent route it takes through the growing up years.” With such a noble theme, a close friend of mine (Gayathri Raj) and I were discussing what we think about the movie’s possible message.  As people who have spent a large section of our teens in India, we have several mutual objections to the content portrayed in the movie. Here is an excerpt as follows:

Self: So, what did you think of the trailer? What specific aspects in terms of its message came across to you and why?

GR: To be very honest, I hate it. I don’t think it is a very admirable thing they are doing by targeting teen audiences with this sort of a message, which depicts the absolute bastardization of Indian culture. Man, I was 16 in Delhi, and fine I was always in control of my life unlike these characters and I was also “staid”, but seriously there is no need to glamorize this.

Self : But don’t you think their story deserves to be told?

GR: Definitely every story needs to be told, but since cinema in a country like India deeply affects society. I find that this sort of a story line which depicts the Indian bourgeoisie teenagers getting up to no good, does not give us (students who have not been astray) any credit.

Self: But surely, people will understand that the content is purely fictional? As former students of esteemed institutions, I don’t think we can deny that there is some truth to the elements depicted?

GR: This film seems to rightfully flaunt a glamorous unreal lifestyle for most of us, as if claiming some sort of social independence from what is right, for example, the “I want to sleep with you” coming from a 16 year old. Indeed there is some truth in the statement, because one look at the Youtube comments tells me that there is a lager subsection of the Indian population living a very “teenage” “I want to try this out” lifestyle and all of them nod affirmation at this trailer. But I find that if indeed this movie is a barometer for our social “teenage” life then it falls upon us to reflect on what kind of a life we are leading.

Self:  However, as a society, we haven’t been very comfortable dealing with sexuality. Also, we cannot deny that most of us begin our first awareness of sexuality when we are 16. So are you saying that this is a wrong message to portray because of its dominant sexual themes? Wouldn’t that mean that we are still shying away from accepting the apparent?

GR: and what is the apparent here?

Self: that natural processes force us to come to terms with taboo topics at such an age because of curiosity?

GR: There are two-three factors here. One is that yes, puberty is wild wild west that needs careful navigation or can go wrong. Adolescence hits you and overwhelms you, but the thing is I feel that this entitled view of “I am just trying it out” is incorrect because while we might be curious as hell, we don’t necessarily have the liberty to act upon it. For one, we are not legal at 16, we live with our parents and they provide us with shelter food and comfort etc. So this blatant disregard for all our Indian filial/familial values is off-putting, because we tend to be a close knit society. And while I don’t strictly object to others having casual sex, I take an issue if you are going to get yourself knocked up, etc. Do what you want, but with a knowledge of the consequences would be my take. So,  in this trailer when you see the young girl lying on a hospital bed, you know that she is getting an abortion or something, because she is the one who triumphantly claims “we did it” and then if this film is claiming the ultimate social liberation, it does not at all talk about alternate sexualities. Because if 16 is the age of everything hitting us biologically etc etc where is the sexuality confusion in this debate? This film toes a very safe line actually- it shows an indulgent hedonistic lifestyle without ever really asking the right questions about the teenage experience.

Self:  You’re saying that we do not always have the liberty of experimentation, which is true. But then, without testing all possible alternatives, how can we expect these confused souls to find some direction in their life? You also speak about alternate sexualities, but at that age, can people really definitively decide how they express themselves?

GR: So you just asked me two contradictory questions- if indeed you are testing “possible alternatives”, why aren’t there sexual alternatives? And if one is unsure about their sexuality, how can one act confidently?

Self: My question was about testing to discover them, yes. Without testing, how can they know what works for them?

GR: But they don’t seem to be experimenting, which seems to be the film’s chief hypocrisy. They seem to be all “Okay, I am straight I need to shag someone, oh f*** I shagged someone now i am in deep shit.” Even though they are in a circle of hell, they seem to be evading the seventh circle of hell by making all the characters very sure of their sexuality. It is really a question of minor and major vices really.

Self: You’re right. They seem to be very decided about what they want to do with their lives. An example of the character Anu, who points to the magazine and says with complete certainty that “she wants to be there”. Since their decisions seem to be made, why is trying out not socially condoned? Do you think that these children, given their unique circumstances, could have come to their “coming of age” realizations through any other way than depicted in the story? I don’t mean that we compare them to us.

GR: I mean this is not the first movie we are seeing about the great Indian lonely teenage. We had Udaan which i think did a marvelous balancing act. Also one of the points that really rankled me, and I am sure you thought of this too is- 16 was shit and all that, but it was also a lot about discovering yourself rather than discovering others wasn’t it?

Self:  You’re right about discovering ourselves. However, as most children (and even adolescents must be excused to some extent for being children) learn about themselves from trying to mimic outside behavior, right? How can we expect them to intrinsically know what works for themselves?

GR: Well this is where I turn the spotlight on us.

Self: Personally, I would say that the only “boldest” thing I did during my adolescence was talk back to my well-wishing parents. I realized my folly almost immediately. But I managed to figure out a way of dealing with my frustrations with humanity by myself, mostly through personal acceptance.

GR: I agree with you entirely and I think one of the chief points of disagreement I have with this film is it projects rampant stupidity and bad decision-making without any parental interference on all teenagers. I didn’t have a rosy teenage or anything, but I definitely didn’t f*** up. I was too busy worrying about “Ooh I like writing”, “Ooh why do I feel this strange rush when I see this guy in the next class”. I feel 16 is like 18, and a bit of 18 on steroids.

Self: But, as some other posters of this movie claim, aren’t there some lines we must cross in order to “grow up”? Do we really have to let go of “innocence” as our “first casualty”?

GR: What indeed is our innocence then? Our virginity is our innocence? Our first cigarette is our innocence? This is a wrong perception at work.

Self:  I still don’t believe I’ve lost that innocence. It’s not about being naive. But I think, what childhood with all it’s fairy tales taught us, is to believe in happy endings. That optimism is our innocence. What about you?

GR: Yes, exactly. what is innocence but an absolute lack of self knowledge and optimism? So I think it is important to move away from innocence being linked to a girl’s hymen. Innocence is probably lost when you hear your first cuss word.

Self: Innocence is also probably lost when you take your first blow to your self-esteem and discover that it exists and it can be hurt.

GR: I mean at age 10 everyone hits the age of curiosity. But how we act upon it tends to define our life. At the risk of sounding too self-righteous or generalistic, most of us have better things to do.

Self: Also, given our hyper-competitive academic environment, it really seems a miracle to find time for anything else beyond that.

GR: Yes I mean aaj kal baap ka business sambhaalne ke liye bhi business degree chahiye hoti hai [In order to handle your father’s business, a business degree is mandatory]. So all those teenagers on the Youtube comment section saying “Yep, this is my life.  It is so accurate”, I’d say instead of feeling like you have been accepted into some secret hedonism cult, think about where you are going with this.

Self: Clearly, they feel vindicated at having their story on the silver screen.

GR: Exactly. This film shouldn’t garner that sense of vindication, but rather a contemplation of actions. Which I dearly hope it will, because it apparently has a tragic ending with a few attempted suicides, teen pregnancy, and substance abuse gone wrong case.

Self: To some it’s a matter of pride, even, how fast can you grow up? But I think most of them fail to realize that their childhood is something they will never be able to get back.

Rehashing past relationships – 1

It's been a long, painful journey. But I'm finally at the end of it.  Image credits: http://andreapun.deviantart.com/art/the-insecure-moment-155449186

It’s been a long, painful journey. But I’m finally at the end of it.
Image credits: http://andreapun.deviantart.com/art/the-insecure-moment-155449186

 

Despite the fact that most of the important struggles of being a teenager center around issues of acceptance and insecurities, learning about relationships is something that never seems to follow a monotonous route. Just when I thought that I had them all easily figured out, and that it was a matter of being mature and retaining my objectivity, a new form of the same problem comes along and puzzles me. In fact, I’m fairly sure that this post is not going to be the last of what my lessons have been on this topic.

I can’t explain to myself why I had a horrible four year long disease of desperately wanting someone in my life. It was almost as if, at some level, I was testing myself for whether I could be a good girlfriend or not. Maybe it was the hormones, or the peer pressure of the environment I was in, or very simply the lack of new people I got to meet that drove such a natural need to an obsessive drive. To date, I’ve had several unrequited crushes and one really awful trauma of a relationship. This data is really inconclusive, because it seems like I’m comparing the relationship potential of different people. Each person whom I’ve harbored affection for has been very unique to me, and has (unwittingly, perhaps) taught me several lessons about myself, for which I’m always grateful for. In chronologically ascending order, I have learned more about people and so have looked for the next prospective boyfriend with some altered criteria/opinion of boys in my mind. In the recent past, I’ve discovered that these experiences have changed me, even. So I cannot tell you if this is a good track record or a bad one.

I don’t mean to brag, but persistence is something that comes naturally to me. When I first realized that my affections would not always be returned, I told myself, “It’s okay, I just need to change <insert alienating factor here> about myself and I’ll be good to go once again.” More often than not, I couldn’t find out what those alienating factors could be, so I tried to change myself on several dimensions. Including my evaluating criteria. Maybe I had unfair expectations from someone else. This was something I was wont to do to myself, so it didn’t surprise me too much that I could apply this rubric to everyone else. But with every fall, I would complete a damage assessment report and tell myself that it was thoroughly educational and that now, I was completely ready to face what the world passed on to me next. Except that I wasn’t.

To an outsider, it would appear that a series of unrequited crushes implied that I was making the same mistake repeatedly. But a closer look at the finer nuances taught me a lot more about myself. My first crush (okay, so the past me really did not know what she was doing with her life then) was a sort of friendship that fell apart because my parents disapproved of me investing my valuable study time in futile pursuits. In hindsight, they were probably right. But back then, it didn’t feel so futile. The lesson I learned from this was that I had to manage my priorities in life better.

The next one was blatantly indifferent. I don’t know why, but it seemed like I was trying too hard to make sure we had a lot in common in order to try to get my affection across to him. But he didn’t care at all. This one didn’t leave me with very conclusive reasons as to why my charms didn’t work. After making several sweeping changes to myself and not getting anywhere, I finally concluded that if it wasn’t me, maybe it was him. I don’t mean to judge him here. I want to convey that we were probably incompatible human beings and he never really progressed beyond seeing me as a friend. The lesson I learned here was that I had to retain my originality to not fade into the backdrop of humanity.

No. 3 was rather surprising. I was probably a little too sensitive to what might have been construed as harmless flirting. But my mind went into overdrive about it. It was also rather unfortunate that the girl I used to think was my best friend went ahead and dated him, knowing full well that I was attracted to him. She had never been one for discretion or modesty, so soon enough the entire school knew about the mess ( I dread that he may have heard some of it too). For a while, I punished myself by convincing myself that I had to learn to get over this guy for my friend’s sake. Until, I discovered that she was a superb back-stabber, the rare varieties of which till date remains unmatched. I don’t want to judge her for her motives. But the resultant that followed was that I not only had to get over this crush, but also for my previously abiding affection for this friend. The lesson here was that I barely knew him enough to consider myself dating him.

Then came my “relationship”. While it had it’s pleasant moments in the beginning, they faded out rather quickly to some very harsh truths. In the perpetual cycle of being denied, I really wanted to be able to prove to myself that I was girlfriend-worthy material. So, I literally delved into this relationship without knowing who the other person I was dating really was. Some harsh revelations followed. But I still persisted in this sinking venture for quite a while, because I thought I was strong enough to adapt to the change, and also, perhaps that he would grow up. The lesson very easily followed. I had too low a self-esteem to actually consider myself ready for a relationship. But I learned exactly what the lower limit was. My ex taught me exactly what NOT to accept in a relationship , with anyone. Also, I was too vastly incompatible with him. Some adaptations do not come easily, especially when they are not required.

What followed was another extremely stupid lapse in judgement, that I detailed in my last post. But basically, I was impatient, on a rebound and I very clearly got rejected by saying that I wasn’t attractive enough. It taught me to accept my self-image, to grow up from the immaturity of chasing a relationship with people who very well weren’t capable of supplying the affection I wanted.

I used to think I had seen it all. I pictured myself as one of the respected elders who have seen enough of life and who can nod their head and smile, when others around them complain of the problems they once suffered. But that assumption in itself was a mark of my immaturity. Life treats other people a lot harder, and I shouldn’t dare to complain because of all the other factors that have gone right for me. Today I like to think that I’m wiser. Perhaps the biggest sign of this maturity is that I know that I probably haven’t seen the last of it. More of these disappointments will come and go, but as long as I keep that report card of my own lessons, I’m likely to grow into a stronger (hopefully better) human being.

Not pretty enough

Searching for beauty from within.  Image credits: http://sasha-sunshine0.deviantart.com/art/Insecure-16667193

Searching for beauty from within.
Image credits: http://sasha-sunshine0.deviantart.com/art/Insecure-166671938

Last year, I met this guy who shared three out of six classes with me. We worked through a lot of our coursework together, and even when we weren’t working he seemed to be a really nice guy. More so, I especially enjoyed his sense of humor. He knew how to make me laugh, I’ll give him that.

I don’t know how but as time progressed, it dawned on me that he was probably devoting more of his attention to me. As someone who was just a few months away from the demise of a really nasty relationship, I thought I should have been more careful. But I’m really good at deluding myself. The close proximity did not help either. Through some convoluted reasoning of my own, in which I perhaps over analyzed and misread his friendliness, I arrived at the conclusion that he might have a crush on me. He would remember the little details about me, the ones which I thought nobody else cared to remember. I thought that he was a shy guy. So, I took it upon myself to respond to his initiative, however faint. Thus far, all my “relationships”, if they can be called such were mostly one sided. I was investing too much and not being reciprocated. So, I knew what it felt like to express my affection and be ignored, or even rejected. He was a nice guy, and in some of my better moods, I may still admit that he is. But I don’t know how or when I began to think of him as more than a friend.

Impatience is my most lethal weakness. I am still learning the fine art of how to wait. So, like a fool that risked everything, I went out on a very faint limb and asked him out. I’m not the variety of girl that believes that only men should be doing the asking out. Besides, most shy people seem to need a little encouragement to open up to something so intimate. I had proved to myself that he was not like my ex, through some rather unfair personality comparisons (I’m usually not the variety who believes people are uniform across some level to be compared). Then, I told myself I was ready for whatever response he might say and I asked him if he would oblige me with his company for an evening.

I didn’t get a response for 6 hours.

Impatient, worried and stressed out, I kept wondering if he had got the message, maybe he wasn’t ready for it, maybe I had almost completely jeopardized our friendship and so on. Frenetic, anxious and slowly terrified, I began to reach out to my friends, for some desperate hope of reassurance, for the strength to wait. It was extremely unfortunate that he was on very close terms with my ex, a factor that had somehow eluded me when I was evaluating his potential. I then went on to do the most cringe-worthy and embarrassing thing I have ever done in my life, till date. I had the audacity (gumption, if you want to be optimistic about it) to contact my ex, who was scheduled for a squash match with him that evening, and get an answer somehow, anyhow. It was an especially tortuous route that entailed a lot of emotional fallout, but I was so impatient for a response that I was literally crying in my room, staring at my phone, wondering why I was subjecting myself to this.

I will summarize my interaction with my ex in one sentence. It was thoroughly unpleasant. But, in some show of anger and defiance he agreed to ask his friend about my query. I complained to him that he was the one who alleged that I should be moving on, and taking the initiative. Which was exactly what I did. Yet, the results were inconclusive. Finally, almost eight hours later, I was declined. I was, if I may quote, asked to “forget this drama ever happened. I never thought of you in that way.”

It was harder to swallow than I thought it would be. After everything that I was willing to offer him, he simply discarded me and walked away. The rest of the semester was spent in avoiding awkward encounters and spending several nights of hurting my self-esteem. Believe me, that episode of my life is something I am not proud of, but the lessons I learned from it were infinite. Somehow, I was still looking for some form of closure at the end of the semester. Even though, we still gradually reverted back to being friends and everything, I still couldn’t get the thought of “maybe there could have been something more” out of my head. On the last day of the semester, after hours of intense persuasion I discovered from a mutual friend that he had told everyone the reasons why I was rejected. I was too hyperactive and I wasn’t attractive enough.

I don’t mean to elevate myself on a moral pedestal here, but I had never considered his physical attributes into considering my possible relationship. It came as a rather harsh reminder that the world might not kind enough to judge me by my own standards. I was hurt. I was wounded. I was depressed. Still fresh from the wounds of the last relationship, I needed all my strength to get over these self-destructive habits. I couldn’t help being hyperactive. My philosophy has always been that eventually there will come a time when I want to be filled with enthusiasm and energy, but my frail body would not support me. So, in anticipation of that day, I live my happiness to the fullest. I still take pride in the fact that I am still fascinated and excited by the simple, little things of life. They make me happy. That’s a part of who I am. If someone else didn’t like it, that was going to be their problem, not mine. I was tired of apologizing for who I am. It made my entire existence feel like an apology, for something that wasn’t even wrong.

Now we come to not being pretty enough. Personally, aesthetics is rather subjective. So I didn’t feel too bad by the fact that he didn’t think I was pretty enough. I’m sure he is not alone in that opinion. But what hurt me the most was the evasiveness, the fact that he excluded me for something that was so petty. Was he really looking for a relationship with someone who fit his characterized attributes of pretty? Perhaps. I don’t know. I don’t think I will ever want to either. I can’t change the way the basic structure of my face looks, and thus far, my physical form has served me well. It is healthy, it is functional and it supports my energy-driven lifestyle. But as someone who was deeply influenced by emotions, I considered that a relationship must comprise more of a mental investment than merely surface properties.

Today, I feel comfortable enough to laugh back at this incident and look at it objectively. But there were moments when I felt worthless and unloved. My parents and my friends (who’ve supported me through all my self-inflicted, or otherwise, trials and tribulations) reminded me that I was better off trying to seek joy in loving those who loved me back, instead of expecting something of a person that he was incapable of providing. I’ve also learned to break out of the cycle of constantly wondering if I was good enough. I’m not perfect was a fact I was all too painfully conscious of most of my adolescence. But I expected other people to understand that. They didn’t, which went on to prove that they weren’t perfect either, but it wasn’t going to be my responsibility to mimic those standards. I am better off without having people like him in my life. My existing friends are numerous and supportive enough to teach me what my true worth is. I don’t know if they realize just how influential they’ve been in my life. Neither, I suppose, does he know how much the aftermath changed me.

Selective permeability

I was reading some of my old journals this weekend. It was a refreshing experience to connect with the thirteen year old me. I didn’t know so much back then, and I spent several pages trying to convince myself that I was indeed ready to “grow up”. Perhaps what my past self meant by that phraseology was that I wanted to be taken more seriously. I was tired of being a baby. I was tired of having my stronger opinions laughed at. I was ready, indeed, for some respect from the adults around me and my peers. Evidently, I was not prepared for all the inhibitions and childhood constructs that I would have to let go, and how painful they would feel. It would be a cliched reflection to wonder why I didn’t stumble across some divine resource of wisdom entitled “Adolescence 101”. That’s when I wondered, do teenagers actually welcome advice? Maybe all that I wanted to know was around me, but I was too busy being angry and angst-ridden to listen to it. Or maybe, I learned through field experience.

From what I’ve observed, I was heavily biased towards accepting advice from my peers than from my parents, or anyone comprising of the faction of adults. There were moments in which it seemed a constant struggle, the teenagers at clash with their elders, in order to prove some point that the adults really didn’t care about. I grew up in a society that had some deeply rooted stereotypes about teenagers. They’re supposed to be angry, confused, rebellious, arrogant, frustrated and closed off from those not going through the same emotions as them. I made it a personal point to prove a few of these stereotypes wrong. A weird trend that I noticed was that the more I tried to break out of a particular stereotype, the more I was reinforcing some other one. I was rebelling against the common stereotype of being a rebel and so becoming one anyway. And in our society, the number of stereotypes is not finite, so it became particularly hard to evaluate my score. There were moments when I gave up. The world thinks I’m an arrogant, self-obsessed frustrated being? So be it. It was tiring to combat opinions that have been established by generations of teenagers before me. But then, the intrinsic drive to be different and suchlike would take over and I would be back at the front lines of a 7 year long battle.

One of the reasons why my friends’ advice resonated with me was because I knew that they were going through the same tumultuous wave of change as I was. Some were a bit ahead of the curve and some were a bit behind, but we were still within a recognized isolated bracket. It never occurred to me to question their opinions. I reasoned with myself that sooner or later I would be going through what they were going through or had gone through anyway, so I might as well acquire as much information about the phenomena before it happened to me. By sheer virtue of age, I didn’t question the credibility of their world views as well. I know now that a few were really messed up, and I consider myself lucky not have been so enamored by it so as to pencil myself in as a member of their cult.

But the advice from all the well-meaning elders around me was passed through several filters before my mind took it up for consideration. They had prior experience with growing up, yes, but that was so long ago, that circumstances were widely different then. The generation gap was too wide to be bridged by some simplistic analogous comparison. Another one of the more (evidently) nonsensical reasons to discard their input was because my adolescent mind refused to understand that any adult soul could empathize with the magnitude of confusion I felt. How could they possibly understand the fine nuances until they were actually inside my head, or in my position? So, I inferred, that their input was actually just an educated guess.

Experience has served to prove that all of these miscellaneous perspectives were heuristics. Everyone’s growing experiences are different, so the only person who was fully capable of writing a manual customized for myself was me. The only problem was that by the time I was capable of performing the feat, I thought I would not need it anymore. This condition works only if we believe that growth stops when you’re an “adult”, which isn’t true. There’s a stage of maturity that follows when I realized that I’m actually waking up a version next.0 of my yesterday’s self.

However, to be duly grateful, those heuristics did give me a fair approximation of what I was to expect. More so, I came to realize that there are moments when it is more important to have company during disaster than actually be prepared for that disaster. So, I went on to try to confront the world with whatever supportive padding I could get from my peers and my friends and family stood by me whenever I was injured or letting go of the fight. It doesn’t matter now whether their advice was accurate to which degree. What matters is that they trusted me enough to share whatever knowledge they thought was valuable, and they hoped I would find it the same. I came to respect their gesture more than the actual content. It might seem a bit interfering at times when someone else offers their opinion, but I’ve come to know that it’s a form of showing that they care. After all, the people we care about are as helpless to safeguard us as we are susceptible to change.

Maybe I’ve inherited the same behavior myself. I try not to suggest solutions until I hear out the entire problem from all dimensions. I don’t know if the people who ask for it actually adhere to what I have to say, or maybe it just comforts them that someone out there is ready to hear them out. I like to listen people talk about their lives, because it’s an opportunity for me to get a sampling of the varied spectra of human existence. But I respect the fact that they trust me enough to let me know about the trials of their life, and I try to be as helpful with my limited experience as possible. I consider it a sign of personal growth that I’ve arrived at some point in my life where people respect me enough to personally allow me a glimpse into their lives. To summarize to my thirteen year old self, I think I would say, “Everything’s going to be okay. The universe is going to approach towards some equilibrium where everything, literally everything, will work out for the best. Keep the faith and stay strong until then.”