Graphics by Debasmita Das
The year was 2008 and I had just turned 20. I was fresh out of a massive break-up and made two resolutions to deal with it
1. Drown myself in work and spend a lot of time with my friends.
2. Stay away from boys, at least for another 2-3 years. I’ve had enough! I thought.
I found a job, which took up most of my time and spent the remaining time with friends. I felt important and happy and a little bit invincible after a long, long time. It was great! I also did something which surprised the hell out of me. I began to hook-up with guys! A lot. Left right and center (indicative of the frequency with which I was entering and exiting casual liaisons). I wasn’t very familiar with this part of me. This brazen, fearless small-town female who refused to think too much and simply lived in the moment – this was new and heady. I felt emotionally complete around my friends. I felt validated around the boys. And I was having a blast! I like to think of 2008 as my year-of-flings.
Entering into casual relationships was easy. I was meeting a lot of people at work and making friends. I met boys who liked me and wanted to spend time with me. We exchanged numbers, spoke all night long and made-out when we could. At a certain point, I was hooking up with two guys (not simultaneous, just concurrently) who lived in adjacent buildings. I got a huge kick out of this. In another instance, I was in a “relationship” with a guy who had set his mind on marrying me. He wanted to match kundli etc. All I wanted was a conversation and physical contact! Actually, to be more clear, by conversation I mean I wanted them to feel the need to talk to me. I never called. I received calls. By physical contact, I mean that I never wanted to have intercourse. I just allowed second base.
To me, not having intercourse signified safety. I was ready to confine myself between four walls and a locked door with someone I liked, but not enough to drop the last fabric of my physical privacy. Somehow, in my mind, it kept me safe from getting too emotionally invested. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to retain my cool-girl, don’t-need-no-one appearance intact in the face of that kind of intimacy.
So in retrospect, it seems to me that my ‘hooking-up’ was not so much about seeking temporary partners, it was more about establishing power. To make myself needed, yet always be out of reach. Calling first would make me seem needy. Having sex would ruin my mystique.
Male attention made me feel very empowered. Playing with their expectations, more so. And since there are no set rules for ‘hooking-up’, the line between casual and serious often got blurred. As soon as that happened, I ran. I did not want to put myself out there at any cost. I did not want to get truly invested in anyone, which I suppose is perfectly fine. It is a matter of choice, right?
But if I really look within – I think it was ok up to a point and not in some ways. It was a problem that I wasn’t respectful of other people’s feelings. That I refused to acknowledge someone’s hurt. I know that acknowledging it may not have helped greatly, it probably would have made things more complicated, and well, hurt is hurt. But it would have been human. It would have been kind. It would have been to take responsibility for being part of something.
Now, years later, I ask myself if that was my way of ‘dealing’ with the big break up. I perhaps hurt a lot of feelings just to save my own. I understand that hurt is inevitable in relationships. But, I often find myself asking if I was secretly deriving some pleasure out of seeing other people hurt over me, just because I was hurt over someone else. My behaviour had bordered on predatory. This realisation horrifies me.
The ‘hook-up phase’ lasted about a year. I found someone I really liked and was able to trust. We dated for a couple of years and are now married. When I look back at that year, I feel a little bit wiser but also somewhat guilty. Now, I want to refrain from creating false binaries here of me as villain and those guys as victims. It’s more complicated than that. However, I do want to take responsibility for my erroneous ways. For my carelessness and lack of empathy.
To be truly intimate with someone is to expose all your vulnerabilities and weaknesses and insecurities. It’s a slippery slope because it’s difficult to tell how the other person would take it. This one friend of mine was told by a guy that she “needed to lose weight”. I was once told by someone that “I’m an emotional mess” and “not the clear-headed girl” he thought I was. Such experiences make cynics out of the best of us. But regardless of how (secretly) glorified cynicism is, it takes you away from the sweet-moments you might otherwise experience in life.
I think, no-strings-attached relationships are great! Some people feel sorted with just that whereas for some people it’s a phase. To each their own. If the present me were to advise the younger me, I’d tell her to continue having fun. Meet new people, have safe sex and make memories. But also be respectful of individuals and not fall in the trap of unfairly judging them. Forge relationships that are based on mutual respect no matter how short-lived you know they will be. And most of all, not be afraid of getting hurt. You will learn to handle it.
Ila lives in Bangalore. She likes to read and daydream.