Being an introvert, I often find it challenging to make friends easily. By the time I become comfortable with someone, I’m branded an arrogant snob. There is no win-win here. This was true as a youngster and even more so as an adult. The only difference is that new friendships are more challenging for grown-up introverts. As we socialize less than before, our social circles become negligible. By our 30s or 40s, we are too busy with work to care about anything else.
It also hurts when a friendship is falling apart.
Sometimes, after a period of time, you realize you and some of your friends are no longer compatible. You laugh at different jokes; you start taking an interest in different topics and don’t like talking about the same things anymore.
We move on, evolve, and so does our friendship with the people around us.
I remember making bitchy friends when I was in a gossiping phase.
I remember making sweet friends when I was in a vulnerable state.
Some of us bond over the uplifting, enriching positives, whereas some share a fun camaraderie maliciously giggling over the sinful negatives.
The universe gifts us with different kinds of friends during different seasons. The caveat being these seasons are exclusively yours. Each season can be as long or short as your destiny allows them to be. And it is rare that a friend sticks through it all. When you are in summer and in need of light, love, and passion, your friend might be in winter, in need of subtlety, distance, and introspection. There might come a point in the future when you both are summers, or you both are winters. But life is too short to wait for that perfect harmonious season because it might never even arrive.
Over time, I realized I was just not comfortable gossiping and backbiting just for the sake of maintaining a friendship. I was a part of a group (let’s call it The Umbridges) who would say the meanest things about the people they didn’t like – unwarranted comments related to looks, character, and lifestyle. I was no saint. I used to enjoy it tremendously back then. But when I reached my 30s, I couldn’t do it all the time anymore. It didn’t feel right, the gang didn’t feel right, and being in this group of friends felt.. suffocating. I didn’t want to hear any of their nasty jibes. It was obvious to me that the amount of bitching we were doing was not healthy. It felt like I was on Twitter 24×7.
I now wonder if this need for a break from The Umbridges was new or if it was always buried within me, waiting for the right time to surface. Eventually, it did surface, and I started keeping a distance from friends who didn’t feel right for me.
Then they started keeping their distance as well (rightfully so).
The Umbridges slowly started fading. A mere ghost of its previous version. Now the friendship is limited to birthday or festival wishes, casual exchanges, and social media comments.
I feel at peace with this change.
But I also feel sad.
Because no matter how wrong someone was for you or how toxic, you miss the connection it gave you at one point in life. That connection meant something then, though it feels tiresome now. The word “connection” usually has a positive ring to it. But it can exclusively stem from negativity (gossip, backbiting, complaining) or positivity (encouragement, care, good humor). Both can be equally addictive. You often move on from this addiction, but you never forget the feelings you experienced at that point. You were genuine, and you gave it your best.
All types of connections are hard to let go of.
I remember a friend forlornly telling a younger, bitchier me that she didn’t want to gossip with me anymore about anyone as she felt terrible about it. I didn’t understand that emotion then, but now I do. I understand this feeling of desperation that prompts you to stop talking negatively. I cannot describe the feeling in words. It is akin to getting your supply of clean air disrupted, and now you desperately want it back.
You realize sometimes friendships need to fade for you to sprout back to life, to start afresh. You also realize it is going to be that more difficult to find new friends because your social circle diminishes as you age and your affinity for small talk reduces. As a kid, all it took was a new class or a walk to the park to find new friends and initiate a fresh beginning without egos or dozen trepidations coming in between. Now, the best we can do is roll around in bed, sighing and hoping that one day we will find someone, anyone, to share a deep connection with – a friend after our own heart.
Everyone is out to advise you on how you should live your life. One hot topic is marriage. The marriage “advisors” (could range from your parents to your friendly neighborhood milk delivery guy) might fight every day with their partners but will not skip a beat to lecture the singles about the benefits of holy matrimony and how much happiness it brings. Outside of their public rants and frustrations involving their better half, there might be a peaceful paradise that they guard secretly, so I would give them the benefit of the doubt and take their word for it. But marriage is not for everyone. I had to get in one to realize it was not for me.
Many in India succumb to arranged marriages because of pressure from family, friends, neighbors, colleagues – almost everyone. I had once faced it. I couldn’t take the pressure and ended up getting married. The relationship suffered from incompatibility issues, and divorce was the best option.
It is a hopeless place – being the epicenter of parental pressure. It can break even those with nerves of steel. It’s not wrong to say that not every Indian gets the chance to experience intimate love because they are forced into marriage before they are ready. It becomes a compromise of sorts where each partner partakes in responsibilities and demands that society expects them to fulfill in the name of love. In between all the cacophony of the daily routine, intimacy loses its way. Life in itself becomes time-tabled because you have things to do and mouths to feed. Where is the time for love in an Indian household?
So how can someone get past this pressure and live peacefully in India as a single person? How to say no to marriage?
Here are some ways you can deal with insufferable questions:
Whenever someone starts with their unsolicited advice, don’t take it with a smile. It is imperative to make your point clear – that you are not looking for unwanted advice.
If no one understands you, move out and reduce contact. This is a harsh step, but if your freedom is important to you, unfortunately, it is the only way. Not everyone can step away as it requires some emotional and financial stability.
Make peace with the idea that you will be emotionally blackmailed by everyone around you. It will never stop, even if you relocate because you can still be contacted via phone calls or WhatsApp. You can only hope they will get used to your way of life one day. In my case, people got fed up with talking to me about topics I am not interested in – like marriage. No one irritates me anymore with the “when are you getting married?” questions. However, it took a divorce for people to leave me alone.
In India, regrettably, most people give in to pressure. They do not wish to offend or disappoint their loved ones. This is understandable, but it also means giving away your freedom of choice to someone. You cannot have it all in India. You’ll have to choose one – your freedom or keeping your loved ones happy.
As a single woman, it was not easy to reach the “other side.” It was like a bumpy adventure with its own blocks and complications. It takes mental strength to go against the norm and stick with it. It is not easy but definitely not impossible.