Fading Friendships

Photo by Rodrigo Souza

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.

Dealing with Annoying Questions When You’re Single

Photo by Karolina Grabowska

It’s not easy being a single woman in India.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

An Ode to Being Unmarried and Childless

Yellow flower
Photo by Miguel u00c1. Padriu00f1u00e1n

I am in my late 30s, unmarried, and might never have a child.

My biological clock is past its prime, which means that if I ever get married, it might be too late to conceive naturally. Right now, I am in a complicated relationship that I am okay with since my ultimate goal is, anyway, not marriage. I had been tempted a few times to get married to partners in the past, but it never materialized. In a way, I am thankful that the mother universe did not grant me those wishes. If she did, I would have landed in some serious trouble. I wasn’t right for them, and they weren’t for me either. It was a two-way street of disappointment and incompatibility that new love often tends to cover up and sideline.

When love is new and all-things-dreamy, it overrides potential issues. Everything seems solvable, including toxicity. Over time, when you are “used” to this feeling of love, you start paying attention to the issues you had conveniently ignored the first time around. This is where the real test begins – when the honeymoon phase ends. For some, the dreaminess and butterflies linger on for life. For others, the relationship becomes a compromise. Some others, like myself, realize it is best to move on. I often wonder what my life would have been if I had succumbed to marriage in my honeymoon phase, only to realize later that we are incompatible. So, yes, I am thankful things did not work out the way I desperately wanted at that point in time.

Talking about universal manifestations reminds me of this profound poetry from Blythe Baird’s If My Body Could Speak. I found it very relatable.

Poem on theories of the universe by Blythe Baird
Theories About The Universe – Blythe Baird

So here I am in a world that is the polar opposite of my peers, taking it one day at a time, living on my own terms, dealing with my own demons, and at peace with my courteous angels. Frankly, you tend to become less flexible and stuck to your patterns at this age. Probably, this is why they tell you to marry early – so you can adjust to differences better.

Presently, I find it unbearable to let go of this freedom of choice and, mainly, the freedom from compromises of any kind. I don’t have to entertain people I don’t like just because they are my partner’s family. I don’t have to sweet-talk anyone because they are my child’s BFF’s parents. It’s the kind of freedom I have become attached to. It is, without a doubt, I am where I am for purely selfish (or self-love; there are many ways of looking at this) reasons and not for the “world” and “climate control” as is the norm nowadays. I believe you should only have children because you want to experience what it is like to raise a child. Not because you think you might end up lonely and definitely not because it’s what society demands.

When someone tells me I should get married and have children, I ask them why. Most often, the answer would be immediate, “So you don’t end up alone when you are old.” This answer is quite tricky. All around, I see partners who are “not there” entirely, caught up in their own busy worlds. I see senior citizens living alone, their children comfortably settled abroad or outside their native place. Marriage becomes a gamble when you get into it expecting “help.” You may or may not receive what you seek. The help we get from our children might mostly be financial. Then again, the senior citizens I see are well-off and are not entirely dependent on their children. I often wonder why we have to burden our kids with our expectations. Is that why we give birth to new beings – so that they can fulfill our demands? I consider myself selfish for not wanting to give up my freedom. But isn’t it equally selfish to burden someone with our expectations?

Returning to the question of “Who will take care of you?” It is a concern, yes. But what is the guarantee that a partner or child will provide us with the best care?

As a single woman who would probably prefer to be single all her life, I can’t help think about my future time-to-time. What would I do when I turn old? Right now, my mind is leaning towards a high-quality assisted living facility. This information is not to evoke pity or compassion but to keep an open mind about the practicality of it all. Such high-end centers are extremely senior-citizen-friendly – they have a doctor-on-call, in-house chefs that cater to your dietary restrictions, people who help you with grocery and chores, wheelchair-friendly living quarters, and much more. The paid caregivers would be more interested in helping you than anyone near you. In an assisted living environment, people are trained to deal with elderly issues. Since it’s a job, they will try to give it their best. Moreover, you are surrounded by people your age, and they would be more interested in talking to you than someone younger.

Of course, you need to forego some luxuries in real-time to afford this. I am in half a mind to buy a new property (to show everyone I can). But the sensible half wants to hold that thought so I could pool the money into my “assisted living fund.”

Why can’t I stay with my family, you ask? Though our loved ones adore us, no one can be at our beck and call 24×7 without losing their sanity. Over time, my family might understandably grow bitter (even if they love me) due to exhaustion, frustration, and lack of freedom that comes with taking care of my needs, which could be both mental and physical. Such pressure can ultimately ruin a perfectly healthy relationship.

That’s how I look at it – I rather someone take care of me mindfully than grudgingly out of a false sense of obligation.

An Ode to Finding a Passion Outside Work

Photo by Pixabay

Recently, I talked about the distress I experienced due to excess work. I felt exhausted, working day in and out, and was in severe need of some me-time. I had been “at it” for two years since the start of the pandemic, and I was close to burning out.

Thankfully, I got some time out recently – when my manager went on vacation. I was ecstatic at first. There was no urgent work; it almost felt like I was also on holiday. But then I started experiencing something that I had never experienced in my two years of pandemic-induced erratic work hours – the insufferable boredom that comes with having no work. Was it a withdrawal symptom, a side-effect of having burnt a copious dose of after-work oil? When you finally get some breathing space, you have no clue what to do with it. You are left grasping at straws.

The first few days of zilch micromanagement felt like a dream to me. But by the second or third week, boredom took precedence, and I started actively looking for tasks to self-initiate. A few questions that crossed my mind –

  • Is this what retired people go through? They are relaxed and happy the first few weeks of retirement, but many develop a sense of despair later on.
  • How can I stop myself from feeling this way?
  • Why do we always have to be on the move? Why are we so averse to relaxation?
  • What is the optimal amount of work you need daily to keep yourself happy?

Of course, I do not have the answers to all questions. I am not a researcher or scientist. I apologize if you came here looking for answers. However, I can tell you something from my personal experience:

I am happiest when I have at least half a day’s worth of solid work. The type of work that requires my complete attention, work that takes my mind off all kinds of distractions. When I am consumed by an optimal amount of work that meets my skills, I enter this state of flow that ignites my happy hormones. This “work” that I am talking about is not just restricted to office work; it can be anything – cooking, playing a sport, writing, learning, dancing, singing. The point is that it should be something that is immersive and consumes your entire interest.

It might be why experts recommend having a passion outside work. Once you’re retired, this passion will keep you alive and kicking. For workaholics, finding that excitement outside work might prove challenging. They hardly get the time to pause and seek activities that may have the potential to improve their quality of life in the future. One possibility for such plodders is to go part-time post-retirement in context to their work (maybe consulting). But if you have decided to step away from office work, as most of us plan to do post-60, finding yourself a cause or a passion becomes imperative.

We feel our best when we are in service or when we can provide help in some way. Finding your “Ikigai,” as vouched by the long-living Japanese, is essential to one’s overall well-being and happiness. I am not yet sure what my Ikigai is. I enjoy writing, but I haven’t yet sat down to see if I could write for half a day, nor do I know if this exercise would cater to my emotional health eternally. I did some sewing the other day. It made me feel alive. Maybe Ikigai can be a bunch of things – a heady concoction of multi-colored magic beans that contribute to our general well-being. You can embrace each of them as per the mood and season, mix and match, exercise portion-control, and tuck them away in your customized, personalized happiness jar. All it takes is some time to figure out what those magic beans are.