Sunday, September 4, 2011

Happiness is on wings, grief lingers long


Human relationships are strange. The stronger they get the more fragile they become. Then they snap, leaving behind a trail of emotional distraught. Authors and psychologists have been for ages trying to understand the mysteries of the phenomenon, and expressing it in their ways. The general understanding is that the more complex a relationship the deeper are the fault lines. But even relatively simpler ones, such as those of friendship – even if they are very close they carry fewer burdens as compared to love affairs – are prone to break-ups. The immediate consequences are no less disastrous, and the one who suffers the most is the person who has invested emotionally the most in that relationship.

The American poet, Ella Wheeler Wilcox, who wrote through the second half of the 19th century and early 20th century, and became universally popular through her lines, “Laugh and the world laughs with you/Weep, and you weep alone”, hit the nail on the head when she pointed out that, as humans we tend to hurt people who like us the most. She reflected:

There's one sad truth in life I've found
While journeying east and west -
The only folks we really wound
Are those we love the best.
We flatter those we scarcely know,
We please the fleeting guest,
And deal full many a thoughtless blow
To those who love us best.

The Internet is full of advice on how to manage relationship disasters (just as it tells us the ways to cultivate a relationship). The ‘rational approach’, the Net educates us, should be to categorize the broken bond. Was it a toxic relationship that deserved to end? Or was it worthwhile to sustain? Social pundits tell us that, whatever the nature a break can often be refreshing to the heart and soul. At the very least, it provides an occasion to the players to re-assess the alliance objectively. It could, they point out, lead to the re-establishment of the ties or a more elaborate distancing. Robert Brault is a popular name on the Net who offers nuggets of encouragement on the subject. He philosophizes:

Sometimes two people need to step apart
and make a space between
that each might see the other anew,
in a glance across a room
or silhouetted against the moon.

If we ignore the romanticism in the poetry, it is possible to see the wisdom in the suggestion. However, emotions cannot be clinically controlled. How natural it would be for two people, until very recently close friends, to encounter each other as strangers in a room? Can one indulge in an objective assessment of the other after having provided that ‘space’, in such an unreal situation? Had this to be the way of the world, relationships would be without emotions, dry and robotic. The desire to seek space is but a lame explanation for the break-up, because any sort of meaningful human relationship inherently creates an individual space for each partner, while at the same time construing a common ground that binds two people.

On a recent television talk show hosted by Simi Garewal, well known film star Deepika Padukone spoke of the anguish she went through following her break-up. Her observations made more sense than the reams of advice experts provide, often at a price. Analyzing the reason (s) that led to the turmoil, she admitted to rather too easily getting emotionally attached to people. That fault, she said, contributed in a large way to her psychological disarray soon after the split. But it was the other remark that she made, that she gave “100 per cent” to the relationship, which was the at the core of her grief. People who remain frivolous in relationships – even though they claim to be serious – are the least affected. Those who give that 100 per cent, end up as the foolish ones.

While Deepika has managed well, eventually overcoming the crisis, a study quoted on the Internet tells us that men are less-well equipped to cope with such trauma. According to the findings of a research team of sociologists from the Wake Forest University and the Florida State University, men draw inwards and drift into loneliness when hit by a failed relationship, while the affected women seek comfort in the company of friends and family.

Author Jan Yager in his book ‘When Friendship Turns Unfriendly’ dwells at length on the ‘negative’ and the ‘positive’ of the relationship. He writes, “Too little attention has been paid to the notion that negative friendships can wreak havoc. Another reason (for writing the book) is to have a forum to explore the possible causes of finding yourself in such a relationship, and how to best rid yourself of a noxious friend”. A noxious friend is one who, among other things, does not respect you as a person, always tests your self-esteem and generally remains unconcerned with your insensitivities. Of course, it is quite possible that the person you consider as ‘noxious’, is not really so but a figment of your imagination. That problem can be taken care with better communication among the two.

However, the author is more caught up with bigger challenges, that of finding potentially dangerous friendships. He says, “Some potentially destructive or harmful friendships may be difficult to spot. That's because when a friendship is forming, during the "courtship" phase, your friend may be charming, polite, and completely appropriate. Once your friendship is well underway, a friend may change. The very act of becoming friends may send someone with intimacy problems into an emotional tailspin, changing those involved as well as their behaviour toward each other. As friends become closer and more intimate, expectations also may arise so that disappointments become more likely, and painful, than during the early stage of the evolving friendship.”
While it may appear fatalistic, the recognition that grief and hurt are inalienable in any relationship can help in coping with the crisis. The problem again is that such pain visits the person who is genuinely committed to a relationship and not the one who is in it for the sake of yet another exploration. A certain level of stoic, is thus, called for. Happiness is on wings, grief lingers long/Pain supports life, when all pleasure is gone.

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