We are human beings. We are social beings. As social beings, no matter how hard we try, we will need the presence of another human being around. It is in our nature to seek social acceptance, to seek relationships, to seek touch, to seek love. But our intrinsic nature is very much limited by the world we grow up in.
It takes humongous efforts at times to build a nurturing relationship free from all the prejudices. Or rather, free from the boundaries that stop us from dealing with each other’s prejudices and limitations.
Isolation breeds depression. Society breeds depression. But, a nurturing relationship might just create a safe space for someone going through mental health issues.
We live in a world that creates spaces for only particular types of relationships accepted by society. For instance, we need to ask ourselves why certain forms of affection are allowed only in a ‘romantic’ relationship.
Why is it that when we cuddle, kiss, hug, or show any other forms of affection (not just physical) to another person – with whom one isn’t in a romantic relationship – it is easily sexualised? Why is it that a breakup with a loved one is the only breakup we cry over and not a breakup with a friend? Why is it that we value a romantic relationship and valorise it more than friendships and other forms of relationship?
It is even more troubling when two men who aren’t in a ‘romantic’ relationship show physical affection to each other. It is easily sexualised. It’s as if we are afraid of coming to terms with our own self. It’s as if we are afraid to deal with our internalised homophobia. It’s as if we are afraid to love.
Particularly, this idea of a romantic relationship ensures that unless we are in a romantic relationship with someone, we cannot satiate our need for showing and receiving physical affection from a person. This causes touch isolation. This is devastating to all of us.
Physical affection can go a long way in helping someone deal with their anxieties and depression. If we are limited by the ways in which we can show physical affection and the kind of relationships that we can build, then we will always be short of reaching our full potential. This impacts our mental health on a day-to-day basis.
This is even more so when the ways in which one receives or shows physical affection with one’s parents or closed ones is completely limited to only certain forms of affection. It is as if there is a boundary beyond which kids become adults and thus will not be given similar forms of physical affection given as a child.
In a neoliberal world, we will be driven towards thinking about ourselves and living by ourselves. We will be driven away from the idea of community, from the idea of a spectrum of relationships. How do we start reimagining relationships so as to reimagine ways of dealing with our depression and anxieties?
We need to start questioning the boxes we live in. We need to question our sexuality, our gender, our caste, and our class. The more we question our lived realities and why it is lived in a particular way, the more we will realise what really makes ourselves and what is forced upon us. This questioning will lead us to question the limitations we put on ourselves in how we build relationships around us.
If we truly understand what our needs are instead of falling into relationships shaped by rigid societal moulds, then we might be able to ask for what we need without any prejudice surrounding it. This might even be liberating for the one you interact with. Your prejudice free mind and world can liberate the ones around you too and allow them to fully express and understand their needs, and how much they can support you.
It will create a space wherein you can really work on a nurturing relationship, no matter the gender, caste, age, class, sexuality, body-shape of a person. Wherein you understand how your mental well-being can be taken care off without being judged, without being limited, without being sexualised unnecessarily, without resulting in continual neurosis because of the rigidity of society.
As Alok Vaid-Menon beautifully words it, “I want a world where friendship is appreciated as a form of romance. I want a world where when people ask if we are seeing anyone, we can list the names of all of our best friends and no one will bat an eyelash. I want monuments and holidays and certificates and ceremonies to commemorate friendship. I want a world that doesn’t require us to be in a sexual/romantic partnership to be seen as mature (let alone complete). I want thousands of songs and movies and poems about the intimacy between friends. I want a world where our worth isn’t linked to our desirability, our security to our monogamy, our family to our biology. I want a movement that fights for all forms of relationships, not just the sexual ones.”
Only a world like that can allow us to truly confront our mental health issues and care for each other, mentally and physically.
This article was first published here.