Editor’s Note: This post is a part of What's A Man, a series exploring masculinity in India, in collaboration with Dr. Deepa Narayan. Join the conversation here!
Illustrations by Ayangbe Mannen
Our relationship was a roller-coaster ride from the get-go.
I met Rashmi* in college (we were in the same class), and we started going out in the second year. It was a typical college romance. Since I used to be involved in a lot of extracurricular activities, I mostly missed classes and she would help me with academics. We’d roam around during the holidays, and go out for movies. We stayed together even after college, dating from 2009 to 2015 — it was a long and serious relationship.
We were both extremely possessive, intolerant about each other’s behaviour, and were emotionally abusive. Simple issues would get complicated, and we were just very out of sync.
After college, we both started working in Kochi. It didn’t matter what we did, being together was most important for us. She was very caring, but she just couldn’t trust me though, and she didn’t like me talking to other girls.
I’m an introvert, and she wasn’t. She was very open, even in public places, and I found it really uncomfortable. That’s when the situation would get particularly bad. I’d try to console her, and occasionally, it would work.
Once, at a crowded bus stop, she was upset about something and started crying. Since some people started to notice, I suggested that we move away. People even followed us for a while. I can’t handle such situations, so I just took her to a restaurant.
She met my (female) best friend once, and soon after, they had a fight about her being my best friend. There were multiple such instances, and she would keep nagging. I tried to not even hear it, because it would just be the usual stuff: “Why did you go with that girl and stand there?” or “Why are you not spending time with me?” For me, what she was saying was mostly irrelevant.
Sometimes I’d listen to her, and respond. Then I’d stay calm for a while and my silence would begin to bother her. If we were arguing over the phone, sometimes, meeting up would solve the issue. If it happened in person, and the problem persisted, physical touch would also sometimes calm the situation.
Her focus would never be finding a solution, or discussing the problem and trying to sort it for ourselves. That irritated me a lot, and the next day, she’d be back to normal, as if nothing had happened. When I’d feel like there was nothing that was making things any better, even for small problems, I’d cut her off for a while. And that would be emotionally frustrating for her. She’d try to get in touch or show up at my place. I’d lose my temper sometimes.
Which was when I slapped her on two separate occasions. Every time I recall it, I’m filled with regret for not having controlled myself.
The first time I slapped her was during the last few days of college. I was involved in organising our farewell, and was constantly running around, trying to get things done. I think she was going through a tough phase then. She probably felt like it was the end of an era, feeling like she’s going to miss me. She probably had questions about meeting now that college was over. But at the time, I was unaware of this. She wanted to be with me that day. And I understand — now, I understand. But that day, both our emotional states were particularly different. She continued to worry, and I continued to filter her out.
We were arguing on the college grounds, and I felt I couldn’t take it anymore. I slapped her in the face.
It has been many years since it happened and I don’t remember all the details, but I apologised to her, and promised her I wouldn’t hit her ever again. We eventually made up.
I remember that I felt sorry I had hit her, but not very guilty. She felt hurt, but she didn’t speak against it. She never brought it up and demanded an apology from me, after the incident. She was okay about me hitting her. Later on, there were times when fights got out of control when she’d tell me to “hit me, and solve it.” I remember now that she once told me that her father used to hit her. I think she thought it was okay for a boy to hit her, especially if it was her husband or father. I don’t agree with that at all. I don’t think I have the right to abuse or beat up someone, but in that situation, I hit her and that was terrible.
Why did I stay with her even though things were so complicated between us? I cherished the moments that happened after the fights. I remember, once, she had moved to Bangalore while I was still in Kochi. I didn’t answer her calls for a day while we were in the middle of a tiff, and the next day, she came from Bangalore to meet me. And right then, when we were together, it would feel like everything was sorted. We enjoyed our time together, and we were always there for each other. We were generous in our give and take. We shared that feeling of “there is someone with me, for me”. She was probably the only person I had really emotional or deep conversations with.
The second time, I hit her in a public place, where I find it intolerable if someone cries. I feel humiliated. I feel like I am not in control of the situation, and usually, don’t know what to do. One year before the breakup, during one of our fights, I was working on a project site where I knew a lot of people. She found the place somehow and came there. I didn’t like that at all. I got unbelievably angry on seeing her and hit her.
I apologised later, again. But it was getting very toxic for us. We couldn’t focus on our work, and we held on to each other only because there was some love. Just for those good days, we were going through many more bad days. So we ended it in June 2015. I think in a very large, deep sense, I only felt truly guilty about having physically abused her, a few months after the breakup.
I don’t remember exactly when it happened. I saw something in a film that portrayed violence. I was crushed. I remembered that that was something I had done — I don’t think of myself as a morally bad person — and so I had that revelation. I apologised to her twice after the breakup by writing her detailed emails expressing remorse and apologised after we got back in touch.
We didn’t talk for one-and-half years after the breakup, but after that, we engaged in occasional conversation. She still says that she misses me. Sometimes, I feel terrible that we had to leave each other even after going through so much and putting in so much effort. It would’ve been ideal to have stuck with each other, and treated each other better. But I also know that it’s over. I don’t think that we weren’t supposed to be in a relationship. We both were supposed to have such experiences, but I guess, we were not meant to be together for long.
I’ve realised that there is no purpose to just feeling perpetually guilty. What I can do now is never treat anyone else the way I treated her.
I’m not too emotionally expressive and never used to call home very often, though my other friends would communicate with their parents a lot. I think this is partly because of my upbringing and partly, my inherent personality. My parents wanted me to be emotionally independent, and not be too attached to my mother after a certain age. As I grew into myself, I began to be detached as well. I’m never as vulnerable on a daily basis, as I am when I’m in a relationship. Maybe that’s why I behaved the way I did, but I’m trying to change. For me, constantly communicating wasn’t necessary, but now I understand these things a little more.
Now, I always look for these signs of compatibility when I’m attracted to someone. Inside me, I don’t know… I feel like there’s still the other person, who cuts people off when they get on my nerves. But I think I can try. I should try.
We’re conducting polls to understand how masculinity has impacted men in Indian society and your contribution would help better understand of how toxic masculinity has built into stereotypes and impacted life for men in India.