Often, a prerequisite for building relationships with others is allowing yourself to exist in a state of extreme vulnerability- the mortifying ordeal of not just being known, but seen, judged and treated in a certain way for it.
Romantic relationships, in particular, come with a funny feeling that you’re putting your neck out on the line. And just like any other interaction between people, they are deeply influenced by the social identities of those involved, in terms of their gender, race, caste or socio-economic class.
For heterosexual women living in patriarchal settings that always favour and venerate men, the dynamics of dating often look like a subtle reflection of what we see in political arenas and entertainment media, with women being encouraged or forced into submission, service or dependency.
Having been exposed to the unjust mechanisms of society, most of my peers and I find it easy to empathise with the choices of our mothers and understand the reasons behind our fathers’.
But it also makes us want to never be in similar relationships, ones that are based on the sacrifice, labour and suffering of the woman and dominance and non-accountability of the man.
That is not to say that we refuse to get involved or look down on other women for their choices. It simply means that the romantic experience for us goes hand in hand with constant reminders that the power and privileges exclusively enjoyed by our partners might affect the way we or other women are treated by them.
This could mean anything from them disguising sexist remarks as party jokes to them refusing to condemn the corrupt actions of their friends.
Navigating non-platonic relationships with this knowledge then becomes a dilemma in itself, for the kind of vulnerability they necessitate for women often does not fall in alignment with their personal beliefs or sense of self-worth.
For instance, we end up giving second and third chances to people that don’t deserve them, simply because of our attachment to them, and it makes us doubt our own power, assertiveness and our ability to stand up for what we think is right.
Dating, thus, often leaves us questioning our core principles and feminist ideals and make us wonder whether we’re only capable of upholding them beyond our personal lives.
While it is human nature to not want to be dependent on others for your happiness or needs, the internal pressure to prove your self-sufficiency – financial, emotional or material is amplified when you’re a woman.
Considering that Indian women are paid 34% less than men for performing the same job with the same qualifications, why are decisions like paying or not paying for dates or even splitting rent equally or proportional to the incomes of both partners anything more than matters of personal choice?
Why do we believe that there is a right or wrong way for us to exist in relationships when there isn’t even a level playing field to begin with?
Nonetheless, so much of dating as a cis-het feminist woman is persistently questioning yourself and your relationship at every step of the way. Are you being a hypocrite? Do you really agree with this? Could you have communicated your boundaries better?
Does it not bother you anymore or do you just feel the need to please them? Is your partner actually a feminist? Are you unintentionally enabling microaggressions towards yourself or other women? What if you’re just conditioned to the male gaze?
And then there’s another undeniably uncomfortable aspect of dating and being in relationships – saying no, the consequences of which vary for men and women.
For most women, it means an insane amount of repetitive and blatant disregard for their boundaries and an unreasonable amount of guilt for having the audacity to ‘friendzone’ someone despite all their ‘niceness’ while for some it may be a direct threat to their safety or worse.
Anticipating being treated in such a manner for merely being honest is bound to make anyone less open to putting themselves ‘out there.’
In essence, dating for cis-het women often means having to deal with a tension between their chosen standards for a relationship and what happens in reality. This dichotomy makes it harder for them to be in non-platonic relationships that don’t feel like a disservice to them.
Even so, at the risk of sounding too preachy, a strong suggestion from another feminist would be for you to vocalise your discomfort as much as possible, however insignificant it may seem at the moment.
It is important to call out your partner’s or their friends and family’s problematic behaviours (if any) from the start for they set the tone for what is and isn’t acceptable in a relationship and to establish and re-evaluate your boundaries every now and then.
Most importantly, try to remember that the only ‘feminist’ way for you to interact and engage with others is however it seems right to you.
The author is part of the current batch of the Writer’s Training Program.