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“Ever has it been that love knows not its own depth until the hour of separation.” — Kahlil Gibran
Imagine the loss. You’ve been there haven’t you?
The Earth stopped spinning.
The Sun will never again rise in the east.
The nights are grueling, longer then they ever seemed to be.
You’ve been cut open, wounded and left vulnerable to the winds of change and uncertainty.
You’ve lost your wife, your lover. The one person who fills your cup and makes this world a little more habitable.
Kahlil Gibran illuminates the discomfort of losing love in his famous quote from “The Prophet.”
For me personally it highlighted something I was completely unaware of in the midst of my relationship.
I have spent ten months without the love of my life and my family. In this time I grew as a person more than at any time in my life. I decided in these 300 days that I was going to figure out what it takes to be better at love. May be for someone else. So that I could tell from the mistakes that usually couples commit in a relationship.
I read, I sought out those who had been down the road of love. I talked to therapists, I went to those who knew more then I did.
Here is what I learned.
1. Appreciation prevents Separation
The best place to start is right where you are. The two of you are on your own journey. What makes you unique and beautiful is what separates you from all other couples. You, together, have a recipe no one else has. Live in that space. Appreciate what exists between you.
For me comparison was a barometer of where I felt I fit into my partners life.
The problem with comparing is when you compare yourself to others (or your relationship to others) you lose every time.
Read that again.
Comparing your relationship on any level; the cadence of sex or fighting, money or how you spend it — or lack thereof, where you eat or what you eat is a bottomless pit of shame.
We’re already told enough in our world how we’re inadequate and “less than.” You don’t need to bring that into what’s suppose to be a safe haven.
Love the station of where your relationship exists. Embrace it for all that is unique about it. Don’t look to other relationships as a barometer for success in your own.
2. A Change Gonna Come
New love is fun! Mature love is stable. And sometimes stable isn’t so fun.
Accept that and you’ll be just fine. Fight it and you’ll be swiping left again soon enough. Trust me.
Relationships are pendulous in nature. Change is the only constant in life and it will exact itself on your relationship.
Open your sail to the winds of change and let them guide you to a new way of living.
Realize that this thing you’re in will mature and become about respect and admiration. Love will be a thing you do, not feel.
3. Go with Gratitude
Go back to that feeling of loss for a moment that I spoke of.
Go ahead, think about what life would be like without them…
Think about the things that make this person so special to you.
What if they were gone tomorrow — for any reason….
So start with gratitude first. Be grateful for the fact that this person is in your life. Be grateful that they chose you. Of all the people they could have been with, they chose to share life with you. You only get one life and this human being cares for you. In a world that urges separation and isolation with technology? You found a person who wants to instead, meet you at the crossroads of love and leisure.
Stop thinking about what’s not happening in your relationship.
Stop focusing on the missing links.
Start focusing on what you have right here right now.
“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”
4. Choose Your Own Adventure
Autonomy breeds interdependence.
Heteronomy breeds codependence.
Heteronomy refers to influence by a force outside oneself.
We’ve all done this in our lives. We get into a relationship and suddenly it overtakes us and hijacks our time and passions.
Learning not to do this isn’t the point here — though of course being independent is healthy. The point is you are most attractive to someone else when you are living your passions.
When you perform your passion, you are living your truth.
Another reason this is so vital in a healthy relationship is it creates space. Space is the equalizer between emotion and evolution of self.
“But let there be spaces in your togetherness. Fill each others cup but drink not from the same cup. Give your hearts but not into each others keeping, for only the hand of life can hold your heart.” — Khalil Gibran
5. Don’t Look Back at Your Wake
You can’t change what’s already happened in your life or your partners.
The purpose of any relationship up to this point has been to help you both grow into the people you are today. You learned what works for you and what doesn’t.
The people who appeared in your life in the past were shepherds. They helped guide your way across the landscape of your love life. Thank them for their guidance and then bless and release them.
Don’t spend much time in looking back at your wake.
Looking back only serves as a distraction from the present.
6. Live in Childlike Fascination
Make a conscious choice to see something positive about your partner as often as possible. Take in the wonder of who they are and what makes them unique.
When I say something positive or unique, it doesn’t have to be something incredible either. Maybe it’s a flaw? Flaws are fabulous and unique.
In the aftermath of my breakup I found myself appreciating the weirdest things about my partner. I missed those weird things.
She left the curtains open in our bedroom which drove me nuts. But in the end I actually missed having them open. Why? It was unique to her.
Taking someone for granted starts with not appreciating the little things that make them special. Even things like leaving the curtains open. When it’s gone, believe me, you’ll miss it.
7. Attention without feeling… is only a report.
An openness — an empathy — was necessary if the attention was to matter. — Mary Oliver
How often do you really listen with empathy to the person you love?
Empathy in this context means to listen with feeling, emotion and full attention — openness as Mary Oliver says.
If you are not listening to your partner when they talk or share something? You are simply a reporter. Witnessing the act of talking and showing little emotion.
Be better, be present.
8. The Tightest Grasp is an Open Fist
Let someone roam their own world and love them for it. Let them hunt the trail of curiosity and explore who they are. Do nothing more then encourage it. That is the definition of real love.
You want the person you walk through life with to be the best they can be. The more they understand their own interior the more they have to offer you. If they explore their own path they are able to requite love and foster its growth. They’re also able to offer you the best roadmap of themselves and how to love them.
Remember, the higher you function as a human being the more centered you live your life. The more centered you are the better the partner you make and the more you have to offer.
9. Appreciate the Transient Nature of Love
Understand that your relationship has an undertow of emotions that aren’t visible to the eye. That both of you possess this internal river of feelings in which your love is but a tributary. Understand that life is the main channel and it dictates the flow of love into your delta.
Life acts upon us to an extent and changes the availability we have for love.
Accept that sometimes one of you will be better at your journey together then the other. Realize that there will be times when one of you will carry the relationship. There will be an ebb and flow of love between you over time which is normal and healthy.
If you struggle with this sentiment, I leave you with this….
A story of great love and lifelong partnership isn’t written on the lines, it’s based on what happens between them.
10. Variety is the Spice of Love
Couples that try together thrive together.
It’s a fact that the happiest couples never stop dating one another. They never stop trying new activities.
If you want to keep the love strong in your relationship, you need to explore life together. When you try something new together it prevents you from getting stuck in a “relationship rut.”
Going out gives you a chance to see your partner in a different light. Try things you have never done before. This builds excitement around what could happen. Don’t get wrapped up in whether or not you’ll like it. Chances are you will have a great time if you dive in with an open mind.
11. Pick up a Pen Every Now and Then
It doesn’t matter how you say, it just matters that you said it.
In our busy lives we often forget the most basic of communications and the power they wield.
A text to say “How’s your day” or “I really do love you so much” goes so far but those little words get lost in the daily grind.
So today, set 1 minute aside and write an email, text or fill out a card and tell the person in your life how much they mean to you.
12. Understanding How to Say It…Is Everything
It’s true communication is the cornerstone of a relationship. But what the experts don’t tell you is that communication without understanding is a rudderless ship.
My partner and I spoke different languages when it came to communicating(not literally). Take it from me this can wreak havoc on your relationship. It led to plenty of disruptive arguments that were a waste of time until we had figured out “how” to talk to one another.
You must learn to communicate effectively in a way that your partner understands.
Ask your partner how they need you to talk to them. Start there. Some people are more sensitive then others; respect that. Some read intonation of voice different then others. Some need to talk then leave and process. Some people enjoy a good argument. Others cower from confrontation. Figure this out early on if you can.
It will allow you to be constructive when you communicate.
13. Develop Romantic Amnesia
Fighting is inevitable in a relationship.
Whatever fights you might have had? You need to lay them down and put them to sleep. Ambushing someone with what occurred in the past is not an act of love. It’s an act of selfishness born out of your injured ego. Once something has occurred it is over. It is part of the wake you leave behind you. Holding it over someone’s head isn’t a position of power either. It’s a position of weakness. And you are better than that.
So develop what I like to call Romantic Amnesia. Let whatever fight that has lingered… Whatever ill feelings have been gotten… Whatever travesty has befallen you — GO.
Learn to forgive. Learn to forget. Choose acceptance over being right.
14. Couples that Goal Together…
One of the keys to growing closer is accomplishing things as a team. This is how humans innately bond, by doing something as a group, team or couple.
Couples who set goals together, grow together.
After all, goals are the glue of our existence. Without goals, you’re just a wayward ship without a sail. Goals harness the winds of life and fill your sails, giving you direction to new places.
Also when you share a goal together, one of you will keep the other on track. It will be a rare occasion when you both don’t feel like doing something.
So set goals with your partner and watch not only what you achieve in life but also in love.
15. Stop Drop and Learn
I have news for you.
You weren’t born to love anyone. So forget those fluffy quotes you see on IG with clouds and puppies telling you someone was born to love you. No.
You have to learn to love someone. In turn they have to learn to love you.
Learn to listen to them.
Learn how to fight with them.
Learn how to make them happy.
Learn their love language(s).
So stop waiting for someone you think was built to love you. Drop that story in your head because it’s false. Learn to love someone through patience and bonding.
16. Vulnerability Builds Compatibility
Nothing is more scary then opening up to someone. But one of you will have to cross that line and take a chance.
What I learned was this actually became one of the most solid ways to build compatibility with my partner. Why? When I opened up, she opened up. When I shared a story, she shared a story. We released fears, insecurities, doubts, stories, wants and needs.
Being vulnerable is the most sincere expression of love a human being can show another.
When you are being vulnerable you are saying “I trust you.” You are handing over the roadmap to your interior. You are showing them the geography of you.
If you have this with someone, celebrate it.
17. Do Lip Service to yer…Lip Service
Speaking of vulnerability….
Sex is the epitome of vulnerability. Sex should be fun and come with a side of laughter and playfulness. Sometimes you’ll be a porn star, a marathon runner and yet other times you’ll resemble a drunk baby seal.
The point is sex is about being together and being one, it’s not about your performance. It’s about sharing love and bonding. It develops your bond and expands your heart.
It’s about two beautiful human beings thinking enough of one another to share their insecurities and vulnerabilities at the same time.
Don’t be afraid to talk about sex. Be open to discuss it all with the person you’re with. Be accepting of who they are and where they’ve been.
18. You Don’t Have to be Ranvir Singh or Deepika Padukone
It’s not about your clothes.
It’s not about your car, your belongings or your career.
It’s not about who you might become.
And it’s certainly not about how you look.
As you are today, right now, you are perfect for someone.
You should be loved for your mishaps and celebrated for your flaws. Remember that. This is what makes you unique and one-of-a-kind.
I always drove myself nuts trying to be perfect. Find that person for yourself. And if you have someone make sure they love you for all that you are. Not what you could be. And remember….
Love is free of any judgement.
Newton’s First Law and Your Future
Newton’s first law says that an object at rest will stay right where it is unless something acts on it.
Do you think this applies to your relationship too?
If you do nothing, nothing will happen, you’ll be stuck.
But, if you start to act using any of the lessons outlined above, you are acting on the object (your relationship). I can tell you because I have made a lot of mistakes and I have learned from them.
Physics then takes over and will move your relationship in another direction.
Remember to be present and take notice of the small victories that you achieve along the way. Build on each little victory and I promise you’ll have a happier, healthier, more symbiotic relationship in a very short time. Hope you find your love! And don’t forget to pray for me! 😇
Nitin was in a sad mood when Priya joined him in the balcony. Priya asked mischievously if he had lost a fortune when his ship sank. Nitin said “I was worried about some problems at work”. Priya was not just a good wife but she had always stayed a good friend since their marriage. So he explained the major politics happening at the highest level in office and how the morale of the team was low. Many of his colleagues were bitter and were planning to quit at the first opportunity they get. Nitin explained that the very thought of going to office irritated him these days. Priya tried giving some suggestions but Nitin was too negative to take any of them. He said “it is easier for you to suggest Priya. You should come to office and experience what we go through”. She smiled and said “let us hope things would improve. We cant do anything else. Let us sleep now”.
Nitin moved slowly to the bedroom. He watched Priya entering the next bedroom. He called out “are you not joining me tonight dear?”. She replied “No. You are too negative today. I guess I need to be alone to get some good sleep”. He asked sadly “do you want to leave me alone tonight?”. She said “Not like that. I need to be alone dear. Sleep tight. Good night” and locked her room from inside. He feebly returned her greeting with a good night wish.
Nitin was feeling miserable partly from his office worries and felt worse because he could not get his dear Priya to comfort him now. He could not get sleep. He walked out of his room and looked at the next bedroom door. He was wiser not to knock at the door. When she said something, she always meant it. Tonight, if she wanted to be alone, he dared not question it. He was a bit surprised that the window closer to that door was not properly closed. He tried opening the window and it opened. He knew that he could reach one of the door latches through the window but if she had put the second latch, the door cannot be opened from outside. He stretched his hand and tried opening the first latch. With difficulty, he opened it. Then he tried if the door was opening and it did. Good she had not remembered to put the second latch, he thought.
He slowly walked in. If she was aware of his presence in the room, she did not show it. Soon he moved closer to her. He hugged her sideways first and then slowly moved on top of her. Priya said in a surprised tone “how come you managed to find an entry?”. Nitin said “I found a way out. To be precise, I found a way in”. Priya said “Nitin. Please go away”. He said “No. I wont and I cant”.
Priya asked “my feelings don’t matter to you?”. Nitin said “it is not like that. I only hope my feelings and desires matter to you”. Priya said “yes dear. It matters to me. You want me badly now?”.
“Then take me Nitin. I am all yours”.
Their dresses took leave from them. With hunger in his eyes, Nitin slowly united with his dear wife with love. In their state of oneness, they forgot everything else around them. What mattered to them was being with each other and being there for each other.
Their love making lasted for some more time and in the end they both were happily exhausted in a pleasant and satisfied manner.
After a while, she asked “Nitin. Are you happy now?”. He said “I am mighty happy now. You saw how smartly I won finally. Are you happy too?”. She said “I am happy for you. I want you to be happy always”. Nitin asked “You saying initially that you wanted to be alone and leaving the window open were all part of the plan to make me feel happy?”. Priya said “Yes it was my plan. Had you not known it, I would not have told you now also. Remember one thing Nitin. Even if you have lost everything else, you can always win over me with your love”. Nitin was nearly in tears when he said “I love you”. They both melted in each other’s arms for the next half an hour. Later, Nitin said “we never value the good things that we have. We always worry about those things that we don’t have. You are the best thing in my life and why should I worry about anything else?”. Priya smiled and said “I just wish to be as good as you are. You are the best thing in my life too”.
I wrote this fiction story for Women’s Era Magzine in August, 2017.
When we first met, she used to draw pictures. She was young. Growing up.
The pictures were like works in progress. Each one a part of something bigger. Nascent potential. All of it filled with hope, character, individuality, and a dash of irrepressible youth.
I fell in love with that freedom. I fell for the enthusiasm, and the passion, and the raw emotion.
At a time when people called me a robot, she chose the word subdued.
It felt like something special between us.
It felt like something warm.
We sat together in lonely cafes, and let our coffees go cold.
I scribbled words and sentences. Played, mostly. Too short to be fiction, too long to be poetry. Ideas like fragments of broken glass.
She sketched objects. Played with shape and form. Sometimes a pair of hands, sometimes an ear. Sometimes the silhouette of a sleeping woman, or a sleeping man. A sleeping cat.
Everything was asleep, back then. Everything mere moments from waking.
We were bundles of incomplete ideas and half-experienced feelings.
In this way, we fell into something like love.
When I left for Japan, there was an ocean between us. There was space.
It stretched time. Tampered with the flow of it. Slower some days, faster others.
We shared emails and waxed nostalgic. It felt easier to focus on the past, ignore the present and the future.
We shared that. The past. The others were shadows. Clouds. Haze.
Sometimes, I shared my new world. I wrote it down in words, but they were always lacking. Japan changed me in ways my words would never change her. It warped my perspective — expanded it and made it flexible.
In that space of stretched, tampered time, we found empty romance and lost, lingering feelings with other people. We held other bodies and kissed other mouths.
This, too, felt something like love.
Home was difficult. Hard. Impossible. The same, but different.
I was always foreign, in Japan. Always a foreigner. But it was unsettling to return home and feel the same way.
I don’t belong here anymore, I thought.
Still, I longed to meet her. See her. I thought she would be different. Hoped she would be different. She would understand — or at least try — to see the colors I saw. The blends and the hues and the shadows.
She might share of the fading warmth.
She didn’t draw anymore. Said she didn’t have time.
She worked at a small PR company as an account assistant. It was busy and hectic. Frantic. Every day, she said, but she loved the rush and the pace. She talked about office dynamics, hush-hush new deals, press conferences and potential promotion.
There was too much I didn’t know. Too much I would never catch up with. I could only listen and nod.
We tried to talk like old times. I told her I hadn’t kept up with Breaking Bad. I didn’t know who Sam Smith was, or his latest album. I said politics at home felt like watching a foreign film without subtitles.
I said I still wrote stories. Had actually finished a couple.
She smiled then, like a mother might smile at a child with a crayon drawing.
She said she wished she had time to sketch again. She missed it. Loved it. Loved those days, that time, and that freedom. She sighed, like it was gone now.
Like it was never coming back.
She stood to go back to work. Said it was nice seeing me. I said I would get the bill, and she laughed.
She said my gentle gaze and smile reminded her of a robot.
And she left.
I sat at that lonely cafe, and I let my coffee go cold.
In my notebook, I scribbled some words and sentences.
It was something like heartbreak.
I realized that in that stretched, tampered time, I’d clung to an idea. A hazy fragment of what could be. It was a seed, which I planted. It flowered in my mind.
But the soil of my imagination was vastly different to what remained back home.
I never loved her, I thought. Not really. I loved the flower I grew. A flower I didn’t want to stop watering. It had grown to look so beautiful, however non-existent it was. Surely, somewhere in this world is a flower just like this one, I thought. I believed.
It was something like hope.
Not long after, I made the decision to leave.
Everyone asked what I would do about money, health insurance, a pension, life, the future, my yet-to-exist family.
It seemed so trivial, at the time. Out across the sea were completely different worlds. Whole new spectrums of color and culture and experience and language. People living completely different lives.
And you want me to stay here, and work, and prepare for the day I retire?
Yes, they said.
We agreed to disagree.
I will work things out, I said. Or things will work themselves out.
I will be okay.
It was something like faith.
She gripped my hand in hers. It was warm. Soft. There were memories in it.
So this is it, she said.
I have to see the world, I said. I want to see it, and write about it, and live it. I can’t do that here.
She looked me in the eyes for some time, and she smiled.
And for a fleeting instant, there was something between us — the flash of a flower that could have been but never was. A flower we’d planted together, and lost in the forest that grew up around it.
Good luck, she said.
There was trust in her eyes.
It was something like understanding.
Something like love.
And for that, I was grateful.
People don’t love to live a lonely life. Having an active social life and then taking a break for a change is a different thing than living a lonely life. And anybody who says this is probably in a state of denial not comfortable facing the truth. However loneliness happens and you don’t really have an option. It is programmed into some people. Me being one example. Let me explain What I feel and that probably will give you some context.
I don’t like being alone. But when I am with people trying to mix in, to become more social, to feel interested in what they are talking about I feel not true to myself. I become someone whom I don’t like and I say things which I should not.
People when come together, live together they tend to form a bond. But for me and many others loners around is an entirely different scenario. I can be with people for so much time without a moment of affection with them. They move on. You move on. Without a hint of intimacy which was there. It is like a devoured pasture land by a sheep flock, all empty, all gone.
Thirdly I try. I try to be social. I used to be open to people, showing them my vulnerability, loving them, enjoying with them. But over the years I have realised this is not me. Eventually I have developed a shell. An enclosure where I can not let anybody in. It is just me alone hovering in my thoughts.
All this being said this does not imply I am depressed. I have my career, my goals. I work, shop, eat, love my wife, volunteer, go to parties, talk to my parents and wife, take care of my finances, love my dog and so on. And I read as I get time. Just like any other normal person. I run my errands, take care of my responsibilities and love the people around me. I expect my life to be extraordinary, something that will make a difference to this world perhaps in some way.
But emotionally I think I am all alone. I don’t love it. But I don’t have a choice, it is the way I am and I have to live with it.
“Let me tell you this: if you meet a loner, no matter what they tell you, it’s not because they enjoy solitude. It’s because they have tried to blend into the world before, and people continue to disappoint them.” -Jodi Picoult
What is our appetite for approval? I can’t help but think the continual scrolling, searching, liking, and judging is creating an unhealthy appetite for us.I’m struggling these days with how I view social media and see it evolve. Feels funny to express this because I started my writing on social. I started my personal career on social. While I think there are ways companies can do better in how they communicate, what I want to share is my perspective on personal use for social media. I’ve seen unbelievable stories shared. I’ve seen people find life long friends from it. I’ve seen people feel less alone during times they needed some one to express me too, I’ve seen lives transformed by individuals with people who have been so raw and vulnerable online. I have different theories and all of them are conflicting to each other. I would be lying to say I have the answer and my view point is consistent.
I’ve had this debate with someone close to me. They believe that if everyone shared once a week online we’d be more present in our jobs, families, and friends. We’d be more intentional with what we shared. Instead of sharing pictures of coffee we are drinking, continual posts of selfies, or food we are making, we’d share what we learned from being present. They ask the question, what is being robbed in present time while we review peoples past times online? I completely agree and I can’t argue this. We might have replaced the urgency to share our own life instead of the urgency to be present for others in real time. Why is it that social gets our minute by minute, hourly… daily attention? We lend ourselves for daily inspiration to something that can feel the least authentic.
Instead of getting to know the wrinkles around someones eyes of years of pain and joy or their messy shirt that has a story for how they got there to meet up with us.. we have been okay with filters and apps that iron out all the details. We have genuine relationships and inspiration in front of us. Maybe I’ve been jaded to find individuals not being honest with the reality of their own life but what they want to paint their life like online. I find myself as well in this hamster wheel of only sharing the highlight reel. However the last few weeks I’ve had the most beautiful moments with my wife. I didn’t capture one photo. I didn’t even want my phone out because I was so thankful for what I was present in. I’ve had moments that I didn’t want to share on social but text or call to share because I wanted the people closest to me to find out what I’m experiencing vs finding out online. In the same respect I wanted to hear what was happening in their world vs finding out online. We are all starving for connection and yet we feel safer to scroll then to sit face to face.
I’m so thankful to have had the opportunity to be around incredibly successful people. Successful in relationships, intellect, and career. None of their success for impact was based around the foundation of how many images they consumed in an hour. I think our brains have tricked us to subscribe to the metric of success based on how much we are liked for the less than 10% of what online sees.
So I guess my question to this rant is.. How can you remain present while engaging in other’s past times in the same hour? My other question I’ll ask… What are we avoiding in our life that needs attention as we swoon over an individuals preconceived life?
Would our food taste better if we were present instead of documenting it and would our friendships feel more connected if we weren’t scrolling in place of picking up the phone to call?
When you think about it, despite feeling difficult, the problems people struggle with in dating sound pretty trivial.
For instance, we have been walking and talking our entire lives, yet walking up to an attractive person and opening our mouths to say “hi” can feel impossibly complex to us. People have been using a phone since they were children, yet given the agony some go through just to dial a person’s phone number, you’d think they were being waterboarded. Most of us have kissed someone before and we’ve seen hundreds of movies and instances in real life of other people kissing, yet we still stare dreamily into the object of our affection’s eyes hour after hour, telling ourselves we can never find the “right moment” to do it.
Why? It sounds simple, but why is it so hard?
We build businesses, write novels, scale mountains, help strangers and friends alike through difficult times, tackle the thorniest of the world’s social ills — and yet, when we come face-to-face with someone we find attractive, our hearts race and our minds are sent reeling. And we stall.
Dating advice often compares improving one’s dating life to improving at some practical skill, such as playing piano or learning a foreign language. Sure, there are some overlapping principles, but it’s hard to imagine most people trembling with anxiety every time they sit in front of the keyboard. And I’ve never met someone who became depressed for a week after failing to conjugate a verb correctly. They’re not the same.
Generally speaking, if someone practices piano daily for two years, they will eventually become quite competent at it. Yet many people spend most of their lives with one romantic failure after another.
What is it about this one area of life that the most basic actions can feel impossible, that repetitive behavior often leads to little or no change, and that our psychological defense mechanisms run rampant trying to convince us to not pursue what we want?
Why dating and not, say, skiing? Or even our careers? Why is it that a person can conquer the corporate ladder, become a militant CEO, demanding and receiving the respect and admiration of hundreds of brilliant minds, and then flounder through a simple dinner date with a beautiful stranger?
As children, none of us get 100% of our needs met. This is true of you. It’s true of me. It’s true of everyone. The degree of which our needs aren’t met varies widely, and the nature of how our needs are unfulfilled differs as well. But it’s the sad truth about growing up: we’ve all got baggage. And some of us have a lot of it. Whether it is a parent who didn’t hold us enough, who didn’t feed us regularly enough, a father who wasn’t around often, a mother who left us and moved away, being forced to move from school to school as a child and never having friends — all of these experiences leave their mark as a series of micro-traumas that shape and define us.
The nature and depth of these traumas imprint themselves onto our unconscious and become the map of how we experience love, intimacy and sex throughout our lives.
If mom was over-protective and dad was never around, that will form part of our map for love and intimacy. If we were manipulated or tormented by our siblings and peers, that will imprint itself as part of our self-image. If mom was an alcoholic and dad was screwing around with other women, it will stay with us. If our first girlfriend/boyfriend died in a car accident or dad beat us because he caught us masturbating — well, you get the point. These imprints will not only affect, but define, all of our future romantic and sexual relationships as adults.
You and I and everyone else have met hundreds, if not thousands, of people. Out of those thousands, multiple hundreds easily met our physical criteria for a mate. Yet out of those hundreds, we fall in love with a very few. Only a handful we meet in our entire lives ever grab us on that gut-level, where we lose all rationality and control and lay awake at night thinking about them.
It’s often not the one we expected to fall for either. One might be perfect on paper. Another potential lover might have a great sense of humor and they’re amazing in bed. But sometimes there’s the one we can’t stop thinking about, the one we involuntarily keep going back to over and over and over again.
Psychologists believe that romantic love occurs when our unconscious becomes exposed to someone who matches the archetype of parental love we experienced growing up, someone whose behavior matches our emotional map for intimacy. Our unconscious is always seeking to return to the unconditional nurturing we received as children, and to re-process and heal the traumas we suffered.
In short, our unconscious is wired to seek out romantic interests who it believes will fulfill our unfulfilled emotional needs, to fill in the gaps of the love and nurturing we missed out on as kids. This is why the people we fall in love with almost always resemble our parents on an emotional level.
Hence why people who are madly in love say to each other, “you complete me,” or refer to each other as their “better half.” It’s also why couples in the throes of new love often act like children around one another. Their unconscious mind can’t differentiate between the love they’re receiving from their girlfriend/boyfriend and the love they once received as a child from their parents.
This is also why dating and relationships are so painful and difficult for so many of us, particularly if we had strained familial relationships growing up. Unlike playing the piano or learning a language, our dating and sex lives are inextricably bound to our emotional needs, and when we get into potentially intimate or sexual situations, these experiences rub up against our prior traumas causing us anxiety, neuroticism, stress and pain.
So that someone rejecting you isn’t just rejecting you — instead, to your unconscious, you’re reliving every time your mother rejected you or turned down your need for affection.
That irrational fear you feel when it comes time to take your clothes off in front of someone new isn’t just the nervousness of the moment, but every time you were punished for sexual thoughts or feelings growing up.
Don’t believe me? Think about this. Someone no-shows for a regular business meeting with you. How do you feel? Annoyed likely. Maybe a tad disrespected. But chances are you get over it quickly, and by the time you get home and are watching TV, you don’t even remember it even happened.
Now, imagine someone you are extremely attracted to no-shows for a date. How do you feel? If you’re like most people who struggle in this area of their life, you feel like shit. Like you just got used and led on and shat on.
Why? Because being flaked on rubs up against your unconscious fear of abandonment, fear that nobody loves you and that you’re going to be alone forever. Ouch.
Maybe you freak out and call them and leave angry voicemails. Maybe you continue to call them weeks or months later, getting blown off over and over again, feeling worse and worse each time. Or maybe you just get depressed and mope about it on Facebook or some dating forum.
Every irrational fear, emotional outburst or insecurity you have in your dating life is an imprint on your emotional map from your relationships growing up.
It’s why you’re terrified to go for the first kiss. It’s why you freeze up when it comes time to introduce yourself to someone you don’t know or tell someone you just met how you feel about them. It’s why you clam up every time you go to bed with someone new or you freeze and get uncomfortable when it’s time to open up and share yourself with somebody.
The list goes on and on.
All of these issues have deep-seated roots in your unconscious, your unfulfilled emotional needs and traumas.
A common way we bypass dealing with the emotional stress involved in dating is by disassociating our emotions from intimacy and sex. If we shut off our need for intimacy and connection, then our sexual actions no longer rub up against our emotional maps and we can greatly diminish the neediness and anxiety we once felt while still reaping the superficial benefits. It takes time and practice, but once disassociated from our emotions, we can enjoy the sex and validation of dating without concerns for intimacy, connection, and in some cases, ethics.
Here are common ways we disassociate dating from their emotions:
Objectification. Objectifying someone is when you see them only for a specific purpose and don’t see them as fully integrated human beings. You can objectify people as sex objects, professional work objects, social objects, or none of the above. You might objectify someone for sex, status or influence. But objectification is ultimately disastrous for one’s own emotional health, not to mention one’s relationships.
Sexism. Viewing the other sex as inferior or inherently evil/inept is a sure way to redirect one’s emotional problems outward onto a population at large rather than dealing with them yourself. Without fail, men who treat and view women as some inferior “other,” are more often than not projecting their own anger and insecurities onto the women they meet rather than dealing with them. The same goes for women.
Manipulation and games. By engaging in games and manipulation, we withhold our true intentions and identities, and therefore we withhold our emotional maps as well. With these tactics, the aim is to get someone to fall for the perception we create rather than who we really are, greatly reducing the risk of digging up the buried emotional scars of past relationships.
Overuse of humor, teasing, bantering. A classic strategy of distraction. Not that jokes or teasing are always bad, but an interaction of nothing but jokes and teasing is a means to communicate without saying anything important, to enjoy yourselves without actually do anything, and to feel like you know each other without actually knowing a thing. This is most typical of English-speaking cultures — men and women, straight and gay — as they tend to use sarcasm and teasing as a means to imply affection rather than actually showing it.
Stripclubs, prostitution, pornography. A way to experience one’s sexuality vicariously through an empty, idealized vessel, whether it’s on a screen, a stage, or running you 10000 Rupees an hour.
Generally, the more resentment one is harboring, the more one objectifies others. People who had turbulent relationships with their parents, or were abandoned in a previous relationship, or tormented and teased when growing up — these people will likely find it much easier and more enticing to objectify and measure their sex lives than to confront their demons and overcome their emotional scars with the people they become involved with.
Most of us have, at one point or another, disassociated our emotions and objectified someone (or entire groups of people) for whatever reasons. I will say, however, that there’s a lot of social pressure on men, particularly straight men, to ignore their emotions, particularly “weak” emotions such as a need for intimacy and love. It’s more socially acceptable for men to objectify their sex lives and boast about it. Whether you think that’s right or wrong or doesn’t matter, it is how it is.
Confronting Your Issues and Winning
Disassociating from your emotional needs is the easy way out. It requires only external effort and some superficial beliefs. Working through your issues and resolving them requires far more blood, sweat and tears. Most people aren’t willing to dig deep and put in the effort, but it yields far greater and more permanent results.
1) The biggest misconception when it comes to working through an excess of emotional baggage is that these feelings ever completely go away. Studies indicate that fears, anxieties, traumas, etc. are imprinted on our brains in similar ways that our physical habits are.1 Just like you’ve developed a habit of brushing your teeth every time you wake up, you have emotional habits of getting sad or angry any time you feel abandoned or unwanted.
The way to change is not by removing these feelings or anxieties altogether, but rather consciously replacing them with higher order behaviors and feelings.
This can only be accomplished through taking action. There is no other way. You cannot rewire your responses in healthy ways and confront your insecurities if you aren’t out there actively pushing up against them. Trying to do so is like trying to learn how to shoot free throws left-handed without ever actually touching a basketball. It just doesn’t work.
If you have a habit of flipping out and leaving angry voicemails every time someone doesn’t call you back, you don’t get rid of the anger, but rather channel that anger into a better and healthier activity, like say, going to the gym, or painting a picture, or punching a punching bag.
2) Anxieties can be overcome through utilizing implementation intentions and progressive desensitization. For instance, if you get nervous in social situations and have a hard time meeting new people, take baby steps to start engaging in more social interactions. Practice saying hello to a few strangers until it becomes comfortable. Then maybe ask some random people how their day is going after you say hello. Then try to start some conversations with people throughout your day — at the gym, at the park, at work, or wherever. Then, challenge yourself to do these same things with people you find attractive.
The key is to do it incrementally. Setting the stakes too high, too early will just reinforce your anxiety when you fail to meet your lofty expectations. Again, baby steps.
Obviously this takes time and requires consistently facing situations which make you uncomfortable, but that’s the idea. You must overlay old emotional habits of fear and anxiety with healthier ones like excitement and assertiveness. Mentally train yourself so that any time you feel anxiety, you force yourself to do it anyway.
3) The final step — once you’ve learned to channel your negative emotions in constructive ways, once you’ve eaten away at your anxieties and are able to often act despite them — is to come clean with people you date about your needs and start screening based on them.
For instance, I’ve always had a fear of commitment and needed a woman who was comfortable giving me space and some freedom. Not only do I openly share this with women I get involved with now, but I actively screen for women with these traits.
Ultimately, your emotional needs will only be fully met in a loving and conscious relationship with someone who you can trust and work together with – and not just your emotional issues, but hers as well. We unconsciously seek out romantic partners in order to fulfill our unfulfilled childhood needs, and to do so cannot be completely done alone.
This is the reason that honesty and vulnerability are so powerful for creating high-quality interactions – the practice of being upfront about your desires and flaws will naturally screen for those who best suit you and connect with you.
This kind of authenticity changes the whole dynamic of dating. Instead of chasing and pursuing or wishing and hoping, you focus on consistently improving yourself and presenting that self to the beautiful strangers of the world. The right ones will pay attention and stay. And whether you spend a night or a year with them, this enhanced level of intimacy and mutual vulnerability will help heal your emotional wounds, help you become more confident and secure in your relationships and ultimately, overcome much of the pain and stress of that accompanies sex and intimacy.
One of the more fascinating psychotic conditions in the medical literature is known as Cotard’s syndrome, a rare disorder, usually recoverable, in which the primary symptom is a “delusion of negation.” According to researchers David Cohen and Angèle Consoli of the Université Pierre et Marie Curie, many patients with Cotard’s syndrome are absolutely convinced, without even the slimmest of doubts, that they are already dead.
Some recent evidence suggests that Cotard’s may occur as a neuropsychiatric side effect in patients taking the drugs aciclovir or valaciclovir for herpes and who also have kidney failure.* But its origins go back much further than these modern drugs. First described by the French neurologist Jules Cotard in the 1880s, it is usually accompanied by some other debilitating problem, such as major depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy or general paralysis—not to mention disturbing visages in the mirror. Consider the case of one young woman described by Cohen and Consoli: “The delusion consisted of the patient’s absolute conviction she was already dead and waiting to be buried, that she had no teeth or hair, and that her uterus was malformed.” Poor thing—that image couldn’t have been very good for her self-esteem.
Still, call me strange, but I happen to find a certain appeal in the conviction that one is, though otherwise lucid, nevertheless already dead. Provided there were no uncomfortable symptoms of rigor mortis cramping up my hands, nor delusory devils biting at my feet, how liberating it would be to be able to write like a dead man and without that hobbling, hesitating fear of being unblinkingly honest. Knowing that upon publication I would be tucked safely away in my tomb, I could finally say what’s on my mind. Of course, living one’s life as though it were a suicide note incarnate (yet remember this is precisely what life is, really, and I would advise any thinking person to stroll by a cemetery each day, gaze unto those fields of crumbling headstones filled with chirping crickets, and ponder, illogically so, what these people wish they might have said to the world when it was still humanly possible for them to have done so ) is an altogether different thing from the crushing, unbearable weight of an actual suicidal mind dangerously tempted by the promise of permanent quiescence.
In considering people’s motivations for killing themselves, it is essential to recognize that most suicides are driven by a flash flood of strong emotions, not rational, philosophical thoughts in which the pros and cons are evaluated critically. And, as I mentioned in last week’s column on the evolutionary biology of suicide, from a psychological science perspective, I don’t think any scholar ever captured the suicidal mind better than Florida State University psychologist Roy Baumeister in his 1990 Psychological Review article , “Suicide as Escape from the Self.” To reiterate, I see Baumeister’s cognitive rubric as the engine of emotions driving deCatanzaro’s biologically adaptive suicidal decision-making. There are certainly more recent theoretical models of suicide than Baumeister’s, but none in my opinion are an improvement. The author gives us a uniquely detailed glimpse into the intolerable and relentlessly egocentric tunnel vision that is experienced by a genuinely suicidal person.
According to Baumeister, there are six primary steps in the escape theory, culminating in a probable suicide when all criteria are met. I do hope that having knowledge about the what-it-feels-like phenomenology of ‘being’ suicidal helps people to recognize their own possible symptoms of suicidal ideation and—if indeed this is what’s happening—enables them to somehow derail themselves before it’s too late. Note that it is not at all apparent that those at risk of suicide are always aware that they are in fact suicidal, at least in the earliest cognitive manifestations of suicidal ideation. And if such thinking proceeds unimpeded, then keeping a suicidal person from completing the act may be as futile as encouraging someone at the very peak of sexual excitement to please kindly refrain from having an orgasm, which is itself sometimes referred to as la petite mort (“the little death”).
So let’s take a journey inside the suicidal mind, at least as it’s seen by Roy Baumeister. You might even come to discover that you’ve actually stepped foot in this dark psychological space before, perhaps without knowing it at the time.
Step 1: Falling Short of Standards
Most people who kill themselves actually lived better-than-average lives. Suicide rates are higher in nations with higher standards of living than in less prosperous nations; higher in US states with a better quality of life; higher in societies that endorse individual freedoms; higher in areas with better weather; in areas with seasonal change, they are higher during the warmer seasons; and they’re higher among college students that have better grades and parents with higher expectations.
Baumeister argues that such idealistic conditions actually heighten suicide risk because they often create unreasonable standards for personal happiness, thereby rendering people more emotionally fragile in response to unexpected setbacks. So, when things get a bit messy, such people, many of whom appear to have led mostly privileged lives, have a harder time coping with failures. “A large body of evidence,” writes the author, “is consistent with the view that suicide is preceded by events that fall short of high standards and expectations, whether produced by past achievements, chronically favorable circumstances, or external demands.” For example, simply being poor isn’t a risk factor for suicide. But going rather suddenly from relative prosperity to poverty has been strongly linked to suicide. Likewise, being a lifelong single person isn’t a risk factor either, but the transition from marriage to the single state places one at significant risk for suicide. Most suicides that occur in prison and mental hospital settings occur within the first month of confinement, during the initial period of adjustment to loss of freedom. Suicide rates are lowest on Fridays and highest on Mondays; they also drop just before the major holidays and then spike sharply immediately after the holidays. Baumeister interprets these patterns as consistent with the idea that people’s high expectations for holidays and weekends materialize, after the fact, as bitter disappointments.
To summarize this first step in the escape theory, Baumeister tells us that, “it is apparently the size of the discrepancy between standards and perceived reality that is crucial for initiating the suicidal process.” It’s the proverbial law of social gravity: the higher your majesty is to start off with, the more painful it’s going to be when you happen to fall flat on your face.
Step 2: Attributions to Self
It is not just the fall from grace alone that’s going to send you on a suicidal tailspin. It’s also necessary for you to loathe yourself for facing the trouble you find yourself in. Across cultures, “self blame” or “condemnation of the self” has held constant as a common denominator in suicides. Baumeister’s theory accommodates these data, yet his model emphasizes that the biggest risk factor isn’t chronically low self-esteem, per se, but rather a relatively recent demonization of the self in response to the negative turn of events occurring in the previous step. People who have low self-esteem are often misanthropes, he points out, in that while they are indeed self critical, they are usually just as critical of other people. By contrast, suicidal individuals who engage in negative appraisals of the self seem to suffer the erroneous impression that other people are mostly good, while they themselves are bad. Feelings of worthlessness, shame, guilt, inadequacy, or feeling exposed, humiliated and rejected leads suicidal people to dislike themselves in a manner that, essentially, cleaves them off from an idealized humanity. The self is seen as being enduringly undesirable; there is no hope for change and the core self is perceived as being rotten.
This is why adolescents and adults of minority sexual orientations, who grow up gestating in a social womb filled with messages—both implicit and explicit—that they are essentially lesser human beings, are especially vulnerable to suicide. Even though we may consciously reject these personal attributions made by an intolerant society, they have still seeped in. If we extrapolate this to, say, Tyler Clementi as he was driving towards the George Washington Bridge to end his own life in the wake of being cruelly and voyeuristically outed over the Internet, I’d bet my bottom dollar that he felt even the songs on the radio weren’t meant for him, but for “normal people” more relatable to the singer and deserving of the song’s message.
Step 3: High Self-Awareness
“The essence of self-awareness is comparison of self with standards,” writes Baumeister. And, according to his escape theory, it is this ceaseless and unforgiving comparison with a preferred self—perhaps an irrecoverable self from a happier past or a goal self that is now seen as impossible to achieve in light of recent events—fuelling suicidal ideation.
This piquancy of thought in suicidal individuals is actually measurable, at least indirectly by analyzing the language used in suicide notes. One well-known “suicidologist,” Edwin Shneidman, once wrote that, “Our best route to understanding suicide is not through the study of the structure of the brain, nor the study of social statistics, nor the study of mental diseases, but directly through the study of human emotions described in plain English, in the words of the suicidal person.” Personally, I feel a bit like an existential Peeping Tom in reading strangers’ suicide notes, but it’s a longstanding cottage industry in psychological research. Over the past few decades alone, nearly 300 studies on suicide notes have been published. These cover a broad range of research questions, but because they tend to yield inconsistent findings, they have also painted a confusing picture of the suicidal mind.
This is especially the case when trying to reveal people’s motivations for the act. Some who commit suicide may not even be aware of their own motivations, or at least they have not been completely honest in their farewell letters to the world. A good example comes from University of Manchester sociologist Susanne Langer and her colleagues’ report in a 2008 issue of The Sociological Review . The researchers describe how the suicide note written by one young man was rather nondescript, mentioning feelings of loneliness and emptiness as causing his suicide, while, in fact, “his file contained a memo inquiring about the state of an investigation regarding sexual offences the deceased had been accused of in an adjacent jurisdiction.”
The more compelling studies on suicide notes, in my view, are those that use text analysis programs enabling the investigators to make exact counts of particular kinds of words. Compared to fake suicide notes, real suicide notes are notorious for containing first-person singular pronouns, a reflection of high self-awareness. And unlike letters written by people facing involuntary death, such as those about to be executed, suicide note writers rarely use inclusive language such as plural pronouns, such as “us” and “we.” When they do mention significant others, suicide note writers usually speak of them as being cut off, distant, separate, not understanding, or opposed. Friends and family, even a loving mother at arm’s length, feel endless oceans away.
Step 4: Negative Affect
It may seem to go without saying that suicides tend to be preceded by a period of negative emotions, but, again, in Baumeister’s escape model, negative suicidal emotions are experienced as an acute state rather than a prolonged one. “Concluding simply that depression causes suicide and leaving it at that may be inadequate for several reasons,” he writes. “It is abundantly clear that most depressed people do not attempt suicide and that not all suicide attempters are clinically depressed.”
Anxiety—which can be experienced as guilt, self-blame, threat of social exclusion, ostracism and worry—seems to be a common strand in the majority of suicides. As I mentioned in last week’s post, we may very well be the only species for which negative social-evaluative appraisals can lead to shame-induced suicide. It’s not without controversy, but the most convincing data from studies with nonhuman animals suggest very strongly that we are the only species on the face of the earth able to take another organism’s perspective in judging the self’s attributes. This is owed to an evolutionary innovation known as “theory of mind” (literally, theorizing about what someone else is thinking about, including what they’re thinking about you ; and, perhaps more importantly in this case, even what you’re thinking about you) that has been both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing because it allows us to experience pride, and a curse because it also engenders what I consider to be the uniquely human, uniquely painful emotion of shame.
Psychodynamic theorists often postulate that suicidal guilt seeks punishment, and thus suicide is a sort of self-execution. But Baumeister’s theory largely rejects this interpretation; rather, in his model, the appeal of suicide is loss of consciousness, and thus the end of psychological pain being experienced. And since cognitive therapy isn’t easily available—or seen as achievable—by most suicidal people, that leaves only three ways to escape this painful self-awareness: drugs, sleep and death. And of these, only death, nature’s great anesthesia, offers a permanent fix.
Step 5: Cognitive Deconstruction
The fifth step in the escape theory is perhaps the most intriguing, from a psychological perspective, because it illustrates just how distinct and scarily inaccessible the suicidal mind is from that of our everyday cognition. With cognitive deconstruction, a concept originally proposed by social psychologists Robin Vallacher and Daniel Wegner, the outside world becomes a much simpler affair in our heads—but usually not in a good way.
Cognitive deconstruction is pretty much just what it sounds like. Things are cognitively broken down into increasingly low-level and basic elements. For example, the time perspective of suicidal people changes in a way that makes the present moment seem interminably long; this is because, “suicidal people have an aversive or anxious awareness of the recent past (and possibly the future too), from which they seek to escape into a narrow, unemotional focus on the present moment.” In one interesting study, for example, when compared to control groups, suicidal participants significantly overestimated the passage of experimentally controlled intervals of time by a large amount. Baumeister surmises, “Thus suicidal people resemble acutely bored people: The present seems endless and vaguely unpleasant, and whenever one checks the clock, one is surprised at how little time has actually elapsed.”
Evidence also suggests that suicidal individuals have a difficult time thinking about the future—which for those who’d use the threat of hell as a deterrent, shows just why this strategy isn’t likely to be very effective. This temporal narrowing, Baumeister believes, is actually a defensive mechanism helping the person to cognitively withdraw from thinking about past failures and the anxiety of an intolerable, hopeless future.
Another central aspect of the suicidal person’s cognitive deconstruction, says Baumeister, is a dramatic increase in concrete thought. Like the intrusively high self-awareness discussed earlier, this concreteness is often conveyed in suicide notes. Several review articles have noted the relative paucity of “thinking words” in suicide notes, which are abstract, meaningful, high-level terms. Instead, they more often include banal and specific instructions, such as, “Don’t forget to feed the cat,” or “Remember to take care of the electric bill.” Real suicide notes are usually suspiciously void of contemplative or metaphysical thoughts, whereas fake suicide notes, written by study participants, tend to include more abstract or high-level terms (“Someday you’ll understand how much I loved you” or “Always be happy”). One old study even found that genuine suicide notes contained more references to concrete objects in the environment—physical things—than did simulated suicide notes.
What this cognitive shift to concrete thinking reflects, suggests Baumeister, is the brain’s attempt to slip into idle mental labor, thereby avoiding the suffocating feelings that we’ve been describing. Many suicidal college students, for example, exhibit a behavioral pattern of burying themselves in dull, routine academic busywork in the weeks beforehand, presumably to enter a sort of “emotional deadness” which is “an end in itself.” When I was a suicidal adolescent, I remember reading voraciously during this time; it didn’t matter what it was that I read—mostly junk novels, in fact—since it was only to replace my own thoughts with those of the writer’s. For the suicidal, other people’s words can be pulled over one’s exhausting ruminations like a seamless glove being stretched over a distractingly scarred hand.
Even the grim, tedious details of organizing one’s own suicide can offer a welcome reprieve:
When preparing for suicide, one can finally cease to worry about the future, for one has effectively decided that there will be no future. The past, too, has ceased to matter, for it is nearly ended and will no longer cause grief, worry, or anxiety. And the imminence of death may help focus the mind on the immediate present
Step 6: Disinhibition
We’ve now set the mental stage, but it is of course the final act that separates suicidal ideation from an actual suicide. Baumeister speculates that behavioral disinhibition, which is required to overcome the intrinsic fear of causing oneself pain through death, not to mention the anticipated suffering of loved ones left behind to grieve, is another consequence of cognitive deconstruction. This is because it disallows the high-level abstractions (reflecting on the inherent “wrongness” of suicide, how others will feel, even concerns about self-preservation) that, under normal conditions, keep us alive.
A recent theoretical analysis by University of Rochester psychiatrist Kimberly Van Orden and her colleagues sheds some additional light on this component of behavioral disinhibition. These authors point out that while there is a considerable number of people who want to kill themselves, suicide itself remains relatively rare. This is largely because, in addition to suicidal desire, the individual needs the “acquired capability for suicide,” which involves both a lowered fear of death and increased physical pain tolerance. Suicide hurts, literally. One acquires this capability, according to these authors’ model, by being exposed to related conditions that systematically habituate the individual to physical pain. For example, one of the best predictors of suicide is a nonlethal prior suicide attempt.
But a history of other fear-inducing, physically painful experiences also places one at risk. Physical or sexual abuse as a child, combat exposure, and domestic abuse can also “prep” the individual for the physical pain associated with suicidal behavior. In addition, heritable variants of impulsivity, fearlessness and greater physical pain tolerance may help to explain why suicidality often runs in families. Van Orden and her coauthors also cite some intriguing evidence that habituation to pain is not so much generalized to just any old suicide method, but often specific to the particular method used to end one’s own life. For example, a study on suicides in the U.S. military branches found that guns were most frequently associated with Army personnel suicides, hanging and knots for those in the Navy, and falling and heights were more common for those in the Air Force.
So there you have it. It’s really not a pretty picture. But, again, I do hope that if you ever are unfortunate enough to experience these cognitive dynamics in your own mind—and I, for one, very much have—or if you suspect you’re seeing behaviors in others that indicate these thought patterns may be occurring, that this information helps you to meta-cognitively puncture suicidal ideation. If there is one thing that I’ve learned since those very dark days of my suicidal years, it’s that scientific knowledge changes perspective. And perspective changes everything. Everything.
And, as I mentioned at the start, always remember: You’re going to die soon enough anyway; even if it’s a hundred years from now, that’s still the blink of a cosmic eye. In the meantime, live like a scientist—even a controversial one with only an ally or two in all the world—and treat life as a grand experiment, blood, sweat, tears and all. Bear in mind that there’s no such thing as a failed experiment—only data.
Credit: Dr. Roy Baumeister’s Book & SA.
Guru Dutt has been my most beloved Bollywood personalities of all time. Even today, when I think about Guru Dutt, it bothers me that he is no more. Since my childhood, his immense talent fascinated me.
10th October, 1964, is considered to be one of the blackest days in the Bollywood Film Industry. This was the day when Maestro Director Guru Dutt died at his residence apparently due to overdose of sleeping pills. It left millions of his fans including myself with deep sorrow and with a sense of great loss. He was only 39 when he died. But in short span of Guru Dutts 13 year film career, he is considered to be one of very few artists who achieved tremendously in the Hindi Film Industry.
Guru Dutt, a Sarswat Brahmin, was born on 9th July, 1925, in Bangalore to a middle class Couple Shri Shivashankar Padukone and Vasanthi Padukone. His parents moved to Calcutta when Guru Dutt was a small child. Guru Dutt’s mother tongue was Konkani (a dialect of Marathi) and not Bengali or Kannada as some people wrongly think. I feel good that Guru Dutt belonged to same community as mine that is Gowd Sarswat Brahmin. Of course, he was a Sarswat Brahmin which is very close to GSB.
Guru Dutt’s creative uncle Shri B. B. Benegal had a great flair for art and music. Shri Benegal had a great influence on young Guru Dutt during his childhood days. Guru Dutt completed his Matriculation in 1941. However, due to financial constraints, he could not study any further. Guru Dutt had a great affinity towards Hindi and Bengali folk music. Guru Dutt had a natural inclination towards dancing and choreography. Shri Benegal provided Guru Dutt financial assistance to join Famous dancer Uday Shankars School of Dancing and Choreography at Almora near Nainitaal. After completing his dance training, Guru Dutt worked as a Telephone Operator in Calcutta for a short time. He left this job after a short stint and came to Mumbai to try his luck. In Mumbai, he started to organize his own dance compositions. He went to Pune and joined famous Prabhat Studios in Pune and started to work as choreographer. Along with choreography, Guru Dutt started assisting Hindi Film Directors which was his natural inclination. Dev Anand, his close friend from Prabhat days had already started his own banner. In fact, Guru Dutt met Dev Anand in one laundry shop in Pune when laundryman erroneously gave Devs shirt to Guru Dutt and vice versa and both came to the shop to get their own shirts at the same time.
During Prabhat days, Dev Anand had promised Guru Dutt that if he ever produced a film, he will give Guru Dutt a chance to direct and if Guru Dutt was to produce a film before Dev then Guru Dutt will cast Dev as a hero in his film. It so happened that Dev Anand was the first one to produce his film Baazi (1951) under his Navketan Banner and as promised, Dev Anand gave Guru Dutt a break to direct this film. This was Guru Dutts debut film as a director. With Guru Dutts able direction, Baazi, a crime thriller, was a huge success at the box office and became a trend setter for several crime thrillers those followed. During the recording of the hit song Tadbir se bigdi huwi taqdeer bana de, Guru Dutt met the singer Geeta Roy. Their friendship soon blossomed into love and Guru Dutt married Geeta Roy on 26th May, 1953, at Geetas mothers home in Santacruz, Mumbai. The couple had 3 children: 2 sons, Tarun and Varun and daughter Nina. Geeta Dutt and Guru Dutt were not at par intellectually and Guru Dutt being workaholic was not meant to have family or take family responsibilities. Due to this reason their marriage started to fall apart. Later, Guru Dutts alleged affairs with actress Waheeda Rehman also worsened the matters.
After the success of Baazi, Guru Dutt directed another crime thriller Jaal (1953). Director Guru Dutt was promoted to act as a hero in the next film Baaz (1953). But Baaz flopped miserably shaking the confidence of Guru Dutt to act as a leading man in the film. Guru Dutt then decided to launch his own company Guru Dutt Productions.
Guru Dutts breakthrough as actor-producer-director came with the film Aar Paar (1954). The entertaining crime thriller was a gutsy venture with lilting tunes by another upcoming maestro music director O.P. Nayyar who had yet to give hit music. Two heroines of the film, Shakila and Shyama were hardly major stars before Aar Paar was released. But it was Guru Dutts direction which made the film a superhit at the box office. O.P. Nayyars music created a rage among music lovers. Film Aar Paar established Guru Dutt as a director to reckon with. By now, Guru Dutt had polished his film making techniques considerably. Guru Dutt showed his strength as a great director when one looked at the way Guru Dutt fleshed out even minor characters with great skill- be it a street urchin or the newspaper stand vendor. Guru Dutt then produced Mr. and Mrs. 55 (1955) which was a light hearted comedy with beautiful actress Madhubala as the heroine. Because of O. P Nayyars lilting tunes, Mr. and Mrs. 55 was a super hit. Guru Dutt had introduced a new technique for song picturization in these successful films. And the technique was that for the first time in Hindi Cinema, the story of the movie was carried forward through the song bringing continuity in the film. Guru Dutt succeeded in replacing the repetitive ingredients of formulaic cinema with an individual and lyrical vision. Guru Dutt was a strict disciplinarian when it came to making a movie. Before the shooting, Guru Dutt would first look through the Camera to check the first shot of the day and if he did not find that first shot well enough then he would ask his unit to pack up and go home.
By now Guru Dutt had claimed a big name for himself and also earned lots of money. And this was the precise moment Guru Dutt was waiting for. For last couple of years, Guru Dutt had in his mind to produce a highly emotional social film. But he did not have enough money to indulge in such a risky project, since those were the days when most of the films which became hit were crime thrillers. So finally the time was ripe. He was looking for an emotional lyricist for this new project and he found the right lyricist who was of course none other than great Urdu poet Sahir Ludhianvi. Sahir had already penned down lyrics on social problems in his famous collection of poems in Talkhiyaan (bitterness) in 1944. Sahirs lyrics fitted the story of a film Guru Dutt wanted to produce and direct. The name of that film was Pyaasa (The Thirsty one) and it was a masterpiece. Guru Dutt never forgot to acknowledge the people whom he admired. And he dedicated his forthcoming film to the fond memory of Shri Gyan Mukherjee with whom Guru Dutt had a great affinity. The original story Kashmakash (Conflict) which was written sometime in 1947/1948 was revived with the help of Abrar Alvi with the new Title Pyaasa. Pyaasa was the best film of his career produced by Guru Dutt. It was his dream come true. It was released at the Minerva Cinema, Mumbai on 27th February, 1956. Pyaasa was a story of a Poet who longed for love, recognition from society and spiritual fulfillment while he was alive and whose poetic talent was not recognized by society and he was admired posthumously after the society mistakenly learns about Poets death. In Pyaasa, Guru Dutt lashed out at the hypocrisy of the society which in the film included his close relatives and some selfish friends. Replete with symbols, Pyaasa lamented the inability of a wicked world to comprehend the purity of a genuine soul. In Sahir Ludianvi gem, Ye duniya agar mil bhi jaaye to kya hai Guru Dutt posed as if he was at the crucifixion. In Pyaasa, Guru Dutt extracted best from 4 actors: Rehman, Waheeda Rehman, Mala Sinha and Guru Dutt himself.
Lots of film personalities had thought that Pyaasa will not succeed at the box office. This is because before Pyaasa, Guru Dutt had produced movies like Aar Paar and Mr. and Mrs. 55 and in the beginning nobody could understand completely a very different serious movie like Pyaasa. Pyaasa was somber, nihilistic film which was a marked departure from Guru Dutts earlier light-hearted romantic entertainment films Aar Paar and Mr. and Mrs. 55. As stated before, Pyaasa was a story of poet betrayed by his lover (Mala Sinha), disowned by his brothers and short-changed by his publisher. In the finale, the poet forsakes all of them and fame, seeking solace in the arms of a social outcaste, the street prostitute Gulab (Waheeda Rehman) with whom he leaves the town to go to a far place for good.
For Pyaasa, First 5 weeks of collection at the gates was very poor. By 6th week, suddenly Pyaasas fortunes changed and it became a crowd puller overnight. And with its super melodic music by Maestro S. D. Burman and superb direction and acting by Guru Dutt, Pyaasa became a raging hit and completed silver jubilee at several theaters across India. Originally, Guru Dutt had offered the main role to the then tragedy king Dilip Kumar. But Dilip Kumar backed out at the last minute, since at that time, Dilip Saab, a very big star himself, was not too sure about Guru Dutts directorial abilities. And finally, Guru Dutt acted himself in the lead role and did a superb job as the main character of the film. Earlier, Guru Dutt also wanted to cast Madhubala and Nargis as lead heroines. But ultimately, these 2 heroines were replaced by Waheeda Rehman and Mala Sinha.
It is said that Guru Dutt had instructed Music Director S. D. Burman to use minimum musical instruments within the songs. S. D. Burman exactly did what Guru Dutt wanted and yet gave very melodic music which was appropriate to the story. It is said that Guru Dutt used to visit recording studio while each song was being recorded. Guru Dutt was a perfectionist. He would never compromise with the quality no matter what. Guru Dutt thus made sure that every song of Pyaasa was composed to his satisfaction. I just wonder how Guru Dutt could conceive a serious film like Pyaasa, since Guru Dutt had a comfortable upbringing in middle class family in his real life and had never experienced bad treatment from anyone.
After the success of Pyaasa, Guru Dutt had bigger dreams. He wanted to produce yet another movie on a grand scale. And the film was Kaagaz Ke Phool, the first Cinemascope movie produced in India. In this movie, Guru Dutt actually depicted what he always feared in his real life and that was the possibility of becoming a failure. In this movie, Guru Dutt created some unforgettable visuals using ace cameraman V. K. Murthys still-admired photography.
It was ironic that during the shooting of Kaagaz Ke Phool, Guru Dutt was already in love with Waheeda and one of touchy songs Waqt ne kiya, kya haseen sitam was sung by his wife Geeta Dutt and was filmed on Waheeda Rehman. It seemed that Geeta Dutt was crying her heart out through this song, since Geeta knew that Guru Dutt was wooing Waheeda.
Kagaz Ke Phool was a story about the film directors who ultimately fails to produce successful films. Film was released at Mumbais premier theaters New Empire and Maratha Mandir on 2nd August, 1959. This film won accolades for Guru Dutt but failed miserably at the box office. And he lost Rs. 17 lakhs which was a huge amount in those days. Failure of the film was a great shock to Guru Dutt, so much so that he vowed not to direct any of his films in future. Guru Dutt had already fallen in love with Waheeda Rehman who owed a lot to Guru Dutt since Guru Dutt was the one who gave her a break in his film C.I.D. Although Guru Dutt was in deep love with Waheeda Rehman, Waheeda herself kept a distance from Guru Dutt, since he was already a married man with kids. Guru Dutt in the end was a very depressed man, since Waheeda never reciprocated. After Guru Dutts untimely death in 1964, during many personal interviews, Waheeda was asked about her relationship with Guru Dutt, but Waheeda always made it a point that she always respected him as a Great Artist and nothing else.
After the bitter experience of Kagaz Ke Phool, Guru Dutt had not still given up. And in 1960, he produced a very successful movie Chaudhavi Ka Chand which was a Muslim Social. This film was a super hit and the film filled Guru Dutts coffers. Guru Dutt finally recovered all his earlier financial losses. The title song Chaudhavi Ka Chand Ho became a raging hit (credit goes to composer Ravi). Since Waheeda Rehman never reciprocated her love to Guru Dutt, at least in the movie Chaudhavi Ka Chand, Guru Dutt elaborately picturized the song scene Chaudhavi Ka Chand ho where he is singing the romantic song to please Waheeda on the wedding night in the movie. He even colorized this song scene. This was the only piece which was colored in the entire movie. At least, Guru Dutt probably tried to derive satisfaction by enacting an elaborate wedding night scene with Waheeda within the storylines of this movie.
Devastated and disillusioned by Kagaz Ke Phools failure, Guru Dutt never signed a film with his name as director. His next film was the wonderfully atmospheric Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam (1962). To date the controversy rages on whether Guru Dutt directed this film or it was Abrar Alvi whose name appears as director in the film credits.
Sahib Bibi Aur Ghulam could not stop Guru Dutts life from falling apart: his parting with Waheeda when she tried to establish her own identity outside his films hurt Guru Dutt. A last ditch effort to reunite with his estranged wife Geeta Dutt also failed. Guru Dutt slowly started to drown his woes in alcohol never to recover again. During these depression times, Guru Dutt met Dev Anand, his old pal, expressing his desire to cast him in his next film. But Guru Dutt could not keep up that promise. He started to shoot his last film Baharen Phir Bhi Aayegi (The Spring Will Return) with himself in lead role, But after few weeks of shooting, he asked his brother Atmaram to replace himself by Dharmendra. Maybe Guru Dutt had a premonition of his death. On 10th October, 1964, Guru Dutt died due to overdose of sleeping pills at a very young age 39. His death is still shrouded with mystery. It was never conclusive whether it was an an accident or a suicide. The prevailing magic of his films even now decades after his tragic end, testifies the skill of this genius who lived much ahead of his times.
Guru Dutt is my most favorite film director. Had he lived longer, he would have definitely produced magnificent colored films with different themes. But that was not to happen since we all know that fate which is guided by destiny finally can pull the curtain on anyones life at any time.
It should be noted that along with his own productions, Guru Dutt also acted in outside productions like Twelve O Clock (1958), Sautela Bhai (1962), Bahurani (1963), Bharosa (1963), Suhagan (1964) and Sanjh Aur Savera (1964) etc. with all the famous heroines of the times.
Guru Dutts Last Day: After Guru Dutt had his differences with his wife Geeta Dutt, he moved out of his Pali Hill House to his new flat in Ark Royal on posh Peddar Road, Mumbais most expensive area. He lived alone there and was looked after by his valet Ratan, and his cook, Ibrahim. Geeta Dutt had already left his Pali Hill house and was staying with her children at her mothers house in Santacruz, Mumbai. On 9th October, 1964, Guru Dutts brother Devi Dutt had a lunch with Tanuja and Guru Dutt on the sets of Baharen Phir Bhi Aayegi. Guru Dutt was in upbeat mood that day. Guru Dutt sent his driver to get his children from Geetas house so that he could fly kites with them. Guru Dutt was very fond of flying kites. After his children arrived, he flew kites along with them. He also gave tickets to Devi Dutt for the test match between India and Australia which was to be played the next day. He then took his children and Devi Dutt to Chiragh Din (a Boutique) in Colaba, Mumbai which is a very expensive place. Guru Dutt bought lots of clothes for his children and asked his driver to drop them back to Geetas house. Children were dropped at their mothers house. Guru Dutt and Devi Dutt returned to his flat in Peddar Road. Guru Dutt even prepared omelette for Devi Dutt. He did not have a telephone in his flat since he had just acquired the flat. So Guru Dutt went to his neighbors house and called Mala Sinha in Madras. Then he called K. Asif (famous producer of Mughal-E-Azam) and asked Asif to come to his house at 10 PM for some discussion.
Guru Dutt was in very good mood that day. There were no signs of depression. Guru Dutt asked Devi to call Geeta Dutt and ask her to send the children again. Geeta Dutt was upset, since the children had already spent whole afternoon with Guru Dutt. Geeta refused to send the children that late in night since they were sleeping. Geeta told Devi that she will send the children the next day. Devi told Guru Dutt what Geeta said. At this time, Guru Dutt was drinking. He asked Devi Dutt to leave while speaking to him in his mother tounge Konkani. As Devi Dutt was about to leave, Abrar Alvi arrived at the flat. Guru Dutt was planning to build a big house and showed Abrar the model of the house. Guru Dutt then spoke to his brother Devi Dutt again and asked him to leave.
For greater part of 1964, since Guru Dutt was lonely in the flat, Abrar Alvi lived with him at his Peddar Road flat. So it was quite natural that Abrar Alvi was there on the evening of 9th October. Mr. Gole, Guru Dutts Tax Consultant, also joined both of them for dinner. At the dinner table, Guru Dutt discussed with Abrar about the last scene to be shot for the film Baharen Phir Bhi Aayegi. Guru Dutt had started drinking early that evening. Guru Dutt looked very disturbed after reading a letter from his close friend. e told Abrar that sometimes he felt that he would go insane. Abrar was with Guru Dutt until 1 AM. Guru Dutt did not open up and at the dinner table Guru Dutt had not eaten anything. He was only drinking. Then Guru Dutt told Abrar that he would now go to bed. After this conversation, Abrar left the flat.
At about 3:30 AM, Guru Dutt asked his aide Ratan as to where was Abrar? Ratan told him that after the dinner, he had left. Ratan asked Guru Dutt if he wanted him to call Abrar. Guru Dutt said there was no need to do that as it was already too late. Ratan then asked him if he wanted to fix up a drink. Guru Dutt said no to him but asked him to give him the bottle. Guru Dutt took the bottle inside his bedroom and locked the door behind him. Guru Dutt used to take sleeping pills-Sonarils, so probably he may have had a lethal dose that night just before he retired to bed. The post-mortem report stated that Guru Dutt died around 5:30 to 6 AM on Saturday, 10th October, 1964.
During the evening, Guru Dutt had also rung Raj Kapoor and had fixed an appointment with him the next day. Guru Dutt also had contacted O. P. Nayar that evening but O. P. Nayyar was not available. On the day Guru Dutt died, Guru Dutts sister Lalitha Lajmi had organized a musical evening in her home. And had hoped that Guru Dutt would attend. Famous Sitarist, Abdul Haleem Khan was invited to play classical ragas on his Sitar. Lalitha had invited Guru Dutt. But Guru Dutt had said on the phone that he felt uneasy since there would be a big crowd at the party. Guru Dutt assured his sister that he will come some other day when there was no one else around in her house. At 12 Noon, one of Guru Dutts assistant rang Lalitha Lajmi to tell her that Guru Dutt was no more. Lalitha rushed to his brothers Peddar Road flat where she saw that Geeta Dutt had already arrived and she was sobbing. Guru Dutts mother was already there too. Then first person from film industry to arrive was Dev Anand. Then all other actors came and the whole film industry was there. It was well known in the film industry that previously Guru Dutt had tried to commit suicide on two occasions but was unsuccessful. Music Director O.P.Nayyar (Guru Dutt’s Favorite MD, O. P. Nayyar was music director to 4 of Guru Dutt movies) was one of the first famous bollywood personalities to arrive at Guru Dutt’s Peddar Road flat. After arrival, he even scolded both Geeta Dutt and Waheeda Rehman for ruining the life of Guru Dutt while both were grieving while sitting next to Guru Dutt’s body. Somehow O.P.Nayyar never liked Waheeda Rehman even before this tragedy. In fact, O.P.Nayyar stated all these facts in one of his recent interviews just before his death.
Guru Dutt was lying in a peculiar position when he died. His leg was lifted as if he was about to get up from the bed. There was an unfinished Hindi novel by his bedside. And the lights were on. It was like frozen moment. They had found him at 10:30 AM in the morning. Geeta had called and asked his servant to break open the door. Later the body was taken for post-mortem and funeral took place late in the evening. Guru Dutt was dressed in a dark suit when he was taken away. His body looked so fresh excepting a tinge of blue in his ears that gave the feeling of death. Just 10 minutes before his body was being taken for cremation, Waheeda Rehman and Johny Walker arrived. Both of them were shooting in Madras when they learnt about his death and they rushed back to Mumbai in time for funeral. It is a big question whether it was a suicide or a heart failure in his sleep due to excessive dosage of sleeping pills. One still does not know what exactly happened on that fateful night. Probably, it was intentional.
Raj Kapoor helped in completing all the coroners formalities. According to customs, the funeral rites were supposed to be conducted by the eldest son. But because Guru Dutts son Tarun was so young, Atmaram (Guru Dutts younger brother) performed the last rites at Sonapur crematorium at Queens Road in Mumbai at around 8:10 PM. The brilliant director was no more.
Every newspaper and film magazines in India carried the news of Guru Dutts suicide on the front pages. Kaifi Azmi wrote a poem in tribute to Guru Dutt that was featured in Filmfares cover article. The poem Rehne ko sadaa dehr mein aata nahin koyi, tum jaise gaye aise bhi jaata nahin koyi (No one comes to stay for ever, but no one leaves as you did), aptly voiced Kaifi Azmis sadness.
Reference: Guru Dutt: A Life in Cinema by Nasreen Munni Kabir published by Oxford University Press in 1996 & Sulekha.com
Fall in love with someone who chooses you just as confidently as you choose them. Commit to the person who lifts you up whenever things get rough, the person who fights to make things work when the reality of life gets difficult and discouraging.
Fall in love with someone who sees the wars within you and not only chooses to stay, but chooses to stand by your side and help you fight them. Strive to find someone who cradles your dark, who embraces your light, someone who always wants to be your best when you yourself are not your best; someone who reminds you of every strong thing you are whenever you feel feeble.
Fall in love with someone who does not make you feel like you are hard to love. Give your heart to someone who does not call you weak for feeling so deeply, someone who adores the soft creature you are, and who fights to protect it in a hardened world.
Fall in love with someone who challenges you, who inspires you to think and feel. Fall in love with someone who ignites a wildness within you; someone who grows your mind just as much as they grow your heart.
Fall in love with someone who respects you for changing because they understand that it means you’re growing. Dedicate yourself to the person who stands in awe of how you bloom, how you flourish; someone who loves you not only for who you are, but for who you have the potential to be.
Please, do not ever settle for less. Keep waiting. Keep learning about yourself, keep trying and fighting for the heart within your chest. Keep growing and nourishing your wants, keep discovering your needs. When the time is right, you are going to fall in love with someone who will appreciate everything you stand for, who will compliment you in ways you never imagined. When the time is right, the love you have always been worthy of will flower within your life, and you will finally, finally, understand why you had to wait so long.