Alcohol and outrage needn't be the answer: How men deal with rejection from women

We need to associate moving on and giving up more with masculinity.
Alcohol and outrage needn't be the answer: How men deal with rejection from women
Alcohol and outrage needn't be the answer: How men deal with rejection from women
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Going by the headlines, burying the hatchet when it comes to failed relationships seems to have become a rarity. Instead, running amok with the hatchet when it's time to call it a day has become disturbingly common.

There have been a number of reports about men - in urban and rural South India - who have been spurned by women they were interested in or men who were in failed relationships taking to violence to "teach a lesson" to the woman concerned. 

The horrifying case in a Kerala college where a young man threw petrol over himself and a woman who had rejected him, and immolated both, is the most recent reminder of this toxic masculinity. 

There are no simple answers for why this happens; it is part of the much larger fabric of patriarchy where women are devalued and revered only for their submissiveness to men. 

Malayalam director Ganesh Raj, whose first film Aanandam was a campus romance, points out that most films that come out are misogynistic: "Either we have very male-centric films where women are shown badly or we have women-centric films where there are barely any strong male characters. We don't have too many films where there is a balance and we see both genders dealing with each other with respect."

As a filmmaker, Ganesh Raj acknowledges that artists need to take up responsibility for what they depict because cinema is an influential medium. In Aanandam, the male characters handle rejection well and don't go macho on the women who rejected them.

"We've all been through this," he says candidly. "We've fallen in love, had failed relationships...and we dealt with it. So, I wanted to show that reality in my films."

And indeed, not every man who is rejected turns into a raging, lovesick monster.

34-year-old Bengaluru based Harishankar is into Equity Research. He was 24 when he got into his first relationship which lasted for 6 months. Since then, he has been in one other relationship before getting married.

"The breakup of the first relationship was the hardest for me to take because of the lack of experience," says Harishankar. 

He recalls hanging out with friends and trying to distract himself from what had happened. Harishankar calls himself an "idiot" for how he messed up the relationship and doesn't remember changing his point of view about women in general, in the time-honoured way of "soup boys".

"I was blaming myself," he says. 

Vinod*, who is now in his 30s, remembers his late teen years to be difficult: "College was a traumatic time for me since there were not one but two near relationships that ended in polite indifference. Soon after the rejection, it seemed to shatter every nice thought you've ever had about yourself."

Vinod admits that it was hard for him to watch the women settling into other relationships. "It seems the most unfair thing in the world, especially because there's no way for you to make sense of someone else being chosen over you that doesn't hurt your self-esteem."

Vinod, however, moved past his failed relationships with new understanding. "Time passes and you see that you were always seeing only one side of the story. That you never saw things from where she was standing. And then you admit to yourself that you were probably being rather stupid about it. Meanwhile, you also start to realise that there are still people in the world who like you, respect you and love you. As long as you don't get stuck in juvenile fantasies and learn to the accept the realities of life."

For Naveen, who was in a five-year relationship which his girlfriend of that time called off because she decided to marry the man her parents chose for her, moving on was not smooth. 

"I had a couple of tough months because the breakup came along with the information that she was getting married. I had so much of negative energy at my disposal. But I took up the option of hitting the gym to get over it and also spent more time with friends," he explains.

Harishankar believes it's the lack of mature support systems that lead to men indulging in violence towards women who have said no to them: "I'd say the ones who go around killing their exes can't think straight themselves. If you add lack of support systems (like mature family / friends), it's a recipe for disaster."

Naveen points out that this is about a culture of respect and has to do with upbringing. He says, "All my life, my parents have taught me to see girls with respect and I have a sister. The girl I was in a relationship with didn't see me in her life for the future. We can't force her to do something or hurt her because she wanted to leave. The problem is... men who kill women or kill themselves, the decision is taken at the flash of a moment. They need to talk to someone who they are close to and give themselves a cooling time."

Mutual respect is key, Ganesh Raj agrees. "When I made Aanandam, I wasn't trying to make a film about rejection...the film depicts relationships that way because that's what I and the men I know, believe. We genuinely respect women and that reflects in the work we do."

Moving on is easier said than done but it is a necessary part of the healing process. While alcohol, outrage, and a never say die attitude are routinely sold to us as the badges of masculinity, perhaps it's time to change the narrative and appreciate the man who knows when he should give up and can take 'no' for an answer. 

*Name changed on request

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