sanjay-02My friend PM, the Average Indian Behenji, called out of the blue to get some help on her love life, and I arranged to meet her at one of our usual places. She got right to the matter: “I think my boyfriend’s just not that into me.” I suggested she look at the pertinent literature. She refined her argument: “I feel like he’s closer to a million other people over me.”

Ah. That problem. “That’s the single most common problem in all relationships,” I reassured her, “And, easily fixed. If you can deal with a negative outcome.”

She put on a brave face, and we started.

We are analytical creatures. It’s humanity’s blessing — but it can also be a curse. Higher logic and reasoning has made us take analysis to a superlative level, allowing us to manipulate our genome and the basic elements of the universe. That skill overlaps into the social arena. What we may not realise, however, is the extent to which this is an automatic mechanism. We are constantly analysing the people we meet, whether they’re close to us or complete strangers. We are also constantly monitoring and adjusting the hierarchy of how close people are to us into a kind of intimacy database.

This intimacy database isn’t just a rating for others — it proactively determines our behaviour and reactions as well. We’ll instinctively behave more warmly, more affectionately to someone in our top ten than someone we’ve just met. The interesting thing is that the intimacy database we think we have isn’t always the one we actually have.

“Easy example,” I posed. “How many of your school friends are actually as high in your intimacy database as you pretend they are?”

She hemmed a little, hawed a bit more, and finally admitted, “None of them.”

The true intimacy database, at every given moment, is fixed. We lie to ourselves a lot, however, to ease our hearts and avoid painful and unpleasant truths. Do we really want to face the possibility that our mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, dearest friends, closest confidants and most trusted allies — are not people we actually feel close to? That we may actually look upon them as emotional strangers, perhaps even enemies? Often, we don’t want to face the truth because we’re trained in moral self-judgment and don’t look further to the root. A cursory look at the intimacy database makes us feel like we’re the bad guys, the heartless ones, for not wanting to be close to them. The truth is, there is always a good — even if subjective — reason why that person is lower in our database. And once you know that reason consciously, you can feel justified in acknowledging that you don’t want them so close to you.

“Your boyfriend,” I continued. “Is he kind of ‘bros before hos’?”
“Yes!” she exclaimed.
“And you?” I could see her squirming. “You’ve never talked about your sex life with your boyfriend to another girl?”
“We-ell…” she stammered.
“And most of your real issues and problems, do you discuss them with him or go to someone else?”
“Uh…” she hesitated.
“And when you’re with people do you team up with them against him, even as a joke?”
“Ya, just for fun!” she protested.
“You’re half the problem. If you really want to be together, you have to break the social programming and give intimacy a real shot. Go to him with your important stuff. He’ll sense it. If he’s a bit slow then you bring it up in concrete terms. And if he’s still reluctant then you need to consider moving on.” I checked my watch. “Good enough for you? My 7 o’clock is here.”

PM looked up to see VD (he of the unfortunate initials) as he tripped into our booth. “What’re you in for?” he called out to PM.
“Intimacy matters,” she said as she gathered her stuff. “You?”
“Same.” He turned to me. “Dude, I think I picked up something from that call centre chick…”

PM made a hasty exit as VD and I settled in to discuss the state of his sexual health. Another typical Thursday evening.