Enhancing my experience of myself
Could I deny myself the privilege of being exquisitely matched by someone whose practice of masculinity is the opposite of fragile
In a few days it will have been almost exactly a year since I casually 'met' someone. I remember the preceding hours to the tee. I was in the Eau & Gaz apartment in Eppan/Appiano with my co-residents Elif and Masa. We had committed ourselves to getting high; bitching, no, ranting about the general immaturity of men, and how their conditioned proclivities towards a certain state of invulnerability served as barriers to any potential intimacy; and dancing to reggae. Later that evening, after a trippy performance at the Lanserhaus, in which fabricated non-gender specific garments were progressively worn, inhabited, and shed by a group of dancers, the result of an art piece conceived by Helena Dietrich and Janneke Raaphorst, I found myself spending over 45 minutes conversing with a boy from Tramin who looked so remarkably like Littlefinger from Game of Thrones that I was convinced he was as arrogant and scheming. A week later we went on a "date"; the best in my life because I found for the first time the atmosphere to be so convivial that I could shamelessly and fearlessly be "myself". On Wednesday evening, as we occupied a table at a coffee shop in Kaltern/Caldaro, a picturesque town 10 minutes away from his home in Tramin, which I have been co-inhabiting since the beginning of May, I thought of that innocuous evening that would end up dramatically altering the trajectory of my life. Little did I know...
I was stuffing my face with pastry to curb my evening hunger. He was sitting across from me, reading on his Kindle. I was dipping into MFK Fisher's 'The Gastronomical Me'. In between we'd pause to exchange notes; about his experience of living in a climate heavily punctuated by seasonal changes as against my upbringing in Mumbai, where the only dramatic intervention was the annual monsoonal anticipation; about the finer culinary footnotes that facilitated lightness in a Pressknodel, the South Tirolean dumplings he'd prepared for lunch, which he'd submerged in stock; revelations I'd had about how I wanted to spend the rest of my 30s acquiring all kinds of skills as against accumulating degrees; how we both worked better under the pressure of deadlines. When the evening sun shrouded itself behind the surrounding Alpine ranges and a chill began to set in, we decided it was time to return home. As we began to put our things away, I remembered a long-standing fantasy I'd had, one of few involving not being 'single', in which I imagined my ideal partner as someone I could be alone with. And here I was, in another continent, so eerily joyous, having found someone with whom I could so securely and ecstatically share my autonomy.
Because our relationship unfolded digitally, since our date took place two days before I was to leave Italy last year, it's hard to pin down exactly when I "fell in love". Part of the struggle lay in my acknowledging that this was in fact an empowering love, and not one in which I might lose my sense of self. Sometime in October, after having spent two weeks together in the same residency apartment in Eppan/Appiano, because we'd both concluded that it was vital to explore the contours of our feelings for each other, I decided, consciously, to dive in, to embrace the risk. Since then, my life has been convoluted, because I've been circumambulating around a singular dilemma — how to maintain my ideological commitment to singlehood while allowing myself to indulge in such a previously unforeseen situation being in a miraculously un-complicated relationship? After having written about my marked preference for being single over dating or seeing men who were too intimidated by my personality, or too timid to confront the alpha-ness of my closest circles of female friendship, or too insecure to attempt intellectual conversation, or to call me out on my own hypocrisies, I was suddenly confronted with this unprecedented situation. The universe itself placed in front of me someone who was unabashedly like my equal in every conceivable way. Could I deny myself the privilege of being exquisitely matched by a linguist-farmer, someone who exudes kindness, whose practice of masculinity is the extreme opposite of toxic or fragile, who earned his livelihood from the sweat of his brow?
The only way forward I could perceive was in swallowing my 'single' pride and allowing myself to be nurtured. Did this mean I'd succumbed to the heteronormative narrative of being coupled? For a long time I wondered if I was betraying my feminist un-conditioning by emotionally investing in a man, in accepting that his presence in my life has been utterly transformative. Right now, as I survey his kitchen, two cutting boards with chopped onions, garlic and sliced boiled potatoes, which he will cook with the carvings of meat from last afternoon's stock, and wait for the church next door to ring the 11.30am bell, and know that precisely at noon I will be fed by him because he insisted he would cook today to offer me the luxury of unencumbered writing time, I feel quite confident that my decision to be with him is the most selfishly feminist one I've ever made. No, he doesn't complete me. He simply enhances my experience of myself, punctuating the already heady quality of my happiness.
Deliberating on the life and times of Everywoman, Rosalyn D'Mello is a reputable art critic and the author of A Handbook For My Lover. She tweets @RosaParx Send your feedback to
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