Who is and can be a friend? While we all agree that a friend is someone who knows us better than we know ourselves and stands by us in times of need, we have certain set notions about the friendship bond.
We believe that we can be friends with people who are not related to us. We therefore form friendships with people from our locality, school, college, office and so on.
Another belief associated with friendship is that there are certain people in our lives who we can never be friends with, for instance our exes, distant relatives and in-laws. How many of us can are friends with our third cousin or brother-in-law? You see, they are our relatives and the relationship has to be strictly formal.
However we actually came across people who have proved these notions wrong and formed friendly alliances with their exes and relatives.
The EX factor
It’s a brutal truth that we cannot be friends with our exes. The break up makes the matter quite complicated; we find it difficult to maintain a healthy relationship without bringing up the past or the heartbreak we’ve been through. Of course, a lot also depends on the kind of relationship we shared with the other person and how ugly the break up was.
But psychiatrist Dr Avinash Waghmare tells most of his patients to not be friends with their exes. “That’s for two reasons — one, there could be several repercussions of being on talking terms with them, like you might want to give the relationship a second chance and secondly, if the other person has moved on in life, their present partner might have problem accepting your friendship. It might unnecessarily complicate matters,” he says.
But then there have been instances where exes have turned out to be good friends, like we recently saw TV actors and former couple Narayani Shastri and Gaurav Chopra appear together on a talk show. The two were in a relationship for many years but on the show Narayani said, “Gaurav and I had a very open relationship. When you tend to be friends with your ex, it is awkward initially because you are moving from one phase to another, but then you get used to it.”
Srijeet Sengupta, 35, a software developer, believes that the argument ‘exes can’t be friends’ is so redundant. “I mean why not? A person who was once such an important part of your life, was your soulmate, a person who knows all the good, bad and ugly about you, is the one you wouldn’t want to let go of, even if the romantic relationship with him/her didn’t work out. My girlfriend and I ended our relationship 5 years ago on a sour note, but this didn’t change the fact that we are extremely compatible as friends which we could never be as lovers,” he says.
He adds that though both have moved on in their lives and have stable partners now, the bond of friendship that they share today is very strong.
“Many would find it weird but I would like to say it loud and clear that we often meet each other alone, it never gets awkward, nor do we feel tempted to get intimate with each other merely because we were, when we were dating each other. And that’s the power of friendship! We are there for each other in adversity, through thick and thin and I don’t consider it as cheating on my partner because she knows I’m true to her and my friendship with my ex is benign and pure.”
According to Rebant Jacob, Third officer, Merchant Navy, when it comes to such relationships, at least initially it is very important to set up ground rules and understand each other’s comfort level. “And friendship too depends on that. My partner and I had the same friend circle. So when we ended the relationship, it was but obvious that we had to face each other, whether we liked it or not. Considering the fact that we were in college, we could not split up the group just because things were not working out for us,” says Jacob, adding, “Though people say it could be emotionally challenging, for us, it wasn’t so for us. Being friends with an ex is not tough, provided you both are on the same page. That kind of maturity comes with age and experience. And now, when we look back, we both believe it was merely puppy love.”
Jacob however stresses that even though they are friends, he likes to maintain a distance. “So, there is no awkwardness whenever we meet and even when her husband is around. After all, all it takes for a friendship to be rooted is understanding and trust,” he says.
So remaining friends with your ex flame is about setting rules and understanding how far you can go. If two people are comfortable sharing a bond post their breakup without a mess, why not? But the line has to be drawn, for their own good and that of their partners.
Distant relatives (uncles, aunts and cousins) are a reality in our lives. Because of the term distant, we automatically become detached from them after a point. They are the guests whom we like to meet for a few minutes once a year. But this need not be a rule. Distant relatives can be friends too. Psychiatrist Dr Sayantani Mukherjee says that because of nuclear families, we are are not being able to connect with our relatives.
“Any bond or friendship happens when there is an interaction but because we are mostly living in nuclear families today, we are hardly interacting with our extended families. In addition to that, there is competitiveness (our parents keep telling us, ‘Look at your cousin, s/he has scored this music or got a job with so-and-so company’),” she says.
According to Dr Mukherjee, if interaction is an issue, then it’s up to the parents to work on it. “The parents have to decide what kind of relationship they want their child to have with their distant relatives. If they can create a strong bond between the relatives and their child, it will eventually become stronger over time,” he says.
In fact, a study in 2014 by a group of scientists says that on an average, close friends are likely to be as genetically related to one another as fourth cousins who share the same great, great, great grandparents. If that’s the case, being friends with one’s 3rd or 4th cousin shouldn’t be a huge task.
Entrepreneur Gargi Limaye says that in spite of her extended cousins and relatives leading their separate hectic lives, they make it a point to meet regularly. “We had a great childhood and till we were in our teens, we used to meet regularly. In fact, no bitterness or quarrels among the elders would ever affect our relationship. Now because we all lead busy lives, we sometimes end up not interacting with each other for months but we still share the same bond. If they get to know that I have a boyfriend via social media, it doesn’t affect our relationship. I think we have to make the effort to be connected with each other,” she says.
Parag Nikam, entrepreneur, who comes from a close-knit family, echoes her statement. “My grandfather had three brothers. So we are a big family and we are very close to each other. In fact, if there is a function in the family, everybody’s view is taken into account and it doesn’t matter who is sharing the opinion. We meet every weekend and regularly go on trips. Since the time I grew up, I have spent time with my cousins and relatives only.”
He however adds that there is a flip side to it. “Sometimes I do miss not being able to spend time with my friends on weekends and things get monotonous too but it’s completely alright. It depends on our priorities and when you have such a great family, you know that there are people you can fall back on,” he adds.
To sum it up, if you share a healthy relationship with your relatives, they are the ones who will stand by you during the good and bad times. Who else will come at 3 am if there is an emergency? Where else can you leave your pet without being worried about its well-being, if not at your cousin’s place? A little effort on the part of both can turn this relationship into a life-long friendship.
Exes and cousins are still fine but in-laws as friends? Hard to imagine for many, perhaps. “Many of us have preconceived notions about our in-laws that they will be horrible and treat us badly. This stops us from creating a bond with them,” Dr Mukherjee says.
The saas-bahu soaps on Indian television have further fuelled these regressive stereotypes — the mother-in-law who promises to never let her daughter-in-law live in peace because she feels that the ‘bahu has taken over my son’s life’, the sister-in-law who never falls short of ideas to make her bhabhi look like a villain in front of the family, and so on.
“Subconsciously, such prejudices play on our mind. So most have difficulty accepting the in-laws in their lives,” says Waghmare.
Not every individual or family is forthcoming in accepting the other person, and it applies to both the parties, believe experts. “There are families who ill-treat their daughter-in-law and there are girls who treat their in-laws badly which creates a rift in the relationship. It needs maturity in both the parties to treat each other with respect,” adds Mukherjee.
Rochana Sengupta, a Research Fellow living and working in Kolkata, has been married for 11 years. She not only spends her birthdays, anniversaries and important days with her in-laws but the family also goes on holidays together very often.
“It was my mother-in-law who took the initiative to welcome me into the family wholeheartedly. She has maintained that because she hasn’t got the same kind of love and respect from her MIL. She didn’t want to treat her daughter-in-law in the same manner. Luckily, my husband’s entire family, including his brothers, sisters-in-law, uncles and aunts are very warm people and in no time, I developed a bond with them. I didn’t have to make any extra effort since it was a two-way affair. After all these years, we not only like to spend time together but share our problems and deepest emotions with each other too,” says Sengupta.
Not many start this way though. There are some who take time to develop the bond, just like Aparna Roy, a homemaker and part-time model. Roy has been married for 10 years. She says that because she belonged to a nuclear family, initially she had issues adjusting to her husband’s family. “Though my husband is also a single child, he has a big extended family and they are all very close to each other. Even in Mumbai, he has many relatives and cousins who keep meeting every alternate week or at least once a month,” she says.
Her in-laws took a lot of effort to make her feel part of the family, she recalls. “They have been very encouraging and over the years, we learnt to party, drink and have a good time together. No one interferes in other’s life which makes things even more easy. In fact, they encourage me to take up more modelling assignments and praise me when they see my pictures in print or on banners,” says Roy, adding, “If I hadn’t accepted their friendship and had been stubborn in leading a lonely life only with my husband and son, things wouldn’t have been the same. I would have missed out on such good friends.”
In-laws are an integral part of our lives and slowly but surely, we can become friends with them.