Deciphering A Mixed Message

October 30, 2007
Uma Ranganathan

During a recent lighthearted round of gossip with a friend we chanced upon a popular topic - extramarital relationships. One of our acquaintances who was married happened to have embarked on a relationship with a colleague. My friend H initially expressed great concern about this state of affairs, evincing horror at the way a married man could forget his commitments to his wife and carry on with another woman and so on. Gradually, becoming aware of my non-committal (somewhat amused) silence, she stopped and then gave an embarrassed giggle. She then followed it up with a non sequitor which at the verbal level made no sense to me though I could somehow understand the feeling behind it. What was evident was H’s embarrassment at this point, brought on probably by the fact that she was thinking of the same thing that I was and that was of the flaming affair she herself had had much earlier when she was well into the tenth or twelfth year of marriage, while her husband was more or less at the height of his career, and while she, her spouse and the kids managed to present to the outside world, the image of an ideal, well knit, respectable family - the kind you see in the pressure cooker ads or ads for masalas and pickles which are supposed to keep the family together.

H’s remark reminded me of the time years ago when I was in college and I used to shoot my mouth off about a whole lot of subjects I really didn’t know much about, including pre-marital and extramarital sex and how it was all a matter of freedom and choice. No doubt much of what I said then was for pure shock value so of course I couldn’t help feeling triumphant at the lengthy and pointless debates my statements got me into with M, an ultra conservative classmate with some pretty rigid beliefs on life and relationships. Exactly how pointless those debates were I found out only years later, during one of those very edifying girlie sessions with a friend who had also been a classmate, when I learned that all the time M had been playing holy mother with us, she herself had been living it up with two fellow students at the university, neither of whom she eventually married.

There is good reason for not always believing what people tell you and the more force they say something with, the less credible it sounds, at least to me. The very vehemence makes you question the veracity of a statement. Remember Colonel Fitts in American Beauty who rages at his son on the false assumption that he is a homosexual, only to later exhibit gay tendencies himself?

The lady doth protest too much, methinks.” I frequently find myself echoing the sentiments of the queen in “Hamlet.” Over-assertion of love or of loyalty for example, really makes one doubt their authenticity. On the other hand when a person claims to hate someone (especially of the opposite sex) you wonder if there isn’t another, diametrically different feeling lurking behind the apparent hatred which she/she is unaware of or trying desperately to hide. Aggression often veils something like its opposite in terms of emotion, for example fear. Hostility when you examine it, more often than not is a convoluted plea for affection, though the hostile person would hardly be able to admit that. And behind his mask of distance you find that a person you consider inaccessible, only happens to be painfully shy and sensitive.

What we end up saying or showing to the world is in fact not always what it seems to be. It is said that only seven per cent of the real meaning of a piece of communication is conveyed through words, the rest is revealed through body language, tone of voice, the odd give away gesture that sometimes belies what a person is trying so hard to convince you about. Small wonder that with so many mixed messages floating among us we are generally so short on trust in the human world. But being aware of what and how you’re communicating and trying to be aware of the possible feelings which might be sparking off another person’s words, does increase our understanding, both of ourselves and others. Eventually, you realize, it is not so much the words we exchange but this deeper understanding between us that is likely to pave the way to a more peaceful and trusting environment.

Having wandered through various fields from special education to environmental conservation, Uma has been working these last fifteen years or so as a psychotherapist, mainly in India. Along with friends and colleagues, she conducts workshops and sessions in self awareness and is looking for people who are interested in creating an environment in which people actually listen to each other. Her book “Bombay to Eternity – memoirs of a laidback Rebel” was published in 2004 by Penguin India.
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Deepti Lamba
October 30, 2007
05:55 AM

Hostility when you examine it, more often than not is a convoluted plea for affection, though the hostile person would hardly be able to admit that.

Uma, sometimes its just too hard trying to hug a hissing cat;)

October 30, 2007
08:24 AM

LOL!!! Absolutely. But then Deepti, you don't need to hug a hissing cat. Sometimes just to know why it's acting that way, helps. Ummmm.... or doesn't it?!

Deepti Lamba
October 30, 2007
08:28 AM

Yeah it does but doesn't mean I gotta hang out with that neurotic nipper!! hehehe

October 30, 2007
05:43 PM


mixed message?

heheh....thought fidelity is a straight forward business

you are with me or with that female dog or with that unwed mother's son


October 31, 2007
01:28 AM

Temp, what I meant was that people who profess to be "true" are not necessarily so. Affairs are often concealed, aren't they, so how would the partner know for sure? (Of course there is something like sensing and I think many women do know what is going on even if they find it more convenient to turn a blind eye).

Personally I have very complex thoughts on what fidelity constitutes but I think I will save them for another day. Heh heh.

Deepti Lamba
October 31, 2007
03:53 AM

Uma, its the finger pointing game. Everyone has skeleton in their cupboards but grace lies in not airing them out when their owners badger us;)

October 31, 2007
05:26 AM

Deepti, I think to a large extent a person has a right to his/her personal life (so long as murder, violence, torture etc. are not part of it). So yeah, one also has a right not to talk about certain things if one wishes not to. But if our attitude could change a bit maybe we would not need to think in terms of "skeletons" and a lot of stuff would just seem quite normal, which at present we consider too gross (or embarrassing) to talk about.

October 31, 2007
05:42 AM

To me, the definition of fidelity lies with the people involved. Some might not consider a physical extra-marital relationship cheating but might be more threatened by a non-sexual but intense emotional relationship.

And, of course, people sometimes hide who they are by pretending to be the opposite. Note the anti-gay rhetoric of some conservatives in the U.S. who turned out to be gay, for example.

Your cheating and now moralistic friend is perhaps trying to prove, even to herself, that she is now a totally different person, i.e., someone who would never cheat. Perhaps she is trying to throw others off her scent. If she thinks cheating is so rephrensible she would never do it herself, right? Interesting!

October 31, 2007
06:21 AM

people are often most critical in others of the things they dislike about themselves. it's called projection in psychological terms, and sometimes we ascribe characteristics to others they do not even have so we can criticize ourselves by abusing the other. or so we can absolve ourselves by pointing attention away from ourselves.

oh the human mind is a complex thing, innit?

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