Thursday, December 22, 2011


Margaret and I go back a long way. In the early days we would spend hours trying to pigeon-hole her wise-cracking, horse-riding, ever-charming boy-friend into one of the categories in this book she would carry around with her. ‘What kind of a dog is your man?’, was the title of the book and we spent many happy hours wondering if one of my closest friends was a noble and Great Dane or a mere German Shepherd, or was he a wild Blue-tick or a frisky Cocker-poo.

Today, that book sits forgotten in a dusty corner of their kitchen loft where Maggie stashed the book after they got married. So Maggie and I talk about real dogs, happy marriages, Sunday barbecues, kids – the ones they should have had and the ones they will have and other happy things. Then the other day, I mentioned Surbhi and Sahil (our protagonists from last week) to wise old Maggie and she sprang a concept on me…

But hey, I forgot to tell you about Surbhi and Sahil, and how their made-in-heaven-marriage collapsed in a heap around them. So yes, they split up. We could see them pulling away into different worlds for weeks and months and years but somehow they didn’t seem to. We would bring it up and they would just smile and brush it away. Then Surbhi met this boy, one of her students who happened to be a talented dancer. He had dreams in his eyes and music in his bones. He danced and smiled but more than that, he spoke and he would listen. And when Surbhi spoke about her dreams that danced in her eyes, she noticed that the sparkle caught the boy’s eye. She didn’t remember it having caught Sahil’s eye, not now, perhaps not ever… It made her wonder if Sahil understood her. She knew this boy did.

Then we got this message from her… She had packed her bags and moved in with her student. Sahil didn’t know what hit him. He ran after her and tried to bring her back. He didn’t know where he had gone wrong. Surbhi would always look up to him, in awe. When did the plot change? When did Sahil fall from that altar, and fall so low that she didn’t even want to look back or help him up?

Many moons have passed since then. Some of us thought that Surbhi might return, but she hasn’t yet. Sahil spends his evenings talking to whoever would listen, and we all do because he is now the Sahil of old, his voice quivering with passion, his eyes looking for the light and his heart pouring out love. But the woman who waited for so long to see it all was now in another man’s arms.

When I spoke to Margaret about them, she had a theory which she had borrowed from an episode of ‘How I Met Your Mother. She called it the principle of ‘the Reacher and the Settler’. The way I understand it, here’s how this works…

In every romantic relationship, so say Maggie and her sitcom, there’s a wide-eyed reacher, (who could be the man or the woman, and let’s say it is the woman in this case), who knows that the object of her affection is way out her league, and a magnanimous settler who knows he could have gotten better but then affection, complacency, or perhaps just good old fashioned love makes him ‘settle’ for the reacher who is reaching out for all she is worth for the settler.

I wondered if that really was true, so I asked around. Funnily, it isn’t an easy question to answer. Most find it a little difficult to accept that they are the ones reaching out, and yet they find it equally difficult to accept that they settled for less than they could have. So they hemmed and hawed for a while and then went one way or the other. Meanwhile Margaret insisted that usually it is the settler who was more likely to stray, especially if life with the reacher would repeatedly remind the settler that there could have been more to life.

So was it really true, I asked myself. And between my wife and me, who was the reacher and who was the settler? It wasn’t a difficult question to answer though… Seventeen years ago, my knees were all but worn to the bone because I spent every waking hour on my knees by her side. Guess that doesn’t make me much of a settler. So a reacher I was. But then, if it is the settler who is more likely to stray, then why was I not worried and insecure about my partner? On the contrary, why did she at times tease about being the one more likely to stray? And then I remembered that I used to tease her in the same manner not so long ago. And there it was… an epiphany right there in that moment.

It dawned on me then that while every relationship has a reacher and a settler, those roles are like money in the market. In a healthy relationship, those roles change hands every few years and that is the secret to keeping a relationship alive and kicking. If couples get stuck in these roles, the relationship goes stale and is reduced to a habit. But a relationship is not a habit but a living organic dance between lovers and friends where each takes turns to lead.

And here’s the science behind the supposition. As an humble reacher, while I was jumping out of my skin and comfort zones, striving to better myself so I could measure up, inadvertently and almost imperceptibly I actually started growing into a better man. And then as the years rolled by, at a subconscious level, my partner sensed it and started playing catch-up instead. And so we played, reaching and settling and waiting to reach out again, and that is the dance of love that keeps us together, helps us grow and makes this relationship a new one every now and then.

The day we settle into our roles and stop reaching out and growing, this relationship will die. We could drag the corpse around like so many others do or just bury it the way Surbhi did, but love will surely stagnate and die, the day you stop trying.

It’ll be a new year soon, and between resolutions for losing that gut and kicking the butt, do stop and ask yourself if you are reaching out enough. And if you are the settler, ask yourself if you are you inspiring the reacher enough? And this question, dear reader will help you better all the resolutions you ever made and never kept… so stay in love and Happy New Year!


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