Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 03/23/10 12:16 PM

Feature: When Does Indulgence Run out of a Relationship?

It’s a thin line between tolerance and indulgence. Sheila Kumar parses the issue at hand.

A successful relationship often has less to do with the number of things we have in common than with the number of quirks we can tolerate — Okay, the quote is from Cathy Thorne’s cartoon, but, it’s no less pertinent!

The old song goes thus: ‘Love makes the world go round’ — love between lovers, parents and children, siblings, friends, pets, and not necessarily in that order. All around us, love waxes, wanes, waxes again. Look closely, and you’ll see the cycle depends on indulgence. Sample this. Nisha finds Rohit’s Formula One fixation entertaining; he is amused by the way she answers every question with a question.

Elsewhere, Kanmani tells friends that Karthik’s habit of leaving wet towels around the house drives her mad, but there is no mistaking the good humour in her tone; just as there is no mistaking the pride Karthik takes in Kanmani’s proficiency on the salsa dance floor, given that he has two left feet himself!

Sometimes, indulgence is just another form of tolerance. When indulgence throws its velvet cloak around people, the most irksome of quirks are tolerated, even flaunted. Those quirks become the habits that, in our minds, set this one person apart from others.

Peace pipe

What others may find ridiculous, impudent and obnoxious in the indulged, the indulger sees as funny, clever, and eccentric.

This indulgence is not peculiar to couples alone. Parents allow children many liberties, telling themselves this is a passing phase; on the other side, children cut their parents a lot of slack, seeing their compulsive habits as part of the ageing process. Siblings indulge temper tantrums in their brother or sister. Friends put up with a whole lot of what one part of their intellect terms nonsense. Well, we let our pets sleep in our bed, and sometimes even eat from our plate.

Though this indulgence acts like a peace pipe of gigantic proportions, spreading affection, it can dissipate. And, when does it become thinly-veiled impatience? In the indulger-indulged equation, usually emotions rule supreme, the heart unquestioningly triumphs over the head.

The indulgence runs out gradually when the indulger starts to feel differently. He/she starts to feel taken for granted, even victimised in extreme cases. It is then that Nisha tells Rohit to get himself a life and stop watching the car races in a slack-jawed fashion. This is when Rohit curtly tells Nisha that a question is not answered by another question. Or, when Kanmani tells Karthik that she isn’t his servant; when Karthik, in turn, tells her that all that frantic salsa-ing isn’t improving her cooking skills.

Lines crossed

When the indulger-indulged relationship flounders, it brings with it a shortness of temper, a tightening of the lips, a flinty-eyed gaze, harsh words and deeds.

Counsellors recommend patience, effort, and talking things over. And, letting the mind take control over emotions. While all this does help repair matters, the sad truth is, a rift in the lute always shows up.

What can one do to avoid this? Simple — the indulger must set limits at the outset; the indulged must know never to cross those limits.

Amitabh Bachchan writes on tolerance in his blog:

What is it in humans that builds tolerance. Which section of our complicated brain tells us when our resistance is about to break. When do we develop inside us the value of perseverance. I believe we all possess small but significant amounts of each – tolerance, resistance, perseverance. Where we falter is when and how to use them!!


Amitabh BachchanFeatureFeaturesindulgencerelationships

Sheila Kumar • March 23, 2010

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