My daughter casually asked me last evening," Mummy, did you have a boyfriend in college?"
I was - let me admit - a bit taken aback.
Of course, I have always told myself, I will be open and frank in discussing anything and everything with her. I won't ho-hum when it's time to have the 'conversation' my mom attempted when it was rather too late. Not that it was actually a conversation.
The gist of the mother-knows-best lecture was: "Boys want only one thing... be careful... save yourself for marriage..." Wisdom from a different time and era, which addressed none of the *real* issues.
So I'm glad that she can ask me such questions without a hint of embarassment. But at 5 years and 10 months of age? Um, I wasn't quite prepared...
Still, I decided to be truthful and said "Yes."
But it didn't stop at that. "What was his name," she wanted to know.
Here, I ducked - for now - by claiming, "I've forgotten his name, beta.... " and she didn't pursue the matter any further.
Why did I lie? Because I really don't have good memories of that first boyfriend. But the relationship did teach me some important lessons which I shall, from time to time, attempt to imprint into her impressionable young head.
It's all about respect
I think the immediate stimulus for Nivedita's 'boyfriend' question was a conversation the RJs were having on Radio Mirchi which we happened to be tuned to:
RJ1: Aapka favourite college kaun sa tha?
RJ2: Mine was Podar
RJ2: Because of the girls yaar!
In Nivedita's mind, going to college and having a boyfriend are becoming firmly interconnected. This is something she has picked up from the movies and TV she's been exposed to. Not that I don't try to make sure she watches stuff 'appropriate for her age' but hell, even Popeye and Mickey Mouse have girlfriends...
What I want her to internalise is this: It's wonderful if you do happen to meet and vibe with someone in a special way when you join college. But perfectly OK if you don't. And that 'everyone has a boyfriend' is not the right reason, at all.
I, for one, know I was in love with the idea of being in love. My first foray into Boyfriendland was an absolute disaster! The bloke was a good looking, crew cut NDA cadet and had a nice bike. But he was an absolute ditz in the IQ and ethics department.
Yet, even when I knew he wasn't quite the guy I should be wasting my time on, it was very hard to break up. Because 'someone' is better than no one.
Which is wrong. No one is better than a relationship which lacks respect.
And you might think that this is something everyone knows, but I see many many young people stuck in these kind of relationships - justifying them for this very same reason.
The greatest love of all, as Whitney Houston once sang, is learning to love yourself. And that, dear Nivedita, is what I want for you before you go out and find yourself a boyfriend...
And yes, boys do really want 'only one thing', but that will be the subject of another conversation. Watch this space!