This is my all time favourite scene in one of my favourite movies, ‘Pretty Woman”.
With so many eyebrows going up, Barney Thompson, the very proper and discreet hotel manager confronts Edward Lewis, the very well heeled guest as to who Vivian, the very obvious prostitute is. Naturally, everyone knows she is not his ‘niece’.
Does it matter who she is? After all Edward is a patron and a high paying one at that and everyone knows that such things do go on in hotels.
Is it so important to label a relationship?
Quite frankly, I think it is.
And lots of people think so. Especially new comers to a neighbourhood.
Mr. Parekh who was new to the building was also knew to our ways. Coming as he did from a more ‘simple’ background, he naturally felt uncomfortable when people sized him up and down and decided that he didn’t look slick/sophisticated enough.
But he wasn’t stupid or simple. And I can’t keep my mouth shut. So when when I asked him the obviously stupid question, ” Are you new to this building?” he was thrilled Finally, he thought, here was someone who bothered to ask him who he was and didn’t treat him like a decorative piece in the lobby.
Three lift rides later, we became friendly enough so when I met him for the fourth ride, he very proudly introduced me to a pretty lady by his side ” Meet my THAT!” Luckily for him, I translated THAT as his wife and not as his sister, aunt, cousin, friend or God forbid, anyone else (since he was so new to the building that I had no idea of who his relatives were and THAT could have been any of them).
Similarly, when an old widowed, uncle walked into the lift with a young girl, he knew what was going on behind the raised eyebrows. Would she be labelled as his latest girl friend? His companion? His partner? His colleague? Or his One Night Stand?
Helps you to calibrate the interaction
A label not only helps put things in context, it also guides you in the kind of interaction that is expected.
For instance, when Mr. Parekh’s THAT introduced me to a young man in lift as “Pinky’s friend, ” I knew that I just had to nod politely and not stare too obviously.
A few month’s later , when he became ” Pinky’s Boy friend”, I could afford to give him a friendly smile of recognition and also ask him “how things were” without really bothering about the answer. Because this meant that things were hotting up. I knew that it was time to ask him questions about his mum and dad and try and see if he was worthy of being “Pinky’s Boyfriend”.
And finally, when by the end of Pinky’s college, he was introduced to everyone in the lift as “Pinky’s Fiance”, I knew it was all right to tell him how wonderful Pinky really was and what a fine family he was marrying into.
Similarly, when I am introduced to a person as Anna Shetty’s boss, I know that I shouldn’t make any bloopers nor say anything that will show her in poor light when I am introduced to Dilip, the new intern or Reshma, the aspiring anaesthetist.
Apart from determining your behaviour to different people, a label also defines expected patterns of behaviour.
When I am a daughter, I am expected to behave differently from when I am a friend, a sister, a wife or a mother. Equally other people react to me differently when they know who I am. My daughter’s friends may not call me aunty or madam, but their tone in addressing me by my given name is markedly distinct from the way in which my friends call me so.
Labels that aren’t so flattering
On the other hand, all labels aren’t so flattering.
For instance when Tiwari, the watchman downstairs calls me “Bhabhi” implying a respectful relationship by marriage between him and me, Hubby Dear positively bristles at being called Tiwari’s brother.
I myself hate being addressed as Aunty by “Beggar Boys” or “Chokra Boys” as they were known when I was growing up and ‘Sir’ by salespersons who insist on calling all customers by this androgynous title.
So Shakespeare who questioned “what’s in a name, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet ? ” didn’t quite get it right. Did he?
It matters whether you are a mother, sister, daughter or friend .
Joining up with #FridayReflections hosted by Corinne as my response to this week’s prompt ‘Do relationships need labels?’