Laugh Like Her

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I’m a 26-year-old living in Singapore working a job that takes me to different countries. I buy clothes every weekend and complain about how many nights of wine and cheese my colleagues throw in lieu of a party.

I post pictures of me with large groups, great food and brilliant surroundings. I spent an evening in Paris at an apartment one street away from the Eiffel Tower with women who are so strong and brave, it’s unrealistic. You saw the champagne, you saw the image, you never saw the truth.

Welcome to the facade of us happy working women.

“I met the CEO of a fancy company. He introduced himself to me.” – I saw the CEO of a fancy company. I stood around awkwardly while he spoke to my boss because I was too embarrassed to introduce myself and so I just stared for a half-hour and he ended up being really nice and introduced himself to me.

“I went to Paris. My office sent me.” – I went to a small town that’s a one hour drive away from Paris where I didn’t realize things shut down on Sundays and has very limited vegetarian options all 7 days of the week. I lost a lot of weight and developed severe ulcers when I came back.

“Oh my God! I feel so bad. Are you okay?” – I don’t know how to care. Sometimes, I think it’s a flaw. Sometimes, I think it’s normal and we’re all like that.

Because, come on…

When someone falls down, do you actually care? Do you rush out of reflex because society has taught you to ask how they are, let them know you can help and pretend you give a fuck about anyone but yourself or is it because your heart actually hurts when you see someone fall?

I don’t. Not unless I really truly care. Which is so fucking rare. Because I’m in constant competition with everyone I know since I was in first grade. “I have to be better. I have to score higher. I have to look hotter.” You know what? Fuck that shit. Here’s the truth.

I have high-functioning depression. I see a therapist once a month. I fight with my friends every other day. I’m jealous of girls and their laughter even though I know it’s all fake, just like mine.

I spend endless hours staring at blank pages. I travel one hour in two trains to reach eight hours of work before I travel one hour in two trains to come back home and cook. I haven’t slept for 8 whole hours in a very long time. I don’t think I’m drinking enough water anymore. I don’t know if I’m eating the right things. I think I’m weak. I’m scared to check. My eyes are tired. My body is sore. My heart has been breaking in pieces for months. I’ve been staring at a draft of a second book that I can’t bring myself to edit.

I want to get married. I can’t admit it. Because it’s weak. Women don’t need men in their lives. Women are strong. Women can survive alone. But holy fuck, how desperately I want to live under one roof and play house.  Sometimes, I think it’s the companionship. Sometimes, it’s because, fuck you strong and independent, I want to be a wife.

I’ve been studying GMAT. For months. I suck at it. I want so badly to get good at it. So I pick up the book and my phone rings and I try to spend time with human beings in actual conversation but my emails go off and I want to be a good employee who responds to my boss past midnight and I remember my book that I would really really like to edit but then it’s past 1am and I have to be up at 6am and I want so desperately to sleep.

So I do none of it. I turn music on and slowly cry.

Sometimes I stare at my Instagram. Sometimes I stare at hers. I don’t know whose smile is fake. Whose laughter is painful. I don’t know whose life is a lie.

But we all want to say, “Mine.” Because I cried when I went home but I bet she laughed and loved.

I sobbed alone into my pillow but I bet he shares hers.

I broke down every night but I bet she partied forever.

Her life. Her travel. Her hair. Her nails. Her boyfriend fiancé. Because didn’t you see that ring? Didn’t you see his proposal? I did. They’re meant to be together. Maybe we’re not. They never fight. Oh, you should hear us growl.

So here we go. I’ll try this again.

I’m a 26-year-old living 3000 miles away from the people I love on a routine that leaves no time for me. I work a job that takes me to countries I can’t explore because I’m always broke. I buy clothes I can’t afford, credit card bills ceiling to floor and that free wine? It’s my one true lifeline.

I love my job. It’s the only thing that keeps me going.

But that’s the only thing you’ll ever hear me complain about.

Because, that’s the new normal, right? We’re supposed to have perfect lives and shitty jobs but it pays for the perfect life and so it’ll be yet another thing I continue to lie about?

I have a messy life.

I have shitty interpersonal relationship skills.

I have one best friend.

I’m worried sick about my aging dogs that live with my aging parents.

I’m worried sick about my aging parents.

I want to be rich through my capabilities as a creative thinker in the world of writing and advertising and marketing.

I don’t really know what I’m supposed to be doing.

I’m anxious 90% of my existence and you know what I do when I am?

I log on to Instagram. To look at lives I am not living. To look at lies we’re both saying.

I follow a lot of happy looking women on Instagram. Because my inspiration is not their clothes or their face or their bodies. It’s that laughter.

And so I go…

In a crowded train, early Monday morning. Staring at my phone. I find myself wonder…

What an incredible life it will be… if only I could laugh like her.

And I post yet another fake picture.

Welcome to my lie.

I Don’t Believe In Women’s Day

Screen Shot 2018-03-08 at 12.13.41 PM.pngI’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

If you’ve wished me, I’ll wish you back because you believe in it and I won’t ruin it for you. But I will not buy into the facade that you’ve dedicated an entire day for me when the remaining 364 days of the year, I have to walk around afraid of what label you’re about to give me.

“Celebrating women, their beauty and their strength!” – Forward message of the day. Really?! How? How are you celebrating our beauty and our strength? By whistling at us? By winking at us? By grabbing us? By making kissing faces at us as we walk to our car in broad daylight with our father less than two feet away? By telling us children aren’t a choice? By judging us for not being married? By labelling us for dating? By relating the respect we deserve to the number of times our vagina has been touched?

You’re right. Not all men do this. But almost all women go through it. So good for you that you’re not all bad. But there’s enough of you to ensure we’re ALL suffering from the perverseness and your belief that you have the right to choose for me.

To choose my career – when it begins, when it ends, how far I go, how much money I make,
To choose my marriage – who I marry, when I marry, how big my wedding is, how long the wedding lasts,
To choose my role as a parent – if I can be a working mom, if I can be a full-time mom, if I can be the only parent who gives a fuck and changes diapers, IF I WANT TO BE A MOM,
To choose what I want done to my body – if I want to get tattoos on it, if I want piercings on it, if I want you to touch it, if I want you to admire it, if I want you to take pictures of it, if I want you to fuck it,

You believe you have the right to choose it all for me.

So where, in all of this, are you celebrating me?

From the moment I wake up until I fall asleep, I have to watch what I eat, how I look, how I smell, how I laugh, how I stand, how I sit – because you can’t keep your eyes, your hands, your words, your thoughts and your penis to yourself.

But hey! I have a day to celebrate me!

And it’s not just the men. Women label each other, too. Sometimes, we can be the worst kind of hypocrites. She’d show up at her house past midnight every night but, “Hey! Did you know that other girl’s out late every night? Someone’s a little slut!”

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard a woman bitch about another, I’d be buying myself that Rolex right now.

Because having the latest gossip gives you street-cred. Knowing who is currently sleeping with whom makes you the talk-of-the-town. Because sometimes, the only way to get attention for yourself is to focus on someone else’s life.

The truth may be a hard pill to swallow. But if you can’t relate to the above, you’re probably the one doing it.

I mean, it’s so nice to sit at your favourite restaurant on a pleasant day with your best friend, updating each other on your other friends’ lives, isn’t it? “Oh she gained so much weight,” comes so naturally. That’s not bitching. That’s updating. Right?

But is it?

Remind yourselves of your conversations with this person. Have you ever mocked someone? Have you ever talked ill about someone?

Newsflash: If you’re an adult, chances are your best friend has another best friend and if she’s bitching about her to you, she’s bitching about you to her. Doesn’t feel good, does it? To know that you’re being spoken about? Yeah, I thought so.

It’s the year 2018. I’m a 25-year-old afraid to speak her mind, afraid to wear what I want, afraid to hold my boyfriend’s hand in public, afraid to show up home late, afraid to post pictures of alcohol, afraid to walk outside once it’s dark, afraid to scream at that asshole driver and afraid to live my life without watching every little thing I do. Because I’m not just afraid of the men and their minds and their hands.

I’m afraid of both the genders. Because being violated physically is horrifying but that doesn’t mean gossiping about me and saying mean things behind my back while calling yourself a friend to my face is great.

You feel like celebrating Women’s Day?

Then do it the right way.

Teach your children (and yourself, if necessary) the freedom of choice. Not the freedom for you to choose for me. But MY freedom for ME to make MY OWN CHOICES.

For something as simple as being able to wear my favourite pair of shorts without having to worry about what man is looking, what man’s going to corner me on the street, what he’s going to say, what face he’s going to make or if he’s going to come touch me against my wishes. And without having to wonder if at that moment you’re looking at me and smiling, you’re also texting your other best friend – fat-shaming, name-calling and mocking me.

Until then, I’m calling this day what it is…

A SHAM.

The Difference

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Yesterday, walking out of a hospital at 11pm, I had to walk around the building to get to my Dad. The road was empty and three young men walked towards me. My reflex thought was, “How do I escape?” But they walked past me like I was invisible and I realised, it’s in my head. I was not scared because they looked aggressive or scary. They looked like normal young men who I’d probably befriend in broad daylight. What actually scared me was that it was 11pm and I’m a girl who was out past social curfews.

Today I found an article about a journalist who interviewed 100 convicted rapists. One part of the article really got to me – “In the interviews, many men made excuses or gave justifications for their actions. Many denied rape happened at all. “There were only three or four who said we are repenting. Others had found a way to put their actions into some justification, neutralise, or blame action onto the victim.””

The article also quoted her saying how many didn’t know that it was rape because their society hadn’t taught them the difference. It made me think.

I can’t justify rapists due to lack of knowledge. I’m never going to say, “Oh you’re right. Society made rapists do what they did.” No. I know men who wouldn’t do that. They come from the same society.

But we can’t ignore our role in it. My world taught me to be safe after dark. “It’s 8pm, where are you?” is such a normal question to me. “We live in a neighbourhood where people notice. You can’t be walking in so late at night. What will they think of you?” – If I could have a dollar for every time I heard that, I’d be flying private to a penthouse in Manhattan today.

My parents cared so much about the faceless society that they have often chosen what the society would think over my happiness. I tell myself, “Oh I can’t wait to live away so I can live as I please.” But I can’t. My mother’s voice is stuck in my head and so I will continue to live the rest of my life in fear of “What will they think?” The things that make me happy will also make me guilty. The things that I enjoy will also make me scared.

I never stop worrying of the day I would have to explain to my husband about my ex-boyfriend. What do I say? It was nothing? It was a childish thing? But it wasn’t. Yet, if I tell the truth, he won’t marry me. I don’t know how to nod my head yes. What if my husband hates that? What if he hates me?

“Don’t play that sport. Don’t jump so high. Don’t climb walls. Don’t join gymnastics. Careful with the yoga.” Because – WHAT IF MY ENTIRE LIFE, ALL THE MAGICAL MOMENTS I COULD POSSIBLY HAVE WITH THE ONE WHO WILL HOLD ME CLOSE – EVERYTHING VANISHES THE MOMENT MY HYMEN BREAKS BECAUSE OF A REASON THAT DIDN’T INVOLVE MY HUSBAND?

My life has been a series of careful moments to keep myself ‘intact’ for a man I am yet to meet. And in that, I have struggled to find the things I really want to do. Because it’s always about what he might someday want. I have been told repeatedly that having a child is not my choice. It is not a mutual decision. It is his choice. If he wants one, I need to have one. I can’t say No. And that’s part of the problem.

Teach your daughters to be their own people. Let them have their likes, their dislikes. His likes are not her likes. His life is not her life. Even if she’s married, if she wants to say NO, she has the right to say NO. Don’t raise submissives that a man will “want” to marry. Screw him if he doesn’t want someone who knows how to think for herself. EXPECT MORE OUT OF YOUR DAUGHTERS.

My biggest worry today when my father says, “But you’re old enough to be married,” is ‘If I were a guy, I’d be expected to do more with my life.’ Expect them to achieve their own form of personal success. If it’s marriage, good for them. If she comes home crying, don’t send her back to him. Acknowledge her problem. She’s your daughter!

And teach your sons to put it in their pants. Unless a girl – sober and in the right frame of mind – says YES, it automatically means a NO. No excuse they conjure up while sitting in prison justifies a man who enters another’s personal space without their permission.

Don’t tell them they are better because they have a penis. They’re not. Genitalia does not make a human being better. Their behaviour and manners towards another human being does. You expect your daughters to be kind hearted and caring. Expect your sons to be the same. Nothing wrong with him being treated like his sister. “He’s a boy,” is no excuse. It never should have been.

Don’t blind him to the truth by encouraging an ego that doesn’t need to exist.

Teach him that his wife is a fellow human being. She is not made to serve him after a long day. He is not “providing” for her care. That’s someone you employ. Not someone you marry. You can’t teach a man the difference between consent and rape if you tell him that one day he is going to find a girl who has dedicated her entire life to serve him well. She is a PERSON. Not a sex toy he uses as he pleases. Teach him the difference.

And no. That doesn’t mean I’m trying to say, “Oh marriage is terrible. Keep your daughters away from men. Men are horrible people.” Absolutely not. There’s nothing wrong in keeping the people in your life happy. I’m happy when I make him happy. But it can’t be the ONLY reason I’m ever happy. Teach your daughters that.

As a society, mind your own fucking business. Want to talk? Talk about problems that aren’t someone’s daughter having a boyfriend or turning up late. Talk about our screwed up political system. About suicides. About RAPE. And talk loudly. Let your children hear and know what to do and what not to do.

And maybe, just maybe, we might have a better country that way.

Crimson Tide

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I remember that day like it was yesterday,

My mother called my father and we went home again.

“You’re lucky we spotted it.

Bring some rice, Magesh. You please sit.”

 

Four days after that day,

Family and friends came to celebrate.

“This isn’t a joyful occasion,” I screamed.

But you see,

My first period is a sign of my reproductive capability.

“And it’s tradition to celebrate it.”

Or so she said.

 

“Do not enter the kitchen.

Do not hang out with men.

Do not run or exercise.

Just those four days be quiet.”

 

If I’d lived by their rules, I’d have failed every class,

Made no friends,

Met no men.

If I’d lived by their rules, I wouldn’t have lived at all.

But I had a father who hated tradition,

“She wants water, she’ll walk into the kitchen.

She’s not a princess, you’re not her boss.

It’s just her period. It doesn’t change it all.”

 

Eleven years later,  headed to a party,

A colleague stood by me.

As I bought *shhh*, the other nudged my shoulder,

“Told you not to buy it.”

Please do tell me – DOESN’T HIS WIFE GET HER PERIOD?

 

I’ll be honest,

My moods do change

My emotions run high

My irritation stays.

But here’s the thing – it’s not always about those four days.

 

When I’m angry, I’m not bleeding.

When I’m crying, I don’t have cramps.

When I’m flustered, I’m not PMS-ing.

When I’m laughing, it hasn’t passed.

 

So don’t ask me if it’s “one of those days”

Don’t roll your eyes when you see me cry.

Don’t talk about pads like a sinful secret,

It’s not shameful. I don’t have to hide.

 

So I get my period,

There’s no reason to lie.

It’s just another day.

It’s just a Crimson Tide.

Dear Beautiful

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Dear beautiful,

How you doing today? If the answer is great, I’m happy for you. If the answer is bad, let’s fix it. Because I’ve had those days too. And I’d have loved the help too.

I didn’t know how to say these words to you. I’m not the best at giving a speech. So I thought I’d write them down and let you read.

I get it. We may look different but we suffer the same. Whether we’re openly emotional or we dump it within ourselves, we feel the same. Whether we fit into that dress or have to have it custom ordered to our size, we love ourselves the same. With a little doubt. A little insecurity. A lot of wishful thinking.

You may not feel like you’re doing the best you can – at work, at home, in a relationship. You feel unsure. You have those moments when you wonder if anyone cares. And when they do, the acceptance is a task, not easy.

You do all these wonderful things that people compliment you for but you don’t see it. It’s not significant. It’s not changing lives or the world. So you sigh in silence as you hope to be someone else. The TV version of a woman who spends her silent nights, wishing the way you do, to be someone else she sees too. But you don’t know that.

Because how can she be that and this? How can you?

There’s a room filled with paper boxes. Each with a label – Strong, career woman. Submissive, housewife. Opinionated, judgemental. Open-minded, troublesome. Rebel, anti-establishment. Goody two shoes, daddy’s daughter. Abusive, vicious. Abused, liar.

You can only fit into one of these. You can’t be stunning and insecure. You can’t be successful and homely. You can’t have a career and a family. You can’t. You Can’t. YOU CAN’T.

Stop. Stop listening to those voices. Stop letting yourself believe them. Stop underestimating who you can be.

And never stop.

In a world that focuses so much on labelling who you are and what you do, never stop being your authentic self.

Around people who tell you your choice is a mistake, never stop taking chances.

When the ones you love try to hold you back in the name of care, never stop breaking free.

And that dream? The one that you shrug about as nothing but an unrealistic wish when deep within you want it more than anything you could imagine? Never stop chasing it.

This world isn’t a kind place to us. Yes, it’s harsher to some more than others. But that doesn’t make it better. For you to get where he has, you’ll work twice as hard and be overlooked twice as much. Don’t let that keep you down.

Don’t compare who you are to who she is.

She might get ahead of you faster than you got to where you are. Don’t hate her. There are enough people in this world to tear us down. Let it not be ourselves. We need each other today more than ever before. We need each other to fight for ourselves and the ones beside us. The ones who can scream and the ones who succumb. The ones who laugh and the ones who cry.

You may count yourself insignificant in a fight to prove ourselves important. But are you sure? Imagine if we all thought that. Who’d be left? Your voice and your fight matters. You matter. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

So go be that woman.

The one who chooses based on emotion.

The one who dreams beyond reason.

The one who hiccups when she laughs.

The one whose hair tangles with the wind.

The one who can seldom get a candid picture right.

We all have insecurities. We’re all unsure where life leads. We all date that stupid guy. We all fall in love and break our hearts.

Never let someone else’s perspective of who you are affect what you know about yourself. There’s no winning with the ones who are waiting with words that poke and hurt. So take yourself out of their game.

Be outspoken and shy. Be loud and socially awkward. Have an amazing career and a loving family.

It’s not impossible. You’ve seen it. You know it. You just have to believe it.

So go on. Spread those invisible wings and do what you’ve always wanted to do.

If you fly too close to the sun, we’re right here with a lot of cold wind.

With silent wishes and loud compliments,

Me.

“Is it me?”

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I was at the tailor yesterday. He had to take measurements and yet again, his hands were where it shouldn’t be. They always were but with my mother not around, it was more obvious now. I walked out wondering why he felt like he could. Maybe I should’ve panicked. I should’ve screamed and said “What are you doing?” But I was silent. I had told myself it’s part of life as a woman. Maybe I look like someone he could take advantage of. Maybe it’s not his fault that he feels entitled. Maybe it’s.. me. Is it me?

I told my mother later that day, “If this man was bad at his job, he’d be in jail for molestation already.” She shrugged and told me it’s who he is. She asked me why I couldn’t find another tailor. That sounded like a normal question to which I responded that not everyone can stitch well for fat people with slender shoulders. This one does. So I have no choice. Maybe if my body was different, I could avoid this. Or maybe it’s because I’m fat and my boobs are too, he feels the need to. Is it me?

But this wasn’t the only man. If I had to list down  similar experiences, I could go on forever. Like the guy in the flower market who casually pressed himself to my back and I blamed myself for shopping when it’s crowded. The old man at a temple who casually touched my butt and I cursed myself for not knowing it’s a mistake and thinking bad of an aged person. The married man on my right running his hands along my legs when his wife is sitting to my left and I knew I shouldn’t have worn those shorts on a Saturday night. Oh! How could I forget the stinking man who pressed my boob flat while he walked past me making me shiver with disgust for days and I shouldn’t have worn that damned kurti when I knew it was a little tight. If so many felt so comfortable over a decade, it couldn’t have always been them. It is me, isn’t it?

But then I remembered the man who asked me to kiss him when he thought he’d gotten me alone.. at 12 years old! I wore a middle school uniform and ran for my life. That wasn’t me. I didn’t know men could behave like that. I didn’t have big boobs, I didn’t wear tight clothes and it wasn’t an accident.

I suddenly realised I was wrong. When I answered my mother’s question, I was wrong. I was focusing on the wrong part of what she’d said. When she’d asked me why I still went to this man when I knew he was like that, I shouldn’t have given her a reason. I should have asked her why he was forgiven.

Why have we accepted the fact that he is who he is and come to terms with it? Why are our questions always turned towards ourselves and not the other person?

Why did you wear that dress? Why did you go out that night? Why did you smile at him? Why didn’t you ask for help? Why didn’t you scream at him? Why did you?

Why did I what?

Wear a dress I’d loved and bought with money I worked hard for? Go out of my house to unwind after a day of chaos with friends who just wanted a laugh and a fun night out? Smile at a stranger who was older than my father out of courtesy because I was taught to be kind and never harsh? Scream at a man that was invading my private space in a very disturbing manner knowing he could kill me and my Government will tell you its my fault?

Why did you?

Why did you raise a son who thought he could have it all? Why did you tell him he can abuse me and walk away because it’s his birthright to be an asshole? Why did you shame the girl who talked about it instead of applauding her for being brave enough to relive that experience over and over again with every word she spoke? Why did you bring a nation’s culture and values into behaviour that should be punishable?

It’s not me. It’s you.

You are the reason I had to walk away silent. You are the reason his wandering hands and his filthy mind are forgiven. You are the reason I feel unsure writing about my experience.

Because what if they read? All those men who have grazed and touched like I belong to them just because I’m walking past. They’ve made me used and worthless. What if the man I will someday marry read this? Because YOU have taught and preached to him that a woman is only good if she is pure and untouched. But then you went and told him he could. Now what about me?

You don’t have to answer to me. I’m nobody to you. But your daughter, your wife, your best friend, your future family will need to know why you, in your need to make your son feel important and manly, have tarnished her safety and way of life. Will you tell her it’s her fault? Will you tell her she should’ve known better?

When she asks you, “Is it me?”

Will you still say “Yes?” Or hang your head in shame?

Because we both know, it’s not her.

It’s not me.

It’s You.

“I’m Not A Girl Anymore..”

Slowly, with life experiences and baby steps, from high school to university to a working environment and the real world, watching our friends grow into adults, observing our changing needs and desires, understanding our lives changing and learning the ability to accept it – this is how a girl, any girl, must realize that she is no longer a girl. That she is indeed a woman.

But this world doesn’t work like that anymore. In this world, women walk around scared and insecure because they have been pushed to grow up. Because our societies have started perceiving us as women before we could even understand the complex simplicity of that word.

The 23-year-old intern in Delhi, gang raped by a boy who shouldn’t have known that much and men who should have known better.  The number of people who pointed their fingers at her for getting in that bus in the first place. Here’s an idea. Maybe, she didn’t know that much yet. Maybe she was still that little girl who believed that the world was filled with superheroes. That every man was a brother, a father, a best friend. That when they look at her, they would see the child that they can befriend, not the body that they can use.

The 24-year-old techie in Chennai, gang raped. People came up with a million reasons. She should’ve known better than to walk alone in the middle of the night. “She should’ve known better.” Ever think that maybe she needed more time to know better? That maybe, just maybe, she didn’t see what the society saw? But we don’t care. She’s 24 ! She’s a woman who should’ve known better !

That’s the thing. Being a certain age isn’t what makes us women. We don’t turn 21 and suddenly say “OHMYGOD ! I’M A WOMAN !” No. We need time, patience, life lessons and lots of experience before we become women.

And no matter what, ABSOLUTELY NOTHING EVER JUSTIFIES A MAN TOUCHING A GIRL / WOMAN WITHOUT HER PERMISSION.

I’m still a girl. I’m insecure. I walk in fear of who to trust and who to take three steps away from. I accuse every man who looks my way of wrong thoughts. Just because..

I had to endure a doctor move his hand that inch too close, the man on the street wink and make kissing faces, the guy I’ve known since I was two-years-old ask me if I wanted to “go grab a drink after hours” and the society that tells me that all of the above is my fault. Don’t look. Don’t smile. Don’t wear what you want. Don’t do what you feel like doing. And never ever let a man too close, doesn’t matter who he is.

I honestly don’t know if it’s the society’s fault or the men’s. But I do know that something has to change. Drill it into everyone’s brains if we have to but we need to make them understand that while you’re looking at someone you’d like to use, she’s looking at someone she believes will protect her from someone like you..