Some 30 years ago, American author and relationship counsellor John Gray had created quite a stir with his path-breaking book "Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus". Positioned as a practical guide for improving communication and getting what you want in your relationships, its premise was that the basic cause of relationship problems between men and women were the result of their psychological differences that they belonged to different planets and that each gender was dependent on its planets society and customs and not to those of each other.
But that was three decades ago and dealt with essentially a Western milieu. Quite obviously, one size doesn't fit all. What of a world in 2021 in which a woman is without a plan and a man is without a clue?
"Sometimes, commonsense solutions are not politically correct," says Bevinda Collaco of her book, "I'm Old, I'm Wise, & I Know My Sh*t" (Amaryllis), the last I in the title being replaced by a bottle of champagne! It grew out of an Agony Aunt column that she ran for seven years and is a straight-talking book on dating, first time sex, abusive relationships, pregnancy, parenting and dodging the tripwires of old age, mid-life-crisis, empty nest, menopause and invisibility.
"We used to get around 30 letters a week. Most of them were stained with tears. Writers were as young as 12, trapped via blackmail into sex with neighbours or relatives. The age group of people in trouble included teens, working people, spouses, parents and elderly people who used to write in for help," Collaco told IANS in an interview.
"The cases were so disturbing, I roped in psychiatrists, counsellors and the police too. One DGP, a lovely Sikh gentleman, asked me to print his direct number on the page so people who were being ignored by the local cops could speak to him directly.
"Those problems presented to that column formed the bones of this book. It's been churning away inside me for 20 years. Because the same issues still destroy the lives of so many people," Collaco elaborated.
Politically incorrect and funny, Collaco arms you with a 'Bullshit Radar' and a 'Compatibility Questionnaire' to recognise and forestall the pain in relationships. She helps you turn life's crap into rich manure for personal growth and have good fun while doing that. She even gives you ideas for putting the fun into your funeral!
This is a blueprint for the unaware woman and the clueless man, a book that needs to be read and spread. It is the perfect gift for that close friend or her daughter or yours who struggles to see her own self-worth sometimes.
Considerable research went into the writing of the book.
"I scoured the internet and read international research papers on some of the heavier issues like negative peer pressure, dating, first time sex, mental abuse, domestic violence, abandonment due to dumping, divorce or death.
"TED talks by international experts threw so much more light on these subjects. Though it was open source, it's always nice to tell people you are going to quote them in your book. I went into their websites, YouTube channels, Twitter feeds, and got their written permission to use their quotes. I sent them the chapters their words graced and they were all so damn nice about it. Full on cheerleading. They've sent me their postal addresses for the paperback," Collaco explained.
How has the pandemic impacted gender relationships; has any permanent damage been caused; what will the equations be like in the 'new normal?
"I would not venture to make a flat generalisation on the pandemic impacting gender relationships. Like in my world, my people have adapted to this new claustrophobic reality pretty well.
"People, partners, spouses, siblings in relationships already strained pre-pandemic, must give themselves physical space. Maybe each marks a personal area for spending most of the day. Who knows, living in such close proximity might force them to each work on the relationship and step up their game.
"Those in abusive relationships must be going through hell. For the rest most keep out of each other's way," Collaco said.
At the same time, hobbies new and old are giving gender relationships breathing space.
"Women I know have taken to baking in a big way. Many have rediscovered a love for art. There's a rash of gardeners popping up like weeds all over the place. Self publishing is huge today. Throw a stone up in the air and you're bound to hit a pandemic-forged baker, an artist, a gardener or an author. Social media is full of hits and misses.
"My heart goes out to working from home professionals. Especially young parents struggling to keep their double incomes and survive the daily bogey of online classes of different children in the family. It's these young couples that will be facing the greatest strain.
"They learn to delegate and lower high expectations. Grandparent value has shot through the ceiling when they are roped in to help with the running of the house and running after the grandkids," she said.
Lamenting that the pandemic has been "most devastating" on children. Collaco said: "This is a year-and-a-half of childhood just erased. I have three five-year-old grandchildren and it hurts to see how well they have adapted. They think online classes are the new normal and they are sure, they are never going to school again to meet with friends and classmates. They turn to videos instead and that cannot be a good thing."
Adolescence, Collaco, writes, "is a horrible time of life, see-sawing between the awesome confidence of childhood and the extreme self-doubt of stepping into the adult world. Teens feel the need to fit in, as do adults. Nothing wrong with that except when the need to fit in gets desperate, you make poor decisions, and then there are the lies".
But, at the bottom line, "one thing that does not change is the quality of a relationship between two individuals" or the "solid core of loving and respecting oneself first, regardless of gender or orientation".
"I am not a preachy person, but there may be statements that sound preachy. It happens when you are almost as old as the hills and you know your shit. Still, if you find such preachiness, I do beg your pardon. Feel free to ignore it: focus instead on the message," Collaco maintains.