Someone recently enlightened me about how teenagers in London, say hello to each other. I’m cutting the story short here, but it involves two teenage girls in the tube, having a casual exchange that goes something like this: ‘He sent me a naked picture.’ ‘Oh. What did you do?’ ‘(Shrugs) Sent him back one of mine.’ ‘How do you know him again?’ ‘Met him just once at a party.’ ‘You said you didn’t like him right?’ ‘Yes, but I didn’t want to be rude.’
After discussing it with a few others here in India, I realized that it’s how it is here as well. It’s probably not yet a norm for politeness, but it does exist. I responded to this in three ways: As a person, I was appalled. As a parent, anxious. And as a writer, curious.
When I was a teenager back in the 90s, playing hard-to-get was still in vogue. Girls gave boys a good long run before they expressed any interest in them and the boys, in turn, seemed to appreciate this because it made them feel like they had won something. But like all cute traditions involving teenagers, this one also came with a rule. A rule that no one spoke of, but understood. And in my case, learned after several embarrassing situations. And the rule went like this: The length of time a boy chases you, is directly proportional to how good looking and popular you are. And oh, how much the other boys want you.
So. I learned politeness early.
I learned not to be shrewish and fussy, to not take anyone’s interest in me for granted and to always appreciate the nice things that people did for me. But most of all, I learned to reciprocate – a trait that has served me well in adulthood. Of course, reciprocation in the 90s didn’t always have to be in the same capacity. So if a boy liked me ‘like that’ but I didn’t, I responded by being nice to him and treating him like a friend. Because the rule of reciprocation went like this: You can’t like everyone ‘like that,’ but you can still be nice.
Clearly, the law of reciprocation has been drastically revised since. And yes, I understand that it is the bane of every generation to attempt to exorcise the demons of the previous one, thereby begetting new demons. But what I don’t understand is this: What did these kids find so wrong with our hellos that they had to take such an extreme step?
Perhaps they recognized all societal norms to be a farce. They noticed that hellos between boys and girls are often loaded with sexual tension. And where there is tension, there is always an agenda.
Maybe, at a subconscious level, all they’re really looking for are friendships without hidden motives. And this is just their way of freeing themselves of said motives – by getting the sexual tension out of the way in the very beginning. And what better way to say ‘All right, get it over with and then we can be friends’ than sending naked selfies to boys you barely know and don’t really like? It’s kind of brilliant when you think about it. Right?
Hahaha, no. I’m messing with you. It’s warped, freaky and in every sense, a cry for help. We need to fix this. But how? Especially since it’s established that no generation has ever listened to the previous one. But what is also established is that they are programmed to go in the opposite direction. SO. I’m thinking, we should go completely cuckoo on them. Like, 90s-grunge cuckoo. Show up with weird hairdos, walk around in ripped jeans, break things for no reason, stay perennially high, appear promiscuous and generally act angry and misunderstood. They won’t know what hit them.
And they’ll learn to reciprocate by living on a freakishly high moral plane. If they don’t, we’ll start twerking. Just as soon as we find out what it means.