A man in Singapore has sued a woman, seeking SGD2.3 million, because she did not want to be involved with him romantically. According to court records reported by the press, the two had been friends since 2016, and the friendship began to erode about four years later when she declined his interest in her. He did not respect her explicit requests for space, including less frequent meetings. In 2020, he threatened not only legal action – which he has now pursued – but also “damages to her personal and professional endeavours.”

            This is a case in which an entitled person is misusing the justice system to continue his harassment of another person. An earlier legal claim he made was dismissed on these very grounds, with the court officially stating that it “will not be an accessory to his calculated attempt to compel engagement from the defendant, who, after years of massaging the claimant’s unhappiness, has finally decided to stand up to his threats rather than cower and give in to his demands.”

            But we don’t know if the defendant cowered, ever. More likely, in those “years of massaging the claimant’s unhappiness”, she was merely polite to a fault, or understanding to a fault. Reports say that she generously went as far as to attend counselling sessions with the claimant for a year and a half. She set different kinds of boundaries along the way, and these were not only disregarded but met with further antagonism. It was after various amicable attempts that she chose to take out a restraining order, because of which he retaliated with this massive lawsuit.

            All of this will be familiar to many who have put up with harassment of any kind. Every day, in a hundred and one different ways, we navigate oppressive worldscapes in their trickle-down forms with smiles, good manners, requests, adaptability and guile – and some degree of wariness if not outright fear underneath each of these. Diplomacy, tact, learned caution and being sympathetic aren’t cowering. When we reason, be cordial, or try to avoid aggravation, we are only trying to work within conditioned codes in deeply flawed operating systems.

When a relationship that begins just fine sours, and the desire or the failure to transition into another kind of relationship is the reason, it can create multiple levels of bitterness for every party. This applies to all equations, including professional ones. But respecting that other people have their own set of feelings and expectations and may not want or be able to align to ours is an important, and arguably also natural, part of a healthy equation – even a severed one. All of this is something that anyone with a basic level of emotional intelligence understands and applies.  This is generic, not gendered – although in this particular case in Singapore, gender may have had a role. The kind of entitlement displayed is linked to culturally ingrained values on male prerogatives.

            To be someone’s friend, especially in a busy adult’s life, is a privilege of its own. The claimant has not only lost someone who cared for him, but in seeking to destroy her, has ruined his own future prospects.

An edited version appeared in The New Indian Express in February 2023. “The Venus Flytrap” appears in Chennai’s City Express supplement.