I was watching Sex and The City (the first movie). This story with all its flaws and shortcomings, served as a reference point for my early feminism and navigating gender politics and relationships. I saw the film when it first released in 2008 with the mild boredom and indulgent disdain of someone who knows she has outgrown an early affection. I saw the movie a few times again in the later years but it was tainted by my opinion of the second film. I swore off, relegating Carrie (whom I never liked that much) into the bin of my cringeworthy-taste-in-my-younger-years bin. All I saw was the whitewashing, the self-absorption and the deep flaws in the central character. But today, today I saw her pain. And it brought back my own.
My wedding ended, quite the same way as Carrie Bradshaw’s. After years of toiling and struggling and stiff-upper-lipping, just when I was ready to believe that I was getting my dreams, it shattered. It was abrupt, cruel and deeply humiliating. And it ground me down in a way that I couldn’t ever imagine I’d be ground down. It has been over four years since that happened.
The first thing that struck me, stung me, was the fact that Carrie Bradshaw had a rock-solid fortress of her friends that she could retreat into and let herself shatter. I did not have that. I had a family that took me back, yes. I have lived with feeling immense gratitude for that. After all, I am part of a culture where daughters are killed by their own parents, in the womb, at birth and even as adults to protect their honour. My family did not do that. But they do not think that a ‘relationship’ is the same thing as a marriage. They believe a breakup is a silly, minor thing, not to be compared to the devastation of divorce. I do not blame them. They’ve gone far beyond what their generation and our culture has taught them.
But my friends and everyone else around me? That’s a whole well of pain. Time and again, over four years I’ve heard various versions of,
“Who cares about him? Forget him.”
“But you are a strong woman. Get over it.”
“Snap out. You’ve got a great life ahead of you. Live it.”
I have been shamed for being upset. I have been judged for wanting to hide. My anguish has been brushed aside in favour of shopping expeditions, party plans. And I’ve been logicked to prove that I must not feel anything.
I am so angry.
Last week I spoke to Xion after several months. And he told me he would always be grateful to my ex for pointing out that I cared about him. Am I supposed to applaud my ex for pointing out the obvious? Is he to be deified for ‘not saying anything bad’ about me? I didn’t cheat on him. I did not gaslight him, abuse him. I did not curb his friendships, his art. I did not ask for dowry. How does his behaviour get compared with mine, when our provocations have been so different?
For my own sanity, I’m learning to walk away from the terrible relationship that I fell into and struggled and sank in. But I have not been able to get past the profound sense of betrayal I feel from people who were around me then and should have been my support. Why not? After all, I’ve been there for each of them. I’ve not thrown ‘tough love’ at them. I’ve not tried to jolly them out of their breakups, their familial problems, their health issues, just because it’s inconvenient to me. I’ve listened, been as gentle as possible. Why do I not deserve the same?
And what is this ‘Strong Woman’ business? My ex threw it at me all the time as a way to shrug off any responsibility towards treating me nicely, being on my side in front of the world or even doing his share. This tells me that the people I thought were my friends, are not different. It’s not convenient to them, to have me down and out.
Four months after my ex threw me out, without warning, without even the courtesy of an explanation, I was on my feet. I had a job. I went and made new friends, found new interests. I didn’t go to pieces or burst into tears at the drop of a hat. A year later, the pain started to ooze out as I watched my ex exploit what he put me through, into a glorification exercise for himself. I crumbled and tried in vain to patch the leaks, with Landmark Forum, with new friendships, with Tinder, anything. And still, my friends said,
“This is so undignified. Get over it.”
“You are so negative. Look at him, he doesn’t even care. Why are you wasting your time?”
Last year, my insides just collapsed and all that was left was a hollow darkness. I lost my way, lost myself, just lost track of what light looked like. Reema and Adi stood by me, wading into the muck of my emotional gutters and carrying me out when they could.
I ran into my ex unexpectedly last month. It was strange. I didn’t feel a thing. The person in my memories, the monster who ravaged my universe, has nothing to do with the person who walks around by the same name. It was heartening. My ticket out. Validation of the thought I’ve clung to since 2012 that I would not, will not let this horrible experience become my identity. I refuse to settle into the label of the jilted woman, the abuse survivor, the damaged abla nari.
So it was a shock when I found myself reduced to tears today, watching an old, not-even-that-good movie. Reema lit a candle inside my crying. She told me it was okay to feel pain. She told me that this wasn’t about wanting to get back with a bad ex; it was about processing grief. And she said, that takes its own time.
We are in a culture that only allows for grief processing in certain circumstances and for specific situations. If I had been married and my spouse had died, I would have been allowed to grieve for years. If I had let myself descend into fits of crying, into broken fear, I would have been petted and cared for. But because I refused to let this defeat me, because I took it head-on, the people around me decided that my pain was not worthy of their compassion. Adi says most people find other people’s pain inconvenient and that makes them behave like douches.
Well. I’ve spent the day crying, then speaking to Reema, then putting my cupboard in order, speaking to Adi, doing my chores, doing my work, speaking to Reema, eating an icecream, speaking to Adi. I am still walking, still writing. A little compassion did not hurt either of them to give but it took me a long way.
I suddenly feel no guilt, no doubt anymore about letting go of pretty much everyone from my past. My pre-2012 world let me down, very badly. I deserve better – people who can stand through my pain as well as my joyful affections. And people who do not punish me for breaking down suddenly.
Pain, it demands to be felt. And there really is no sane way to grieve. I’m just glad it’s finally happening. There will be a morning after that and perhaps that one will have more kindness.
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I’m reclaiming my right to write.
There’s much I’ve felt and been and heard and wanted to say but didn’t. A relationship, an engagement, a bitter breakup…aren’t all of these fodder for a feeling writer? And yet I’ve been quiet.
I’ve been under a self-imposed gag order that no one speaks of. That’s beautiful and ironic and perfect and ugly all at once.
A friend told me that I get lost in words, the beauty of my own words, that I hide behind them and now I can’t find my way back. Yes, maybe true. But I’m refusing to see my words as my jailors. They’ve been after all, firm and steady friends in a life of already wonderful friendships (even if love hasn’t been quite as, shall we say, gracious?). So I’m bringing them back.
Ever notice how everyone agrees and Facebook Likes generic statements on dowry? How half the nation sits glued to the screen, silently identifying with evil in-law stories? But not a single one of them ever comes out and says, “This is happening to me and dammit I don’t like it!”. Nobody ever admits to hating their partner’s families. No progressive woman ever goes beyond declaiming the horrid turdiness of Indian men in general. Not one of them ever says that the man she’s married to or in love with is one of those shitheels in question too. Why should I be the first to break that omerta?
Why do even the smartest, most accomplished and confident of us willingly put our personal power into the hands of men? Because falling in love at some level, is giving the person power over you. Trust, that foundation of a relationship, is about letting a person see that they can hurt you. And no matter how shackled our pasts have been, how cruel our social captors were, the only real living and the progress there is to be had is by going back and hoping. Hoping this boy will grow up to be a man, hoping ‘responsibility’ and ‘comittment’ aren’t banned words in this one’s dictionary and hoping that a relationship can be more than a stone around the neck, could be as much fun and comfort for a woman as it is for a man. Hope is hard but hard experiences are what brought me to a place of being able to stay I’m hurting but I’m standing. And I am.
But these are missions for a different time. For now, I’m just taking back my power to say what I will and what I feel in this space that’s truly mine. I’m reclaiming my voice and by God, it’s got a lot to say. I’m not even sure how to end this post since I’m only just beginning and the end is nowhere in sight.
Welcome back, old friends and beloved strangers. It’s unimaginably wonderful to meet me again.
I believe I’ve spent as much of my life on this as is humanly possible and fair. I want to get on with the business of the rest of my life. So don’t hold me back with conversations about my past, please.
If you want to be polite, don’t contact me. If you want to be sensitive, contact me if you like but don’t talk about this. I’m witholding comments on this post because I don’t want to hear any condolences, pep talks or ex-bashing. XX Factor will resume its usual democratic policy with the next post.