Recently, I went out with someone who had just come off a long-term relationship. 20 year long term. First love, one and only forever and forever long term.
One of the frequently mouthed platitudes of my 20s was to avoid a recently heartbroken man. Another was steer clear of the one and only type. But well, if my 30s were about throwing all expectations into the garbage and breaking my own rules, maybe the 40s are about re-examining everything I’ve ever held important (inherited, learned and hearsay) through actual experience. So I went out with him.
The first thing he brought up when we became acquainted was his divorce. I asked if I might ask him a bit more about that (because make no mistakes, respect first and consent always). He agreed. My only questions were whether the divorce had been finalised and if so, when. Just from having lived four decades as a human, I know there’s no bigger emotional minefield than an unresolved romantic relationship. Especially when it’s marriage since families, society and the law collude to make this as complicated and painful as possible.
Our conversations thereafter were delightful. Perhaps I was just savouring the feeling of coming off a two year long hiatus but this time without the fears of my 20s, nor the acid-washed feelings of my post abusive engagement 30s. 40 seems like a decent place to proceed cautiously but optimistically.
So how was it? Let me call this a lovely ten day vacation doing things that I either couldn’t afford to or was too busy or scared to in my teens and twenties. Likewise for him. Rather abruptly (presumably because he’s unused to the rituals of consideration that any adult interaction should have), he said we needed to stop spending so much time with each other. When I asked what that meant, he didn’t seem to have an answer. And that was that. He did come at me, aggressively seeking experiences. And if nothing else, he learnt firsthand what it was to ghost somebody.
For my part, I decided not to rush into an immediate reaction of rage. After all, this is not the first time a man has chickened out of his emotions or gone back on his words. It’s not even the first time I’ve been ghosted. What would be the point of 40 if I reacted to it in the same way as I did in my 20s or 30s? So I waited. I found myself more disappointed than hurt, and even so in that distasteful way of someone hungry biting into what turns out to be stale papads.
By the time he called (as I knew he eventually would – those who run the fastest are the ones who run back soonest), I felt very little attachment to him. I realised later, it was only attachment to a clean-ish ending which his half-baked ‘less time spent’ statement wasn’t. I realised a long time ago that if you feel the need for closure, you most certainly aren’t going to get it because relationships that leave that acidic empty feeling in you are indicative of people who would rather escape than be authentic. Closure is your own problem. With this experience I realised that maybe closure doesn’t have to be a clean ending. Closure is when I decide I’m done. And I’ve needed to get to 40 to be able to say that can be when the other person is still waiting for an answer or still has feelings or there are injustices not yet punished. Closure is simply when I say ENOUGH.
And that was that. Now for a new chapter.
I was Youtube surfing when an 80s playlist came up with an Amrita Singh song. It made me want to read, listen, watch and know more about her relationship with Saif Ali Khan. And why not? I am an older woman who was in a committed (and what I thought for awhile, was loving) relationship with a younger man. I was an established professional in a field that he had just entered awhile earlier. And I had already achieved the things one tends to want and moved on to something else. These are the kind of things people usually wonder about when it comes to a relationship of this sort.
I’m finding this episode of Rendezvous with Simi Garewal rather interesting. It was shot in 1999, right in the middle of their relationship.
Amrita and Saif both talk about the concerns (expressed by everyone else) on Saif getting married at 21. Saif says,
“If you’re looking for reasons to stay in a relationship, there are a thousand. If you’re looking for reasons to get out of one, there are a thousand.”
That really struck a chord. I know my Mr.Everyday really, really did not want to fall in love, did not want a relationship and did not want to get married. But it happened. I didn’t push it, I truly didn’t. I was the one to say, let’s take some time to think about it. He was the one to suggest getting engaged if we were together in a year, the one to say let’s do this, the one to propose. At the worst of times between when we discussed marriage with our families and the time he actually proposed (eight months later), I held back my fears, my feelings because I thought he needed time. And I wanted to be sure that it came from him. Not out of ego but because I knew there was ample space for the relationship to turn into a bitter war of “You dragged me into this, you coerced me, you pushed me into commitment before I was ready.” He was the younger one after all and the man. These are things one comes to expect from men, from younger people and well, I recognized those behaviors from my own in my earlier years.
I wrote last week about missing respect in my recent relationships and realising that from meeting one man with whom I’ve had a happy, mutually respectful relationship. I’ve been told often that I get stuck in the past and that I refuse to move on. Maybe that’s true. But I am also realising that I’m the kind of person who needs to process and live through every drop of what happens, especially things as deep as relationships, in order to move on. Maybe the reason my relationship with that first boyfriend is so peaceful is because we acknowledged that there was affection (still is) and that there were differences and that it was best we transitioned from the relationship label we had (boyfriend-girlfriend) to a new one.
I think I keep boomeranging between extreme venom and tenderness towards Mr.Everyday because everything is unresolved. I know we had issues and the magnitude of many of them is overwhelming. But I have no real idea why it ended when it ended and how it ended. We have also not been able to have an adult resolution by which I mean, accepting that there was love and fondness once and it isn’t anymore. All I’m left with is a lot of ugly question marks.
Question marks can be ugly when they’re leering at you saying ‘He never really loved you’, ‘It was all just a joke to him’, ‘You suck; you’re a horrible person and men will always treat you that way’. Resolutions are important precisely because they give you and the other person the space, freedom and ability to lay those doubts to rest and move on. Else, there is just an endless echo chamber in your head which is always going to reflect back the nastiest memories and most brutal things you said and did to each other.
I learned recently that he is back in town and the thought hit me with absolute panic. Why? He is not a stalker. I do not want to be with him anymore so I can’t put it down to that nervous feeling of being near someone I haven’t gotten over. But I really don’t know how to behave when he’s around. Act normal? What is normal? I’ve smiled like a lovestruck idiot at him. I’ve thrown things across the room at him. I’ve argued politics, film, books and life with him. I’ve discussed grocery bills, medical expenses and maid problems with him. I’ve made love to him and I’ve fallen asleep next to him, before him, after him. I’ve cleaned him up and mopped up his puke after a drunken night (and he’s done the same for me). I’ve yelled and said and written angry things about him and to him. There is a staggering range of what constitutes ‘normal’ between us. Where is our new normal?
I don’t know and I am not able to find a satisfactory answer to that on my own. A healthy resolution really, really needs both people for it to happen. And this relationship, as with a number of other messy ones in the earlier past, has me left holding the baby. Only it’s an ugly, dead baby that neither of us wants and it died because neither of us wanted it. I just wish he’d do me the courtesy of giving it a proper burial. Ugly or otherwise, we created that together and it deserves a funeral.
We met for coffee recently. He was my first boyfriend and I, his first girlfriend. We were both 19 when we met and it was instant him-and-me at first sight. We’ve kept in touch and we catch up for a coffee and a chat on each other’s lives every couple of years. We’re exactly the same age, just a day apart. Each time we meet, we have a few more life milestones to talk about. So each conversation marks a checkpoint for me, on how far I’ve come, how my life has diverged and turned but stayed true to who I am (which I continue to discover with each turn).
He is charming but in an easy, non-agenda based way. And it’s easy to be around him. Each time we speak, I feel like he sees me as who I really am, beneath all the trappings and notions I’ve acquired over the years, because that core essence never really changes. It would probably seem more sensible to call him an old friend rather than an ex-boyfriend since he has been more of the former than the latter. And given that the term ‘ex-boyfriend’ comes loaded (especially in my recent experience) with associations of angst and pain and unpleasantness, it doesn’t seem like it fits on him.
But perhaps for that very reason, I choose to hold on to that label for him. It makes me feel a little soothed from the toxicity of my love life — the manipulation, confusion, betrayal and mayhem that ‘love’ brought me, since him. It’s always pleasant to remember that I did have — do have — one man in my life with whom romance happened minus poison.
One of the things we spoke about was the way our love lives shaped up. I guess that’s part of turning 35 (since we didn’t meet last year), this stock-taking of life. In between laughs and onion rings, I told him that I had at some time, dated two classmates. Usually I pause for effect and then clarify that both men knew and each time the guy asked me out. This time, I just said, “Not together.”
He said, “I know. You’re not capable of doing that. It’s just not possible for you. You would be in much more pain than either guy in that situation. That’s how I know you’d never do that.”
This pleased me so much. It still pleases me. I love having someone in my life who knows and believes this about me and it makes me realise what a thorny, paranoid world I live in. I also know that loyalty and fidelity are very important to him and it makes me feel very good that he respects me, on that account.
This pleasant sensation felt unfamiliar till I realised that I haven’t cared about a man’s respect in a very long time. I would feel pained if I thought he didn’t trust or respect me. His opinion of me, matters to me. And I haven’t felt that way about a man, a romantic partner in a very long time.
Along with this came the realisation that respect has no currency in my relationships now. The people I went out with after him, did not care whether I respected them or not. It did not bother them that I thought badly of them afterwards, unless it caused problems in their daily lives. And since I have never really been the vindictive sort, my low opinions of them stayed just that — inconveniences that they shrugged off. That disregard and complete indifference to my respect really hurt. I realised that my respect held no value for the men I was around. They literally didn’t give a damn whether I thought of them as good people or bad.
For many years it was very important to me that the people in my life, even those who were once a part of it and not anymore, knew that I did right by them. In recent times, I’ve come to not care about it. I don’t think my last ex (the one I was engaged to) cares a bit about whether I cheated, whether I lied or whether I maliciously did harm by him or not. Would it matter to me if I discovered he had done any of these? I know already that there was lying and there may have been some semantic cheating. Simply for my own peace of mind, I will myself to not care. This means I must also stop caring about who he thinks I am. And that is how respect loses currency in relationships between people.
The magnitude of this realisation was staggering. Now, I approach men, especially those with whom there is even the slightest romantic context, by first putting respect out of the equation. I will myself to not care about what they think of me with such platitudes like ‘there’s only one thing they’re all thinking about and I’m covered on that front’. I don’t allow a man the right to assess me on things other than appearance or frivolous things like achievement, success and vivacity. But on character, I don’t let it even come into the conversation.
And in turn, I am quick to throw my own respect out of the situation. I practically pore over a man’s character in a bid to find flaws and reasons to not respect him, the person, anymore. It feels easier to not respect a person at all than to respect them and be disappointed — and worse, realise they don’t care.
I don’t really know where I go with this insight. Knowledge of what is, doesn’t give you the ability to change what is. There is plenty to prove that my way of doing things keeps me safe. After all, a staggering majority of men I know see me as a collection of visually appealing bits & bobs that could give them something they want. The minute the possibility of that diminishes, most of them lose interest and don’t care to even pursue a conversation, let alone treat me with courtesy or respect. Why should my respect even be allowed to them, when they don’t care either way?
But then I put my onion ring down and I look at the man across the table from me. Once I thought I loved him and that he loved me. I’ve known love to be cruel, selfish, controlling and untrustworthy and he has been none of those things. But in a single conversation with him, I feel the kind of peaceful serenity that I have never felt with the other men who have been in my life. Mutual respect must have something to do with that. It’s very tiring holding it back and having it withheld. I don’t know whether it’s better to be exhausted and safe or whatever the alternative to that is.
It struck me last night, when I was sitting on the floor of a slight friend’s house, talking to another friend when she asked me,
“So how are you doing?“
Then she looked at me straight in the eye and pointed to her own heart. I stared back, a fraction longer than my pat-reply habit usually lets me and I knew it was true as soon as I said it.
“I’m okay that it happened. I’m not yet okay with how but I’m actually glad it happened. I haven’t forgiven him but I’ve moved on.”
She nodded, understanding. And we both looked out of the window and began talking to other people, and of other things. But she stayed seated next to me till I was ready to go.
Healing happens when you’re not trying horribly hard, eyes scrunched up and begging it to stop hurting. It starts at that moment when you give up. When you realize you no longer have it in you to pretend that you’re not a mess inside and you don’t care who knows it. That’s when it starts – in that moment that looks like defeat until you’re right at it and then it feels like something quite else. Healing.
I’ve read the phrase ‘Honour your pain’ many times and never understood it. How do you honour something you don’t like, something you fear, something that you do your best to avoid? It hit me with that earlier realization. Just letting yourself think about it, not running away, not covering it up with pretense but allowing it to collapse messily all around you and rain holy hellfire on your world…that’s honouring your pain.
I whined like crazy – to almost-friends and casual acquaintances, some of whom were mercifully unkind enough to tell me to get over it. I fumed and took it out on closer people whose kindness annoyed me with its overt sense of ‘I’m doing you a favour’. And finally I just got bored and decided to look for something else-a new life.
This week has been a telling one. A complete stranger asked me
“Are you single?“
I hadn’t yet figured out how I wanted to answer that one so I just told him I’d ended a relationship awhile ago, an engagement that broke. Pat came his response,
“That’s okay. Be happy it happened now and not later, after marriage.”
And then we moved on to speaking about other more comfortable things.
A couple of days later, I met an old acquaintance I hadn’t seen since I began the relationship. He asked me,
“What’s been happening with you?“
I told him about four years in a single line.
“Moved out. Wrote a book. Got engaged. Broke up. Started a new job.”
Bewildered, he followed me asking for detail, wanting to know how, why, when it happened. But mostly, I guessed he was just befuddled and mildly concerned at how okay I seemed with all of it.
I realized then, what the Landmark Forum calls a story. It’s not about stopping the creation of them. We all do it. There’s that which happens; it just does. And there’s all the meanings, all the interpretations and mind-routes we assign to it. We build stories around it and we tell it to each other and to ourselves.
I am a storyteller, a good one. Just as with the other stories I tell, I just need to start spinning my tale, watch carefully for how my audience receives it and either tie it off or weave a saga of it. It’s who I am. It heals me; it nourishes me; it makes me and curiously, it is what brings me my dignity. Not the stories but the telling of them. I get to pick which stories I tell and usually I do a good job. Where I don’t, there’s always room for rewrites.
Does that make any sense? Tell me, I’m dying to tell you more stories.
You ever have those days when your email inbox and even your Facebook feed is a predictable jumble of pseudo-advertisements, pre-scheduled alerts, subscriptions and what not? I have that often and a lot. Then out of the blue, something lands up in there that you’re not sure makes you happy or unhappy. But it’s still very welcome because it’s a change and it reminds you of feelings you thought you’d forgotten and of corners that you didn’t manage to clear. This one came with an opportunity to clean up too.
An email from a painfully familiar name titled,
“:) so you’re the ideasmithy”
Actually this one happened over a year ago but I’ve only just began making sense of what happened. Emotions can’t be compartmentalized and when you’re having to think about love and anger and betrayal and trust and friendship, a whole lot of everything comes tumbling out from where you stuffed them, in that cupboard marked ‘Loose Ends’ in your mind.
It was a friendly enough mail, complimenting me on going a long way with words and inquiring about my family. After much deliberation and a few shots of Indian courage (that’s my equivalent of Dutch courage – a good hard dose of well-intended commonsense from a close friend), I wrote back. My reply ended with,
You have a good life and so do I. We don’t need to be a part of each other’s worlds. Our relationship ended a long time ago and with this, I think so does our conversation. I wish you well.
I’m not going to parade how hard it was to write that because it actually wasn’t. I did that a long time ago. But that finality that comes from telling someone who hurt you that they did and that they were wrong was missing. With this email I got to say something I never had a chance to – I had given up on him. It was vindication and it was sweet.
I think it only made sense to me last week, when I was talking to a friend about love, why I walked away when I did. We’d broken up years ago. We’d met after that, talked at length. We’d spoken about relationships, each of us having moved to other people. We had, yes we had, began rekindling that friendship we had before it became something else – a poisonous something else. What then turned it sour for me?
He got engaged and while that gave me a stabbing pang in the heart, I was okay with it. Honest. I met her and she was nice. She even liked books and how can I ever completely dislike a person who does? That was painful but I got past it. I attended their engagement party and endured watching the sweet intimacies that much-in-love couples share. I also keep my mouth shut when I saw the gaps that I knew I’d always been able to fill – gaps in knowing him. All of those times took me on the painful path of growing up but never away from him.
And then we had a conversation, a 2-hour long phone call, one of those soul-searching types that we must all have but only a couple of times in our lives and only with someone so close, they’re a part of us. I asked him how long they’d been together. He said, over a year and half. And then he said,
“You’re my best friend. You’ve got to tell me what you think here.”
I think that may have been the moment when I paused and stopped to think if I really wanted to be on that path anymore. Because just five months earlier, he had taken me out on a bonafide, make-no-mistakes-what-it-was date and asked me if I’d reconsider us. I don’t think he noticed it then and perhaps he still hasn’t.
For 6 years I’ve been telling myself that I was disgusted by what he did. I deplore cheating. But then, I’ve had people in my life do much worse and they’re still with me. I didn’t identify the true source of my anger till last week.
When I was with him and before and long after, I loved him with a completeness that I could never achieve in any other relationship afterwards. It was a divine emotion that shaped me at the core, even after we parted ways. When I was making my peace with his being with someone else, somewhere deep down I was handing over my heart into someone else’s hands. That’s why I was so relieved that she was someone I could like – someone like me who’d understand and treasure this most precious of things.
By bringing such a stupid thing like cheating, even if it was a case of pre-proposal jitters, he had cheapened it, made it so ordinary. I don’t like having to believe that someone who inspired such an other-worldy emotion in me is so flawed, so mundane, so much less than me. All those years back, when he dumped me, he’d broken my heart but he couldn’t make what I felt ordinary. With this action, he just did. And I’ve never been able to forgive him for it.
I can’t bear to look at him or speak to him so it’s fortunate that he’s in another country, in another life. I do know that he has a daughter, a delight of a thing. And I know he’ll make a wonderful father. I know that she is and probably will always be the most important person in his life. I always knew all of this about him.
It’s some small consolation that he doesn’t have this understanding, this knowledge of him in his life. But most of all, I’m glad he’s father to a girl. Because daughters can twist their daddies’ hearts in a way that no other woman ever can. It think, for a lot of men, only a human being they’ve created can teach them the helpless agony of loving too much.
As for me, I don’t love him anymore. I wanted him to get that and I saw that happen. And I needed to understand a lot about my own feelings – how I love, what my anger looks like and where I post ‘The End’ sign. I’m finally able to snip off that sad, niggling loose end that characterized most of my adult life.
This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learnt about people and relationships and for it, I owe a big debt of gratitude to E Vestigio. She said,
Closure is your own problem. Nobody, whoever they are, wherever they are, no matter what they mean to you is obliged to give you closure. And it is the most important thing for you to take care of it. You have to figure out how to achieve closure, all by yourself.
Indeed. It sounded hopeless when I first heard it. A good year or so later, I find it is quite the opposite. How much power and indeed, hope, there is in knowing that you are wholly, truly in control of what happens to you! It is probably the only thing in a relationship that you are independently, solely, completely in control of.
It’s been about ten days since my last break-up. My record shows that I usually turn woefully miserable after parting ways. Goodbye isn’t a word I’ve ever, ever, ever learnt to like. The long, serious relationships and the weekend flings alike, were all met by my agonized, twisted-with-pain self.
Not this time though. It wasn’t because he was nicer than the others. Indeed not, a person who lies about the fact that he is already with someone else (or rather conveniently neglects to mention it) is not nice. Perhaps it had something to do with the fact that I asked him out. It was the most empowering thing I’ve done after 25. There has been a sense that I was the driver, the director and it was up to me to fold up the stage, cut my losses and walk away.
It may also have to do with the way I took the end. After he (reluctantly) admitted to his relationship status, I followed my usual pattern and went right into a shell. This time I had the luxury of running away to another city and offline as well where I wouldn’t have to see him or any reminders of his existance. But come Monday, I knew I would have to face up to the awful fact of another Goodbye.
A little earlier this month, I recognized a pattern in my sleeptimes. I often have trouble falling asleep, such is my restless, high-strung nature. And in those long hours after I give up trying to fall asleep, I end up brooding over and over on the worst memories I have. They’re all break-ups and they’re always variations of the way I wish things had happened. They’re always scripts of all that I wish I had been able to say and didn’t. I realized that my lack of expression had translated to lack of closure, which in turn was fitting well into my lack of sleep.
Really now! Words, an excess of them and unexpressed, should never be a problem for me. I’m a writer, for heavenssake, an unabashed, uncontrollable expresser of thoughts. And so this time I did something different.
I talked to him. That’s putting it rather mildly. I decided to chuck being dignified and calm and adult and reasonable and cool and ladylike. I yelled, I screamed, I called him names, I hit where it would probably hurt (and I have no compulsion in saying that I hope it did!). And at the end of it….boy, do I feel good!!
They say chocolates simulate the production of the ‘happy hormones’ in women. I don’t know if hollering does the same for me. I’m inclined to think that all it does is clean out any bad thoughts before they have a chance to fester and become cynicism. I’ve really, honestly been feeling so normal in these past few days. There are the lows, of course, but those are in line with my regular moods.
I do believe I’ve found something that works for me!
Another incident that happened a few weeks back pertains to the ex-love-of-my-life/best-friend. Both my blogs have seen an excessive amount of expression, ranting, poetry, brooding lessons and melancholia on his account. That was one relationship that I thought I was never going to get closure from.
I received an email from him some time ago, announcing the birth of his first child. It was marked to a lot of people and I was on the list. My first instinct was to feel that tangible, very real cut inside my heart, with my breath choking up in my throat. Then on an impulse, I hit the ‘Reply’ button and typed.
Congratulations to the two of you! Remember I used to tell you that you should be the father of a daughter? I always said it would be divine justice for a guy like you to finally be in the same place as the fathers of so many women you know well. I hope the mother and baby are doing well.
And without reading it again, I hit ‘Send’. I don’t know why this should make me feel better but it does. In all these years, I’ve suffered inside my head, carrying the very heavy onus of being dignified, supressing my jealousy, my sarcasm and my hurt. He has never once responded with even kindness or warmth, choosing instead to be flippant even mean. Making a snide remark at such a time is probably not classy but I deserved to have my say and I’m glad I got it.
Earlier this week, I was reliving that experience with a friend and I found myself parotting out the attitude I’ve carried like a burden for over a decade..
He hurt me so much but much good also came from the fact that he was a part of my life. He was everything I ever wanted to be so my life after he left has been a pursuit of recreating all those things he stood for. If it hadn’t been for him, I would never have gotten this far. My career, my confidence, my writing, my fabulous life…all of that come from him.
My friend looked at me and said,
Everything you are is is you, Ramya. All that followed the break-up was your reaction to it. It’s all you.
It took awhile to accept but I realized he was right. I am finally ready, really ready to let go of my old fairytales, especially the ones where everyone has turned into monsters. I’m free, so, so free.
So that’s two instances of closure in the recent past. Both times, I created them, I made them happen. I’m not saying screaming or being nasty is the only way to closure. They were what I needed to do, to those people, in those situations.
I’m not going to ask to be judged or even judge myself. Life is too big, too magnificent, too incomprensible to carry the burden of other people’s actions as well as your own. I think it’s best to do what you will. Life is a grand, well-stocked kitchen and it’s up to you to figure out the receipes that work for you. I found one neat one that takes care of heartache and I’m putting it in a jar labelled ‘Closure’. 🙂
All my love and all the very best to you with your kitchens!