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A Generation Of ‘Forgive & Forget’

I went to lunch with a beloved aunt, last week. She is one of my role models, having blazed the corporate path in the 70s and faced racial and gender prejudices. She has also had a ‘love marriage’ to a wonderful but non-Tamilian man. We spoke of work (hers and mine) and relationships (mine). She asked me about someone from my past that she knew. I shrugged and said,

“He’s well, I hear. Doing some great work. We don’t talk often but I get the news.”

She looked out of the window for a long minute. I waited for the nugget of wisdom or keen observation I knew was about to come (from so many other such insightful conversations with her). She said,

“I think it’s a generation thing. I can’t imagine any of my peers being able to do that.”

She was referring of course, to how ‘okay’ we are with our ex-es. She told me about a friend who studiously avoided a certain couple, because once, years ago, the man had been discussed as an arranged matrimonial prospect for her.

Forgive and Forget

I didn’t need time to respond because it’s something I’ve pondered and experienced, especially this last year too. It is a generational thing, sort of. I don’t think that we are any more ‘mature’ or ‘strong’ or any of those adjectives that people use to make themselves feel superior. It is true that we don’t cut our failed/thwarted relationships off as much as the previous generation might have. Sometimes, we even seem to achieve that miraculous state of being friends with our exes. But I think it is necessity rather than virtue that drives us.

We live in an even more populous but much more connected world than the generation before us. The matrix of human experience is comprised of multiple and multi-layered connections. While there are more of us, we are also segmented a lot more rigidly and closely. Everybody knows everybody within our segments.

Take my case, for instance. All my associations are with people who are in cities, digitally savvy, in professions like management, communication, marketing, publishing. These are people whose lives overlap with mine because of the place we are in, the professions we follow, the hobbies we enjoy and the activities we pursue. There are bound to be several people who know us – colleagues, friends, acquaintances, partners, clients – people who are one thing to one of us and another to the other (my friend is his classmate, his neighbor is my colleague etc).

In order to truly cut a person out of this, I would have to snip off all the other connections. And for each of those connections, there would be numerous others to be severed. I’m not even counting all the possibilities that I’d be saying no to. (“I can’t work in that company because his best friend works there”, “I can’t go to that party because his current girlfriend is an event sponsor.”) Completely severing one relationship means tearing the entire social fabric around me and limiting my own existence. Is any one person worth that effort?

I think most of us don’t actually feel the same trusting, affectionate friendship for our exes that we feel for people that we don’t share a romantic history with. But we manage to tolerate them, put aside strong emotions in favour of dignity/political correctness/peace. And over time it gets easier and almost real. I’m not great friends with anybody who has hurt me in a relationship before. But I don’t wish them harm. And mostly I’m enough at peace with it to not put our common associations through inconvenience. And as weeks, months, years pass, other people and associations take priority.

Which brings me to, the fact that we have more choices. Even in tradition-bound, family-values-strangled urban India. Widow remarriage, divorce, break-ups – these are realities that we don’t like but find ways to accept anyway. Having options for the future is the surest, easiest way to keep from clinging to the past. Who has the time and energy to stay upset over a five-year-old association when the demands of the current are so pressing? Not my generation.

*Image courtesy nuttakit on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.

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Closure begins with an end

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.

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