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I Don’t Celebrate Halloween, Can I Leave?

I thought about him yesterday. Not the angry, violent, horrible monster that the later times have made me need to remember of him, but the early times. I had to. He’s the source material for my romantic imagination. And my imagination is the only thing that rescues me from the quagmire of emotions.

I am trying to remember how love used to be, how I used to love. I have a better understanding of the second, including the ways in which my unbounded affections become toxic for some people. This is the reality of it. It’s limiting to think of myself as bad or weak or love as a poisonous thing in total. Some things suit some people and they cause others to erupt in blisters or choke or turn into monsters. Who knows that better than an allergy-sufferer?

“I don’t think he ever actually liked me,”

I told a friend last week. Incredulous, he asked me, then why was he with you? I think (I reasoned as I spoke) that I fit a picture of what he thought he wanted – slightly older and dark skinned to annoy his family, bantery enough to feel like he was an intelligent guy, pedigreed to suit the Kolkata intellectual aesthetic and as a last consideration, packaged adequately well to not terribly annoy any lingering physical consideration. I scan myself mentally the way Hollywood films show men scanning women – body, background and messy human traits to be managed.

Some times this helps, being able to put myself inside what I think of, as that cruel, unforgiving, utterly unempathetic, uncaring eye of the person I loved. It helps me re-establish him as that person in my head.

But other days like yesterday, it’s harder. I must admit that most people do not look that deeply into another person, even people they claim to love. Men, least of all, given their boundless capacity for self-absorption and erasure of women. Men, especially in their twenties are not even required (by fashionable politics or by experiences with women like me) to think that much about why they chase who they chase.

Maybe there is some romance in that uncaring, naive, selfish, superficial glance. These adjectives are all things I’ve associated with romance, any way. Which completes my circle of thought, then. Do I want this? Did I ever? No.

Companionship seems to be a different thing but I keep getting pushed into the romance bazaar to look for it. I was looking for some cooling balm and I’m in a place hawking Halloween masks. That is a problem with the world and I have to find a way to get out of the wrong store. It is time to leave the monsters behind.

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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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Being okay

It seemed like the world was coming to an end and in a way, it was. Life as I knew it, was over, whether I liked it or not. I spent the next few days in utter despondency with a literal dark cloud over my head (monsoon had just begun). It looks like we’ve seen the last of the rains for this year. Well, there might be a shower this weekend (mum says it always rains on the final visarjan day) but mostly I think we’ve ridden out the heaviest of the monsoon. Going back to the metaphor, I think I’m in that place too.

I haven’t forgiven or for that matter, forgotten. But it’s not the number one thing in my head, the one idea I wake up with or fall asleep to. I’m okay that it happened, in fact getting to be happy even, that it happened. But I’m not yet okay with how. And I think, that’s okay. I heal on my own time. I let go in my own time too.

Mostly, I decided I had just been down this road way too many times. I decided to pick happiness over drama this time and funnily enough, it actually was enough. New things are always exciting since they force you to look at the world through a fresh pair of eyes. I have a new job, a new routine, a new circle of people and thus, a new identity. It’s all good. I’ve even crushed a few times and enjoyed them without making too much of them (inside my own head, most importantly). I’ve been healing. I’ve been known to laugh in that crazy, undignified way I used to, before it all went south. And if I’ve found my laughter again, happiness and everything good that life has to offer, can’t be far away, can it?

I think the best thing that has come out of this very bad, very painful, very humiliating, very hurtful experience has been my questioning whether it’s really what I want. The whole husband-soulmate-happily-married thing, I wonder if  that’s really what I wanted or whether I was just being blindsided by the world telling me that it’s what I should want. Yes, really, after all this while I still wonder whether that’s been my driving force all my adult life – a misguided notion that wasn’t even mine in the first place.

I know I enjoy excitement, vibrancy, an abundance of experiences and conversations. I love attention and I love people. I enjoy the challenge of doing something different, something offbeat and I also enjoy the newness of it rather than be daunted by it. I’m doing all of these right now and it feels like my life is a lot closer to complete than it ever was when I was in that relationship. I’m constantly entertained, challenged and thus, happy. When I was a girlfriend/fiance, I think I was terribly bored for most part. Boredom is my kryptonite, it is.

I’m not saying I’m swearing off men and relationships forever. But they’re just not so important to me any more. It sounds cliched to say I really want to focus on my career and that’s not quite it. I think I’m just going to focus on what makes me happy. A man may or may not be part of that. And I’m really okay with that.

The answer to “What happened?” and other such unanswerable questions

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.

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