After he broke my iPod (and it was almost comical since he had to smash it several times and jump on it to break), and his own, he bought me a new one. This despite my never wanting to see one again. Why would I? His music taunted my lack of intelligence and I was too terrified to listen to music I used to like. He waited six months, not allowing me to buy him an iPod, not buying himself one, carrying the badge of the denied genius. Sharp at month 6, he bought one and paraded it around defiantly as if I had kept him from it. Six months, he told me proudly, six months I had decided I would go without an iPod. Six months where he taunted my lack of taste in music and when he didn’t, the empty iPod he bought me sneered. So precise and calculated.
I come from a tradition of music, of training and performing. But I have never owned a music player after that. I have since, won back my right to listen to music I like, even as I indulge this only sparingly. There are too many echoes of hatred and violence in anything I listen to.
His music was music, his self-flagellation was greatness. Mine was just shallow, stupid, worthless. And yet, he’s barely my worst offender when it comes to music. My sexual predator guitar teacher from age 11 and violent, abusive fan-boyfriend (from “Your singing drew me out of my quiz and I just had to come talk to the girl on stage.” to “You are so black and ugly, a guy would only be with you because you look easy.”) from age 22 lead this gaslighting, dangerous ex-fiance of mine.
But I will never forgive the wounds he scratched on my faith in idealistic people, my empathy for abuse/violence sufferers. I will never forgive him for turning me into the demons in his head and me into a monster. And in this, there is its own kind of music. You thought your music was angry?
This was triggered by the book ‘When I Hit You’ by Meena Kandasamy. Notably by a section where her violent abuser shuts down her poetry writing as vindiction but justifies his own poetry as self-flagellation. Just like my ex and the iPods.
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I had a chance to get this off my chest last year. I’m so grateful for the stage giving me a chance to voice things that had been eating away my insides for too long. I’ve been silenced by well-meaning friends and others who are just inconvenienced by anything other than my smiling face. I felt like I owed it to myself to get it out and start 2017 on a fresh note. Noting it here for posterity.
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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 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.
I think I’m finally ready to talk about this. It has been a strange, choked three years for this blog. I’ve not been anonymous, an issue I’ve been struggling with on all my other social media channels too. But specifically on XX Factor, where I talk about relationships, where other people’s emotions and involvement are present, it’s harder for me to speak. And I’ve been in a serious relationship and then the equally heavy fallout of the break-up after that.
Let’s talk about what went wrong, why we broke up, I and the man I called ‘Mr.Everyday‘, the one I was engaged to.
We were very different people to start with. In time our differences became too great to deal with. No, that’s not quite it. True and yet, not what I want to talk about.
It ended because it was a toxic, abusive relationship. Yes, I said that. Abusive. Violence. It ended because voices were raised and at some point of time, hands too.
Take a second to digest that, but only a second, so you don’t have the time to jump to a conclusion. Let me tell my story.
At some point of time it just got to be too much for me, the things that hurt me so much (which I won’t get into now, I’m determined that this one post won’t be about villifying him). When that happened, I stopped being who I want to think I am. I gave up my lifelong battle against anger and let myself go.
I broke a teacup. I tore up a book I’d gifted him. I set the torn fragments on fire.
Things settled for a bit, cooling off like the burning shards. And I naively believed that our problems had gone too. We started talking about marriage a few months after that, a stupid notion, now I know.
The next time the pressure built up, it went a little further. I don’t even remember the sequence of events now, it’s all such an angry, teary blur. But I do remember screaming,
“If you say that one more time, I’ll slap you”
I don’t remember what his words were that incensed me so but whatever they were, despite my warning, he did. And I slapped him. Then he hit me back. I remember flying across the room, hitting the wall and falling down, surprised, very surprised.
Stuff after that blurs again. Another memory. Similar. I slapped him. He lunged back. This time I staggered back and fell onto a sofa and everything was a red blur for a bit. I lost a few seconds before I figured out my nose was bleeding. And still a few more seconds before I realized he was pounding his own fists into the wall. My nosebleed turned out to be a minor internal cut, not a fracture as I had feared. And his fists had bruises on them.
The rest is, well, the rest is just words. I still maintain that there was undue interference from outside which put a severe strain on an already troubled relationship. But truthfully, the rot in our relationship were sown by the two of us – him and me.
It was an abusive relationship. We stopped respecting each other and began hurting each other instead. A handful of incidents changed the course of our relationship from ‘difficult’ to ‘non-existent’.
Why have I chosen to come out with this now? This is not personal vendetta against him. His crimes to our relationship are numerous. But I can never forget that I raised my hand first, an act of violence that would set the tone for the future of our relationship. I need to acknowledge that, to myself and here, in this space where I talk about my relationships, who I am and how I love. This is me then. I love passionately. But also violently. I’m dreadfully ashamed of it.
I don’t want us to be together anymore (and understandably neither does he). My next thought is usually to wish I hadn’t said this or done that. But I honestly don’t see how my reactions could have been anything else. At that point of time, I just got pushed too far.
Today, I know a little more than I did then. I’m not as proud about never backing down from a challenge. I want to believe that I think before flaring up to anger. I’m still learning. In all fairness, that ‘being pushed too far’ situation has never risen after that. But perhaps one of my lessons is in avoiding those situations too. I’ve learnt fear, a difficult lesson for me. And this time, it’s fear of myself.
I don’t like who I was then and I hope I never go back to that place. That may mean that I never get that close to anybody again, never let myself love or trust so much again, never let myself be so bitterly disappointed again. Because if disappointment and frustration and hurt bring out such a monster in me, it’s best that the monster be caged and never taunted out.
But life is a long journey and I don’t anymore believe myself to be the strong, proud person I once thought I was. This hurt, this disappointment in myself has lain heavy on my soul for a year now. I don’t want to punish myself for the rest of my life. So I’m going to try to make my peace with this – with my ugly, violent side as well as the selfish, survival instinct that makes me want to love again.
That’s all. Thank you for listening.
P.S. – I found this blogpost very helpful.
You take a look around and mentally divide everything you see in half. You color code, (all in your head of course) what’s indisputably yours and what’s their’s. And finally, you get to what’s yours collectively and groan mentally at the difficult conversation you’re going to endure. They’re very likely doing the same thing too. Or one of you may just throw up your hands in despair and say,
“Whatever, you take it all.”
…which makes the other one seethe at how indifferent that is so they throw out something equally noble sounding like,
“No, I don’t really care about it.”
…leaving the ‘either’ unsaid.
More deadends. It does all get divided up somehow, even if it’s just a matter of who manages to pack what and to hell with the packers who found a few bonus gifts with what neither side had the nerve to discuss.
Yes, I went through that. I sucked in my breath, pulled back my tears and dove in in the manner of pulling off a band-aid. And when it was done, I told myself, I’d let myself feel the pain of it all. I completely forgot (again) how life resists systematic inventorying.
Do you know what’s the most difficult thing to divide? It’s also the most precious thing and subsequently the cause for the most unresolved ugliness. The worst thing to have to fight over after a relationship breaks, is other people’s affections. Divorce gets all its scare-power from the ugliness of child custody battles. But what about other relationships and well, everyone else? Our relationships exist within a larger network of friendships, other couples and social circles. The disintegration of a single relationship tears the larger social fabric. It’s painful on everyone concerned and there’s no easy, clean way around it.
There’s enough of pop wisdom floating around, that’s liberally mouthed by every person caught in this situation, the warring exes, their families, friends, colleagues. But the truth of the matter is, they’re inadequate, which is why the problems happen in the first place. I think it’s completely impractical to try and stay friends with two people who’ve parted ways. One or both of them is going to feel slighted. You will become just one more thing they fight over. If you really care about each of them, pick a side and stick to it.
I know this will seem unfair, but consider this, it’s not. Human relationships are not factory-produced goods. Each one is unique and relevant to you in a different way. This is a situation where two such relationships (friendship with each estranged partner) cannot co-exist. Forcing them to do so will bring poison into both relationships. So figure out which one is more important or relevant or easier for you and go with it.
I’ve been on both sides of this obviously, the estranged partner as well as the friend. As a friend, I admit it’s been a difficult experience. I once set up two people together – one was a close friend, the other as good as a brother to me. When they broke up, I could see both of them were in pain and I knew if I tried to juggle both friendships, I’d only be causing both of them even more pain. So I picked one, the girl, on the premise that she and I had known each other longer. I don’t know whether the guy saw that as betrayal on my part or not but at least I took a stand. I spared him the agony of wondering, of questioning whether what he shared in confidence might not be betrayed to someone who was now a bitter foe, of thinking I might not always firmly be on his side because my loyalty was divided between him and someone who was on the opposite side now. That is the poison I’m talking about. I believe that whatever friendship we had was pure as long as we were friends and ended before suspicion, accusation and bitterness could seep in. I believe that was being a good friend.
The past three months have been rife with such situations for me, post-breakup. The saving grace is that most people were easily sorted into ‘his friends’ and ‘my friends’. As a conscious act, I put a barrier between his friends and me. I deleted them from my social networks. One of them called me to tell me how sorry she was to hear about the break-up and that she’d be willing to provide a listening ear if I needed it. I (very) regretfully declined and told her that would make it just too messy. That was hard, it really was because I liked her so much. It was hard for me letting go of his best friend too; we got along so well. But fair is fair and a best friend is a best friend – a relationship not to be touched.
I wish things could be done as cleanly by everyone else but I’m not the only one in this whole situation. Xion and I didn’t speak for weeks because of this. We’ve sorted out our differences now. But still, I spent the first, most painful and vulnerable times post-breakup without my closest friend during the relationship.
I had a painful conversation with another friend last week. My conversations with her in the last few months have been about her telling me not to be so bitter, not to say such things and how it made me appear to other people. She said,
“It makes me wonder whether, if tomorrow you and I have a fight, you’re going to go out and say bad things about me.”
That hurts, it really does. I’m fond of her. My solution is this – I’ve promised her that I will never talk to her about my relationship again. I will say what I want about whoever I want to, when I like but to her, it will never broach the subject of my lost relationship. She sounded offended when I told her this but what she thinks offends me. Perhaps I’m being irrational, maybe I’m adding too much drama. But I’d expect a friend to accept all that as what makes me, me. I’d do that for her. But she is a different person from me and if the way she is a friend is not the same, then I will have to revise how I am a friend to her as well. Which means, no sharing what’s upsetting me the most at the moment because she doesn’t want to see that side of me. Tough but true.
A break-up does change the social fabric of your life. No one said love would be easy and that includes everyone else you’ve loved beyond your lover too.
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.