I’m like Sleeping Beauty in that I’ve been dead for most purposes, except for two years, not a hundred. An entirely consuming set of relationships and work projects burnt through me and left me in nothingness. And now I feel ready to awaken or be reborn. I say reborn, because everything feels fresh and new, like I can become a different person, find a different model of relationships, build a different career. This isn’t the first of its kind in my life. I have had many careers after all, and I’ve been many different people with all the relationships that have passed through my life.
Early this year, I waded into the possibility of a romantic liaison. It was great. Exciting, dramatic, fun, unexpected and always, a little terrifying. He didn’t want what I wanted. I felt myself standing on the precipice of endless, burning painful emotion and it felt so familiar, I almost didn’t recognise it for the bad pattern I’ve lived through my whole life. Somewhere dimly I knew I was ingesting something that had proved to be bad for me in earlier times and I choked, sputtering, asking for time and space to think it through. I didn’t get it and that reminded me of another time in my life. In the middle of the most corrosive, damning relationship of my life, I still fought for clarity in my mind and I suggested a specific framework of space to him, that would take out all the pressures that kept us in that status quo. He flat out refused and in frantic aggression shut it down with what sounded like a threat – that we’d break up if I did that. It ended with every form of torture, abuse and humiliation that he could exact on me. I still think if we had done as I’d suggested, he and I might at least have stayed friends, respectful of each other instead of these poisoned factions.
This time, I know better. I know I am right, even if I’m not able to articulate it in the cold-logic/intellectual arguments that characterise my romances. If I must act in undignified, messy, ‘overemotional’ ways, I will. And that’s what I did. I got sarcastic, I wept and I crashed. It allowed me to put that distance and space. And then I ran away to Pune.
Perhaps this was the person to take the chance on, that I did on the wrong people in the past. But this doesn’t feel like the right time now. I realised my love life has been driven by FOMO (fear of missing out). They have been flinch reactions to the fear that I can see an emotional range that the other cannot and that I must carry us till they’re able to.
A friend said something about a specific situation (with someone else) that made sense to me:
“I think you’re crediting him with a lot more emotional depth and intelligence than he’s shown in all these years.”
And I realised the truism in ‘Not my circus’. This always felt like a cold thing but it is really not. There are the indulgences that one can extend, the minor adjustments one is willing to make. But one really cannot and should not attempt to fill in the thinking (intellectual or emotion) that the other person is supposed to do. That’s only a relationship with myself if I do that.
I’ve gotten into the habit of struggling, really suffering through this situation. I had to remind myself that I find it relatively easy to free myself of habits, especially those that don’t serve me. It helped to be in Pune, a place that always clears my head. I moped a bit, slept a little too much at the wrong times, binge-watched Netflix, spoke a little much or too little to the wrong people and overslept the morning I was to return. And then I picked myself up and got onto that bus back. On the way, I looked at myself in that wonderful thing called the selfie camera and I realised I’d be okay.
The weekend was better. I started with a performance. I know the way to shake a habit is not to avoid it but to look it square in the eye. So I brought my story of Custody to stage. A friend accompanied me and then cooked me lunch. Another friend picked us up and we spent an evening together.
Somewhere along the way, we got to optimising my social media feed. Emotions and what’s happening in my heart will always lace the things I do and it’s best I let them instead of drawing artificial walls there. In the examining of the images that make up the last 6 years of my life, I found myself able to say this doesn’t matter any more, this must be removed, that can be put away without clinging. And 24 hours later, I have a cleaner feed and a lighter heart.
I am constantly coming of age, it’s true. And here, it begins again.
One of my golden relationship dictats is to never mix one’s professional and personal lives. I’m going to add one to that –
‘Don’t confuse your partner’s friends for your own.’
This is not a cynical, angry statement (along the lines of “You don’t make friends in b-school, only future colleagues & competitors”). Indeed, I’ve written about the joys of getting along with the partner’s friend. I’ve also detailed the curious picture of a ‘best friend couple’. I stand by those two, based as they are, on real people and situations in my life.
However, I am coming to believe that in order to keep things clean and simpler for everyone in the long run, perhaps some lines (albeit artificial) need to be drawn. I’ve experienced, firsthand, the heartache of a relationship with a friend and one of the most devastating things about it, was the quandary into which it plunged our common friends. Custody battles for friendship are no less ugly than those for children & possessions of an estranged couple.
What happens when you don’t have common friends? There is a normal process of getting to know each other’s circles and finding a place within them. Here’s where my newfound pearl of wisdom comes in. Friction is an integral part of any relationship and the possibility of parting ways is never exactly zero. In addition, the complex process of building a life with another person, doesn’t come naturally to most people, especially those of us in the uber-individual, nuclear-family society of today. At such a time, the urban family of friends and trusted confidantes serve to provide perspective and even wisdom in handling each situation.
All of this just gets complicated beyond control, if the same people (or person) must be called upon to provide perspective to both parties in a relationship. I think, at some level, anyone in this situation would feel that they need to take one side over the other and the choice is almost always (and should) the person they’ve known longer.
What happens when you’ve become friends with your partner’s friends (or think you have) and then discover that they choose your partner over you? Any fair-minded person would agree that this is natural and above reproach. On the other hand, when you trust someone and they take the other person’s side, it feels like they’ve chosen to stand against you; like they reject you. Another mess that only accentuates any natural conflict you may have with your partner.
Let me turn that around. I am always happy when a close friend of mine gets along well with my partner. However, I must admit, I also need to know that when it comes down to it, they have my back. This is irrespective of what situation I face, and tomorrow (or whenever) that situation may be against my partner. I do need to know that my friends are on my side, firmly and without doubt.
I am going to conclude that this is one of the many aspects of the space that is crucial to any relationship. There are things that it is necessary to retain at an individual level, to not share, for the very good of the relationship. Perhaps close friendship is one of them.