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.
— — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — — —
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.