I’m nervous and antsy because I’m not sure what is the story I’m trying to tell. Is it about love? Is it about my skeleton-filled closet that I’m valiantly trying to clear, day in and day out? Is it about the beautiful conversations I have had over these past few days? Is it about the few women and men I know who remind me that we are not alone, we are a community, that we all feel the same way? Is it about my family? I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
Nevertheless, let me try to tell this story. It has been brewing for so long; it needs a release.
I write a lot about love. If you follow me on Twitter, or my blog, you will see that the little anecdotes I share, the little quotes that I post, the articles that I retweet, are inadvertently linked to this grand, old concept. I am a romantic, and an idealist, but these facets of my personality are not the main reasons why I keep coming back to this seed of thought over and over again. I write so much about love because truthfully, I don’t understand it.
And that is how I deal with things I don’t understand. I write about them, rearrange words on blank sheets over and over, until there is some semblance of order to the mess in my head (or heart, these days, they are both the same, I tell you). It’s my way of feeling that I am in control of what I don’t know. I am aware it is quite farcical, but it helps in soothing the anxiety in my mind. And so, another day will pass.
I also write a lot about love because I have an abysmal, abysmal, abysmal track record with it. (Even as I write this statement, I know it is not altogether true. But let me come to that in a while). I spent most of my teenage years being in love with someone who never quite felt the same way about me. Then I was in a long-term relationship that, as most of these tales go, ended badly and left me half the person I was. I am not blaming this on my partner; I was young, and I had many other things that contributed to the slow whittling of my person and my heart. By the time I got out of it, I had spent close to ten years on two people who were, simply put, no longer around. By the time a decade passed, and by the time I figured out it was time to start putting myself back together, I felt older, and more tired than ever before. I was also deeply miserable, and yearning, but for what, I didn’t quite understand.
As a rule, I don’t date much. I am terrible with small talk, I can’t stand faking niceties, and I’m a forced extrovert. Dating generally is a conglomerate of the above, and it takes more out of me than the satisfaction it gives. The only reason I even began, was because my best friend S, reminded me that I had to give life a try again. I couldn’t be sitting in a cave and moping. I had been doing that for a long time, you see.
I met a few men, all of whom exhibited similar patterns of behaviour. Enamored on the first date, around for a few weeks, and then radio silence. An event happening once could be one of chance, the same event happening twice could be a strange incident of coincidence, but anything more than that is a clear sign of a pattern being played out. I talked about this with S.
“Is there an inherent flaw?” The unsaid part of the question was whether this was a flaw in me. I couldn’t bear to say it to S, but he knew exactly what I meant.
“No. It is not you. But, Arathi, in a way, it is also you.”
I was quiet. My heart was hurting.
“You need to understand why this is what you think you deserve.”
Trust S to ask me to ask myself the hard questions. Perhaps that is why we are friends. Because he is never afraid to be honest with me. Never afraid to break down the carefully constructed glass walls that glisten with what most would think to be awareness, but is mostly fragility, vulnerability, hurt.
I didn’t have an answer that day. But the question remained. Because it was true. We allow into our lives the people we think we deserve. We allow ourselves to be treated in a certain way because we feel we either deserve that much, or that little. What was the reason I was constantly shortchanging myself, letting myself be a kind of waterhole where people came, received, and left? Why did I feel that I only deserved a part of someone’s attention? Why was I so goddamn afraid to ask for time or for an answer?
I was sharing my frustrations with another friend, also S. I asked her, why was it that men were so strange. (Forgive me, this was not a sexist question, but one that was just borne out of weeks and months of perplexity). She said she didn’t know, that she asked herself the same questions herself. We shared our mutual exasperations and then I went, “You know, S, if women did it for me, I would have asked you out by now.” She laughed, and told me that she felt the same. We agreed we were soul mates. I felt happier, contented that I could share my honest thoughts with someone and not be judged. Someone who would ask after my day and after my heart, the two things that got to me each and every time. Here, was love. This too, was love. Just not the kind the world was used to hearing about, or understanding.
Yesterday, I met a friend from Twitter whom I have been meaning to meet for a while. These online friendships are always a worrying thing, aren’t they. You know these people’s words and the shades of their lives that they so readily share on social media, you build impressions of them in your head which you hope and pray are similar to the real deal, and then you take the friendship to a next level by meeting the living, breathing heart behind that person. Sometimes, you hit the nail on the head and find a friend for life. Other times, you leave the scene shaking, and wondering how completely disparate a person’s online personality is vis-a-vis their real person.
M was a case of the former, a complete and utter gem of a person. We sat by the river and exchanged snippets of our lives before the conversation inadvertently turned to love. (Really, sometimes I think it is the only thing worth talking about, worth thinking about, but this is me. You may wish to disagree). We talked about love, and we talked about men, and we talked about ourselves, and wherein we tried to deconstruct why we were the way we were, we ended up talking about our mothers.
I have said this before and I will say this again; when you are a woman, it always goes back to the woman you came from.
I expressed the same frustrations that I had earlier shared with S and S; M and I found ourselves agreeing with each other that we had both exhibited similar behaviours. This fear to ask, this inability to demand, this need to give, this assumed facade of being strong all the time, this deep sense of disappointment we carried when the few expectations we had never came to fruition….
It was mindblowing. It was mindblowing, because as S had rightly asked me earlier, it had to do with me. It had to do with the roles that I had assumed as a child. It had to do with the fact that my mother was diagnosed with cancer when I was very young, and I had no choice but to step into shoes that I had not altogether been prepared for. My mother, at that time, had needed me to be strong. She had needed me to be there for her. She had needed me to give. And like any other daughter who just wanted to make her mother’s pain go away, I had taken it into myself, swallowed the responsibilities whole without quite digesting them, and let them build into these little boulders that sat in the pit of my stomach. It meant that I was constantly in a state of helplessness, because I didn’t know what more I could do for my mother, I didn’t know how much I could help, I didn’t know why I couldn’t just take all that pain away.
This helplessness, this need for giving, then manifested strongly, and unhealthily in my relationships with men. It meant that I was willing to give, and give, and do and do, and be afraid to ask or demand things in return. It meant that the thought of loss and helplessness was so difficult for me to deal with that I would be okay with putting up with sub-standard behaviour, because really, that was all I thought I deserved. It meant that I attracted men who wanted to take, and who were selfish enough (I don’t say this with spite, just matter of factly) to not give much in return. And I had convinced myself that I was okay with it.
When, really, I wasn’t. At all. I was not okay with it at all.
I realised how not okay I was with this while I was talking to another friend, V. My conversation with V was so strikingly, uncannily similar to the one I had with M, that I knew this was something that had to be shared. As V kindly, and lovingly reminded me, the awareness of why certain habits manifested the way they did was the first step in dealing with said habits. She also reminded me, ever nurturing that she is, that developing new habits was not that hard, that all I had to do was start. Like asking for what I wanted. For being unapologetic about the desires I had. For not being afraid to admit that I was angry, or unhappy, and to expect others to compromise for me. I agreed with V. Told her I loved her, and that I had needed to hear this.
And here I am, trying to write it all out so that there is some sense in this cacophony.
It all boils down to love. I wrote earlier that I have an abysmal track record with it, but the truth is, for all the disappointments and heartbreaks that I have gone through, I have also hit the damn jackpot with the people who continue to remain in my life. There is a community of men and women here who remind me that I am not alone, that they have got back my back, who have cleaned up my vomit on drunken days and fed me food on depressed nights. There are girlfriends who have never given up, even when I have. There are good men, who remind me that there are good men out there (not that the ones I met were not good, they were just not what I needed in my life) who would understand and appreciate what people like me would have to offer. Then, there is my family, which remains an oasis of comfort, strength and support despite the different levels of asshole-ishness I exhibit on various days.
In my rabid, narrow-minded attempt to understand romantic love, I forget the daily blessings that are delivered to me on a plate every other hour. So this, this is my note of reminder to myself.
That I am healthy, that I am loved, and that I can and will receive completely, as I am.
And if your story carries shades of mine, I urge you, from the bottom of my heart, to start with me. We need to begin somewhere, after all.