Think of your relationship history like an onion. It begins at the tender centre of it and grows outward. Some relationships flake off easily—dry and trashed almost immediately, they have no impact on you. Some are harder to get to and make you cry once you unearth them. All gather around you in a multi-layered bulb making you the person you are, complete with little roots that go down, deeper into the place you call home.
Now, the problem with living in the same city you grew up in is that you're constantly running into old loves. It's not just the man you dated for a brief and passionate few weeks in your twenties, it's also the boy you once had a crush on, it's also the person you completely alienated, it's also the person who broke your heart once, it's also someone you were once very rude to. It's like watching your history (or herstory) flash by you even when you're doing something as innocent as going out for a coffee. In Delhi, we are the Maya Angelou poem, Reverses, which spoke so much to me that at one point I had it pinned to the bulletin board above my desk.
How often must we
butt to head
Mind to ass
flank to nuts
cock to elbow
hip to toe
soul to shoulder
in our pasts.
“Hello,” says someone to you, totally innocuously at a party, and you're wondering if they remember what you remember when you see them—considering the last time you saw them you were both standing much closer to each other than you are now. There's always the initial awkwardness, one or both of you are with your new partners, and while you might have a total honest, healthy relationship with the man you're with, the Old Flame may not, and so he's guiding you down the potentially landmine filled path of getting through this conversation without revealing to the woman he's with that he's also (once upon a time) been with you.
For some women, it's a bit harder to date within a city you've always dated. Delhi—like many other big cities in India—is essentially a village when it comes to people you know and people they know. Date one person and check out his “mutual friends” list on Facebook and you uncover a whole other layer of your acquaintances who he's once slept with. Now it's not only the tricky dance of keeping a current partner away from an old one, it's also about being tactful (and subduing feelings of jealousy) when you meet your friend again. Did he do this with her? Did she make him laugh like I do? And when you're the acquaintance and she's the new love, you sometimes see them across the room and a very small, selfish part of your brain says, “I wonder if they're happy.”
Others still try to hide their old lovers from their new ones. Which means every party is a minefield, every casual acquaintance is signalled to with lots of raised eyebrows and mouth movements. “Shut up,” you think frantically, “Don't say that the last time I saw you was at a wedding with the other guy I was with.”
Until eventually—like me—you begin to grow into your onion. There are no longer that many people who elicit a reaction, stories of your earlier more hectic dating life only make you laugh or feel sorry for that younger version of you. You can even smile brightly and offer real blessings to an old flame-turned-friend.
Being unhappy is a habit—like smoking—but so is being happy. And that looks so much better on you.
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of five books, most recently a YA novel about divorce called Split and a collection of short stories about love called Before, And Then After. The views expressed here are her own.
Last Updated 31, Mar 2018, 6:56 PM IST