A letter unsent (for now)

Dear alternative-random-arrangement-of-the-same-genes-as-mine,

There’s something about romantic relationships that really captures the imagination. Love has got to be the most powerful muse, and the most successful industry. Everyone experiences it at least (hopefully) once in their life, and those who experience more than one romantic relationship will be able to tell you that no two romantic relationships are exactly the same – the partner changes every time, and, in many ways, so do you.

And now, I’m going to bore you with the details of my relationships – not a lot of T.M.I., but just enough in order to share with you what I’ve learnt over the years so that you can take what you might need from it to help yourself.

I entered my first relationship with a checklist of things I wanted ticked off – some necessary, others frivolous. Should have similar interests, should be tall, should look good in a turtleneck. It’s been nearly a decade since my first relationship, and I don’t quite remember the person I’d been before my first relationship, but what I do remember of myself was that I was an idealistic romantic, very young with very little knowledge of the world and its ways, and with no inkling of what facades were or how much they could hide beneath them.

My first romantic partner did cross out most of the items on my list, and it felt like this was the person I’d imagined so vividly when I was still younger. The first few months were intense – so much love, so much attraction, so much attention. Never before had I attracted such attention, and never again have I ever experienced such an intense feeling. What I didn’t realise, however, was that I hadn’t added a few items to my checklist that this person did cross out – manipulator, emotional abuser, psychopath and a gas lighting monster.

Never before, and never again.

What had been a checklist of things I wanted soon turned into a checklist of things I did not want. I did not want to be abused. I did not want to be made to cry every single night. I did not want to walk on eggshells. I did not want my partner to say their ex-flame’s name lovingly as we kissed. I did not want to vomit my breakfast out because of the stress of watching my partner lovingly gaze into the face of another person. I did not want to hurt. I did not want to be broken into tiny, tiny pieces that would take me several years – and with the lessons of several bad relationships – to piece together.

Every subsequent bad relationship brought me some more points to add to my new checklist, until, finally, I came face to face with my problem – me.

I’ve read a comment on reddit once, where someone said – “If you’ve had multiple terrible relationships, and all your exes have been crazy, you need to realise that they aren’t the problem – you‘re the problem.” And I may not be taking the comment in the spirit in which it was written, because it can be interpreted in two ways, in my opinion – either you’re the crazy abusive ex, and/or you have a deep rooted unresolved trauma that makes you select partners whose inflicted trauma gives you a sense of familiarity. Neither of those options are mutually exclusive, and either way, you’re the problem.

Every time I fell in love (although now having gotten a taste of mature, healthy, painless love, I don’t know how much of what I felt earlier was true love and not some part of Stockholm Syndrome), I changed. Every time I fell out of love, I changed a lot more.

My way of coping with heartbreak, in short, followed a philosophy, one that I delineated during my first relationship. And here it is:

It’s not even about getting over the person. It’s about filling the holes they used to fill when they were there. And I don’t know how to fill it up, but I know that I can’t let anyone else fill it up. So, being politically correct, I’m not trying to get over someone, but trying to fill the holes they left.

-me, 7 years ago

I would basically spend my time after the grieving stage to analyse what fulfilment I was getting from that relationship, and would begin to work on those parts of myself, in order to fulfil those needs and wants myself.

Want to be bought gifts? Buy them yourself.

Want to go to the movies but have no one to go with? Go alone. (One of the best things I’ve done in my life, by the way)

Want to do something crazy but don’t have company? Do it anyway.

The moment I’d catch myself longing for company to do something, to feel something, to want something, I’d see how best I could fulfil that need myself. It, of course, didn’t work for everything, but it worked for most material wants, and, surprisingly enough, many emotional needs.

I do realise now, however, in the light of my current, long term relationship that while I was burdened with more harmful relationships than one would need, those relationships, thankfully, did not last very long, and had such painful memories associated with the time within the relationship itself that the need to preserve or live through happier memories quickly gave way to the burial of the entire account of the relationship, good, bad and ugly. I have faint recollections of my previous experiences, off the top of my head, but I know that the longer I ponder over them, I’ll be able to, at one point, unearth the entire relationship from start to finish.

As much as emerging from the closet is celebrated, some things are best kept behind barred, bolted doors.

For me, what makes a relationship bad isn’t how much effort of mine it consumed to stay afloat, or how much effort I utilised to snap out of it. A bad relationship, for me, is defined by how much of what is said or done cannot be taken back, no matter how many apologies are made, or how much time passes. Effort is required in any relationship to keep it going, but if something cannot be taken back or, worse yet, forgiven, then it will eat through the foundation of the relationship, until one day the relationship will crumple into itself, unable to stay upright.

But, I speak from experience when I tell you this – every relationship, even good ones, especially bad ones, require effort. I’ll put it across to you in terms that you’ll relate to easily. A good relationship isn’t a one time investment that you deposit in the bank of love and don’t think about for another few years – it comprises of recurring installments that need to be put in every so often, for as long as you want to keep the relationship going.

Here’s where it differs a bit from finance – the installments may vary in amount. Some times you have to put in more, some times you can get away with putting in less. But every installment must be duly deposited, without delay or postponement.

And the effort you put into a relationship doesn’t end when you move in together, or get married, or get kids, or whatever milestone it is that you’ve set for yourself. Nor is a relationship ever deemed ‘fulfilled’ or ‘complete’ in terms of what you need to give to keep it going. Over time, the effort stops feeling like an exertion, and it begins feeling more natural, more like an extension of your normal actions. But the effort, itself, never stops.

In fact, the only time a relationship ceases to need effort is when you die. Not even when the other person dies – because when your partner dies, you then proceed to put in effort to grieve, to remember them and your relationship, and to move on from the grief that you feel. No, the only time a relationship stops asking you for your contribution is when you die, or, sometimes, much after you have ended it.

I realise you hurt, and you grieve. That’s okay. It’s good that you feel that way – maybe there’s something your heart needed that someone else was given the power to give. But, you must realise – you gave them that power, and there are very few things that you can give power over to others for that you cannot do yourself.

Hang in there. I know you’re hurting. It’ll get better over time – you’ll grieve less, you’ll rage less, and you’ll definitely hurt less. Give it time. I know you’ll get through it.

And hopefully, one day, you’ll allow me to draw close enough to be able to show you this letter. But until then, let it be a memory of what you’ve been through. I know you look back at these memories with pain and anger, but, believe me when I say that one day, they will be a source of strength, if you allow them to.

Until then,

Yours, for as long as we shall both live,

Your annoying sibling.

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