I went to lunch with a beloved aunt, last week. She is one of my role models, having blazed the corporate path in the 70s and faced racial and gender prejudices. She has also had a ‘love marriage’ to a wonderful but non-Tamilian man. We spoke of work (hers and mine) and relationships (mine). She asked me about someone from my past that she knew. I shrugged and said,
“He’s well, I hear. Doing some great work. We don’t talk often but I get the news.”
She looked out of the window for a long minute. I waited for the nugget of wisdom or keen observation I knew was about to come (from so many other such insightful conversations with her). She said,
“I think it’s a generation thing. I can’t imagine any of my peers being able to do that.”
She was referring of course, to how ‘okay’ we are with our ex-es. She told me about a friend who studiously avoided a certain couple, because once, years ago, the man had been discussed as an arranged matrimonial prospect for her.
I didn’t need time to respond because it’s something I’ve pondered and experienced, especially this last year too. It is a generational thing, sort of. I don’t think that we are any more ‘mature’ or ‘strong’ or any of those adjectives that people use to make themselves feel superior. It is true that we don’t cut our failed/thwarted relationships off as much as the previous generation might have. Sometimes, we even seem to achieve that miraculous state of being friends with our exes. But I think it is necessity rather than virtue that drives us.
We live in an even more populous but much more connected world than the generation before us. The matrix of human experience is comprised of multiple and multi-layered connections. While there are more of us, we are also segmented a lot more rigidly and closely. Everybody knows everybody within our segments.
Take my case, for instance. All my associations are with people who are in cities, digitally savvy, in professions like management, communication, marketing, publishing. These are people whose lives overlap with mine because of the place we are in, the professions we follow, the hobbies we enjoy and the activities we pursue. There are bound to be several people who know us – colleagues, friends, acquaintances, partners, clients – people who are one thing to one of us and another to the other (my friend is his classmate, his neighbor is my colleague etc).
In order to truly cut a person out of this, I would have to snip off all the other connections. And for each of those connections, there would be numerous others to be severed. I’m not even counting all the possibilities that I’d be saying no to. (“I can’t work in that company because his best friend works there”, “I can’t go to that party because his current girlfriend is an event sponsor.”) Completely severing one relationship means tearing the entire social fabric around me and limiting my own existence. Is any one person worth that effort?
I think most of us don’t actually feel the same trusting, affectionate friendship for our exes that we feel for people that we don’t share a romantic history with. But we manage to tolerate them, put aside strong emotions in favour of dignity/political correctness/peace. And over time it gets easier and almost real. I’m not great friends with anybody who has hurt me in a relationship before. But I don’t wish them harm. And mostly I’m enough at peace with it to not put our common associations through inconvenience. And as weeks, months, years pass, other people and associations take priority.
Which brings me to, the fact that we have more choices. Even in tradition-bound, family-values-strangled urban India. Widow remarriage, divorce, break-ups – these are realities that we don’t like but find ways to accept anyway. Having options for the future is the surest, easiest way to keep from clinging to the past. Who has the time and energy to stay upset over a five-year-old association when the demands of the current are so pressing? Not my generation.
*Image courtesy nuttakit on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
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