Recently, I’ve been feeling a curious sensation of being a different me. I’m going through one of those plateaus in my life that occur between the dramatic highs and crashes. Yes, I do live in interesting times, like the Chinese say. These plateaus of being single are marked by mild boredom, subtle dissatisfaction and a sense of drifting along. I feel a lot calmer than I usually do. The highs and crashes are usually (but not always) marked by my being in love with a person, place, object or activity. And as with the last couple of times, I’m beginning to wonder whether a relationship is worth the tumult it causes to me.
A friend told me that being in love, in a relationship is so hard because it means constantly living in the knowledge that a person can wreck you. And this has happened to me several times over, wreck being the operative word. Of course, I have gotten up and on each time. Whether because of inherent self-centeredness or pigheaded pride or the constant ability to delude myself, I survive. But it has never been a pleasant experience and I hope it never becomes one. I have no judgement against masochists but I hope any strains of it have been worn out of me in the last few years. It’s all well to seek adventure knowing that it involves much discomfort and pain. It’s another thing altogether to get used to being a sufferer. I’m not one and I don’t intend to be.
I feel a sense of placidity these days that I usually only feel when I’m not wildly in love. I have managed to let go of multiple people who were bad for me and I can only do that when I feel completely devoid of fear. It made me realise how many of my relationships were about clinging out of fear. I could suddenly see them clearly and also summon up the vitality to let them go. I could see very clearly that holding on to a toxic relationship is eventually, a harder life choice. This is clarity.
I’ve been struck with insight about people, relationships and situations that are going to end. I can see clearly how death is a natural season in anything that lives, including relationships. And I’ve watched it come and pass, untouched. Because I can’t do anything about it. Because it is the way of things. Because it must happen for things to be right. And because new things will come in. This is clarity again.
I have struggled with anger for most of my life. And over time, I have come to realise that anger comes from fear and there is so much fear nestled in the corners of most of my relationships. Fear of the other person; fear from the other person. It settles over both our moods and it clouds my temperament. I’ve been able to brush off a number of highly unpleasant incidents lately because I could make myself impervious to the other person’s fear and hence, anger. ‘This is not about me at all but about something else they are struggling with’, I was able to tell myself and walk past unaffected as if I were wearing a sturdy raincoat to their wet moods. This is clarity too.
This clarity makes much else possible. I’m more sensitive to my body’s needs. Discipline is not something that needs to be enforced but which my life aligns with, by itself. I am not plagued as much by the fear and doubts that anybody who works independently feels. I feel less torn apart by the people and things in my life. I’m not as devastated by my difficulties, even though I’m very sad about them. Most of my concerns manifest as mild boredom at best. I have felt this before so it is not a new feeling.
And I also know now that I rapidly lose it when there is a relationship or a close person in my life. “But you said you love me!” a friend protested. And I do. But it is a measured, contained love where I keep myself from falling into too much closeness, too much boundary-blurring, and too much fear. When fear appears, I move away gently, slightly and deal with it so she never knows. I wonder if that is a lesson on how one must love — sensibly.
On the other hand, the grand drama of falling in love still intrigues me. It’s fairytalish and unreal but love is the only magic I have ever experienced and what is magic but an unrealistic fairytale? Such a harsh price to pay each time and I don’t know if it’s time I learn to be sensible and not fritter away all my precious peace of mind on people and relationships.
In a conversation with another friend though, I realised something. My relationships, especially the last one have ended very badly. Like Eirean Bradley says in his remarkable poem, “Don’t be surprised if all they can remember is the screaming”. Truly, that is all I can remember on most days when I think of that relationship and thus, about any major relationship for me.
But a part of me also knows that there was much love, friendship, respect, fun and joy to start with. It was as magical as anything else could ever have been. It had to be. What else could prompt the control-freak-super-planner me to jump into a relationship with a younger man within two weeks and slide into an engagement in less than a year? It was a force, much bigger than me. And it was good, to begin with.
I guess when it’s over I only remember the confusion, the betrayal, the shame and the anguish. These are things that stay alive in memory. But things like affection, fun and lust don’t. They exist when they do and then they evaporate leaving no marks. So it’s hard to remember that they ever existed and in such a measure as to balance out the things that have left skid marks on your soul.