Today is the last day of The Thirty Diaries, a series I started a little over a decade ago. Tomorrow, I turn 40, a number that brings its share of weight in the form of platitudes and stereotypes, some of which I’ve already encountered and battled. I am not sure if there will be a Forty Diaries. For starters, I don’t know how long I will continue to blog and in this manner. I don’t know if anybody else will be interested in the ruminations of an over-40 single woman. I’m not sure that journaling my ageing is going to serve the same purpose it did when I was in my 20s or 30s. And most of all, I don’t see any reason to start a new decade with references of the past.
It has certainly been a hard decade. It only became clear to me in the last few weeks that the past ten years of my life have been marked and influenced by three major relationships – one romantic, one friendship, one professional. All three of them were toxic in exactly the same way. They all started with people who were seemingly enamored with me suddenly and dramatically. People who did not have a pattern of such behaviour (or claimed they did not). The attention, affection, adulation was heady. It turned my head every time.
In the second phase of this pattern, I fell headlong into some kind of close involvement with the person. Every one of these people told me about what a strong person I was, how they admired/looked up to me. And in every one of those cases, I let that adulation lull me into letting them drive the other parts of my life. I let go of other people because they didn’t like them. I changed my appearance, my dating habits, my ideologies, even my health regime to please them. And some part of me still struggles to see these as bad – don’t we all do things like these for the people we love? Maybe I do it too much and for too long. I am aware of that and how that gets labelled toxic. The thing is nobody is able to tell me at exactly what point it stops being accommodating and starts becoming toxic.
The reason these three relationships stand out as a pattern to me is because of how they ended. Every single one of them involved a violent and sudden betrayal by the other person. Certifiable abuse, lying, exploitation and in one case, physical violence.
The first relationship started when I was probably in the best place in my life till that time. I was 30, financially independent, had quit a successful corporate career and had ventured out into something I felt a lot of passion for. I was also single and not joint at the hip to any friendship the way a lot of women are, being that the one person that might have happened with had got married and moved to another continent. This one I’ve analysed over and over again and I conclude that I fell prey to a carefully planned trap by somebody whose only intention was to exploit me – specifically my gender to keep away social pressures. The plan worked well – charm, isolate, gaslight, control, violate and finally exploit. I guess it wasn’t really that sudden after all if the intent was always to go down this path.
I guess I was primed for another exploitative person who definitely saw me as a trophy. This one was interesting because it made it clearer how a toxic woman operates differently from a toxic man. First the mirroring that made me think we had a lot more in common than we actually did – ideologies and interests. Then the subtle(r) transition into controlling my actions – people and activities. Suddenly there was no one who remembered me from before I met this person, because they had all been distanced. And everyone who I was in constant contact with, had been introduced into my life by this person. They had been chosen for how quickly they’d turn on me with complete control by this person – or perhaps they were also being similarly ‘managed’. I never had a whiff of how I was being manipulated. I can’t believe how completely I was fooled. For instance, this person made astrology a daily part of our conversations, referring to people in conversations as ‘You know, that Taurus thing’ or ‘Typical Scorpio behaviour’ or ‘Piscean? Has to be terrible’. This person’s own sign is known for manipulation and lies and still I went along, semi-indulgently and perhaps because it felt comfortable and easy to do so. I feel like an idiot and a lazy one at that. It really only struck me when during this person’s exit, one of their attacks was “Everything has to be astrology for you. Get over that and take responsibility for your own life.” Libra sure knows how to gift-wrap deceit and spray perfume atop callousness.
My third mistake even warned me that they were going to hurt me. Mental illness is the latest buzzword the way gay rights was about a decade ago. Make no mistake, I believe there is a need for each of these causes to exist. I’m aware (as I was ten years ago) that misinformation and co-opting larger causes for personal agenda are par for the course. And it is still true that there will be people who use their existence in the cause to justify their terrible behaviour. A decade ago, someone stalked and harassed me (including suggesting that I’d change my mind about being straight if I spent a night with them) and when I said no, they put it out that I was a homophobe and lost me some friendships and work. Most recently, I’ve been called insensitive to mentally ill people, systematically harassed out of a space that I introduced the above person to and had strangers sicced on to me claiming that I’m saying terrible things about them. The reason this relationship makes it to this list is that this one also followed the adulation-mirroring-identification-control-attack model.
I’ve spent the first half of this year allowing myself to sit in the wreckage left behind by these people. I have been afraid to speak to anyone or even write because each of those brought on a fresh assaulter in the past ten years. But seeing them in a pattern gives me courage. Patterns have always felt like a safe space to me. This is going to sound odd but recently I’ve been involved in a discussion about how mathematics is perceived and communicated. It made me reflect on what about the subject appealed to me. And it is part of what let me tap into something that I’ve always been good at, something that has given me a profession and an emotional bedrock through things that would have killed me – patterns.
I don’t necessarily know how to break a pattern once I’ve spotted it. But maybe plugging the gaps where a toxic person like this finds a way to get in, is a start. I don’t trust adulation anymore, which probably explains why I’m not as interested in going on stage these days. The trouble is it’s difficult to separate adulation from simple admiration or even affection. It took me long enough to break the terrible pattern of love = insults (no thank you, years of gaslighting Hollywood and rape culture Bollywood). So…I don’t know. But that’s okay because it just means I still have work to do. Maybe accepting that is part of owning being 40.
It occurs to me that there is a cheesy kind of symmetry in there being three major mistakes in the third decade of my life. I also wonder what my life would have looked like without these people. I did a lot of things in this decade but all of these things are inextricably linked to these people – because they participated in these, because they pushed me to these or because I took these on to escape/heal from these people. I suppose there is a lesson there about how they happened for a reason but I don’t want to glorify the existence of toxicity. I am done doing that and I deserve to be happy and successful without having to deal with abuse, manipulation or violence to be so. I guess I’ll never know. Can someone invent time travel already? Maybe by 2029.