I had an unpleasant epiphany this week. When is an epiphany ever pleasant? It involves losing a belief you’ve held close for a long time and watching the others that are built atop it crash. KA-BOOM.
I have a new person in my life. He is nice. He listens. He offers advice when I ask for it. He stays quiet when I don’t (which is almost all the time). He reminds me of how wonderful I am, how successful, how popular and in general, how right I am, when I forget (which is also quite often). He is not my partner, my fuck-buddy, my lets-do-that-dangerous-dance-of-feelings-and-act-like-it’s-fun. He’s not a label. He’s not even an I-don’t-do-labels. He is just THERE. He feels strange and unfamiliar. Good doesn’t sit easily in my life.
I got embroiled in another cat-and-mouse texting game with this other person. And I felt the familiar panic, the helplessness, the feeling like I’m not good enough, at fault etc. etc. And it felt right and familiar. This is how I’m used to feeling around romantic partners or the potentials. It feels a lot like that fourth drink that you know you’re being an idiot for picking up but you’ve picked it up now and who puts down a glass without taking a sip? I found the epiphany rise up like bile from a stomach that’s been starved too long and then drenched in alcohol. This is the kind of boyfriend (“I don’t do labels”) I’m supposed to have. This love life feels familiar.
Luckily for me (and tiringly so), I also spoke to the new person. I have to keep telling myself, that it’s okay to have someone like this and all he represents, in my life. What a cliche that sounds like when I verbalise it but – I deserve to be treated nicely and be happy too. Why is this epiphany so hard to accept?
When I met Reema over three years ago, I had a year of similar sinking realisations, except about friendship. I kept oscillating back to my then ‘Best Friend’ and others who took me for granted, were selfish and judgemental about my choices, who felt entitled to call me at all hours with their problems and finally, who believed it was okay to lie to me. Reema was a breath of fresh air which is usually a good thing, except in this picture, I was a fish. I choked, I panicked. Reema was very scary. I kept waiting for the axe to fall, for her to show her selfish side, for her to use me as a stepping stone, for her to throw the label of FRIEND on me so she could whine to me and then tell me she was busy when I needed help. It didn’t happen. I’m still waiting (sorry Reema, I’m trying to get past that paranoia but it goes hard).
In this time, I have also made other friends who have repeated all these aforementioned patterns. Poets who casually toss out the label of MANHATER on me while blaming me for calling them out on it. Colleagues who try to use my work and tell me I am no good when I ask to be paid for it. Smug marrieds who judge me for my love life (lack of it) while also needling me for details for their vicarious pleasure. Event organisers who freely exploit the networks and resources I’ve built and throw barbs at me, when I ask them to respect my time and beliefs. These feel familiar. They feel like the kind of friends I was meant to have.
In the midst of these awfuls that I’m only starting to see as awfuls in comparison, there are surprises. A gentle fellow poet who stands by me with sweetness, even as the poison in the community wears her down. A colleague who hasn’t even met me but recommended me to her client, because she’s going on maternity leave and thought my work spoke well of me. A friend from my college days, who sets aside her busy maternal life to stand in solidarity with me in my protest against this attack. Complete strangers who follow my poetry and who offered their support when I called out a troll and got slammed for it.
I know I should feel very glad that there’s finally some light at the end of this horrible tunnel of people who’ve populated my life for all these years. Finally, there are a few people who don’t see me as a wallet, a network, a machine to be used but an actual human being. How do I learn to make this my kind of life when it’s been the other kind for as long as I can remember it? I’m petrified. I don’t know how to deal with love and being loved.