Let’s think about regret. Decisive people rarely seem to have regrets. As a decisive person myself, I weigh what a situation is worth & if dithering will help. Regret seems to not be worth it. Who has time to regret the past when a lesson can be gleaned for the future? FOMO life doesn’t allow for regrets.
Yet you may come upon a time when even your speediest, most decisive self isn’t able to escape regret. You call it age catching up. You name it fear or cynicism. You realise that you are no different from others trying to escape people and feelings they don’t like. Your nemesis is regret. Escapism always looks like running away, no matter what the cause.
I am sitting in a garden of regret now. I call it a garden because I’m realising this is a feeling, an emotion that grows in me, from me. I’m trying to keep from bolting. I’m looking around to examine what is growing around me. Blossoming & festering are two words for the same act.
I thought we regret the bad things in our lives. But I’m finding regret in the times I’ve trusted, the ones I’ve loved, the hopes I’ve nurtured. Honest self examination means allowing every possibility to exist. I must admit that regret grows even in the most decisive, courageous, responsibility-taking, careful self that I’ve created.
Regret means admitting there may have been better choices. It means acknowledging your decisions weren’t always best. It means accepting that you weren’t always your best self. And what of the selves that aren’t the best? They cannot be escaped or ignored. They are the bigger part of you. The ones enduring mistakes, making even more. The ones personifying the messiness of living. Of emotions, memories and navigating a way forward.
f I didn’t have these, my life would have been a straight trajectory from adolescence to death, choosing the most optimal roads, going to fixed destinations. The mistakes cost me time and effort and many rewards. In coping, I found other paths, other gifts I didn’t even consider, let alone work for.
Maybe regret is a reminder that living is never going to be a simple sequence of right decisions.
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 enamoured 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.
A classmate called. He said he missed true friends. I said, “It’s early mid-life crisis after the disillusionment of the 20s. We are all in it.” The 20s are a maniac’s dream. Everything is available & possible. There is an unrealistic shine on everything. It takes a few knocks to realise how harsh it is.
A month before my 30, I quit a job I’d coveted for a decade. I needed to, to be able to look back without regret. I’ll never trade the sense of achievement from my career highs. I wouldn’t exchange the confidence built brick by brick. It would be unrealistic to hold onto these but not the things that made them possible.
I look at my life and then all around me. There’s divorce, suicide, career failure, drug abuse, financial crises, abortions and dead-end jobs. There are also reunions & rediscovering people who were close an eon ago. There are healthy diets, exercise regimes, budgeting, tax planning. There’s cutting back and there’s making time.
I spent a long time wanting many things very much, some of which I didn’t get and much else for which I paid too dearly. I had some bad stuff happen to me which messed me up. But those people are not connected to me by anything but memories. It wasn’t my fault they were bad people or bad decisions or bad luck. Unpredictability is what you sign up for when you quit a career cold-turkey. Or get divorced or don’t get married ‘at the right age’. Or well, are born.
People make mistakes. Sometimes they get lost. Maybe you get to remedy it, maybe not. You just cope better the next time.
My friend said he’d wanted to be a big success but it felt so lonely at the end. I said I hadn’t spent enough time on the things I now know are important – Love. Friendship. A body that works without medication. Food in my stomach before I’m hungry. The safety to walk on the roads by myself.
He said that was the MBA talking. I said, “That’s just one more thing on my resume now, not my identity.” What is my identity now? Who knows? I have a new life to discover. Maybe 40 is what comes after one masters survival and starts looking for life instead.
Minimalism. Colour pops. Office beanbags and gym balls. Ironic teeshirts & cause-stickers for formal wear. Technology slimmer than our desired waistlines. Value systems bigger than paychecks. The planet. The economy. Endangered species. Endangered morals. Flexible schedules & flexible boundaries.
We survived Y2K (of which an entire generation exists in blissful ignorance). We listened to Angry Girl music and the shattering of software powered dollar dreams. We watched optic fibres bring calls, jobs and international credit cards into our homes. We taught the generation before us that love really was blind because we could fall in love, lust, friendship and even careers over a glass screen. We saw the dotcom bubble grow & burst. We weathered one, then two then three recessions. We were blamed for killing everything. And we did.
We killed hierarchical structures. We killed paychecks-as-value systems. We killed corporate irresponsibility. We killed sexual harassment as common rite of passage. We killed unrealistic real estate prices and marriage rituals. We killed legalised homophobia & systematised racism. We killed the world as everyone knew it. Because the world changes every day but it flips over a new millenium only once in a thousand years. Maybe that means absolute annihilation of dinosaurs. Maybe it means creatures of water & earth learn to fly.
We aren’t done, not even half-way through. But who knows what is midlife crisis anymore? We also gave the world the concepts of quarter-life crises, of burnout & sabbaticals, of life-changing career flips. While we’ve seen the threat of nuclear weapons and much human devastation, we haven’t yet allowed a World War.
We aren’t the fresh new kids anymore and the millenium is now fully (and freshly) an adult. This means the generation after ours, are ready to pick up from our mistakes, move into our gaps and maybe build new things of their own. But don’t forget, WE KILLED IT FIRST. 😊
When was the last time you saw a 30- something look like this? That’s a 30-something pretending to be 20 and you bought it.
We have a mental picture next to each age number till 25. ‘Kid’ gets bigger till it hits ‘Grownup’. ‘OLD’ is a white-bearded, balding man or a toothless, hunched crone leaning on a stick. We are quick with the statement “You don’t look that old at all! You look YOUNG !”. We mean it as a compliment as if being a certain age is the ideal way to be, instead of a natural life stage that everyone passes through for exactly the same time. We decide that young and old are about age bands, rather than a set of factors like experience, exposure, financial independence, emotional maturity, physical fitness, metabolic health, mental stability and attitude. We assume that a ‘Not Young’ person suddenly has a slower pace, less dramatic body language, tighter frame of movements. We assign a limited ABC book image to the binary labels of ‘Young’ and ‘Not Young’. Anyone different may gain temporary membership to the coveted Club of Young.
Being told I look younger is not a compliment. I don’t look 17 because at that age I hadn’t learnt how to manage my allergies & my periods and it showed. I don’t look 24 because then, I was severely underweight from being assaulted and had stretch marks. I don’t look 28 because then I was strapped into a corporate life, weighed down by appropriateness & stress greying. I don’t look 33 because I had water retention & dark circles from an abusive relationship.
I look every minute of my 39 years. The lift in these dusky skinned, bony arms was hard won. The smooth lines of my hair were the result of many negotiations between beauty standards & personal preferences. That tilt of face is measured in the slaps I endured to keep me down. The grace in awkward, clutching fingers took years of accepting my traumas and learning to do so on stage. The feet planted firmly apart have warred against manspreaders and slut-shamers and managed to stay standing. 39 is the story of many wars survived.
Don’t erase my history and tell me that it’s a compliment. 39 looks like this.
Today I didn’t feel cool, collected or in control. I left home less put together than usual (hair still wet, no lipstick). I impulsively changed my Saturday plans. I stumbled into things, upturned a glass of water into my plate, dropped my phone, pulled a chair onto my saree and bumped into people. It prompted my friend @shaunwilliamsi to remark that he’d never seen me this clumsy before.
I gawped at beautiful women wondering if they were judging me or laughing at me. I froze with a stiff smile at a acquaintance who had never spoken to me before, hugged me and asked me to dance.
My wise @deveshm told me to just let go and enjoy being the teenager that I never was. I remember why I never was this – because I hated it. It’s hard, really hard to stand in that place of vulnerability, without the defenses of perfection or control. It’s terrifying and I’ve never stayed in it a second longer than I had to.
But the kind of strength that one projects with grace, with style, with articulation is just that – a projection. A performance. A mask. A wall. Real courage is to stand as your messy, uncontained self and face the world with it saying, “This is me. I have a place here too.” Today I was messy. Today I was brave. Today I was me.
I’ve not gained a lot of kilos in ten years. But I have accumulated memories that give me a certain jaded, wary, not-much-impresses-me-anymore look.
Let’s see – a transformative relationship, a failed engagement, two homes, three careers, two partnerships and one tattoo. Yes, the tattoo you see, was there a decade ago and even then it was an old one. I was simultaneously an aging soul and a newly minted developing human being.
2009 was the year I turned 30 and decided to stop letting numbers, designations, addresses and other such labels define me. As 2019 begins, I’m finding myself at a new crossroads and looking ahead to how I see myself and the most important thing in my life – my relationships.
You never stop learning. And I never seem to stop coming of age. The years fool you.
Birthday month came and passed. The birthday was sweet. I’m now officially in my last year of being able to write The Thirty Diaries. Soon to be officially middle-aged.
Yesterday I asked a friend if he’d let me know when I started looking old. He paused and said, “Uh okay, if you want me to.” I said yes, I did. I had about as much trouble dealing with the natural fact of ageing as the average person. But I never wanted to be that old person who still thought they were young. That’s all I want to say about Im-feeling-old.
August has been very nice but then it is the month of Leo and this sign is always good to me – with its people and with how it manifests in my own life. I’ve started a couple of new projects. It feels good to feel productive and I’ll admit it, I have missed the nerdy ordinariness of being an office worker. The glamour of entrepreneurship or creative fields have never been their draw for me. And I tired of that very quickly, not the least of which is people’s crazy perceptions about it. “You have such a glamorous life! You’re so lucky to have a talent.” – Sigh, no, it’s a whole lot of grit and hard work, just like any other job. “How irresponsible to quit a respectable job to do this..what is it that you do?” – No more irresponsible than starting a marriage based on other people’s decisions or having a baby because it’s the thing to do and yet here we are Mrs.Motherhood-is-so-haaaard. Oh well, I can flash a little bit of respectability now as needed.
I spent a lovely Sunday dipping into different conversations, events and people’s lives. A literary gathering devoid of the pressure to manage or create or even, well socialise. This is so tiring now. The more I’ve written and performed, the less I find I need to talk to people. I’m quieter inside and outside now, the more expressive I get online and on stage. Another friend catchup disguised as a workshop. And then a party that was unlike anything I’ve attended at least in the last few years. Maybe proximity to the sea does that.
I’ve been meeting more friends and few colleagues or fellow poets. I’ve been letting myself feel the ache of stress in my shoulders, my stomach and my uterus. I’ve been allowing the possibility of crushes or even fleeting interest to breeze through my day. And they pass. August is good, so good. I just wish it weren’t so ephemeral. But maybe that is the beauty of it.
The last time I wrote here, I was on the other side of a birthday. And it just struck me that I’m now in the last leg of The Thirty Diaries. Appropriately, I’ve had an article published on Arre titled ‘My Tinder Bio: Not Here To Mother 20-Somethings‘. My overall mood, as in the article is breezy, slightly scarred but relieved and hopeful.
I’ve started a few work projects and am realigning how I find myself as a professional. My work ethic is always priority so systems, organisation, quality and timeliness are at the forefront. But I’m also considering my health and the moral/emotional implications of my every action. I’ve learnt that I cannot afford to neglect these.
I thought my 20s were dramatic, full of corporate fast-tracking, flashy/useless pedigreed boyfriends, cancer devastation in the family and dealing with the post-millenium (read: Recession-riddled) economy. Have my 30s been saner? Well.
There was the BIG FAILED ENGAGEMENT. This has undeniably coloured my experiences of this decade the most. One part of this is the realisation that relationship matters will always influence my well-being and identity more than other things. After all, my 20s were also driven as response and survival instincts to one heartbreak and one abusive ex. I did become a workaholic, something I recently learnt could be close to a condition called ‘high functioning depressive’. I learnt very early to substitute professional success for emotional stability and romantic happiness. But as with any other addiction with roots in emotional tangles, it created structural cracks in my being. A lot of the things I’ve experienced in my 30s have been these, including the heavy darkness I’ve struggled with through the better part of the decade.
The other side of it is the world’s reactions to me. The 20s were about my fighting back suffocating pressure to couple up and to succeed in tradition-approved ways. I naively thought the 30s would be easier since this pressure eased up as those folks seemingly gave up on me. But the broken engagement brought them crawling back with attacks. As recently as three months ago, people who I’d never met were influencing my work by declaring that I would wreak my married colleagues’ relationships. There’s the r onslaught of people’s expectations on what kind of a ‘Strong Woman’ I should be. It’s countless people outraged that my ex is dating someone, all culminating in the expectations that I should ‘rescue’ the new girl. It’s men I’ve rejected needling me about my failed engagement with statements like “Uske talent ki kadar karni chahiye“. It’s younger people putting me on a pedestal, then expecting me to rescue them from their life decisions and attacking me when I don’t play knight in feminist armour. No, the world is just as awful in my 30s, albeit in a different way.
In that sense, my script is still the same. I’m constantly at war with the world because of who I am. I have to be, because the only choice is to surrender to a life of silent harassment and abuse. There have been a lot of times in my 30s where I’ve felt like I couldn’t go on (which I never felt in my 20s). The ‘magical’ rescues in the form of career wins and passionate friendships have been fewer. Or maybe I’ve just felt the shadows deeper. This is, I’m learning, who I am. I feel fear deeply and my reactions to it may seem disproportionately strong. I am a crab. I retreat into my shell and in that sense, I’ve done that with my entire bruised and assaulted past.
I went to a condolence visit this week, in honour of a deceased family friend, the mother of one of my school classmates. I was quiet and awkward. My past does not give me a reason to feel comfortable or happy in it. I was overwhelmed by the people expressing great warmth and pleasure on seeing me. I also met people who had not been nice to me (notably this gentleman who shuffled awkwardly, then asked why I wasn’t married). I realised that people who harass other people about their romantic choices or their bodies are desperately unhappy about their own. I told him, “I don’t think I need a reason to NOT get married, I need a reason to be married.” He shrugged and then said, “Yeah, that’s right. Smart you are. Don’t make that mistake. No one is happy.”. Sigh, strange as it may sound, that did not vindicate me. I don’t want to hear about other people’s misery, least of all people who’ve added to mine.
Almost magically (so I guess magic is actually still a part of my life), my Arre article showed up online just that instant. It felt like the universe was telling me that all things were okay. The three year old grand-daughter of the lady who passed, came and sat on my lap and told me stories. Her mother hugged me and I learnt that she’s a Ph.D., making me very proud of the world I came from, even if it wasn’t always nice.
And this morning, this picture came up on my memories. Maybe life is about creating your place in the universe. Or maybe it’s about discovering it. I hope I can enter the 40s with wonder.
I just finished reading Masters of Sex, the book on which this TV show was based. My opinions have shifted, somewhat. There is of course the difference in the two media. With the book, I’ve been able to ponder it over several months without feeling the need to retrace my steps. With the show, I […]
I’m really enjoying the company of books and my plants. For the first time in my life, these don’t feel like temporary or even like escape from the loneliness between men. Because I’m realising my times with men have been my loneliest. I know I’ve probably had bad luck in this regard. I also believe […]
I’m currently watching the TV series, Masters of Sex. It was the first show I began on Netflix when I first subscribed. I had to stop and move to other things that were easier. I’ve tried to come back several times and I think this time I’ll manage to finish it. I’m also reading the […]
I don’t understand what the problem with selfies is. I remember a time when people would keep handing their camera over to others and asking them to shoot their pictures. THAT was really annoying. Selfies put people in charge of their own vanity. Also, vanity. It’s defined as ‘Excessive pride in one’s appearance, qualities, abilities, […]
If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I’ve been swimming pretty regularly of late. I love swimming. It’s my favorite physical activity of them all. Yes, ALL. Proof that swimming is the best thing to happen to human beings and in short we should never have gotten out on land. #swimlife […]