There’s this bit of Greek mythology that Plato talks about in Symposium about humans initially being created with four arms and four legs, and one head with two faces. But Zeus, afraid of their awesomeness, splits them into two separate pieces, leaving them to search for their ‘other halves’ their whole lives. Then there are stories we’ve all grown up listening to, about people saying they felt an emptiness in their lives until somebody, a romantic partner or friend, came along and made them happy. Songs. Movies. Humans of New York stories. We’ve all consumed enough pop culture premised on this very idea of being fulfilled by another person. I won’t deny, until recently I used to strongly believe in this idea too- that there was something crucial missing in my life which could only be fulfilled by a romantic partner. I believed this until part of the pain after A’s departure gave way to something else, and a recent rejection made me become something I despise. But more on that later. Anyway, so I think I used to subscribe to this idea in part because it was so appealing and looked so fulfilling with the wonderful things that seemingly come with it (stability, fun, feeling safe and protected- yeah, even strong, independent, southeast Asian women need that), and part because I was told this is how I must live my life- find a stable and well-paying job, get married (to a Muslim man (!)), have kids, settle down into a quiet humdrum that comes with growing comfortable, perhaps too comfortable. My whole life story was laid out for me, and I saw this expectation consolidate every time I went back home to Pakistan and the longer I stayed in Doha and with A.
What’s wrong with this, you ask? Well, think about it. Your life is black and white and then somebody comes along and suddenly its in color? Okay, sure, but what happens when, or if, say, this person leaves… or, hold up, doesn’t even appear in the first place? This precondition of finding love in order to have a happy, fulfilled life means one spends a good part of their life just looking for an external object to make them happy. You don’t question why life feels its black and white in the first place, you don’t probe why it feels the way it does, you don’t question who has set this bizarre, problematic expectation. And while spending time looking for that one person, a great lack settles in. Post-A, the realization of sudden emptiness and aloneness made me feel like I was being thrown into a wall again and again. I wanted to shy away from my failed relationship, my useless attempts at reconciliation, all my hopes tied to him and the idea of him that were now embarrassing at best. I felt I’d instead become more apparent, that people could see right through me and know me for an impostor and a failure. I wanted to disappear, deactivate all my social media accounts, drop out of grad school, disappear from my family and friends somewhere in the greenery of Europe where I couldn’t be found..but I couldn’t. I had responsibilities. I had people depend on me for tasks that I had committed to. There were people constantly checking up on me making sure I hadn’t hurt myself. I had to take care of other people and their expectations before I could take care of myself. I think I’ve become more receptive to the idea of being by myself and being comfortable with being alone. You don’t have expectations of things happening in a certain way, you’ve got a happy heart.
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Earlier in April, I went to Slovenia with a friend. It was a bit of an abrupt decision. It felt so good to run away from my pending responsibilities. If you know me well, you know I’m the last person to just run from academic commitments. But see, I just couldn’t take Budapest any more. There was too much noise. I was consuming too much coffee and not enough food. I couldn’t write papers or do any research. I would sit by the river and realize it didn’t give me the peace it once did. I felt I was suffocating. There were a lot of moving pieces around me, even an opportunity or two for something.. But I saw potholes and ran away to another country.
Most of all, I was, am.. angry and very disappointed in myself. I felt I’d been talking just so much, to so many people, some one I didn’t even know at all, about my inner turmoil, that I’d become an open book, so public, a spectacle. How did I make the mistake of playing out the very things that I wanted to be running away from? Why was I acknowledging vulnerability and loneliness? Categorizing myself in labeling what I was going through (yeah, even though it was a medical diagnosis)? Publicly declaring that I was a ‘violent work-in-progress’? Saying I so frequently felt devoid of all happiness? Misery is hardly charming. Cheers, darling. So, all to what end? To help someone else going through the same things? No one could be going through the exact things I was and am! No one asked me for help. I can’t possibly help if I’m drowning in all my dreams and acting recklessly in real life. I’m not trying to deny the existence of these difficult emotions, I’m just taking issue with the way I’ve been trying to deal with them..because see, they haven’t gone. Do you know how difficult it is to realize that they haven’t gone? Even after all the talking and writing? See, this is where writing’s double-edged-sword nature comes in. On the one hand, it feels so good to let it all out, to make concrete and give shape to abstract emotional strains which then lose some of their power.. but the difficulty comes in where once these acknowledged pains leave the recesses of your mind, they also lose some of their myth-like characteristics and become painfully palpable.
When I was a little kid, my mum told me it’s easy to know when I’m upset because my eyes ‘speak’. I hated hearing that because that meant I couldn’t hide from people’s observant gazes. Maybe one day I will tell you the story about the gaze of one man from my childhood which still comes to haunt me every now and then. Anyhow, I really rather be expressionless. And now I really wish I hadn’t spoken so much. This post has been a reflection on all the speaking and writing. For a long time after writing the last post, I contemplated deleting it, but decided against it because that action felt a regression of sorts. I’m still not completely comfortable it exists. Do you think you have me unraveled because you read my most (public) pain-filled essay?