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An ode to the relationships that weren’t

History may repeat itself, but to find your love life bookended by echoing experiences feels a tad unfair

The road from breakfast to butterflies is short, apparently, because before long, I’m once again lying in my dorm when the texts come.
The road from breakfast to butterflies is short, apparently, because before long, I’m once again lying in my dorm when the texts come. (Photo by Craig Adderly on Pexels)

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Years after we’d moved out of a building that gossips more than it breathes, started college and met other people, S and I lie in our respective dorms, several states away, texting.

S: I liked you too, you know.

S: Didn’t know how to tell you.

First, I think no shit. Then the little computer I call my brain glitches, multiple tabs crashing as I struggle to process this tidbit.

Despite the several teenage heartaches he sent my way, I’d more or less suspected, if not half-hoped for, reciprocation of my first ever crush. Growing up in our apartment building had proved an educational experience — I learned fairly quick that aunties and uncles (but mostly the aunties, for some reason) had no trouble picking up on budding crushes and tossing out pointed remarks. Confession seemed impossible, if only because the destination it led to seemed terrifying.

Also Read: It took a pandemic for my ex and I to start texting again

S and I skirted around each other. We bickered, sometimes flirted (read: less aggressive bickering), till he upended everything by acknowledging the cupid in the room.

He no longer qualifies as a crush. And since it took us ten years to confess, and to then never to act on it, calling him an ex isn’t quite right either.

Typical to everything else about him, S refuses to sit neatly in any one category. It is left to me to deal with the consequences.

*

Gratefully, this is a common occurrence.

The friend I go on morning runs with tells me of her own experience, and when we catch our breath, I think, thank god it’s not just me. I’m just like other girls, so to speak.

Growing up in India, ‘no dating’ is a household rule. ‘Till you’re older’ is an addendum, but norms rarely stop the circus of emotions. Unsurprisingly, then, we resort to terms like ‘special friends’ or uncertain statuses, instead of rigid Facebook labels that will have the aunties pointing fingers.

This very vocabulary, however, breeds liminality. Whether you’re trying to avoid censure or simply leave enough space in the dynamic, it boils down to a blurring of the usual lines. On one hand, this ambiguity is freeing; on the other, it coagulates into something confusing once things meander to an end. If the ending trails off without a full stop, how do you make sense of the fractured sentence?

You would think experiencing this once would teach me my lesson.

You would be wrong.

*

To help me thoroughly grasp liminality in love, the universe re-introduces me to R in our third year of college.

We’re casual friends already but final semesters push even strangers together and we find ourselves grabbing breakfasts together.

The road from breakfast to butterflies is short, apparently, because before long, I’m once again lying in my dorm when the texts come.

R: I like you :)

R: Just wanted you to know. Nothing needs to come of it.

And he means it when he says that because nothing does. I confess my own feelings and with all our butterflies on the table, we continue the breakfasts and the walks, slowly ambling towards graduation; him, onwards to London, me, to my uncertain future.

The pandemic’s intervention was not appreciated.

R and I had an unspoken agreement: whatever this was, it would end when college did. But college’s rocky, pandemic-stricken end meant our blurry relationship persevered, treading into even blurrier waters. Not fully grasping where the lines were, it took me months of internal back-and-forth before I belatedly arrived at the conclusion that things were over—something he’d already decided, despite the lack of any overt changes in our conversations.

Aside from a slight sting at the variation in our moving-on periods, I’m happy to report my heart and ego have escaped the experience intact.

*

So, as a veteran of this hamster wheel, what great learning do I bring?

Simple: liminality resists closure.

The quality of being ‘in between’ two states means the door won’t swing shut with something in the way, formless and abstract though it may be. Like a movie protagonist at the start of their journey, you are stuck staring at greener grass, counting what-if’s.

My friend likens us to travelling lines:

Travelling Lines: Expectation.
Travelling Lines: Expectation. (Anukriti Prasad)

The hope remains that one day, this delicate, undefined thread will turn into a rope; that some solidification of dynamic exists at the end of this liminal tunnel.

Travelling Lines: Reality.
Travelling Lines: Reality. (Anukriti Prasad)

But in the absence of any such formalisation, following the brief intersecting spark, we’re fast-headed towards a lingering pool of confusion.

A rude awakening, to say the least.

*

If you ask Google ‘how to get over someone you never dated’, it takes 0.61 seconds to fetch you 31,00,00,000 results. The topmost answer is smug with its SEO-relevance as it hands you a checklist.

Unfortunately, this list is virtual and can’t be recycled, which would afford it at least baseline functionality. Because ‘building self-esteem’ is wonderful advice for when I need to be assertive at work and absolutely useless when it comes to my brain loop-playing S’s favourite dad jokes at 2AM.

Where most articles say that moving on is a process with a definitive endpoint, I hesitate; transforming your feelings isn’t the same as entirely leaving them behind, at least not universally. Ultimately, even while I’m happy that these ‘relationships’ led nowhere, a spot of nostalgic uncertainty tangles the emotional threads.

Also Read: The death of a friendship

Trial and error has taught me the trick is to just ride the wave out. A text from S might still make my heart flutter, but flutters only last so long. Nostalgia, while recurrent, has its limits—the fastest way out is through — and once I’ve finished reminiscing, it’s like packing away a formal gown I enjoyed wearing, but have to put away till it’s next needed. There are far more, far better futures waiting for me.

No cheat codes, no shortcuts. Inventing my own rituals, I simply accept that closure is a cheap plastic door and the slightest of monsoon winds will bang it open. It’s up to me whether I let the ensuing downpour drench me, or push the door shut, after a moment of basking in the petrichor.

 

Anukriti Prasad (she/her) is a freelance and fiction writer based out of Delhi. She writes primarily about queerness, contemporary young people struggles, and the significance of human empathy.

  • FIRST PUBLISHED
    09.09.2022 | 01:00 PM IST

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