Getting dumped isn’t the end of the world. The silver line of a breakup (first only faintly visible) is we get to feel and smoothen out the rough curves of our personalities.
In this essay I talk about my first love and my first break up. Though that first love seemed like my last, time proved me wrong. Looking back into the broken shards of the relationship I also see how scattered a human being I was.
Pál Szinyei Merse, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
My First Love
It all began nineteen years ago.
After high school I went to Rajasthan’s Kota city. I had to give an entrance test. That test was to get me admission into preparatory classes for an all-India engineering1 examination. I passed the test (despite almost getting a heatstroke that afternoon) and never went back home.
Two attempts and three years later, I cracked the engineering exam (and my head) with a good rank. That rank took me to the Indian Institute of Technology Delhi Computer Science (CSE) branch.
My first love was a Computer Science batchmate. We were also in the same sub-group. Group members shared lab schedules, Physics-Chemistry experiments, and subject tutorials.
In the first year most days began at 8 am. But the institution didn’t take into account the ragging-filled evenings, late-night preparations for college festivals, broken sleep in shared hostel rooms, and running to the toilet only to find eight dirty ones before a clean one. Not to mention the broken knees of a sluggish Kota student who suddenly had to climb four flights of stairs fourteen times a day rather than solving fourteen Irodov2 problems (I wish). I mostly skipped breakfast or gulped down a glass of plain milk before sprinting to the class.
Most first-year morning classes were core CSE courses for only our department. For core I went to the CSE department building Bharti. And the leftover mornings started with common courses: Physics, Chemistry, Humanities which were shared with other departments’ students. Shared classes were held in the institution’s academic building lovingly known as Insti.
For common classes, I walked with my hostel mates. We sat together in the class. On those days I was so happy they felt like weekends. You will soon know why.
In CSE department courses I had to sit alone with sixty-four boys (now you know why?). I usually arrived when the class was starting or a few minutes earlier. Imagine a lecture theatre with descending c-shaped wooden desks facing the whiteboard. When I entered the class every eye was on me. Except for those who thought of me as too ugly. Acne, long plain kurta tops, hair in a bun, and a smile-less face defined me. Later some of those boys didn’t believe my ex when he told them he was dating me. But those who quickly noticed my large breasts and petite waist often discussed how good sex would be with me. My first love confessed.
Mostly I sat in the corner in one of the first few rows. The adjacent guy would shift towards the other side. During the class the boys only talked amongst themselves. Not with me. They laughed. Discussed new movies on boys hostel LANs (shared digital content). Gossiped about college girls. I walked out of class alone while groups of boys huddled out together.
I didn’t notice my ex for the first few weeks. He would’ve seen me as I was the only girl.
The earliest memory I’ve of my ex is sitting next to him in the second-third row in a Mathematics course. We would be at the edge. Because once I was seated, boys would sit creating a large circle of space around me. So no one beside me. No one right behind me. No one right in front of me. My friends still laugh at the space circle I carried along in the first year. (Now I think that was less because the boys hated me or found me ugly but more because they didn’t want to be teased by other boys and/or didn’t know what to say to me).
My ex and I shared a few jokes, mostly at the expense of our maths professor. I borrowed his class notes whenever I missed the beginning or didn’t get something, which was often. He wrote in clear cursive and willingly lent his notebook. In the afternoon computer and physics labs, we nodded at each other. If nearby, we didn’t leave any opportunity to comment.
Soon you will see how my personal life bled into my studies and my studies bled into my relationship.
Computer labs and assignments were harder for me than writing a 3051 eleven-alien science-fiction novel in a space-bound country above one of Saturn’s seven rings. I had completed my senior secondary grades in Kota. That meant I had only prepared Physics-Chemistry-Maths (PCM) for the all-India engineering entrance in a coaching center. I never went to school in 11th and 12th grade. I had studied computers in my hometown from sixth to the tenth standard though. But I passed on theory marks. What’s a computer? What’s a program? Questions like those. None of the students took much interest in the practicals.
print “Miss Cynthia is great.”;
print “learn the codes to pass”;
I wanted aeronautics but choosing anything apart from Computers would’ve made my family so angry their rage would’ve melted all the ghee stored in our home. When I arrived at IIT Delhi CSE department I didn’t know any more about computers than how to login into Orkut and chat.
I crouched. What will I do here?
In the introductory computer lab in Bharti I was so clueless I often hoped someone would help me or for a second tell me what it was all about. You know how to use a computer, what was that long thing (CPU we call it), what to do when the screen just stared, using the internet explorer, keyboard shortcuts, changing wallpapers, and catching up with computer things everyone knew by then. So I didn’t feel like an idiot when I sat in front of one.
Most boys had had a fair introduction to computers in school. They finished assignments with time left to chat. The boys who didn’t have prior knowledge of computers (mostly other Kota coaching center students) could ask their friends and hostel mates and catch up in no time. They played around with codes and I sat in a corner failing at disappearing. Every time there was an assignment submission for another introductory CS course, I got a fever, a hostel mate and close friend declared correctly.
Asking the professors wasn’t the norm because IITs encourage confusion and learning through effort and experiment rather than spoon-feeding. But they didn’t know helping me wouldn’t have been spoon-feeding but more like breathing air into the mouth of a newborn who just wouldn’t cry.
Now I know I wasn’t so ignorant but I made myself believe I was. As someone or the other was always looking at me I was self-conscious too. I didn’t want anyone to see me fumbling with the embodiment of my major.
The biggest problem was — and I can only see it now — I was under-confident even to press keys and see the outcome. I assumed I didn’t belong amongst the top-hundred rankers selected from the whole of India. The engineering and science masterminds. The cream of the country. The mangoes of students.
I didn’t feel like I was one of them. My education and rank felt like a privilege, or a mistake, even though I had earned it. Me girl, them boys. I had always served my father. At home, my sister and I did the chores, not our brother. But he was the only one given grilled cottage cheese and ghee ladoos even though our cows provided enough milk and homemade ghee for an entire IIT.
The most ancient philosophies and modern researches say our childhood makes us who we are.
The visionary philosopher, psychotherapist, and modern thinker Alain De Botton explores the idea of self through the lens of the past in his most essential book, The School of Life: An Emotional Education,
“Even if we were sensitively cared for and lovingly handled, even if parental figures approached their tasks with the highest care and commitment, we can be counted upon not to have passed through our young years without sustaining some form of deep psychological injury – what we can term a set of ‘primal wounds’. Childhood opens us up to emotional damage in part because, unlike all other living things, Homo sapiens is fated to endure an inordinately long and structurally claustrophobic pupillage.
Across the long summers and winters of childhood, we are intimately shaped by the ways of the big people around us. We are condemned to be enmeshed in their attitudes, ambitions, fears and inclinations. We can brush so little of it off. We are without a skin.”
The famous child psychoanalyst“Tell me what you fear and I will tell you what has happened to you.”
Coming out of a strict patriarchal home in the open world doesn’t make you an equal. I considered myself lesser than everyone else, even my ex.
My ex and I didn’t work together in the first semester labs. But knowing there was one guy who didn’t at least mind sitting with me did give me hope. We were speaking a lot by the end of the semester. In the winter holidays of December we texted back and forth.
In the second semester, the Chemistry lab became our love battlefield from the beginning. We experimented on either side of a large wooden shelf filled with test tubes and acids. In our white lab coats, holding test tubes bubbling with nascent experiments, we frequently crossed from one side to the other. We had started flirting. I beamed when he looked at me. When he saw me he effused happiness.
One day in that Chemistry lab he texted me if I will have coffee with him after the lab. I instantly texted back yes. Then I got confused about which place he wanted to have coffee at (I followed rather than lead). Only after getting a little lost I reached the Nescafe near Insti. He was waiting. I told him about my confusion. He laughed. We drank hot coffee on a hot day.
Either it was that night or a couple of nights later. We were spending time on Google Chats. Me in my friend’s room on my HP laptop. She was asleep. He in his room on his laptop. After a long array of messages, he told me he liked me. Only then it became obvious to me. I told him I liked him. I was smiling so much my cheeks hurt.
We met on the Insti rooftop half an hour later. He hugged me and nudged his nose in my neck. I almost exploded with the physical contact. But I saw him walk to the parapet and kick it with his leg. He said he shouldn’t get out of control. That was the second time I realized physical control was a thing for boys (the first time is best left out of this saga).
We went to our hostels but didn’t stop chatting. And when night turned into day and I was still floating in a pool of once buried emotions now molten and flowing at full velocity, he said “control kara jaan.” Translating to “handle it, my
life”. No. Jaan doesn’t mean life, consciousness, or breath.
Jaan means what’s alive in me is you.
I was drowning in a sea of that special feeling of feeling special.
I can still close my eyes and melt into a puddle like I melted when he called me jaan. I can close my eyes and feel hollow like I felt the first night after he broke up with me. I can close my eyes and become numb like I had become on one post-breakup Sunday when I didn’t get up from my hostel bed for a day and even skipped the delicious chole-bhature lunch which hostel mates awaited the entire week.
But nothing sad. Not so soon.
A sea of irises would do too. Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
My friend woke me up in the morning to find me smiling cheek to cheek. I didn’t sleep for more than two hours that night but had breakfast and attended all classes.
You know when you walk into a room where no one cares about you. But there is this one person, one soul, one life sitting right in the front. Watching your every step. Waiting for you to come into their world. As if the light emanating from you will fill all the darkness. My ex used to look at me like that.
I wasn’t any less excited. Just by knowing he would be in the room, or that he was in some room, I couldn’t keep my feet on the ground. No one else mattered. No one else had mattered. They won’t ever. The world was mine.
Soon we were sitting together in classes. Leaving together. Eating lunch at campus restaurants. Celebrating our first valentine in a large open green garden outside the campus. Discussing tests. Watching the stars from the Insti roof. Getting discovered by guards behind buildings. Chatting on the campus for hours. Inspiring each other to start our blogs — my first ever. First delaying projects until we could. Then coding non-stop for twelve hours from nine at night to nine in the morning.
My ex was also the one person and the first person who told me I deserved to be there and I was capable enough. And he repeated until I was ready to believe.
The second semester passed in passion. I went home for the summer vacation. My sister got married in those holidays. When I cried in the bathroom during the days leading up to her marriage (I had had too much of my father’s shepherding me around), he was the one who told me to be happy and that it was temporary and soon I would go to him and he loved me and missed me.
No sir. I didn’t grow up dreaming of a husband like my father. I was looking for a savior who would give me an equal standing in society (only later I learned no one else can make you an equal).
And my ex had already started taking care of me. If I was sad over something he told me why the thing didn’t deserve my disappointment and waited for me to join him at his happiness level. If I couldn’t, he stepped down and together we climbed up.
He also helped me in my studies and tests. He had this clear way of first understanding anything. Then he would come up with the simplest solution to the most complex problem. He told me I write well and put even the hardest things on paper so easily. “What about it?” I had asked. “Opening up isn’t easy.” He had said.
I was happy to be with someone so sorted. Although I appreciated clarity, I didn’t know how to bring it to my life yet.
The second year began. I went to college with a fresh haircut, a few extra kilos, and new tops and t-shirts that fitted my curves. My ex sat opposite me in the library and gawked at me as if I was a marshmallow in the marshmallow test (small children were given marshmallows and told if they waited for fifteen minutes they would get as many more). More boys noticed me but I was already taken. And they didn’t matter.
As my second-semester grades had been low (grades were averaged out), I focused on studies too. But we were inseparable. Eating lunch at Sip n Bite restaurant on campus. Writing and giving feedback. Mostly him because he was a better editor and his English was better. Studying together for tests. Labs together. Classes together. Evenings together.
When every Friday he went to his parent’s home in Delhi we stood on campus roads and kissed like we were kissing for the first time. When he returned on Sunday night I could have lighted lamps with my smile.
The Kiss. Edvard Munch, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
It was one of those love days when I was walking to the Insti and I heard the song “when you say nothing at all” for the first time. I felt a sea of happiness sway me in her arms, as if I was a baby, just waking up from an afternoon nap.
That year the beauty of love had dawned on me for the first time. It had given me goosebumps and the feeling of being wanted in my stomach. Like the peacocks hollering on the campus at night I was screaming I’m in love, I’m in love at the top of my voice to no one in particular. My hostel mate and friend once saw me speaking over the phone, leaning against the hostel corridor wall, my head trying to pierce the wall with the sheer force of shyness.
Love does make you blind and stupid when you are young.
Moving Towards Being Dumped
That year my ex and I also fought a lot. I didn’t like CS, never thought of myself any good, and procrastinated. And he loved CS, the abstract excited him, and he finished his assignments before others even understood the problem. We argued. We shouted. One day I was so angry I threw my phone on the floor. He listened to the crash on the other side.
Once in the lab my ex told me my mood swings were affecting his studies and impending career. Once I read his chat with his friend and asked him why did he miss her when I was with him. Once I didn’t like he always had a thriving hostel life he went back to.
I can dedicate my mood swings to the utter helplessness I felt in navigating a major I didn’t relate to (about which I couldn’t do anything for a while, but later I quit my job to write.). I shouldn’t have read his chats but I thought if he could stare at my boy best friends to make them uncomfortable I could intrude in his life too. I shouldn’t have been but I was jealous of his social life.
I had stopped participating in hostel events, had said no to all hostel positions, and stayed away from seniors I didn’t like. I wasn’t part of dancing, singing, drama, debate, sports, or music. It’s not that I hadn’t tried them. But after a little setback or rejection I decided I had failed (and now I don’t let go even if I bleed.).
I could credit my uninvolvement to my lack of confidence (by now you shouldn’t even be surprised). Human life is complex. My mother didn’t allow me to play sports in school. I wasn’t allowed to go to after-school dance practices. I wrote my class debates, fought alone, and lost the battles because children’s parent-edited debates had quotes that mine didn’t. Instead of adding pauses to my breathless recitations my school teachers chose other children. Rather than inspiring me to read the lines of the play I’d written, my teacher3 gave that role to another classmate. Children around me and my elder sister made fun of my height, lankness, acne, hair, teeth, dancing style, all of it.
A lot of rejection and contempt early on had made me think something was wrong with me. I find solace in Alain De Botton’s insights on growing up which tells how malleable children’s minds are,
“The character traits and mentalities that were formed in response to one or two central actors of childhood become our habitual templates for interpreting pretty much anyone. For example, when children suffer at the hands of an adult, they almost invariably take what happens to them as a reflection of something that must be very wrong with them.”
He also talks about how our emotional inheritance make us resilient or weak in the face of a setback,
“Each of us is the recipient of a large and complex emotional inheritance that is decisive in determining who we are and how we will behave.
One kind of person, the bearer of a solid emotional inheritance, will tend to be resilient when someone hurts or behaves badly towards them. It won’t be a catastrophe, just a few unpleasant moments. But such a verdict would feel entirely alien to someone who has been bequeathed a backdrop of shame and self-contempt, always looking to reconfirm itself in contemporary incidents.”
I know a thing or two about self-contempt. I’m not saying my give-up attitude was justified. I’m saying I understand the reasons behind my withdrawal and I’ve forgiven myself (it took a lot of powerful questions, delving deep into our emotional life, and understanding what really matters in life).
I wanted to be in my shell rolling over from the hostel to the class and then from class to class.
I went to the back of the line. I thought my ex would be at the back of the line too. But he wasn’t. He fought from the front.
So when he said my mood swings were affecting his studies I didn’t understand. He broke up with me. The second-year ended. I went home and wept every night.
We were still texting and calling. And one night he called me and said he was ready to take me back. I asked him what changed his mind. He said we will work it out together and he loved me. I was happy to get a second chance.
A turbulence. Winslow Homer, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
The Final Snap
But then two weeks later when I went to visit him in Delhi having lied to my parents I had important work in college he came to pick me up at the station on his scooter like he always did and then once on the campus with friends he dumped me because his mother hadn’t found me presentable.
A group of friends and I had visited his parents’ home on his birthday. I had busted out laughing showing all my cracked teeth more than once and had helped his mother recall an Amitabh Bachchan movie she didn’t remember. Wrapped in a silk sari, she was fair, thin, and everything her culture needed her to be.
Later she had found a tissue paper in his wallet smeared with my name suffixed with his surname, inky hearts, and I love yous. She recalled who I was from his birthday evening, asked him to show my pictures, and rejected me for a position I hadn’t even applied for, yet.
Life After a Break Up
My ex went back to his home. I don’t know how many pieces of mine I dragged to the hostel.
I was staying in a friend’s room during those scorching summer days. I lied on the bed sweating, hot, disgusted, confused, empty, hungry, full, thirsty, numb. I hadn’t felt that lonely even when my father had left me alone in Kota. Everything good awaited me then.
On that night in bed I felt everything good had been taken away from me in a second. And no one cared to ask for my opinion. I was helpless.
My friend was on the other bed. I folded my elbow over my face and cried. She wouldn’t remember that night now. But she had come to me, lifted my arm, saw I was crying, and told me to sleep and be okay. That night was like the day I didn’t clear the IIT entrance exam the first time and was crying in the hot afternoon of a scorching summer in my parent’s home. My mother had lifted my arm, saw I was crying, asked me to sleep and be okay.
But how could I be okay? Instead of being we, he and I had suddenly split into two branches from one.
The next day my boyfriend-recently-turned-ex and I went to this restaurant we loved in the market outside IIT. I must have met him because I still hadn’t accepted the finality of his decision. I couldn’t eat a bite. I saw him stuffing a big piece of pizza in his mouth and felt he didn’t care at all. Or maybe he was eating the entire pizza because he was sad.
Didn’t our life just fall apart? How could he eat? Why wasn’t he doing anything to get us out of the hole?
His response was he was too serious about me. He couldn’t be with me if we couldn’t get married. And we couldn’t get married because his mother didn’t want me and he didn’t want to argue with her. So that was that. (lives of Indian kids are complicated beyond engineering competitions, fifty-degree summers without air-conditioners or coolers, and worrying about who ate more mangoes.)
Months ago on a date to Pizza Hut, my ex had rejoiced when the waiter had left a note for me that said: “Keep Smiling.” He had said, “see even the waiter loves your smile. You should smile a lot.” He said he would move the world for me. But an eighteen-year-old boy says things he doesn’t know he doesn’t mean and he doesn’t have the courage to pull through. And a nineteen-year-old girl believes him.
During the rest of the vacations I went to my sister’s home, played with her daughter, and took my parents to Goa. Taking the 36-hour sleeper train from Goa to Delhi, I arrived at the college two days after the third semester had started.
Everyone noticed we weren’t sitting together anymore. I felt a little proud to tell everyone I got dumped. Because I knew it earned me sympathy and him shame. But that glory and happiness only lasted for a second before I felt dead again.
If you have ever gone through a breakup or parted ways with a best friend, you know I’m not exaggerating. And now science has some definite ideas about what humans go through when they lose each other.
According to the neuroscientist Lisa Feldman Barrett’s latest studies, close people regulate each other’s body budgets4. Using past experiences as a guide, our body budgets (managed by circuitries inside the brain) keep an account of how much resources our body needs to keep us safe and navigate this world at any given moment. Thanks to this efficient budgeting, we can move whenever we like, predict a potential threat, and even grab a friend for a hug to feel emotionally secure (strong interpersonal relationships are proven to keep us happy and make our life longer).
Lisa writes in her book How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain (this is one of those books that changed my life), “So when you lose a close, loving relationship and feel physically ill about it, part of the reason is that your loved one is no longer helping to regulate your budget. You feel like you’ve lost a part of yourself because, in a sense, you have.” (my article on understanding our emotions is founded on Lisa’s research.)
I felt dead because a part of me was dead.
I couldn’t even appreciate the beauty of nature. Vincent van Gogh, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
That semester had a Computer lab course and everyone had already chosen partners. My ex had also partnered with a friend. I had no one. All that was love and light had suddenly turned into darkness and loss.
A couple of weeks later I was chatting with my ex telling him how much I missed him and how miserable I was. Some celebrations were going downstairs in the hostel. On such days mess food would be special. We hostel mates would dress up, hang out, laugh, and chill.
But I was upstairs begging my ex. “Please don’t leave me. Please come back.” My friends called me from downstairs. Peering out of my window, I told them I would be with them soon. But then he said he had moved on and so should I. So quickly? How? I believed him. I joined my friends, faked some smiles, and climbed back upstairs to cry.
If I knew this song then I would have gotten it tattooed (so it’s good I didn’t know it back then).
Why does the sun go on shining?
Why does the sea rush to shore?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?
’Cause you don’t love me anymore
Why does my heart go on beating?
Why do these eyes of mine cry?
Don’t they know it’s the end of the world?
It ended when you said, “Good-bye”
I do remember writing heartbroken poems which I can’t find now. And now it doesn’t hurt so I can’t write them again.
Everyone told me I should focus more on important things. Like courses. Practicals. Sports. Hostel activities. But even when I tried, I couldn’t bring myself to care. At least not in the beginning.
First it hurt real bad. Like there was a few tonnes of load on my heart. Now I know the heart doesn’t control emotions. Back then I didn’t. So I centered my pain around the heart. The skin of my face became dry, itchy, and tight. I didn’t eat. I couldn’t get up for hours from the bed. My stomach had a big lump inside. Or so it felt. My throat was mostly dry. But I didn’t drink water. Apart from crying nothing felt easy and natural.
My life had come to a full stop. It hurt every time I thought of him or saw him. I missed us more than I missed him. The one good thing I thought I had, that one thing was taken away from me.
Surviving the Breakup
Somehow I started watching Friends. Nothing made me laugh as hard as the silliness of Friends. And really slowly, like the trickle of a drop of water, new friends started pouring in and started filling the void inside me. (If you want to make a friend or a stranger smile, read my linked ideas.)
During that fifth semester, I also focused on my courses and asked questions in class. I started painting my nails black, increased the pace at which I walked, and flirted with guys. I was also approached by many boys who were waiting for me to be single again and I loved the attention I was getting.
If I could go back in time I would delete flirting from my dictionary and instead would give all my time to my studies, my friends, and my personal growth (and do a whole lot of other things I learned in my twenties). But when you are twenty, you want to look beautiful and crave to be desired.
I survived the third year. And I returned to my fourth year with my pool of friends. In that last year, we bunked classes, studied, cried, drank coffee, prepared for job placements, gossiped, shared poems, stole letters for each other, and picked up the other when one had fallen on the ground drunk. I went on two outstation trips with a close group. And I even had a crush on one of the guys.
My ex and I used to catch up occasionally. And when I told him I liked my friend he was surprised. He didn’t think I would move on so soon. (Years later he told me he had faked moving on to help me move on.)
Focusing on yourself and what’s around you. Karl Wilhelm Diefenbach, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Getting Dumped Isn’t The End and The Best Way to Get Over Breakup is To Look Inwards
My life didn’t end when my first love ended. I love my current partner deeply and cannot imagine myself with anyone else.
I also hated my ex because he dumped me. But only years later could I see his reasons to not be with me.
I was disillusioned. I thought life means friends. Not being alone and working on yourself. My boyfriend had become the meaning of my life. Because I didn’t allow myself to give it another purpose. I depended on my partner for my happiness.
I relied on him to explain concepts. Until then I had managed to crack the toughest three exams (PCM) on my own. Imagine a fifteen-year girl alone in a strange desert city(Kota). I was inspired to clear that engineering exam. Sometimes I didn’t even shower because I had to study. I asked questions. I took one problem and didn’t put it down until I had chewed it whole and spat it out. I went as deep as the problem took me. And I did it.
So what happened in IIT? When it came to doing something, I cried or procrastinated. Hoping somehow the problem would go away on its own. The problem was there was no problem. The problem was that instead of solving everyday things I was piling them on this heap of things-that-weren’t-right-in-my-life.
I have spoken about it in this essay but the shift from pure science to abstract science killed my science love. In the strangeness of things, I got scared and built a shell around me. There was no one to get me out. By the time I realized I had to break out on my own, most of the college years had passed by. Being the only girl in the department, being body conscious, being gender-conscious, under-confident, brought up in a small town, coming from a very orthodox background was the biscuit of this gooey cake.
I lost it. But I shouldn’t have given up.
My ex-boyfriend didn’t dump me because his mother found my dark circles too deep. He left me because he wasn’t sure about me. And how could he be? I wasn’t sure about myself. When I didn’t stand up for myself, how could he stand up for me? I was like a child. Pooping every time without any control and expecting others to clean me up and change my diapers.
No one left me. I had refused to move ahead.
I should have sat once and for all and asked myself why I felt so unsure and unworthy always. And rather than cursing myself, I had to tackle each problem with love and kindness every day. Like I do now. My purpose behind putting light on my childhood was not to blame those involved. I’m thankful for all the people in my life. But understanding the past is crucial to understand the present me better.
I also shouldn’t have read his chats. I should have called him out when he stared at my friends. I should have walked out on him whenever he said I wasn’t that beautiful. I should have stood my ground that I didn’t want kids. I should have let him go when I found him socially awkward. I shouldn’t have been jealous of his hostel life. I should have tried debating, basketball, dancing, singing, running, everything again.
Things don’t happen on their own. We have to make them happen. And when my mom didn’t allow me to go play badminton or dance, I should have lied and gone anyway. I should have asked questions in labs and courses despite the fact no one was asking. My ignorance or unawareness was reason enough to ask, learn, and create my own journey. My journey mattered as much as anyone else’s.
We can cry as long as we want. But we only have to take one step to solve it all. Then one more, one more, and before you know you are at the finish line (the journey brings the result itself).
But I didn’t know this then. I only do know. I also didn’t understand the ecosystem of a relationship.
When you are in a relationship you two look at the world as one. You discuss where to eat, what to wear, who said what, how to progress, when to leave, how do you look, what to read. Apart from everyday mundane things you also build your values together (I talk about values in this growth piece). You talk about politics, the people around you, what’s right, and what’s wrong. You make meaning of your past and plan your future together. You become the roots of these two trees who support each other and help each other by sending water, food, and other resources5. You signal to each other if you sense danger nearby. You hold hands under the ground.
But when you break up your roots are cut away from the roots of the other. You lose all connections. You have to learn to navigate your way in the world alone, all over again. You have to decide what to eat, what to do, and how to think. You have to protect yourself from the world. And only you are responsible for yourself.
And doing all this on our own is scary no matter how old we are. We are terrified after a breakup. Our body budgets go crazy. We are on a fly or fight mode for months (sometimes years). We have to build ourselves piece by piece all over again. With care. Like a potter makes a pot. And that isn’t so straightforward (as we would like it to be) given we are coping with the absence of a whole being.
I was scared. That’s all. But that’s when I found my real curves, breakpoints, and strengths. I came out stronger. I grew up on my own.
I’m not suggesting our breakup was all my fault. But I do understand my ex had a greater reason to let go of me than I thought. I’m thankful to him for dumping me. And all I have is love and compassion for him.
“Few in this world are ever simply nasty; those who hurt us are themselves in pain. The appropriate response is hence never cynicism nor aggression but, at the rare moments one can manage it, always love.”
I like the life I’ve now and wouldn’t change it for anything.
Wildflowers. Tom Thomson, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Got Dumped? Here is What You Can Do Now.
I want you to sit and think about your breakup (first or otherwise). Like it takes two to make a relationship, it takes two to break it (sometimes even if the other person dumped you). Leave their faults aside. What do you think you did wrong?
Reflecting on our behavior helps us improve ourselves. Almost always the traits that give hard times to others give a harder time to us. So do it for you, not for anyone else. You would be more peaceful and would enter the next relationship as a better person, a more understanding life partner, and a kinder human being.
Your best response to being dumped would be to not obsess over it but focus on yourself.
And I’m sorry it didn’t work out.
Did you get dumped too? How is life beyond the breakup?
1 IIT-JEE is the All-India Engineering examination. Every year millions of students leave their home to go to Kota and take admission in one of the many coaching centers there. The idea to leave homes and school as early as 8th grade now has won major critique with people calling Kota as Kota Factory.
2Irodov is a challenging Physics book that has a collection of tough engineering Physics questions. Even solving one Irodov problem on a good day used to be a big deal.
3I oppose the Indian education system because it promotes the already strong, not the weaker. The weaker is looked down upon as if she was born with inherent issues. And minor traits of children that could have been fixed with some practice and work become deeper marks on their bodies and souls have to carry life-long. I believe I can’t act in a play or say dialogues because once I couldn’t and the lines, that I had written, were taken away from me by none other than my teacher.
My teachers didn’t help me get better at debating, they ignored me. I know I could have done it, but not without some guidance. At least not then. My maths teacher was surprised I scored the highest marks. He never appreciated that even without being the most interactive in his class I scored high numbers. Instead of inspiring me to participate, he mocked me.
We can go on and on with the instances that shouldn’t have been but you get the point.
When I taught English to government school students on an island in Chile, I made sure I was kind towards the children who were called special. Other kids and sometimes even teachers made fun of those special children. But I approached those kids slowly, had them participate in every activity, event, and game, didn’t call them special, and encouraged them to come up with answers.
If they couldn’t reply, I smiled and promised to get back to them later. And I did. So many of them interacted in my class that even the principal and other teachers were surprised. Earning the participation and trust of those kids was my greatest achievement during those five months of classes.
Each one of us is special in our way. And our teachers are responsible to recognize our quirks, appreciate them, and learn to cruise around those rough waters of our personalities. If they would hate us, judge us, or ignore us, we will all grow up failing at disappearing.
4How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of Brain, by Lisa Feldman Barrett,
“Your body-budgeting regions play a vital role in keeping you alive. Each time your brain moves any part of your body, inside or out, it spends some of its energy resources: the stuff it uses to run your organs, your metabolism, and your immune system. You replenish your body’s resources by eating, drinking, and sleeping, and you reduce your body’s spending by relaxing with loved ones, even having sex. To manage all of this spending and replenishing, your brain must constantly predict your body’s energy needs, like a budget for your body. Just as a company has a finance department that tracks deposits and withdrawals and moves money between accounts, so its overall budget stays in balance, your brain has circuitry that is largely responsible for your body budget. That circuitry is within your interoceptive network. Your body-budgeting regions make predictions to estimate the resources to keep you alive and flourishing, using past experience as a guide.
Why is this relevant to emotion? Because every brain region that’s claimed to be a home of emotion in humans is a body-budgeting region within the interoceptive network. These regions, however, don’t react in emotion. They don’t react at all. They predict, intrinsically, to regulate your body budget. They issue predictions for sights, sounds, thoughts, memories, imagination, and, yes, emotions. The idea of an emotional brain region is an illusion caused by the outdated belief in a reactive brain. Neuroscientists understand this today, but the message hasn’t trickled down to many psychologists, psychiatrists, sociologists, economists, and others who study emotion.
Whenever your brain predicts a movement, whether it’s getting out of bed in the morning or taking a sip of coffee, your body-budgeting regions adjust your budget. Your body-budgeting regions also make you breathe more deeply to get more oxygen into your bloodstream and dilate your arteries to get that oxygen to your muscles more quickly so your body can move. All of this internal motion is accompanied by interoceptive sensations, though you are not wired to experience them precisely. So, your interoceptive network controls your body, budgets your energy resources, and represents your internal sensations, all at the same time.
5In the book The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben you can read many more amazing facts about trees.