Ex-Girl to the Next Girl: The civilized and uncivil break-up stories

At the end of a relationship, the only way to liberation is to have a capacity for shameless truth.

New Delhi | Updated: December 30, 2014 11:10:19 am
relationship-main There are break-ups, and there are break-up stories, and what lurks between one and the other is not a simple space but the abyss itself.

By Arul Mani

I came across the word “closure” first in my school mathematics textbook, and then in a psychology book. It has had, ever since, the quick elegance of those who draw flower brackets and despise ambiguity. Likewise, it has a terrible Dettol-stink, and washes clean whatever remains of the iron warmth that hangs in the air, and about your skin, from the bloody organ harvest that we miscall heartbreak.

There are break-ups, and there are break-up stories, and what lurks between one and the other is not a simple space but the abyss itself. Set theory or, for that matter, psychology, cannot carry you across.

I have had civilised break-ups, and remarkably uncivil break-ups, both being terms supplied by various parties of the other part. In the civil ones, which have been rare, I walk away — and get called a bastard by the lady, her family, her friends and their barking puppy-dogs, before life eventually resumes its uneventful course. Years later, ex will turn up, and ask to have coffee with you, and current flame will explode immediately or do Chernobyl slow-burn over several weeks. Otherwise, ex will say, “I want to meet you and your current lady.” On the only occasion I let this happen, the air was soon thick with barrages about how my life was going nowhere, and what current lady should do about it. That evening, the current lady announced that she was going to an ashram to find inner peace and distance from my life.

In the uncivil break-ups, you never see them, or speak to them, and peace reigns. In a manner of speaking, as this story might reveal.

A woman I was seeing met a man on a train and returned to Bangalore to break up with me. He’s brave, like me, she said. And strong, like me. “And I hate to say this, but he’s more male than you.” Looking back, I feel that I should have said, “Bravo, romance meets evolutionary biology”, and la-la-ed my way out. Instead, I thought, f***, she thinks I’m fat! I need to work out.

And thus began a self-improving early-morning programme that featured a yoga mat, 25 stomach crunches, and Sinead O’ Connor’s Nothing Compares 2 U and the Destiny’s Child number Survivor on loop. I may have even nursed through all this effort some dim vision of “showing” her, and her athletic young boyfriend. I don’t know, for the life of me, what it was that I could have showed them. Break-up anthems can fog up the windscreen like that.
Sinead eventually took over from the crunches, and from Beyonce. I found several versions, and listened to them endlessly, and sang them loudly and lugubriously through morning showers, in traffic, and through evening showers, and in my sleep.

Anyway, soon, I was fatter, and had found a new girlfriend who was some kind of evolutionary biologist. I don’t know how that last bit happened, but it did. The cosmos has this gift for ironic tics.

A few years later, the biologist migrated out of biology into other fields, and I could sense that the next migration would not include me. And so I asked nicely if she wanted to move on, and she said no. All my instincts said go, go, do la-la, and close that door behind you nicely. But I didn’t listen.
One day the phone rang, and she said she wanted to call things off. There were several components that were very good in our relationship, but one component just didn’t work. Her body, she said, had a biological disagreement with mine.

I’m still very puzzled by how pissed off I got. It wasn’t the biology bit — all desire had actually evaporated. I think it was a little bit being broken up with on the phone, and some bigger bit the god-awful component analysis. To explain the largest bit in the quiet rage that consumed me for several years, I have to travel back in time…

…To Wimbledon in 1993. When Jana Novotna suddenly turned into somebody else and bested Gabriella Sabatini and Martina Navratilova on her way to the finals with Steffi Graf. She was on match point, when she inexplicably double-faulted; her game then fell apart and Graf won. When the Duchess of Kent came by to give Novotna her prize, she blubbered, and the audience went “awww”, and the Duchess patted her shoulder and said, “there, there”, while Graf was reduced to clutching her silver plate in a forlorn fashion. I now know why No-votna wept. There I was, exit in sight, and I let myself be led away from it.

There ain’t no such thing as closure. If you’re lord-of-life material, you can get to be Graf, though, you must then run for your life. Novotna-hood is the commoner option. And the only liberation possible from Novotna-hood is to tell every detail, without flinching. To go from boo-hooing to being everything else in that story: the Duchess, the bald man in the audience who raised his hands above his head to applaud, the camera that decided randomly to follow a malapert bird. I am saved from the bad novel that my life could so easily be only by a capacity for shameless truth. A capacity for big-bummed tutu-twirling in the moment before the big leap from break-up to telling break-up stories in the company of friends whom you do not have to do.

Arul Mani’s double life includes teaching at a Bangalore college by day and singing ‘feeling’ songs every evening at Koshy’s

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