Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Memory of Relationships--Broken


Does it ever seem like your life progresses thematically rather than by numbers?  Instead of growing by years, you encounter a growth spurt after series of observations and experiences that lead up to an understanding or a consensus on a particular issue in life.  For months or years you would fiddle with this issue and BOOM, one random day a green light inside that dark cave of yours blinks and you are ready to move on.

I had a BOOM moment last weekend.  And it was beautiful.  It felt like switching on the lights at a club packed with drunks, and sending everyone off to the streets.  There was an eventual sense of freshness, clarity, and freedom.  Pigging out on burgers at a forgotten corner in Brooklyn, I knew what the question has been for me these past years.  It was about ended relationships.

What do you do with relationships you leave behind? What happens to the feelings you have for someone when you move OUT of a relationship?  When you move INTO another relationship?  When you never really enter the relationship?  When you settle in with someone, or say marry them, how do you manage the relationships you both had?

A person’s emotional map is so complicated.  It is full of diverging and connecting lines.  It is fading on areas, certain and deliberate on others.  One person’s map is complicated enough, that becoming a couple is as overwhelming as affixing two maps together.  It is a job that takes two, and at times it may seem that ignoring the maps, deleting the history, and assuming that old relationships and feelings no longer exist is the easy way out.  Out of what?  

A friend of mine said the first time her husband proactively invited her ex over, she felt puzzled and confused.  Coming from a cultural context where ex-relationships shouldn’t have happened, she didn’t know how to read the gesture.  The experience was morally alarming for her.  Isn’t sitting with an ex taboo or something?  The memories they both shared?  The vulnerability they felt upon falling in love, and then parting?  The hopes they had for this relationship, the pain they felt for being let down?  More invitations followed, and my friend began to feel more at ease sitting with both her husband and ex.  Something inside her felt that she has recovered a great loss.  Her past reconnected with her present and she felt balanced and complete.  

Another friend of mine was at a party when her partner’s ex wanted to avenge herself.  In a cinematic spill of heart, the ex slammed my friend with a glass bottle leaving her completely bruised.  The story gets worse.  The ex wasn’t going anywhere; she lives close to my friend so the two kept bumping into each other at many social and community gathering.  It was ugly, the whole ‘live in an alternative reality and pretend she doesn’t exist’ kind of thing.  The pouts and curses my friend had to endure from the ex and her extended circle of friends.  At one point my friend had it.  She caught the ex in the washroom and said: listen, being a feminist and all I think our relationship as women shouldn’t be an afterword to a man, influenced by which side of this man we are standing on.  There was a long pause, then my friend extended her hand and said: Hi, my name is ‘bleep’ what’s yours?  The two laughed and haven’t held a grudge since then.

And there was this wedding that I attended for a couple that has been in and out of the relationship for ten years.  During these years, the couple broke up a number of times.  While on break ups, they hooked with other people and entered various relationships.  Some of these relationships were with people in their shared circles of friends.  It touched me deeply how inclusive their wedding was.  The couple celebrated their wedding with absolute openness.  They invited their friends, colleagues, and exes.  You could feel a certain bitter-sweet warmth seeping through the tables as the couples walked around posing with all their friends in group photos and reminiscing over past times.  Something about that connectedness felt completely liberating. 

Walking through the tables, the couple was not protective or fearful of the complications or imperfections of both their emotional maps.  They were trustful of the people and stories that have made them who they are.  I watched them and wondered how sad and stranded humans are when they allow their memories to be filled with broken steps.

Pigging out on food in that forgotten corner in Brooklyn, I watched people exiting clubs and bars in masses.  The distance between one person and another was close to zero.  Seeing them made me realize that when people are conglomerated the difference between the exes, lovers, and the jerks is meaningless.  Then it hit me.  This distance we try to measure ever so carefully between ourselves and past relationships.  This revision of our imperfect emotional maps in hope that they would be accepted.  This worry about keeping the past present and future separated in secure boxes.  It doesn’t make any sense!

There is so much happiness and liberty to be had by being whole and open within ourselves and to the outside world that something inside that dark cave of mine flashed.

A green light.