By Sonali Kokra Jun. 26, 2019
When you’re in the throes of a new love, it’s easier to pretend that your past never existed than to risk retracing its thorny, sometimes painful trajectory with a new partner. But our pasts aren’t cautionary tales for our older selves — they are tomes that chronicle our rich emotional histories.
In the world of dating, I am, what one calls, a cliche. You know, that woman who looks high and low for Mr Right, spurred by girlfriends who fill your head with nonsense notions like love could be lurking around any corner, you just have to keep believing you’ll crash into it someday? I was her.
I tottered and turned dubious corners with stars in my eyes and hope in my heart. But by God, the only crashing I did was into men with pheromones that made me want to gag, not swoon.
I swiped and I griped, and for three painful months; I hauled my tired, sleep-deprived-due-to-binge-watching-Friends-(yes, again)-on-Netflix ass out of bed at 9 am sharp on every Saturday to show up for a woodcarving class. Because that’s how my friend from New York met husband number two, and I could definitely see the merits of marrying a man with nimble fingers and skilled, dextrous hands.
And then I was the woman who one random day woke up and decided to draw what little was left from her almost empty, drying up well of self-respect and give up on the exercise in masochism that is online dating. I was going cold turkey. “No more,” my newly hardened heart roared, marching to the beat set by my vigorously nodding brain, the two tiresome creatures in agreement for once. App after app was uninstalled, with savage satisfaction and without so much as a perfunctory “so long and goodbye” to all the men who would forever — or, like, for three seconds — wonder why I had suddenly vanished from their screens and lives. Okay maybe just one more, we decided at the last minute, when he messaged to confirm our date that night. It wasn’t cheating, the three of us (heart, head and organs lower south in my anatomy) rationed. He was weird and witty and charming and cute in a waggish sort of way — not at all the kind of man I imagined I’d marry. And my parents would never approve of him. So technically, I wasn’t cheating on my resolve to purge myself of the fear of having no man for whom I would buy heart-healthy, omega-3-enriched oil to fry samosas in my twilight years.
A secret one for the one whose birthday you haven’t removed from your calendar still.
And then I went and promptly fell in love with the man who was supposed to be my last hurrah before I bid a permanent — or as permanent as things can be expected to be in your 20s — farewell to my online dating life, and did all the life-altering things women do when they’re not being held back by the rigours of modern dating. There he was, my Mr Right, hiding in plain sight, almost as if he was waiting to crash into me the moment I took my eyes off the road.
I told you, I’m a cliche.
What’s not a cliche, is the higgledy-piggledy, haphazardly stacked, and messily engineered life we’ve built together — and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s haphazard because together, we’ve laughingly made room for every moronic, shameful, unshakeable, confusing… part of our individual dating histories, revealed to one another one embarrassing story at a time, over the years. A soft corner for the ex whose girlfriend still sometimes sends you texts — a fact that thrills your secretly-seeking-validation heart; and one for the one who knows the exact locations of the cellulite that dimples in your thighs. A secret one for the one whose birthday you haven’t removed from your calendar still. An embarrassed one for the one you dated because you were really just into their adorable labradoodle. A damp, fetid corner for the one whose commitment phobia was magically cured within a year of you leaving them. And a worry-filled one for the one you think is still holding on to naked photos of yours.
It’s messy because of the constantly crisscrossing paths of the one who is The One right now, the one who was The One once upon a heartbreak ago, the one who was The One I enjoyed my most athletic sex with, and the one who was The One Who Got Away. In the age of the internet, with the ghosts of girlfriends and boyfriends past forever lurking on the information superhighway, it’s silly to expect anything otherwise. You can move cities, countries and even continents, but all it takes is a drunken text suggesting a booty call to bring them hurtling back into your present.
It’s higgledy-piggledy because it hasn’t always been easy or smooth, but we’ve somehow managed to make room for all our stories. Great loves that fill up the pages of our personal classics, as well as the flash-in-the-pan shorts that have punctuated the fractured narratives of our lives at exactly the moment we’ve needed them most.
Rob our interactions with lovers past of any claims to intimacy.
When you’re in the throes of a new, exhilarating love, it’s easier to pretend that your past never existed than to risk retracing its thorny, sometimes painful trajectory with a new partner. It’s like an unspoken pact we make — over and over — with every new romantic entanglement: deny everything we felt, and all those who came before them. Scrub our memories of the very unexpected, special ways in which they branded us. Rob our interactions with lovers past of any claims to intimacy. Pass off overwhelming passions as infatuated hazes. And feign that everything in the past pales in comparison to the present. That this is the real deal, the only deal; as if you were going through your love life wearing training wheels until now; preparing for this day, this moment, and them.
Maybe that’s true for others, but it wasn’t true for us. Our pasts weren’t cautionary tales for our older selves — they were tomes that chronicled our rich emotional histories, filled with hilarious reminders of the people we used to be, and the distances we’ve travelled to be who we are now.
You can’t miss what you’ve never known. It took being with someone who respects my romantic past — and is grateful for it — for me to realise that accepting anything less was the emotional equivalent of allowing someone to ask me if I was a virgin. What kind of Mr Right would that be?
Sonali Kokra is a journalist, writer, editor and media consultant from Mumbai. She writes on feminism, gender rights, sexuality, relationships, and lifestyle. In her 12-year-long career, she has written for national and international magazines, newspapers and websites. She was last seen as the lifestyle editor of NDTV, and HuffPost.com, and has published a coffee table book on Shah Rukh Khan.