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To Love and Unlove

We're including this essay and accompanying audio in our Conversations with Old(er) Women section. It's certainly not because of the writer's age: she is 24 years old, at the beginning of her life's journey. But reading the essay, I'm struck by the questions she poses. As an elder, I often ask myself similar ones. I come up with different answers, but the questions resonate.

What would my life amount to? At various turns in our lives, we all struggle with this question. Ruminate over purpose and finality. Study, work, passion, romance, friendship, and family ‒ we pick and choose ‒ move these up and down the priority list as we move through life. We don’t always have choices in these matters, and other times, we have the choice and fumble. Balance is a difficult art. Wanting to balance is harder.

When I am breathing my last, what would I really care about? When I am gone, what would I want to be remembered for? We probably think about life through the paradigm of death, through such questions, because it helps us make a simpler snap judgement about life’s many burdensome questions. Death, a point that concentrates your entire life because there won’t be any left now.

What does it mean to be me? And what should I be doing in the meanwhile? Because in the meanwhile, that is all there is. And in the meanwhile, that is what we wish to fill with purpose. Because meaning makes us feel consequential.

Like everyone, I sometimes think about life through these questions. When I do, I am less sure of what life would and should present to me. I am not sure if I will find lasting love and companionship. I am not sure if I will survive journalism, or if journalism itself will survive! But I am sure of one thing. As sure as anyone can be of anything I think: the only thing I would value in my last moments is to know that my life meant love. Utter, complete, unabashed love.

It is for a bunch of people to say, she knew how to love! That and only that would be a compliment to a life well lived for me. And so in a life so focused on wanting to build love, and breathe love, and show love, I have come to hit a roadblock. I do not know how to unlove.

For the longest time, I did not think I needed to know. Why would I want to unlove anyone? Life’s nature, I would probably move away from some people at some point, and that might mean loving them differently or from afar, but I wouldn’t have to unlove? Romantic relationships failing? I can still love in a larger sense; a love based on the good there was, a love based on memory, but removed from them. But I certainly wouldn’t need to unlove?

I have been proven wrong. My life threw me in the deep end recently, and I didn’t swim very well in unloving waters.

Within a few months, I came to lose love, twice (with the same man), then find unexpected new romance that came all packaged in true romcom fashion, only to lose that too in a short span. Quite an eventful six months. Romance has been my curse, and I have struggled with the art of letting go.

What I am writing about is not a regret of loving someone. I have only been with a few men, and with the few I actually loved. That is not something everyone can say. So I have been lucky I suppose. But knowing when to let go, that has been the trouble.

‘Strangers in their own land’, that’s the title of a book by Arlie Russell Hochschild. Now the book has nothing to do with romance, it is about the American Right. You could think of it as the American Right’s romance with Trump, but not the kind of romance I am talking about here. Or maybe it is? I thought I was going for the right man and ended up more hurt? Well, thinking in retrospect has the benefit of time and wisdom. But anyway, the title of the book is something I have been drawn to.

Stranger in my own land is what I have felt the past six months. I thought I knew how to love well. I did love well, in my opinion. It is the one thing I thought I knew how to do real well. A love for people generally. A love for those I was with. And yet I feel like I have been in a stranger's territory. My previous love, relationship, I felt it quite deeply, extraordinarily. And yet it seemed to me like a borrowed burden.

I kept tugging at it for a while. Why? Why this unease? What is it that I am feeling? Why restlessness in me? Well, turns out my romance had gone sour a lot before I cared to recognise and I stretched it way too far. That is, I did not know when to pause, stop, and change course. I did not know when to stop loving, and start the process of unloving.

I loved a man who did not know how to love me back, especially as time progressed and we stayed together for longer. He had many issues, and I became one among them. And what started to be enjoyable companionship no longer was so. So we broke up, he wanted to stay friends, I struggled with it. Then he wanted to get back together, I struggled with that too. But finally I broke up with him, for real. It sounds tedious and it was even more tedious to live this. But I came to learn an important lesson from it: sometimes it is important to let go of love. To unlove is not to lose compassion for the other person. That is what I thought and so I stuck around for him. To unlove is just to break away from the attachment and heal. It might very well be an act of love, for yourself and for the other. Because my continued love, indulgence and care towards him just got me more misery.

All of this realisation became even more crystal clear when I met someone new. I wasn’t meaning to. I hadn’t planned. But he turned out to be so brilliant and kind that all I had tolerated and braced in my previous relationship was simply put to shame. But circumstances have meant we can’t be together. To my utter sadness. Initially, me being me, I of course cried buckets. But then, I paused. I thought, I felt. Wrote about what I felt. And now, I am letting go. I am unloving. And because I now know how to unlove, I think I can love even more bravely.

So to more love, to me, you and to everyone there is. And to our brave hearts that take a chance.

Manasa Narayanan is a regular contributor to Emerging Voices.

Read more of Manasa's work here.

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