I hate goodbyes, especially the unspoken ones. The one’s where warm words are replaced by cold silences, leaving you paralyzed with a flurry of unanswered question. I also love surprises, the ones which involve long flights and chance encounters.
I met Tim during one of the most random and spontaneous trips to India.
Five months after moving out of a seven-year long relationship, I was confident that I was doing well. Living alone seemed as simple and predictable as eating a vanilla cake. Except I forgot that vanilla cakes are served best with a layer of icing on the top. The icing in my case was delivered in form of the news that my ex-partner was moving in with someone who he had been seeing since we were together. Not a big fan of icings which often leave me with a nauseating and sick feeling in my stomach, this was no different. There were no formal goodbyes. I completely stopped hearing from him and just like that we became strangers overnight. It was finally time to unplug the ventilator, say my last goodbye and bury the last strings of hope that I had been hiding inside. I felt the jolt, that sinking, tightening and painful feeling in my heart as if I was having a heart attack. It brought back memories of a familiar, yet distant past. I knew that if I didn’t control this feeling right now, it will soon lead me down the rabbit hole. I had to do something about it.
It was time to put all those psychological intervention skills to practice on myself. I did my fair share of research about breakups and planned a time bound strategy to go through Kubler-Ross’s five stages of coping with grief and loss.
Stage 1: Denial. I had already accepted the reality of this “loss” when I had physically moved out. Stage one, done.
Stage 2: Anger. Oh! I teach emotional coping and anger management skills for living. This shouldn’t be hard. And some amount of anger was actually justified and required to energize me in moving ahead. Stage two, done.
Stage 3: Bargaining: How could I even think about bargaining? Haven’t you heard anything about being an empowered, confident and self-respecting adult woman? Oh, well fine. I accept I did play the “Can we be friends” card and did beat myself over countless variations of “If only I had…”
Stage 4: Depression. Now this is a tricky one. After having an intimate partner all my adult life (count those 17 years), the hardest part was to overcome the inevitable feeling of loneliness. I knew that loneliness was directly related to feelings of sadness and depression. To overcome depression, I would have to deal with loneliness, which meant seeking out my long forgotten network of friends and family members who might as well have presumed me absconding or dead. Relying on my distorted rules and logic (it will be spring in three months, this is just the right amount of self-indulgence that I should allow myself) I gave myself three months to overcome depression and move on to acceptance. My twelve week meet and greet distraction plan consisted of nomadic weekend travels- couch surfing at friends and family members apartments and dipping my toes in the sea of online dating.
It was the ninth weekend out of the twelve when my friends decided to pay a visit to my new bachelor pad in New York. As a token of their generosity, they offered me their condolences and a shoulder to cry on. I shared my disappointing online dating stories of few lackluster first meetings and absent chemistry. And a seemingly hopeful meeting which ended up with an “I am sorry but this is nothing more than a friendship” text message. Dating seemed like a futile effort and only ended up making me more miserable. With a concerned tone, Maddy asked, “There is something amiss and different about you…are you sure that you are feeling alright?” Something shook within me when I heard that question. Tears rolled down my cheeks. We silently stared at each other with the implicit understanding that an answer was not required. Maddy was leaving the next day and I was helping him pack. Out of nowhere, he offered me a flight ticket to Delhi. I looked at him in utter disbelief. I didn’t have time to make my usual list of pros and cons before deciding on my next course of action.
Sometimes (or maybe more often) you have to go with your first instinct, your gut feeling, and I went with mine. Just like that, within the next two days, I was on a flight to India for a completely random four-day trip.
Life and I have never seen eye to eye when it comes to planning. Ten weeks ago, I was confident that I had successfully moved along the first three stages of the grief cycle. Filling my life with well-planned distractions I was hopeful of moving on to the final stage of acceptance within no time at all. However, here I was… googling delayed grief reaction– “A pattern in which symptoms of distress, seeking, yearning (etc.), occur at a much later time period than is typical”. It was time to shed the superficial layer of strength and control and slowly savor the concoction of the painful emotions in all its totality. In all my planning and urgency to move on, I had completely forgotten that coping with grief is a unique experience and no one goes through the stages in a linear fashion.
My armors of self-protection magically dissolved the moment I hugged my parents.
My second day in Delhi, I decided to delete all the dating apps. This was clearly not what I needed at that point in time (call it delayed self-realization). While I was busy deleting one of them, I chanced upon Tim. There he was, a native German, visiting Delhi for a short official trip from Oslo. Out of curiosity (and a recently acquired bad habit), I swiped right. It was a match! Now what? I waited for him to automatically disappear in the next 24 hours. I checked again. He had extended his time so I could initiate a conversation. Hmm…Why not, I thought. I was in Delhi for the next three days. No harm in talking and probably no harm in meeting. What could come out of it? In the random flow of events, one more pebble would clearly not make a splash.
We met for a total of one dinner and three drinks in the next three days. Within three hours, holding his hand and kissing seemed like the most natural transition. After six hours of our time together, I said a bittersweet goodbye.
Tim and I regularly exchanged messages and he expressed his desire to visit me in New York. I was happy to hold on to the memory of our brief summer chance encounter. It was too risky to believe his words and too early to think about the future. Why would anyone fly 3,673 miles to meet someone they had just met for a few hours?
Life has a mysterious way of throwing surprises at you. After six weeks, I could hear my heart racing with excitement as I received his text: “On my way. Meet me downstairs?” He did make it to New York after all! Seeing him standing outside, I felt like I was waking up in the middle of the most surreal dream. He stayed with me for an extended weekend. New York felt magical through his excited eyes and safe in the clutch of his hands. My apprehensions and anxieties disappeared in the warmth of his presence. We opened up about our present, our past, but never discussed anything about the future. Nothing else existed during the time we were together. I was completely present in the moment, there and now. The morning of his departure I had a mild panic attack. I was afraid to let go of this beautiful feeling. I am an adult, but I like butterflies and I seriously hate goodbyes. We clicked a picture and in place of a goodbye he said, “See you when I see you”. Somehow I had grown to trust him, and did not feel necessary to make any plans or seek assurances of false promises. We parted with the silent hope of seeing each other again (at least I did).
The only message that was exchanged about this trip was “I am glad I made the trip”. In the next few weeks the frequency of his messages died down. I was confused by his sudden disappearance, his truncated responses and the hollow “let’s chat soon” messages. I gathered the courage and wrote him a long text message asking for a clarification. He replied back with an equally long explanation apologizing for his lack of time and overly consuming work and family commitments. I tried to put my doubts to rest. The trend continued for the next few weeks. Finally, the messages completely died down. A bitter and painful feeling of sadness engulfed the hollowness of my heart. I had two options- to keep missing him and wait endlessly for his response, or to send some silly, embarrassing heartfelt message and then die regretting over my action. I went with the third option and deleted his contact to avoid doing the either.
Was it something I said or did? What does it take to write a simple text message saying that it will not work out? I’ve come to understand that sometimes there are no explanations and sometimes you don’t feel the other person is deserving of one. Whatever the case might have been, I was almost giving up the hope of expecting one. To be honest, my own anxieties also prevented me from seeking any clarity. Come to think of it, sometimes, isn’t it oddly comforting to weave and believe in your own delusional lie, rather than confront the bitter truth?
I was consumed by images of our time spent together and thoughts about what might have gone wrong. I would be lying if I said that I didn’t harbor the secret hopes of hearing back from him. Life is short, and leaving the other person to guess what you are thinking isn’t the most satisfying way to move forward. In the spirit of not having to look back and regret over unspoken words or actions, I decided to give it one last try. An email would have been too formal and a phone call too agonizing after the long confusing silence. As old school as it seems only a pen and paper offered the safe pauses to express my not so secret liking for him and the anguish over the confusing silence. I googled his official address, poured my heart with a black ink on a dull sheet of paper and mailed it with his birthday card.
It has been two months since I last heard from him. With a hopeful sense of pessimism, I still check my phone each morning with the vain hope of seeing a hi, or a thank you, perhaps? I am still dancing between holding on to the memories of this beautiful yuánfèn that brought us together and the practical reality of long distances and unspoken goodbyes.