Grieving the End of an ‘Unconventional’ Relationship

Endings hurt. Most of us, who have had to undergo the agonising process of detangling our lives from an important significant other’s, know how devastating the experience can be. And yes, even though your rational side knows that someday in the future you’re going to come out on the other side of this gutting experience stronger, that knowledge is cold comfort when it’s 2 am and you realise they’ve changed their Netflix password — your last remaining link to each other.

As sucky as they are, endings are also universal. No amount of money, level of achievement, glamour, good looks, or even celebrity, can inoculate you from the wreckage caused by a broken heart. There’s no way to not feel at least a wee bit adrift, like a raft dislodged from its secure moorings, when you’re the one left watching as someone walks out the door.

And even if you’re the one doing the walking out — no matter how many times you tell yourself that it’s for the best, that you weren’t compatible in the long term, that your goals and dreams for the future were going to take you on completely diverging paths, and all the other Very Good Reasons you rehearsed in front of the mirror — there is no escaping the pain.  

I know, because I’m experiencing the end of something glorious right now.

I know, because no matter how hard I try not to, I find myself checking the dreadful “last seen” on WhatsApp a hundred times a day, willing it to change by the sheer force of my need to see him online the same time as me.

As sucky as they are, endings are also universal.

I know, because I’ve had days, and even weeks, when the yearning for an alternate ending is so intense, it strips me of my ability to function like a somewhat productive member of the land of the living.

And I’m okay with that.

I’m okay with playing the withering wallflower in this intensely personal theatre of grief — to be the pitiful sidekick who marinates in grief, barely able to scrape by after having her heart trampled upon. And I can’t stress enough how sublimely uninterested I am in the race to “win” the breakup by being the first to move on.

It doesn’t matter what I want, there is no stopping the avalanche of advice and banal, meaningless platitudes that well-meaning friends heap at my doorstep, almost as if it is their personal moral obligation to make me “snap out of it”, and assure me that it is going to “blow over”.

I will, and it will, I know. Of course, I know. Someday, sooner or later, the vice-like grip of memories will loosen, and the ache in my chest will choke me a little less. Each day after that will be easier than the previous one to get through.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard every variation of the “stay strong”, “chin up”, “don’t think about it”, “get some action” lines of advice. And it’s made me think about the fundamental difference in the way we extend support to those closest to us in times of need. What is it about relationships that exist outside of the bounds of institutions like marriage, and don’t have a clearly defined, recognisable name on paper that makes it so easy for us, collectively, to treat them like they are somehow less than?

Grief makes people uncomfortable.

When someone goes through a painful divorce, we don’t ask them to get over their spouse by getting under someone else. We don’t ask them to find solace in retail therapy, or a haircut, or annoying, trying-hard-to-be profound Instagram quotes. There is no timer to count down the minutes to the end of their mourning period. We show up at their homes, preferably with a casserole, and wait for them to emerge from their self-imposed exiles. For the most part, we allow them the dignity, and the time, to overcome the sorrow of losing something who was once precious to them. But when it comes to the no-name relationships flowering all around us, we expect grief to be quick, convenient and tidy. We’d like even more for it to be outsourced entirely, by hoping for an efficient transfer of affections to a more deserving candidate, chosen with the clinical precision with which one moves from ICICI to HDFC Bank.

In the last eight weeks, I’ve watched my parents wait impatiently for me to signal that I’m ready to see other “options” (their word, not mine) from among the “biodatas” they’re already stealthily sourcing. I’ve had friends urge me to get on Tinder or sign up for exclusive matchmaking service started by this friend, or that acquaintance. Most relatives, young and old, by way of commiseration, only have this to offer: I’m going to find someone better and more worthy, and very soon. It would have been cruel, heartless, and grossly inappropriate to talk about a replacement, if it was my marriage, not “just” a relationship that had fallen apart.

Even as I want to rage and thunder against it, a part of me understands the confusion. Grief makes people uncomfortable. It renders useless — temporarily — the social currency most of us trade in. It requires imagination to come up with appropriate conversational lubricants, a challenging task that most of us find ourselves unequal to, especially when the relationship being mourned is not something that can be understood, or explained, with a one-size-fits-all definition.

It would be so much kinder to simply admit the limitations of our vocabulary and fall silent, instead of inflicting the aggrieved with the inadvertent cruelty of minimising the importance of the loss they alone can understand. Because all relationships — whether they have a name or recognition — deserve to be both celebrated and mourned.

Give me some time and space to cry over mine, please.

Sonali Kokra

This article was originally published in Arre