By Pritha Chatterjee
There are sonnets about love, and there are sonnets about losing love. But there aren’t nearly enough sonnets about figuring out when the love has really been lost.
My relationship of nine years came to a rather crushing end in 2017. I was pursuing a Master’s in Public Health in Boston, far from my home in India. This was after six years of public health journalism, and so it was also a grueling transition year of sorts.
My partner had travelled to see me just a few months ago. Needless to say, promises were made and broken, but what was particularly difficult to grasp was that it was ending so soon after the last visit, and reiteration of those promises. 2017 was to be the year we were to get married.
For the first few months after he told me it was over, I thought this was another one of our many momentary lapses. In long-term relationships, there are times you argue, you fight, you may not even talk for a while, and then things crawl back to the familiar, comfortable normal. Of course, you lose a little bit of yourselves with every such phase, but you never accept that. So, I thought it was one more of those hurtful but transient times. This too shall pass, I told myself. Just weeks ago, when I had shared our picture from New York on a WhatsApp group with my college friends, someone had said we were setting relationship goals. I told myself, he must remember how we had laughed over this. He had held my hand just weeks ago! After all, there was no big “event” that had led to this. No one cheated on anyone. The distance was temporary. The arguments were stemming from old, long discussed issues, and we would pull through this time, as we always had before. I convinced myself: he could not possibly mean all the hurtful things he was telling me, the finality with which he seemed to be pushing me away was a façade, and before long, he would be back, as he always, inevitably was. Inertia to change? Maybe.
…Until the weekend before my finals, when I received an email from him that really drove home the finality of our parting. It was a recap of the last six odd years we were together, admonishing me for things I had said or done. But more than that, it was a no-holds-barred, honest confession of falling out of love. I was crushed, devastated, ravaged. But in a way seeing it all in print, so hurtfully, but so articulately put together, helped me accept that he really was gone. The uncertainty of clinging on to hope can be more hurtful than the finality of the slaughter. I had to still sit through my finals. I had never felt so let down, so alone. But I kept going back to that email through these feelings, and oddly enough, I found my strength in it.
When I was in the middle of a particularly tough day professionally, struggling to make ends meet in a new country, building a new network, I read it. When my parents left after my graduation in May, and I felt more alone than I ever had, I read it. When I went for my first date with the first new man in nearly a decade, I read that email again. In fact, I wrote to him about reading it on what would have been our 10th “anniversary” in August. I don’t know if he understood, that if not for those harsh words in print, perhaps I would never really have let go. When I fell in love again, really fell in love again somewhere last year, I read that email through those feelings. Now, I have favorite parts, and I leave out the particularly hateful, hurtful paragraphs. I don’t know how long I will save it, or how often I will read it in the future. Sometimes, I wonder if it’s healthy. But this process has worked for me in helping to detach, to let go of what ‘once was,’ in order to allow space for ‘what can be.’
Author’s note: I am a journalist. I write on sordid matters in public health, environment, gender et al. I worked with The Indian Express from 2010-2016. I have also written for the British Medical Journal's Global Health division, and The Hindu. For the past year, I have been working as a research assistant in population health at Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, and I have been a fellow at Harvard Law School's Berkman Klein Center, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. I squeezed a Master's in Public Health from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in between. Needless to say, my views, particularly in all things love and loss, are personal, and are not to be associated with my employers past or present, and/or credited to my alma mater.