Dear Woman Who Makes Me Smile, My Love For You Is A Strange Thing

And I will tell you, it confused the hell out of me. I was definitely not sexually attracted to you, so what were all these complicated feelings about?

And I will tell you, it confused the hell out of me. I was definitely not sexually attracted to you, so what were all these complicated feelings about?

The Muse of the Month is a monthly writing contest organised by Women’s Web, bringing you original fiction inspired by women.

VJ is one of the winners of the December 2020 Muse of the Month.

Dear Preeti,

Happy friendversary, love! May we have many more years together.

This is all still so new. I didn’t expect to be celebrating a first anniversary at the age of forty (especially when you have been in our lives for a lot longer than that), but I can’t fully express how wonderful it feels to be doing so, and to be doing so with you.

Now that you’re awake, and reading this, go to the kitchen, please. See the box from Merwans – brings back memories, doesn’t it?

The first time I saw you, on the first day of college, I knew I wanted to know you. You sat there, separate from the eager, excited crowd, on your own island of solitude. It introduced myself to you, and hoped that you would want to be friends with me. But no. I felt like you saw through me, and so, I decided to move on. To ignore how my eyes kept straying to you.

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The next time –serendipity. We were picked to be on the same organizing team for the college fest. We spoke, but it was a crowd. I wasn’t sure then, if you SAW me, or if I was just another name, just another face. But to me, among all those people, you always stood out, with your confidence, your intelligence, and your devil may care attitude. Being even remotely in your presence gave me such a charge.

You’ve told me since that you didn’t feel as confident. That you had your own insecurities. All I can say, is that it never showed.

This time, I couldn’t deny my heart anymore. I would find random things to talk to you about. Inconsequential things. Just for that little jolt of happiness I would feel when you would speak to me.

I put aside all the fluttering fear that I felt, every time I spoke to you, because under that fear was a sweetness that I could live on for days. I wanted more – I wanted every moment, every smile, every bad day. And I will tell you, it confused the hell out of me. I was definitely not sexually attracted to you, so what were all these complicated feelings about? Why did I so badly want to build this bridge to nowhere (as I saw it then)?

As it turned out, you were not as oblivious to me as I believed you were. I never realized that the boxes of goodies you would bring for the ‘team’ from Merwans, were actually for me – because I liked them. Sigh. I wonder – would it have made a difference to how our lives would have turned out, if I knew that back then?

But I didn’t, and we stayed acquaintances who drifted apart, when life took us in different directions. I heard from common friends that you’d gone abroad for your higher studies. I too got my degree in journalism and started building my career.

I met my husband, got married, had children. I “fell in love” with other women, the way I fell in love with you. None of those relationships ever came to any fruition of course – one, because I was so conflicted and didn’t understand my own feelings; and two, because I was committed to my marriage, which was a genuinely happy one.

Anil was a supportive and good husband, and I did love him, so the traces of the guilt I’ve carried over the years for not loving him fully remain to this day, even when I know better. There is after all, a difference between knowing and doing.

But anyway, it was then, about ten years ago, that you walked back into my life. I’d been sent to interview the creator of this new app that would help connect children from underprivileged backgrounds who could not afford coaching/tuitions outside school, to volunteers who could help them with their studies.

Imagine my surprise and joy, when you walked into the room. I liked that your face lit up too, and that you made sure to take my phone number after the interview. I was thrilled when you texted, asking if we could have lunch together.

That one lunch became many, and our relationship became stronger than ever. To Kavita and Kirti, you became Preeti maasi, and even Anil realized that the bond we had was something special. To his credit, he never questioned why you joined so many of our family vacations, or why I needed to discuss some of my major life decisions with you. What he thought of it all, I will never know, but he never complained.

Me – I was a mess. I was happy, because you were in my life. Guilty, because I felt I was betraying both Anil and you. Confused, because I still didn’t know what to call our relationship.

I wrote so many poems for you back then. I wanted to show them to you, but I wasn’t sure what you would think of it. Would it scare you away?  Would you never talk to me again?

I didn’t want to lose you, and so I hid my feelings under excuses, and smiles, and stolen hugs. It was a knife twisting in my heart, and I felt terrible because I was lying to you about how I really felt.

If I’d only known, that even as I was pining for you, you were pining for me too.

Well, I know now. So every anniversary, I’m going to show you one of them. A little retro gift. Here’s the first one.

To the Woman who Makes Me Smile
my love for you
is a strange thing.
It is the curve of the crescent moon,
ever present, even when it must hide.
It is a wave, breaking repeatedly on the rocks,
because what else can it do?
It is the song of crickets at sunset
So loud, that it signifies silence.
my love doesn’t fit
the way love should.
there won’t be a fairytale here.
there are no forever promises,
no eternity of yearning
and yet, it is a beautiful thing,
because while it lives
it holds me so completely,
and securely in its embrace.
my love for you
is what keeps me breathing,
even if you don’t know,
or answer to it.
To be loved by you is a perfection
I dare not hope for.
But loving you is the gift
that keeps on giving.

It was shortly after I wrote this poem, that we had our first major fight. I don’t even remember what it was about, but I remember how devastated I felt. The thought that I might have lost you became a physical affliction. Anil and the kids were seriously worried.

We didn’t talk for more than a week. You know what a stubborn ass I can be. You had hurt me, and so unless you apologized, I wasn’t going to talk to you. I’d decided that, and even though it was killing me to do so, I refused to pick up the phone and call or text you.

Thankfully for me, you’re not as pigheaded.

Notice the flowers on the table? It was that exact arrangement that you sent, along with an apologetic note. I actually cried with relief.

In the years since, whenever we have fought, you’ve always bought me flowers. Today, I’ve bought them for you, to thank you for never giving up on me.

Especially in the aftermath of Anil’s passing, you were beside me like a rock, even when I pushed you away. In my grief, I was sure that it was punishment for my ‘infidelity’ that he was taken from us, much before his time. I broke then, and went into a deep depression. When even our relatives abandoned us, it was you who practically moved in, took care of the kids, and me, even as I withdrew further. Thank you for all your patience and kindness back then, love. Thank you for staying.

I have a startlingly clear memory of the the day things changed. I was editing a report one of my juniors had filed, about a Humans of New York story, about two women in a close platonic relationship with each other that outlived even their marriages. This woman called her female friend her “soulmate.”

Something clicked in my brain. Isn’t this what I always felt for you? That the connection I felt with you was something above and beyond what I had ever felt for anyone else.

I went down a Google rabbit hole, as I searched for more stories. I found an article in The Atlantic, and when I read this bit of it, that I’m quoting below, it was like finding buried treasure.

‘”On what basis do we decide that a partnership is “real”? It’s a question the journalist Rebecca Traister poses in her book All the Single Ladies, when she examines the central role that friends often play in single women’s lives.

“Do two people have to have regular sexual contact and be driven by physical desire in order to rate as a couple? Must they bring each other regular mutual sexual satisfaction? Are they faithful to each other?” she writes. “By those measures, many heterosexual marriages wouldn’t qualify.”

At the same time, people who have intimate friendships are eager to declare their devotion. The social theorist bell hooks writes that women who have such close friendships “want these bonds to be honored cherished commitments, to bind us as deeply as marriage vows.” Companionate romantic relationships and committed friendships appear to be varieties of the same crop, rather than altogether different species.’

I finally had a name for what we were – queerplatonic partners! I wasn’t alone. There were others like me!

Pree, I cannot tell you how thrilled, and how scared I was at the same time. I needed to tell you, immediately. I was terrified that you would tell me that you didn’t feel the same way. However, I was ready to risk that rejection. Even now, after knowing, if I didn’t tell you, I would regret that far more.

Do you remember my ‘proposal’? Out of breath, stumbling over words, tearful? Gosh! And then, at the end of it, when you wept too, I knew.

We have been ‘married’ since then. I know that seeing us together throws people. Some assume that we are sisters living together. Others gossip about us being lesbians.

In my younger days, I would have felt the need to confront them, and explain to them. Or I may even have been so unaccepting of myself that I may have lied that you mean nothing to me.

As I grow older, though, I have begun to see beauty where I least expected it before. I have fewer fucks to give, and a lot more acceptance for the whole me. So I don’t bother. Let people think what they want. Their narrow brains, which cannot think beyond the arbitrary rules that society has for ‘friendship’ and ‘romance’ cannot even begin to fathom the beautiful simplicity of what we are.

Our children know and accept us. That is blessing enough for me.

All this to say, that I love you. When you are done reading this, come to the beach will you? The kids and I have been planning something special. We have a friendversary to celebrate.

Author’s note: I recently came across The Atlantic article that I’ve quoted in this piece. That got me thinking about these relationships that don’t quite fit the boxes we are expected to live in. Around the same time, another friend shared the Humans of New York story that I’ve mentioned in this piece. Just today, I found this tweet which speaks about strong friendships that are often tagged as being romantic/sexual by those outside the relationship. This piece is an attempt to explore the idea that maybe our definitions of what is love, and what is not, are too rigid.

Editor’s note: “Ideas are kind of magical. Sometimes I get them from reading or listening to people, but at other times, they just appear mysteriously,” says Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, bestselling and award winning author published in over 50 magazines, in over 50 anthologies, and having written several award winning books.

Her characters, as she says in this interview, “go through their difficulties and come out often stronger, wiser and more compassionate. I think they give hope to readers who are going through their own griefs. Perhaps that is why people – men and women – relate to my books. The characters’ sufferings make them feel that they are not alone.

The cue is this quote by her: “But maybe as I get older, I begin to see beauty where I least expected it before.“

VJ wins a Rs 500 Amazon voucher from Women’s Web. Congratulations! 

Image source: a still from the film Dedh Ishquiya

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