The concepts of love and heartbreak are like second cousins. They both pop up their heads in the middle of the night, bringing with them a constant state of distress and a craving for double chocolate chip ice cream. The only difference?
When you know that you are in love, you know it gets better. The latter; not so much.
But while getting your heart broken might seem like it’s a bad thing, it’s not – it makes you more real, more human – in fact, once you’ve had your heart irreparably damaged, there are less chances you’d do that to someone else.
Not that it stops the best of us.
Kartik, my 28-year-old copywriter friend, understands why a broken heart is a part of growing up. He flits in and out of love every other month, flashing dimples from boy to boy – picking up stories, and tabs at various bars across the city. He says he’s hardened now, and keeps his heart in check for charming boys, just like he keeps it in check for cholesterol.
‘How many times have you really fallen in love?’ I ask him, over a steaming cappuccino.
‘How many times have you had it broken?’ I prod.
The first time he fell in love, it felt like everything was black and white before – it was a giant Rorschach drawing, full of inkblots and other things that didn’t make sense. Kartik understands how a colour TV must have felt in the early 80’s.
It was 2012.
Who was it?
Lakshman, a painter in his mid thirties, felt straight out of a Jane Austen novel. He was charming, he was attentive, and he was everything a Darcy-loving 23-year-old would want.
A Mr. Darcy on drugs, that’s what he was. It was love that was chemical – a constant burst of over-the-counter oxytocins and dopamine, enough to charge a football field – Kartik’s love grew in a fug of fumes every day they met, over cigarette smoke and strains of marijuana straight from the hills.
It went on for seven months – the ‘will they, won’t they’ love affair that we’ve grown to love on television. But this was no season finale; there were no ratings to vie for. He finally decided to take the plunge and tell Lakshman how he felt.
And he did; on a long phone call that changed night from day. There was radio silence on the other side.
For two days, he didn’t hear back. He kept his distance, wanting to give Lakshman time to react. You can’t make such grand decisions overnight, can you? Rome wasn’t built in a day, and love stories didn’t brew overnight either. Sometimes it took seven months. Sometimes it took seven months and three days.
As if on cue, his phone beeped.
It was a text from Lakshman, telling him to never text back. It was over. Things were moving too fast, and he didn’t like it.
It was all very abrupt, and equally confusing. Kartik cried till he had a headache that day, and had the first of many sleepless nights – nights where he imagined various ‘what if’s’ – what if they had never met? What if he had never told Lakshman how he had felt? What if he pleaded to get back to being lovers? What if he realized that it was never really a relationship to begin with? What if he would never fall in love again? What if he would never heal? What if he did?
I can’t get myself to tell him that heartbreak is like any other pain, it takes time and space to heal. You can’t leave a broken heart behind at home when you go to work – it’ not a pet that can be cared for by a neighbor – it needs to be fed repeatedly, and taken for long walks to the beach by the hour. It needs to be called in sick, and nurtured (albeit without cough syrup).
It lasted all of four months and seventeen days (he knows because he counted) till one day he realized he needed to move on. The Jane Austen novel had ended, and he needed to go get ice cream.
And he did.
‘What changed?’ I ask him.
Like everything else in this world, his heartbreak had reached an expiry date. Sometimes it takes weeks. Sometimes it takes months. Sometimes it even takes years. The road to a fulfilled life is littered with broken hearts, jagged pieces of memories and feelings that will never truly join back.
He broke his first heart shortly before, the first of many. ‘It’s funny how one man’s hero, can be another man’s villain,’ he half jokes. I don’t find it funny, but his dimples are undeniably charming.
Kartik met Purab, 27, a French teacher on Facebook. Like most French teachers, Purab was sensitive and beautiful. ‘He looks like an Indian James Franco,’ Kartik tells me, and I can instantly tell that the story has a bittersweet end. Most tales involving James Franco do.
I expect nothing less from his doppelgänger.
One poke led to another, and before they knew it, they were texting deep into their pillows well in the dead of the night. Like most love stories that simmer over lava lamps well past midnight, it was fast (and equally furious). Was he filling the Lakshman-sized hole in Kartik’s life? It felt like the same fug of fumes, the same sonnets of cigarette smoke.
They shared a quick life-changing kiss on their second date, a rum-filled extravagance at a local bar; and by their fourth – a long winding walk by the beach – they’d exchanged brisk ‘I-like-you’s’ over a post date phone call. If this had been 2016, it would have been the La La Land of romances.
But it wasn’t.
Something was amiss. There were oxytocins and dopamine, constant bursts of it, but they felt borrowed, as if they weren’t prescribed. The affair felt staged, he tells me, ‘like we were playing with string puppets,’
Not the right term of endearment for an ex, but I don’t tell Kartik that.
Kartik felt detached, but he had to end things before hearts were broken (or his face was). It was a long coffee date. Words were exchanged, numbers were deleted, and abuses were hurled. They broke it off, and Purab left without a word. It was dirty, but it had to be done.
‘Is that how it ended? Did you not say anything to him at all?’ I ask – I am not very sure his dimples can help him out anymore.
He smiles, and heads to get another cup of coffee.
I can only hope that Purab went out and found his cup of ice cream too.