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All the words I wish I could have told you

I got rid of my last photo of you, and I immediately regretted it. I realized that I will never be able to use the photos I took, documenting our love, as a bookmark.

I regretted that on any suspecting afternoon, with the sun gleaming just right twenty years from now, one of those photos will never fall out of an old book in front of my children and they won’t ask about the boy in the picture with curly hair and reddened cheeks.

I regretted it because you are – you were – my first love. And a person only gets one of those in a lifetime.

When I finally left I reacted curt toward you, almost passive or indifferent, because I didn’t want you to know that this was killing me too. Because I wanted to be strong – because the alternative was weak. Because we met un-intentionally and you immediately became forever etched into my soul.

I regretted it because we were damned from the start – because I found happiness in you before I found happiness in myself.

But, the reality is that I didn’t even know that I was looking for someone like you to save me from my misdirection. In fact, all I knew was that I liked the feeling in my stomach when your bright smile landed in my direction. I liked the comfort I felt in your eyes, I liked being desired. And, I liked how the beginning of our love story sprouted as if it were straight out of a Nora Ephron film.

The thing about those movies, however, is that they always ended just before the story actually began and reality set in.

For whatever reason, I thought myself righteous enough to pop our bubble. To be the one who decides that there is something better, grander, more extraordinary beyond the story of us.

So, I let it go. I convinced myself that I needed to get away so that I could start feeling again.

But seared inside my mind, hidden behind my self-proclaimed and glaring passions for the best love story known to man – and my belief that you couldn’t possibly give it to me – are the photos of you that I took in sepia. My hand on your chest. The back of your head against a sunset. Our hands holding one another. A kiss stolen in a gas station parking lot. Your eyes meeting mine with affection from the driver’s seat when we stopped at a red light and I told you to smile.

I regret that I didn’t give us the chance to seize just one more moment together. I regret that I didn’t give us a chance.

I know that you broke my heart in little ways for a long time, but I broke your heart in a big way all at once. One does not cancel out the other.

I loved you unconditionally. You knew it, too, but you lost me. I waited until I had enough and I left.

I realized that it is better to be single and search for myself, then to settle for something I feel insecure in.

Don’t get me wrong though. Our ending wasn’t nearly as tumultuous as I am making it out to be, nor as I would have liked it to be. One second we were, the next we were not. And that was it. We just ended. There was no thunder, no lightening. Nothing.

Even now as I am sorting through what exactly happened, I still can’t help but think that if you loved me the way you said you did you would have treated me the way you said you would.

I wouldn’t have had to beg.

Even when we did eventually try to talk about us, instead of ignoring the elephant in the room with banter or seduction, I’d be speechless. I didn’t know where to start.

But, please don’t mistake my silence for indifference. I do still love you. I always will, except it’s not the same. We spent so much time together and I know that I am saying so little right now to make up for it. I know that this is unbearable, but I promise you that every word I wish to utter to you is in my mind. I just can’t bring myself to speak when you look at me like that. When you draw yourself closer, it is a bribe which I can’t commit to. So please take a step back, I’m so tired of this. I am drained. If I stayed, I would spend a lifetime choking on words I wouldn’t ever dare to say.

I invested in you and I lost myself. I became dependent. And to be honest, this was the last thing I wanted. I spent close to a year relying on someone I didn’t want to rely on – nor could I. I knew it was the end long before you did, and I held on anyways, just in case, because I have a drastic fear of letting go and moving on.

But how can I reconcile breaking your heart and leaving everything we had together in just a few short minutes. You say that I took you by surprise, that you didn’t see it coming – but I don’t know how. I gave you all of the signs. You saw my silent tears. I always knew I wanted more. I was destined for something different. I felt it, deep in my bones, I just never faced it until I was forced to. I was able to ignore my confusion because we laughed with one another. We couldn’t take our hands off one another. We ran home in the pouring rain together, stopping only to kiss.

We experienced the best of one another for a short period of time, and I know that our relationship lasted as long as it was meant to. We loved each other until we couldn’t. We chewed us up and spit us out. We got everything we needed to get out of one another. We fell in and out of love from worlds apart. But I still feel terrible. And I feel like I should be feeling more even though I have been overcome with intense conflicting feelings every day since we said goodbye. Every day for close to a year.

I guess I just want you to know that I didn’t make this decision in haste. I needed to get away in order to understand more of myself.

I regret not thanking you enough for watching me blossom and believing in me so that I could believe in myself. I should have told you just how much you helped me realize the endless bounds of myself, for better or for worse.

I should have thanked you for letting me go, even though it hurt like hell.

I regret doing this to you because you waited for me. Because I gave you dozens of silent chances in my head. Because you would take me back in a second and I am here telling you that I am confused. That I need more time. That is – time to think. Time to learn and explore and dream. But all you hear is that I need to do all of these things away from you, that I need time alone. That I would rather work on building my sense of self alone than by your side.

But I deserve someone who makes me feel alive. Someone who is generous and who makes my heart jump when I tell people that they are mine. And you deserve someone who doesn’t give you an expiration date.

I am scared that maybe I made a mistake, that maybe I am foolish, or maybe that this is all that my love amounts to. I am having trouble accepting the normalcy of the end of us. The lack of explosion.

I am scared that I will forget. I am scared that after a few months everything we had will feel just like a dream. A dream that is open-ended, a dream that will constantly be on repeat in our respective minds until the end of time. Fated to carry each other’s baggage.

I regret that I now have to give you to someone else. That someone else will nuzzle into your chest, and devour your smell. I regret that I gave it all up so easily and have only in hindsight realized the weight of my naivety. Or did I? Because I also remember being so incredibly devastated, and being met with oblivion, with dismissive niceties. I remember my anxieties being belittled or made to feel small. I remember that I didn’t have the means, or the patience, to heal you.

I remember crying on the dance floor a year ago. Turning around so that none of my friends would see. I was staring at your messages. They were curt, broken and hard to make sense of. I remember being confused, I remember when someone told me for the first time that I deserved a love that was better. A love that nurtured. A love I didn’t have to settle for. A love that swept me off my feet.

I regret that we were different together than we were around everyone else. That no one got a real glimpse of us, in love. I regret being so quiet. I regret that I couldn’t love you like you loved me. I regret that you couldn’t love me the way I needed you to. I regret that we’ve run out of things to say.

I regret that our relationship was already broken even when your fingers were strumming through my hair or when we sat across from each other on the floor in a fit of laughter.

I regret knowing it was the end before you did, and holding on anyways just in case. I regret not telling you just how nervous I was and just how serious I was when I said that I thought we lost our spark. Our magic.

I regret it all because I wish that I held on to those pictures for a little while longer. I wish I studied them. Even though I knew the ending wouldn’t change.

Neither of us can fully heal our heartbreak unless we are apart. We have to heal for ourselves, rather than for the possibility that one day down the line we will be together again.

Seeing you that day, when you came by to collect your things, actually helped me realize that I am better off without you. That I am happy now. Really happy. And I no longer doubt myself. I no longer rely on you for happiness. I no longer get angry or sad because you couldn’t make me happy.

In hindsight I had absolutely no idea who I was when I met you. I still really don’t. I’m not even sure that I knew what genuine happiness looked or felt like.

Maybe that’s what ruined us after all. My indifference. My sadness. All of which at the end of the day amounted to nothing.

Soon I will be able to think about you without ripping my heart out.

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Love Life Stories Advice

5 amazing pieces of marriage advice from my local Pakistani aunties

I love the matriarchs in my family, from my mom to my aunts and to my mother’s friends. A lot. They have supported me, nurtured me, loved me, and have been the “village” that raised me.

But it’s not all roses. The conversations they had with me before marriage seemed to always center around why I was not married. Now, when I am married, the conversations seem to assume that I have no other roles except for being a wife and potential mother.

Nevertheless, I try to focus on their productive pieces of advice. They may have experienced marriage in a different way, but for many of my matriarchs who are still (happily) married 15-20 years later, they did something right.

1. You do not need to talk to your husband about absolutely everything.

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[Image Description: A gif of Renee Zellweger from “Bridget Jones’ Diary” talking about verbal diarrhea.] via Giphy
This one is true, and I have learned that slowly. While my husband is always there to lend an ear, that does not mean I need to fall into verbal diarrhea. Some topics are better saved for my girlfriends. Most things related to my professional life may feel more stimulating with my colleagues. It is okay to compartmentalize!

2. Start thinking about how you will balance career and a family in a way that works best for you.

life work GIF by Disney
[Image Description: A gif of Belle from Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” balance three different trays.] via Giphy
I used to sometimes be defensive and consider this advice as a way for my matriarchs to tell me to put my career last (and some definitely did believe in that), but I now see their point. Eventually, if I do want children, this means constraints on my time. It means actually prioritizing my time and how I want to do things.

A good friend once said it best: “There is no such thing as work/life balance. There is only life balance because work is a part of life.”

3. At the very least, be respectful of your in-laws.

nimrat kaur GIF
[Image Description: A gif of Kiran Kaur doing a traditional motion from elder women of approval and blessings.] via Giphy
Coming from a South Asian background, you do marry a family. I realize this means different things though to different people. But unfortunately, the general trend is the expectation of a servant-like daughter-in-law who takes care of pretty much everyone all the time because self-care is selfish.

I have so far been very lucky to have in-laws who do not treat me that way (and I would do a very bad job). They do not ask me to serve them hand and foot, only for mutual respect. It is not so hard, and I personally see it as a great support system, especially if I plan to have kids.

4. Take time apart and away from each other to avoid saying anything you will regret.

Ease up out my face
[Image description: Will Smith from “Men in Black” tells an alien: “You need to ease up out my face ‘fore sump’n bad happen to you.”] via Giphy
Yes. And yes.

This one has been tremendous because I sometimes have that horribly nagging tendency to want to solve a problem as soon as possible. What I realized is that I have been doing this wrong along throughout my life and relationships. Sometimes, an instant solution is not what anyone needs. As humans, we need time, and when anyone is in our face trying to influence how we feel or make decisions, it only makes the problem worse.

5. Standing by your partner creates an everlasting trust in the relationship.

julian bond team GIF
[Image Description: A gif of Julian Bond assuring his partner that he has his back.] via Giphy
To be clear, this does not mean that you stand by your husband when he is being abusive or manipulative. It means that men too have moments of vulnerability.

An aunt of mine may not have used the exact explanation or words, but I understood what she meant. Men too want to feel reassurance as being a good partner, husband, and/or father. Whether this is social pressure or one that is biologically wired within men, it exists.

The next time an older woman or matriarch gives me relationship or marriage advice, I’ll take a minute to remember that completely shutting them down only shows my own privilege as a young woman in my generation. I can only imagine the types of challenges they had to face, and how quietly they had to face them.