Are We Together or Broken Up? The Agony of Ambiguity.

By Karishma Shetty

Illustrations by Christopher Jacobs

These Delhi boys, I tell you. If they weren’t so pretty to look at, I’d never have any reason to talk to them. Maybe it’s a case of sour grapes, but my troubles also started with this Delhi boy who turned my life upside down.

It’s very difficult to explain this to classy log, but I grew up in a part of Mumbai that was considered very “uncool”. In my school, boys and girls didn’t talk to each other freely. I come from a world of friendship bands and boys with spiked hair. If I tried to talk well in English in school (which I was very good at tabhi also), I would be teased saying “bohot shining maar rahi hai”. So coming out of that world into a world of ‘Netflix and chill’ was a massive culture shock. I’ve never even held hands with a boy in school without being terrified that I’m doing something wrong. So it was very dizzying how in college everyone seemed to walk arm-in-arm, kissing in libraries and deserted corridors. It took me quite some time to get used to all this khula khula pyaar.

Right after college and a massive break-up (a toxic, three-year-long relationship), I was done with boys. I didn’t want these ladke-vadke. But that was the year I met Sanket. I was at Pune’s NH7 Weekender festival in 2013. Mere liye western music was growing up with Linkin’ Park and Enrique Iglesias. Suddenly, at this festival I was listening to indie music. I was surrounded my all these “cool” people in bandanas, hippy shorts and hipster sunglasses. I felt very out of place in my normal t-shirt and cotton pants.

I was at the electronic music stage and I was losing myself to the music. That’s when I spotted Sanket dancing next to me. He was so pretty my eyes hurt. Brown eyes, cute beard and a jawline to die for. He was also alone and didn’t care that he was. Our eyes met. We smiled and suddenly we were not alone anymore..

We hung out together the entire day. We had a palpable chemistry. My friend Divya (who joined us later in the event) told me, “Karu, I don’t like the way he looks at you.” I smiled naughtily, saying, “But have you noticed the way I look at him?” She looked shocked. I know what she was thinking — I was thinking the exact same thing.

My sudden sanskaari, ek-zindagi-ek-boyfriend-vrat was broken. I was so attracted to Sanket that I just wanted to have sexy time with him all day and all night. We rushed to stage after stage together, holding hands, brushing arms, massive PDA-ing. The tension was only building every other day. The festival was full of gorgeous, fashionable women who looked sure of themselves. But Sanket, who I could tell was a ‘player’ type, only had eyes (and hands) for me. I was so flattered and brimming with desire. We hooked up on the third day of the festival in his hotel room. I was so nervous. Outside of my ex, I had no measure of what good sex could mean. What do you do when you have sex with someone who is not your boyfriend? I had sex after so long that night, it was almost like the first time. And my god, was it glorious. But what do you say to them the next day? I didn’t know what the cool protocol was.

After spending the night, I left for Mumbai and he, for Bangalore. After a few weeks, he moved to Mumbai for work. He called me and said he wanted me to show him around the city. I knew what that was cue for. I showed him around, all right. That first night in Mumbai was like Weekender all over again. We couldn’t keep our hands off of each other. I spent the night in his apartment, sexing, touching, talking and more sexing. Uff, his akarshak chehra.

We started having sexy time every other day. Every weekend was full-day sexy time. For the first one month, I didn’t care about anything else, but the glorious sex. I realised there was more to my sex life than what my ex-boyfriend showed me. It was so liberating, you know?

One night, after sex (four times, hehe), Sanket and I talked our time away. We jammed and discussed life, love, science and everything under the stars. For the first time, I took notice of how smart and nice this boy was. Suddenly I understood that I wasn’t seeing anybody but Sanket. I realised I really liked spending time with him. The boy I was sleeping with was a good catch. But we were not in a relationship.

I was too afraid to ask him where we stood. What if it made him uncomfortable and he decided to distance himself from me? Plus, yeh cool types se kaise baat karte hain about serious matters? He was always so nonchalant when it came to discussing his emotions.

The fact remained that I didn’t know what to call this. Relationship bolun ya nahin? Sex buddies? But Sanket always insisted it was not just sex for him. Then what do I call this?

But seven months into this, I started noticing that the frequency of our sexcapades reduced. We wouldn’t hang out so often. We’d go out less for drinks. I didn’t want to sound too pushy so I didn’t outright ask him what’s up. I waited for him to call. But he didn’t do it. This went on for three months. Still, in my head, I was still “seeing” Sanket.

Around that time, I’d made a new friend, Anchita. She was very headstrong and kaafi open about sex and everything. She told me she had slept with this Bangalore guy in Andheri. She said she’d met him through a mutual friend and that it was great for her. They’d hooked up only once. Then she told me his name is Sanket and showed me his picture. It was my Sanket.

I was so shocked and hurt, I broke down. Sanket had slept with her while leaving me hanging about our relationship status. Somewhere in all that anger, I felt ashamed. Ashamed that I had been so needy. How could I expect him to be only with me when we’d both never even talked about it? I felt very small because I could not be so de unattached and cool like Anchita or Sanket. I also felt extremely rejected. Maybe he didn’t find me attractive enough anymore?

That day I outright asked him to meet me and talk about this. But he only texted me saying, “You’re a fabulous friend and I enjoy our time together.” So I was not more than a friend to him? Toh phir what is all this sexing? I felt even more ashamed that I couldn’t separate sex and relationships.  

But a part of me also knew that I didn’t really want a relationship so soon after my break up.

Slowly, I began to feel like I was being a hypocrite — I didn’t want to commit but didn’t want him to see other people.

And even more slowly I realised that above all, what I wanted from Sanket was an answer — Hum Aapke Hain Kaun? But I didn’t know how to ask for it without feeling small and uncool.

I avoided him like the plague for the next few weeks. We’d constantly bump into each other at music gigs and dinners (we had a large pool of mutual friends). I remember this one time that I hid in the bathroom of a concert venue when I spotted him. It took me half an hour to come out of there.

But he seemed to have no trouble adjusting to our “break up”. My sisterhood of gossipy friends told me about all the girls he’d been going out with after me. Another friend told me that she had talked to him about this and he’d exclaimed ki “Karishma and I broke up ages ago!” Acha?  I didn’t get the memo. Here I was thinking (and hoping) there’s still something between us. I thought we were together but never “together”, that we were seeing each other but not exclusively.

So, it was even more difficult to deal with his absence. I had no clue what to even call this. With my ex, it had been a clear relationship and a clear break up. I had tangible things to work with. But here, I had no name for this feeling. I was feeling terrible, jealous and angry at the same time. And I felt like I could blame nobody and no one. I could pin my feelings to nothing.

Our mutual friends told me he’s polyamorous. I didn’t understand all that. But I wish he’d tried to tell me. I felt dumb and stupid for missing him so much. I missed the talking and I missed the sex. He was the first guy I’d opened my body to after my ex. Sanket literally threw me into the world I live in now. A world of fluid relationships and great music. But yeh ambiguity kya hai? I wanted to tell him ki tum sabke saath sex karo lekin tell me at least where we stand.

Remember that Hindi song, Iss Pyaar Ko Main Kya Naam Doon? Well, iss break up ko main kya naam doon?

I honestly don’t know how I got over this. It took me six months!

Most of my problems with Sanket arose because I was afraid to straight up ask him for an answer and he didn’t have the decency to be a bit clearer. It was because I didn’t have the confidence to. I was so conditioned to being the “good girl” and had such a massive case of imposter syndrome, of being caught as a secret behenji that I was afraid of losing all these cool people, primary among them, Sanket. But as I got to really know people in my circle I realised everyone is vulnerable in their own way. The imposter syndrome applies to everyone. I taught myself to communicate better and I figured out what I wanted out of sex and relationships — clarity, not commitment.

I forcibly put myself out there. Met more boys, had more sex and spent more time with friends. I avoided Sanket at gigs no more. I forced myself to face him. This was my home after all, how long could I avoid him?

But that besharam would try to flirt with me even after months of our “break up”. One time he asked me to come home with him after bumping into me at gig. I just stared at him and walked away, laughing. I realised after all those fucks, I finally had no fucks left to give him.

Karishma Shetty works as a writer in Mumbai. She wishes PR firms stop calling her.

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