A year ago, exactly, as Christmas neared, we met for the first time after speaking over text for over six months. She came to visit me. We walked around, sat on swings in a park and spoke in measured tones - the awkwardness of our first meeting melting away like the remaining specks of sunshine on a December evening. As she was leaving, and I followed her down the stairs, she turned and tried to kiss me on the cheek. Shocked, I tumbled down the stairs. As she apologised while picking me up - my spiralling anxiety about a potential covid infection stood suspended. In a split second my mask was off, and I exclaimed impatiently - “Fuck it, kiss me!!” Six months of pent-up desire culminated in us kissing on a precarious staircase and awkwardly groping each other as we tried to make the best of those thirty seconds.
It’s been a year, and it’s Christmas, and we don’t talk anymore. Two days ago, I sent her a text, ending things. The sky was tangerine. The sun sinking into the pits of despair as a cold winter evening descended on me.
With the Fags, It Always Starts with Instagram
I returned home from New York at the beginning of the pandemic. Little did I know that the year-and-half I would be at home would end up being one of the most hellish periods of my life. People I loved died. People I loved shrank. And my girlfriend of four years and I decided to finally call it quits.
Amidst the grief, I lost myself, and spent hours on the internet. I also joined a queer writing group – the one thing that saved me from myself. I first came across her on a queer Instagram page where she had written about her identity. From there I followed her on her personal page. And then began what would be, for the longest time, a one-sided longing - thirsty, filthy, escapist. I was shockingly horny and throbbing for her. Breathing in and out during yoga classes, I imagined her eating me out on my mat.
One desperate day, I crawled into her DMs, responding to her tirade about bottoms. “Power bottom here” I texted, in a moment of rare courage and she responded. I made pathetic attempts to catch her attention, and she didn’t particularly reciprocate. And that was the reason for our first, albeit one-sided fight. I resented her for the lack of attention. At the same time, I memorised her Instagram page by treating it like night-time reading. “All desire is heterosexual” she stated in one. “Punish me like a straight girl” I pined. Soon enough I found myself talking about her during our weekly queer writing group meetings. After all, us city queers are defined by six degrees of separation. And in a moment of euphoria, Z, a friend from my writing group told me that she had recently broken up with her ex and was probably single.
With Fags, Hinge is Lord and Saviour
Sitting in my room in a city far from hers, I hedged my bets. She was recently single. Single people go on dating apps, right? So, I changed my location to where she was - a city I would not step foot in for several months. She showed up almost immediately. I stayed glued to her profile, refusing to budge but also refusing to initiate.
“Oh hello, look who’s here” - came her message. And over the next several days we exchanged streams of words. “You’re the most interesting person I have met here in a while.”- her. “I won’t be in (your city) for another few months.” – me. “It’s okay.” - her. “I don’t date.” – me. “I am good with that; I am not looking to date either” - her.
Our texts continued for around five months. One day she slipped in a sext. I resisted, given the virginal sexter I was, but finally gave in. And that night I sent her a picture of me shirtless, my dark hair cascading down my shoulders. Desire is a relentless thirst.
Over the next few months, we spoke every-day. From aggressive sexting we moved to tender check-ins, narratives about our histories and anecdotes about our lives. I told her I was polyamorous, and my idea of intimacy involved not distinguishing between romantic and non-romantic relationships. She said that this idea was new to her. Monogamy was all that she had known, and she drew a clear distinction between partners and friends. But then neither of us were out to date, right? So, our ideological mismatches would not matter, right?
As the days passed, we became a daily presence in each other’s lives. We would occasionally chat about our pandemic days, but mostly we would work together in silence over video calls. Slipping glances and smiling at each other across 1500 kms.
Only blue skies, no tangerine.
Fags are doomed to be lonely
I was moving to the middle of nowhere for a new job, and she was moving too. It was meant to be. And so, I arrived in her city, excited about my newfound freedom. We spent a night at an Airbnb on our first “date”. She gave me a book by Akwaeke Emezi. I was the favourite thing to happen to her in 2021, her note said. As she stood semi-naked freezing after her bath, I wrapped her with a towel and held her till she stopped shivering. She finally felt happy, she said. Same, man, same.
Our first day at my new place in the middle of nowhere we cleaned the house and fucked the night away. We got defrauded of a shit load of money on our second. Spent our third at the police station lodging a useless criminal complaint. And as she left, I awaited her return. Longing is an instrument played till your fingers bleed.
Soon, she moved to the middle of nowhere. She would come over, and we would speak about gender, our exes, our work, our friends, things that broke us and made us. We spoke a lot about our conflicting ideas of intimacy. She identified as a hopeless romantic. I, as an eyerolling cynic. She used the word love even before we had met. For me, the word carried weight. It meant commitment, work, a learning curve. I used the word too, though much later. We talked about bodies, her transness, and my newfound transness. And we kissed and fucked a lot. We also told each other we loved each other, a lot, a lot.
But as time passed, and work overtook our lives, we texted less and her visits became sporadic. No one was to blame, but it didn’t matter. It bothered me. I texted her often. When she found the time, she would respond. “Hey, can you come over this Thursday evening?”- me. “Hey, no, I am stretched really thin and have a lot of work.” - she. “Okay”. Okay? This was not a part of the plan - my new life was supposed to mirror perfection. And as I sat alone on my balcony overlooking naked fields, the sky was tangerine.
By the end of the first month, I started growing disillusioned with my job, the middle of nowhere, and the slow metamorphosis of our relationship. I missed my friends and everything the big city offered. My days consisted of working alone in a dilapidated apartment that overlooked endless dark fields, catching a sad bus to my workplace, and returning home to sit on my pot and smoke a cigarette. One cigarette turned to two. Two to three. Three to as many as I needed to fill the empty pockets of my daily life.
Olivia Lang, in her book, Lonely City, writes that loneliness feels like being hungry, when everyone around you is readying for a feast. I was starving. And as much as I tried exorcising the ghost of loneliness, I found myself mutating into an unrecognisable.
And so, I turned to her for solace. Insisting she come meet me, more often. She did her best. But something had changed. She’d come, we’d hang and fuck, and then she would fall off the face of the earth. I would text her every day, only to be met with delayed sporadic responses. It was only when we sexted, that her responses flooded my phone. Suddenly our relationship felt like a transaction that would repeat itself with her arrival and departure.
I realised I was trying to flee my loneliness, and that she was my destination. I wrote her a measured email - “I love our time together” it said. “But I also feel like once you leave, you leave”. And so, I asked her for space, such that I could work myself out of the habit of an oppressive dependence on her. “I also think perhaps we should stop sleeping with each other. Because honestly, it makes me feel a little used at times,” I added.
She wrote back the same night, apologised, and acknowledged her shortcomings. She was stretched thin and had a lot going on, she wrote. Her email was kind, an honest acknowledgement of what she could and couldn’t offer. “'I’m also sorry that the sex made you feel used. It was out of sheer love and desire” she added.
We decided to not text for the next few months, so I could unlearn my unhealthy dependence on her. Everything I despised about romantic love and mandatory monogamy, I now imbibed. My politics on intimacy dripped away like a leaking faucet. But after a day of silence, came her text. She had spent her day trying her best to distract herself but soon she found herself returning to me. And in that moment, my fragile will was broken. “I love you”. “I love you too”.
Where are all my lesbians?
In the book Thirteen Ways to Love, there is a story called “Where are all my lesbians?”
The author writes about her break up and uses the phrase “queer fragility” to describe the precarity of lesbian relationships. The first time I read it, I despised it. The second time, I was lonely in the middle of a brutal New York winter, and my trysts with queer dating hadn’t really led anywhere. I still found her pining annoying, but I was more empathetic. Today, I am terrified of reading it. Fucking queer fragility.
And what kind of lesbian was I anyway? Being lesbian is a political identity, as poet and essayist Adrienne Rich argued in Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence. In pop culture, lesbians are unhinged, co-dependent, hopeless romantics and honestly sort of pathetic. Anyway, I was sort of an Adrienne Rich lesbian, or so I believed.
“Not all feelings are valid” I exclaimed to her. “I don’t get this lesbian obsession with coupling up in the bat of an eyelid, why are we such stereotypes?”. “Friendships are radical, I don’t do well with hierarchizing intimacies. I despise romantic love - it is so shallow and vacuous. I intellectually disagree with it.” I would tell her animatedly.
How the tables turn - I am a pop culture lesbian now.
On the right to rage
I am a lawyer by training and so are most of my friends. We read and discuss critical legal theory which rightfully calls out the law for all its pitfalls. The most popular discourse is a critique of rights.
“Is there a right to sex?” ponders philosopher Amia Srinivasan in a famous essay. Ratna Kapur in her book Gender, Alterity and Human Rights, argues, “On some level, our rights-related liberal projects are on life support and further palliation is pointless”. Denying a right to marriage to the queers (largely cis-gay savarnas) violates the equality code, argues petitions in our courts.
But fuck all that, is there a right to rage? I mean of course there is - rage is political and powerful and can overthrow oppressive empires. But I wonder whether we have a right to rage against lovers. Rage that seeks to shock the lover’s system into acknowledging (and meeting) one’s needs as opposed to measured conversations and therapy speak. Is that right to rage (vis-a-vis our lovers) accompanied by the right to be verbally cruel, mean, and hurtful? Most crucially, is that right accompanied by a guarantee to be forgiven by the lover once the storm calms?
One baffled night, in the pits of despair, I exercise my assumed right to rage. I never addressed the principal question - Was she my lover? Was I hers? After all, we weren’t dating. Didn’t matter. I gave into my base impulse, and without warning, sent her paragraph after paragraph of accusatory angry texts.
Everything is on your terms. Everything. When we talk, how we talk, how often we talk, when I can see you, when we fuck. You only respond consistently when we sext. My needs and expectations never matter. You disappear on me all the time.
Weapons drawn; I ambushed her, and silently accused her of breaking my heart.
So, is there a right to rage at the lover? Depends on who you ask. A friend read my texts and responded with a measured “Hmmm. “So, what do you think you will get out of this?” She added, “She is immediately going to go into defensive mode. Did you really achieve anything?”
Another friend firmly believes that there is a right to rage at the lover. “Of course!” she exclaims. “Get mad, be cruel, be angry, say those nasty words out loud.” After all, what is a lover but a receptacle for our grief?
And so, I exercised my right to rage, and she exercised her right to retreat. She shut down. Shut me out. And the brutal silence hung between us like a thick fog. Tangerine.
The vanishing self
After weeks of silence, as the anger settled and desperation crept in, I wrote to her. I apologised profusely and begged for another chance. “Intimacy is the only thing I value.” I said, “And it’s the only thing I am willing to fight for”. She took her time, but eventually we started speaking. In a week I was headed back to my hometown for over a month, and so we agreed to meet.
We met in a restaurant designed for heady first dates, rather than heavy post fall-out conversations. I apologised and promised to do better. After our meal, I went home with her, and we fucked all night long. As she lay on top of me, she paused, looked bewildered and said - “Fuck I am in love with you”.
“I am in love with you too.” I responded. “But I am also often in love with my friends.” I added. And she sat silently with that, before she ate me out. All desire is political, but sometimes, when people tell you that they are in love with you, one must resist the urge to reduce that moment to a political project. “I am in love with you too” is all that was necessary. And in a few days, I flew out, 1500 kms separating us once again, her teeth marks all over my collarbones, memories that I desperately clung onto as they slowly faded away.
Does the label make it taste better?
Still with me? Well then, let’s skip the mundane details of a month and a half of distance. Suffice to say, we broke each other, in ways I could not fathom possible. We argued and hurt and misunderstood - an endless cycle of disappointment, anger and exhaustion repeating itself. One day, after a charged exchange, I blocked her on Instagram and unfollowed her. At this point, I unabashedly acknowledge my role in sabotaging the relationship. I didn’t want to date her as an antidote for my loneliness. But then why do people date, if not to avoid being alone in this world meant for two?
She wanted to speak in person about what had ensued. When I returned, she wasn’t ready. And so, I drove to the middle of nowhere, and for over a month and half, there was complete silence from her end. Every day I shrank a little more - consumed by her loss. By now, there was very little keeping me motivated at work. I hated the middle of nowhere and my health gave way. My depression and anxiety had returned with a vengeance. I once rejoiced in my singlehood, but now I longed, hesitantly though, for the comfort of coupledom. “I am in love with you, and I am ready to do the work of repair” is what I longed to say to her. I woke up every morning and vomited into my toilet before catching my sad yellow bus to work. And I came home and smoked, and repeatedly checked her WhatsApp. Online. Offline. Online. Offline. Silence.
One day, I erased all our WhatsApp messages from my phone. But I emailed myself a copy. Thus, in my email somewhere lies an archive - over 100 pages of texts between two fags exchanged over a period of a year or so – falling and failing.
And then, one day she broke her silence - with the terms of a relationship that could be possible between us. A checklist of things she could offer and could not. An essay about all the ways I’d hurt her. I apologised and agreed to her checklist, without caveat. I wanted her back, and I acknowledged my faults, but in this process, I disappeared - my hurt no longer mattered. My grievances, locked away, gathering dust.
Finally, she came to see me and spent the night at my place. She behaved as if nothing had happened between us. I resisted the muscle memory to kiss her. She kept hugging me, took my hand and kissed it, and touched me some more, and so I gave in, and old patterns repeated themselves.
Except something was different. It was like a part of her had checked out. But I, who had no right to rage and had made the mistake of saying out loud “but sometimes I am also in love with my friends”, must make amends. So, I walked on eggshells around her, agreed to all her terms - caveating every text I sent to her with “you don’t have to respond”/ “only if you have bandwidth and want to”/ “prioritise yourself”.
The desire was gone. The hunger - gone. The intimacy - gone. The effort - unrequited. The nudes - met with polite responses. Blocks of text from my end, met with a line or two. The sex - followed, once again, by a disappearing act.
In the song, We Ain’t Together, King Princess asks “We say, "I love you", but we ain't together; Do you think labels make it taste much better?”.
She tells me she wished I hadn’t followed my confession of being in love with her with the addendum that I am also in love with my friends. “It’s not the same for me.” she said. “I love my friends but it’s not the same as being in love”. “But why does it matter, that sometimes I am in love with my friends,” I ask her. “If I give you everything you need from a partnership, should that fact matter?”. “It does.” she says. But then what’s the point of being queer, I wondered. Aren’t we supposed to do better than the straights? Isn’t queerness more about how we arrange our intimacies? “Gender is not a binary,” the queers scream, but love is?
“I don’t think we’d be good if we dated. I feel like you don’t see me,” she said in response to one of my texts about us exploring dating. Over another conversation she claimed, “I don’t think I can meet your needs.” Another night, “I think you see me better than you did before.” Of course, I did. Because for three months, it was all I worked towards. Loving her in ways she wanted to be loved. Texting her, on her terms. Meeting her, on her terms. I did everything possible to “see” her - till I vanished.
“I am so confused, you’re so contradictory” I told her one day. “I am not saying we should date; but I am not sure what the reason is. Is it that I don’t “see” you? Is it because I am sometimes in love with my friends? Is it because you think you can’t meet my needs?” WHAT THE FUCK IS IT? I scream internally. “All these things can be true at the same time.” she says.
One night, the last time we met each other, she came over and told me about how she and a gorgeous queer (‘T’) have developed romantic feelings for each other. They discussed it, she says, but decided not to date because they didn’t want to risk the friendship and were not mentally in the headspace to be romantically entangled. A part of me died - “pick me, choose me” I wanted to beg, but I only listened as she pottered around the kitchen talking about T. “I feel threatened.” I told her. But I stopped there.
And as we lay next to each other, I said, “I need to let you go - but before that I need to know that you’re no longer in love with me - are you?”
“I fell in love with you, but not in that way, I always held back because you were so clear about not wanting to date” she said.
“Okay, so just to make this clear, you are no longer in love with me, right?”. “I love you, but I am not in love with you.”
We fell silent. “I guess I am still grieving you, you know,” she says. I have no fucking idea what that means so I press her a bit more. She gives me vague responses, punctured by even more vague silences. And so, I give myself permission to cry in front of her. “Why are you still sleeping with me?” I ask her. “Because I like you, and I am attracted to you.” she says.
“Because I like you, and I am attracted to you”.
And these words would come back to shatter me, irreparable. Make me feel disposable, replaceable, forgettable. Despite this, I rode her hard that night. She never really let me top, and despite me being a vers, we always had sex with her exclusively topping. But I didn’t give a fuck that night, and so I instructed her to sit up, topped her, and rode her till she gasped, breathless.
She left and her Instagram was flooded with posts about T. I followed them both. And boy were they at it - public declarations of love and admiration. “This is my favourite picture” T commented on one of her posts about them. “Arrey, you are my fav!” she replied. After all, it's no longer 2021, and she never promised I’d still be her favourite in 2022.
One aching night she posted a picture of T sitting on her desk at 1 am. I had a meltdown, called my ex-girlfriend and sobbed away. “How did she move on so fast?” I sobbed. “Am I that forgettable, that difficult?” Is this our legacy - a war-torn landscape of haggard emotions.
Oh, by the way, I quit my job and decided to move back home.
WhatsApp; 12th December, 2022
Me: “Give me a yes or no answer, okay. When I come back to (your city), is there any chance for us to give us a shot?”
Her: “..I really don't know, and I think I really don't want to be romantically entangled for a significant while and recuperate. That's the honest answer.”
WhatsApp; 14th December, 2022
Me: “At the cost of sounding annoying, if you and T are heading somewhere, do let me know… very hard for me to witness you moving on … given I am still grieving you”
Her: “As far as T is concerned, she is a dear friend more than anything.”
More than anything….
WhatsApp; 23rd December, 2022; 12:09 pm.
Her (in response to a text about meeting before I leave): “I can't do earlier to be entirely honest. I still have (work) to finish and I'm coming down with a fever from exhaustion.”
Me: “Do you wanna take a rain check?”
WhatsApp; 23rd December, 2022; 1:51 pm
Me: “I am calling … quits. Having reflected on the past year, I don't think there is any future for us, even in the realm of friendship. So, I am out.”
Her: “Alright. I'm not going to argue with that.”
27th December, 8:00 pm, Airport
Flight Announcement: “Flight xxx to (city) will now be boarding. Passengers with seat numbers…
WhatsApp; 23rd December - 27th December, 8 pm.
This is my story. It is not our story. Neither is it hers.
Bio: Nam is a non-binary queer lawyer, academic and cat parent. Outside the world of law, she ponders, reads and writes about loneliness, intimacy and queerness.