I met her when I was fourteen. For the purposes of this article, let’s call her Hanna. Back then, I was just starting out on my seven-year journey with mental illness. I’d been diagnosed with clinical depression (anxiety would come a year later), and was a frightened and lonely kid.
I was also quite withdrawn. Looking back, it’s almost as if I was a different person. I didn’t talk to anyone, I despised social media, I had maybe twenty contacts on my phone. I’m not saying I’ve turned into a bubbling socialite now, but I definitely used to be much more introverted.
Which made my predicament all the more grave. I had inside me an ocean of anger, sadness, bitterness, hopelessness. And I had nobody outside my family in whom to confide these emotions. They were more than supportive. They always have been. But I was fourteen and they were more than thrice that. After a certain point, one needs somebody in one’s own age bracket.
That somebody turned out to be Hanna. After our initial encounter, in which neither of us made eye contact, I returned home thinking she was intensely attractive and interesting. But I had no hopes of pursuing an acquaintance. Crippling social anxiety forbade me from reaching out, and I didn’t think she’d been all that intent on talking to me.
That assessment turned out to be mistaken. So, so very mistaken.
Almost as soon as I entered our apartment and fell on the bed, I had a text. The short description in one’s WhatsApp account was called a status then (and I still call it a status; those 24-hour abominations can piss off), and I had as my status the word Dead. Because of course I did. She sent me something like — How can you be dead? I just saw you ten minutes ago.
And we were off.
It’s (Not) a Love Story
It was heavenly in the beginning. Texting with her was addictive. The first few days, it was all I did. All I wanted to do. It felt natural, easy. I confided things I thought I’d take to the grave. As did she. It was like discovering an entirely new world.
I remember the day after we began talking, my parents dragged me to a grocery store since I didn’t go out much. I was pushing the trolley with one hand and operating WhatsApp with the other. That’s how much I loved talking to her. And the feeling seemed mutual.
We would remain friends for a year. Initially, I felt nothing sexual toward her. I didn’t want any kind of relationship or exclusivity. But over time, those elements crept in. She ultimately became one of only two exceptions to my otherwise staunch asexuality.
We were best friends by six months. Someone once commented how they’d seen us strolling down the street. A slow, comfortable pace with no sense of urgency. Faces turned toward one another. We clearly enjoyed each other’s company.
But I moved on from that phase. I wanted something more. Whatever “more” meant for a couple fourteen-year olds. She, however, was content with having me as her best friend. She showed no inclination toward upgrading our relationship status. And the biggest obstacle of all?
She had a boyfriend.
Eventually, it returned. All of it. The depression, the anxiety, the crying. I couldn’t be in her company. I couldn’t sleep at night knowing she was in love with another boy. I couldn’t talk to her. My throat would constantly be choked up and my mood would always plummet whenever she mentioned him.
I simply couldn’t take it anymore. I ached to tell her I loved her and not just as a friend. My chest felt hollow from the terrible effort it took to not kiss her, hold her. Wanting something so irresistibly and knowing it can’t happen does something to a person. It’s a kind of madness. A brutal cage.
The Worst Mistake of My Life
After a point, I reached my boiling point. Something had to be done. Something had to change. But of all the choices I could have made, I chose the worst one. The meanest one. The most insensitive one. The most unforgivable one.
It was afternoon. We were walking together. I remember noticing how lovely her hair smelled. I’d never seen her so immaculately dressed, either. She had made herself extraordinarily presentable. For me? Perhaps. She confronted me about my recent behavior. About why I’d been acting distant.
I proceeded to tell her a bunch of horrible things. Rude, heavy, mean things. None of them even a bit true. As I’d hoped, she left. Exited my life. Left me feeling ashamed and relieved. It was over. All the pain of the past few months was at an end. But the price I’d chosen to pay was too steep.
It was the most cowardly thing I’d ever done. That record stands to this day. It was damaging, reckless, destructive, appalling. I won’t try to rationalize or justify it. She trusted me and I broke her heart. I can’t justify it. Even today, I can’t forgive myself for it. I don’t think I ever will.
I got back in touch with her the next year and explained everything. What commenced was a five-year battle in which I apologized as many times as I could in as many words as I could muster. I don’t think I’ve ever repented as I did with her. It’s hard to put into words. The guilt I felt was immeasurable and I expressed it repeatedly. But she wouldn’t forgive me.
It ended last year. I tried to search for her on Instagram, just to drop a text making sure she was alright and unaffected by the virus. I couldn’t find her profile. Even then, the thought she could’ve blocked me never once occurred to me. I simply assumed she’d left the platform. When it did dawn on me a week later, I made a different account and searched for her. She appeared.
Through everything I’d done, she’d never once blocked me. She’d explicitly told me she wouldn’t even if I wanted her to (and I did). This was it, then. The end. I texted her from the other account. Told her I was sorry, but clearly she wasn’t going to forgive me. So, goodbye. I’ll delete this account in 24 hours.
She replied with a thumbs-up emoji. Our entire relationship had come down to a thumbs-up emoji. It was over. And I deserved it. What I’d done was horrible and it warranted extreme ruthlessness. It did, however, get me thinking about forgiveness and how it takes the effort and willingness of both parties to bury the hatchet.
A Two-Way Street
Forgiveness is, to me, an elusive concept. I don’t generally have fights. The reason behind that may sound a bit naive — I approach each conversation as my last with the other person. Either of us could have a tree fall on us and die tomorrow. I don’t want our last conversation to have been a fight.
Before, I made conscious effort toward applying this principle. But it’s automatic now. I just don’t let minor disagreements turn into full-fledged arguments. When I do have fights, it’s rarely about saying sorry. It concerns something more fundamental.
For instance, the last time I had a heated exchange, it was over Islamophobia. I’m not going to sit here and entertain the notion that Muslims are inherently criminal in nature. What good is an I’m sorry going to do in this context? When I have fights, it’s over deep-seated and entrenched issues.
This isn’t a holier-than-thou rant, either. There have been times I wanted to hear those two words. Regardless of whether it’s I or the other person who apologizes, ninety percent of the time, it ends there. But there are times when forgiveness is simply not possible.
I was once hurt (by the second exception). She played with me, and my mental illness acted up. It was hell. She apologized recently. And I forgave her. But do I want to pursue another friendship with her? No. It’s not that I’m holding on to any anger toward her. It’s that what she put me through, I do not want to go through again. And there’s always a chance of it reoccuring.
Then there’s the matter of forgiving oneself. I haven’t when it comes to Hanna. What if she did absolve me? What if we did talk again? I’d always be drowning in regret and self-recrimination. I’d constantly be on the lookout for comments that suggest she hasn’t forgiven me. We could never have a healthy relationship. It could never be the way it was.
So. I’ve said a lot of things. Put forth a lot of views. What’s my point? My basic point is it doesn’t have to be the way it was. Forgiveness is a dynamic process with multiple factors involved. Even if both of you forgive each other, there’s still the matter of forgiving yourselves. It’s a complex thing.
And one of the biggest barriers to forgiveness is wanting things between you just the way they were before. Sometimes, that’s simply impossible. Too much has happened, too many lines crossed, too many feelings hurt. Sometimes, bridges can’t be rebuilt.
What does forgiveness look like in those situations? It looks like mutually agreeing to put the past behind you. It looks like trying to create a new path, forge a new relationship. It looks like acknowledging that maybe things won’t be the same, but you still want the relationship to exist.
Sometimes it won’t be possible. In those instances, forgiveness looks like a profferring of apologies and its acceptance. Without such an exchange, it looks like not letting what happened weigh on you with time. It looks like saying — No, I don’t want to talk to A again. But I won’t let the past keep destroying my life in the present. I won’t let it affect any of my other relationships.
Here, you aren’t forgiving the other person. You’re forgiving the past.
I spoke of a lot of things in this article. Allow me to present the key takeaways:
- Forgiveness is a dynamic concept with various factors involved. If A and B have a falling out in which both feel wronged, they must forgive each other. We sometimes do unsavory things in arguments. They must thus also forgive themselves.
- If such mutual forgiveness is possible, but too much has happened for the status quo to be restored exactly, A and B must try to forge a new relationship. It won’t be the way it was. But if two people truly want to be with each other, they can make a fresh start.
- If such mutual forgiveness is impossible, A and B must try to not let their fight affect their present lives and other relationships. They must put the past in the past and move on. With time, they’ll also be able to forgive themselves.
What happened with Hanna was unnecessary and cruel. I won’t forgive myself for it. But it’s not messing with my life anymore, either. It happened eight years ago, when I was fourteen. A child. I would never make those decisions now. This kind of acceptance wasn’t reached overnight. I was too in the heat of it then. It took years. I lamented for years.
And while, no, I don’t forgive myself, I can now live with the guilt.
This post was previously published on medium.com.
You Might Also Like These From The Good Men Project
|Compliments Men Want to Hear More Often||Relationships Aren’t Easy, But They’re Worth It||The One Thing Men Want More Than Sex||..A Man’s Kiss Tells You Everything|
Join The Good Men Project as a Premium Member today.
All Premium Members get to view The Good Men Project with NO ADS.
A $50 annual membership gives you an all access pass. You can be a part of every call, group, class and community.
A $25 annual membership gives you access to one class, one Social Interest group and our online communities.
A $12 annual membership gives you access to our Friday calls with the publisher, our online community.
Register New Account
Need more info? A complete list of benefits is here.
Photo credit: Gus Moretta on Unsplash