By Nirmitee Mehta
If this were a book, the guy I’ve fallen for would have caught the last available flight to Singapore before travel started shutting down. He would have spent the mandatory 14-day quarantine period in isolation without complaint and, once approved with a clean bill of health, taken a cab to my place, caught me unaware, and confessed his feelings to me as the rain poured outside. Unfortunately, my life isn’t a great romance novel (or even a somewhat okay romance novel) and contrary to this expectation, a week ago I started feeling that after having disappeared periodically but always having returned, this time he was gone for good. I was really going to have to get over him. A few days had gone by since our last text sprint when, despite being in the middle of a conversation (i.e. me sharing the richness of my mind, musings and mission and hoping he’d care) he’d dropped off randomly and I hadn’t heard back from him yet. He was still watching my Instagram stories so I knew he wasn’t dead and presumably the cold that had had him holed up at home in Jakarta the last time we spoke hadn’t been corona related.
None of my previous tactics of eliciting a reaction – sexy selfies or new Instagram posts were working. Twelve hours after no likes but confirmed story views, I started rehearsing conversations calling him out on this. Whenever he disappeared for a few days in the past I’ve let it slide because if there’s one thing I’ve learned about dating, it’s that men are more flighty than WeWork’s management team, and I didn’t want to drive him away. At the most I’d call it out with a halfway snide remark like “oh, he lives!” or “wow, nice to see I haven’t been ghosted.” This time, I was serious and my rehearsed imaginary conversations for the next time he surfaced now started with “this is dumb,” “I’m not into this,” and “I can’t.” However, there remained that yearning for an apology or an explanation that made everything become better so that I could continue to keep the mental picture I had of the two of us together despite all the practical sensible reasons for it to not work out. Despite the anger, frustration and hurt over him still not replying, continuing to have these conversations inside my head meant that I still thought that he would reach out, and I wanted to see that he did care. You really only get over someone when you take that hope away.
I’ve been in this situation (minus COVID) enough times to have a strategy for what to do when I suspect I’m being ghosted: I start swiping again. I talk to a few new boys and meet a couple until I find a candidate who tickles my fancy. I obsess over every interaction we have, thus kick-starting a new cycle of the torturous game of dating. However, seeing that there’s a pandemic on right now and as I write this I’m on the eve of a lockdown, this isn’t really an option. Call me a pessimist or a socially responsible party pooper but I don’t think the government of Singapore will be on board with me flouting social distancing norms just so my brain stops getting stuck in a constant loop of the 10 minutes from the moment he bent his head down to kiss me to the moment I got in my taxi to go home alone, changing up the chain of events to get more time with him in each iteration of the memory replay like a choose-your-own-adventure novel.
After 10 days passed without a word, I made the executive decision not to initiate conversation at all, the way I had in moments of past weakness. The next morning, during the hour-long rumination that goes on when I swim, I went one step further and decided that even if he did text, I was done with his games and proceeded to compose a speech as to how I’d communicate to him exactly how demeaning his attitude was. Still, every hour that passed without a word, the hopeless feeling in my gut grew, sensing that all this preparation was for naught and I really was never going to hear from him again. We really would have had a chance here, I kept thinking, if we hadn’t been in different countries and the pandemic hadn’t caused borders around the world to shut.
I keep wondering about an after. All my reading and all general logic tells me that even after this state of confinement is over, the world is never really going back to the way it was. Life after COVID is going to be unlike our old normal and the romantic angst of one girl who thinks she found ‘The One’ and lost him because of the current state of the world doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Yet, selfishly, I want this to end and things to go back to the way they were before just because this time I was so close to getting it right.
The more time that I’ve spent by myself while practicing social distancing, the more I’ve come to terms with the fact that I don’t actually understand modern dating – I don’t know how to go from “had a great time, caught feelings” to actually building something, so I make up for that by being detached and passive aggressive alternately and then get surprised when things never work out. While this realization has brought with it a change of imagined behavior in the way I think about how I’ll stop being a pushover, it has come a little too late for it to actually come into practice with this particular romantic prospect.
Since I have nothing else to do, I dance with the possibility of getting back to where we were when things are back to “normal.” So when, in my imagination, he texts me that he’s back in Singapore and wants to get a drink, I humor him and go- ostensibly to get closure, but really I’m humoring my own delusions.
I imagine our “catch up” at the same rooftop bar as date #1 and I imagine being chill the whole evening – the kind of non-confrontational cool girl who doesn’t make demands and isn’t visibly affected when he disappears without a word – the kind I thought I was the whole time we were long-distance texting so that he’d stay. I am, however, still trying to break out of my pattern, and my moment comes near the end of the evening where mid-makeout (of course, I’m kissing him in this fantasy, that wish fulfillment is the whole point of this), I level up. In a steady voice – unwavering but still strong with emotion, I stop and tell him why exactly we won’t work out, all the ways in which he let me down with crumbing and ghosting, and how much potential I thought we had. In some versions of this fantasy, he bursts out with a monologue that makes perfect sense and everything ends in roses, but I still haven’t figured out what he could say that would be adequate. So I’ve come up with a host of alternate endings, each more elaborate than the last. In some versions I stand in silence, waiting for an answer that doesn’t come, and then I start to leave. In some versions, I go to the bathroom to gather myself, in some I go straight home, and in some others, I go to a nearby café where I get cake and ice cream and wallow. In my favorite versions still, he runs after me or waits outside the bathroom or texts me an apology and comes to join me eating cake and we can finally be an ‘us.’
Picture perfect endings like these, even if they exist at the very edge of hope, are the problem. If even in my ‘assert myself’ fantasy scenarios I can’t stop wanting things to work out, I still haven’t let go of the pipe dream of us ending up together. Getting over someone is difficult anyway if you’re a stupid romantic like me who imagines conversations, creates future memories, and tries to fit herself into their life, but there’s something about the looming uncertainty today that magnifies that feeling of loneliness and fear of dying alone if you don’t have your shit figured out yet. When all the world is in a disarray, you want something constant to hold on to, someone you can have looking out for you. But when the person you wanted THAT person to be seems to have lost interest, you don’t know what to do, what to tell yourself to be able to feel something, so you spend the hours of free time you now have holding on and pretending.
This morning Co-Star told me to express my anger clearly in words, and I texted a friend excitedly asking if it meant he’d reach out and I’d get to have closure. A little while ago, I saw that he’d liked the last thing I posted on Instagram, and I felt a tiny, grain of sand sized amount of validation that I hadn’t been forgotten. It’s the same cycle, I know, and it’s not going to be easy. But then again, in an imagined conversation that just popped into my head, he tried justifying his disappearance by saying he didn’t know what would happen and whether we would last by the time he saw me again and my immediate reaction was one of revulsion about having fallen for someone who cannot be relied on even to check up on you during a global health emergency without indulging the fantasy any further. So I guess there might be hope for me still.
Nirmitee Mehta is a business consultant, idea machine and writer from India and is currently based in Singapore. She enjoys reading, food and discussions about modern pop culture. She largely writes about intricacies of everyday life and emotions in what she calls ‘depressive essays about my feelings’.