The other day, at a panel, in response to a question about relationships then and now, I did some quick math and realised I’d been married now for 24 years, and dated the man for six years before that. This relationship has completed three decades on this planet. Thirty years ago on Valentine’s Day, I’d met him barely a month earlier, and he’d given me a Cadbury’s Dairy Milk and an Archie’s card. I would realise later, for the gruff, undemonstrative person he is, this was his equivalent of taking out an advertisement in the local newspapers as a declaration of his undying affection. This Valentine’s Day, I got a peck on the lips. We’ve long abandoned the Hallmark and the Archie’s cards. We’ve grown, both older and less demonstrative. The love, it lies beneath the surface, present, unseen, an aquifer of emotion that replenishes us when we need it.
At the same panel, there was conversation about how the millennial generation is much more practical about their relationships, if it isn’t working they move on. We hang on. Sometimes for the good. Sometimes for the bad. Generations view relationships differently. Our parents were together through thick and thin. Divorce was taboo in their times, they stuck it out. Our generation still had the option of divorce, but we were still the pre-liberalisation era. We repaired, reused, recycled as a norm through our childhood. Sometimes, I wonder if we bring much the same mindset to our relationships. We patch up, we glue together the broken pieces, we try to make it work unless it is completely beyond repair. In which case, going apart is all for the best. But for the most, we have relationships that have survived. These are relationships that have battle scars. They’ve weathered disagreements, fights, separations, going apart, coming together, childbirth, raising children together, in laws, toothpaste caps off, wet towels on bed, and possibly much, much worse. These are relationships that have now gone beyond the Hallmark cards.
The battle scars define them. They have cracked open, they have been put back together, they’ve healed in places, in others the scars are still raw. But we’re stronger in the places we’ve broken because scar tissue is reinforcement. Scar tissue reminds us of how easy it is to break, and how difficult the struggle is to heal. Relationships aren’t all fun and roses and Valentine’s Day mushiness. They’re also angry words, slammed doors, hot tears and uncontrollable sobbing. They’re jealousy and sadness, bitterness and neglect, anger and despair. They’re an ache in the heart that rises to your throat and takes your words away, they’re a fluttering in your stomach that makes you physically ill with anger and rage. They’re all of this and more.
We’ve long abandoned the Hallmark and the Archie’s cards. We’ve grown, both older and less demonstrative. The love, it lies beneath the surface, present, unseen, an aquifer of emotion that replenishes us when we need it.
The best of relationships have visible cracks where they’ve been shattered and painstakingly put back into place, piece by piece. The cracks gleam in the light of retrospect. They’re kintsukuroi, the Japanese art of broken pottery, held together with gold, repaired and put back together. Unafraid of showing where they’ve been broken and how they’ve been repaired. And for this, these relationships are all the more beautiful.
Kintsukuroi, which means joined together with gold, came about as an art form in the late 14th century when shogun Ashikaga Yoshimasa broke his favorite tea bowl. He had it sent to be repaired to China, and it came back stapled together. He set his craftsmen a challenge to put it together in a more visually appealing way and they came up with the Kintsugi method which put the damage upfront, making it the highlight of the piece, rather than disguising it, illuminating the repair as part of the bowl’s history.
Bowls are made of clay, as are relationships when they start out, malleable and shaped by those who live them. We shape these relationships through our actions, our words, our thoughts, our behaviour. All relationships go through that delicate dance of coming together and going apart, an elastic synchronicity that time and years perfect, until the drawing apart and coming together become something of a harmony. We need togetherness and we need distance, and the balance between the two is what makes it possible to live with another human being in something as intimate as a long term relationship.
We pick the pieces of each other and put ourselves together again, melding ourselves with fire and gold, reminding ourselves through those cracks that we are broken, we have put ourselves back together and in those cracks lie both our strength and our beauty.
Sometimes, we draw apart too much. We shatter. We could choose to discard the fragments of what was, and move on to the hopes of another what could be. Or we could choose to pick them up, and see if they could be rejoined, the edges smoothened with a metal that is so precious it is an investment of one’s self. It is also an investment in the other. Repairing something that is broken is an underrated art form. Relationships, like most of what we do these days, should also be sustainable. Unless of course, there are unforgivable factors, abuse both physical, emotional, cheating, and worse. Those make a relationship beyond repair, most times. Such relationships must be broken, abandoned, and one needs to move one for one’s own self. And one needs to allow oneself healing, self care, nurturing, kintsukuroi for the self.
But the daily squabbles and spats, the ebb and flow of love for the other, which at times comes in like the tide, and at others retreats, the disagreements, the sparring, hurt, anger, pain, tears, relationships go through these all. Disappointments, loss, repair, resilience. We pick the pieces of each other and put ourselves together again, melding ourselves with fire and gold, reminding ourselves through those cracks that we are broken, we have put ourselves back together and in those cracks lie both our strength and our beauty.
Kiran Manral is the Ideas Editor at SheThePeople.TV. The views expressed are the author’s own.