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College, Stupid, Love

I hate endings. Books, movies, shows. Ever since I can remember, I have avoided the endings of things I enjoyed. I didn’t read the last book of the Princess Diaries until I was 16. I always pause La La Land twenty minutes before it ends. I still have ten pages of Normal People left to read. I’ve rewatched Fleabag thrice but have only seen the last episode once.

So, it was quite a conundrum for me when a heartbreak, which is itself an end, rammed itself right into a difficult new beginning: college.

Five minutes before my first class, dressed in my carefully crafted first-day outfit and now runny makeup, I remember walking from his room to, out of all things, a Principles of Science class. I sat down in a classroom in AC04, very obviously smearing tears off my face. That entire hour and a half was a blur of physics jargon, complex equations, and emotional turmoil. It’s terribly easy to imagine how difficult that would be for the girl who frantically double-checks 7 times 7 on her calculator during her math final.

Adjusting to your first year of college is hard enough. Adjusting to it with another person, even harder. Adjusting to being without someone while being somewhere else: I think they call that heartbreak.

Standing in a swarm of people, nameless faces asking each other’s names and majors with enthusiasm I just could not seem to muster. Standing in a crowd of people feeling like everything and everyone is passing through me or going around, like everyone is moving in some direction, and I was just standing still. Melodramatic? Probably.

Although to me, this seemed like a deeply personal experience, one that was mine and mine alone, there was a strange comfort in knowing that it wasn't; that it was somewhat universal, that there were so many more people feeling just like me on this campus.

In conversation with Ria Agrawal (UG’27), a friend, we both realized that no matter how different things seem on the surface, they often feel the same. Ria ended a year-and-a-half-long relationship with someone due to unfaithfulness after an arduous attempt to make long-distance work. When I asked her what changes she noticed before and after the breakup in herself, she mentioned something that I had been struggling to find the words for. She described the discomfort of being out of a relationship as someone ripping the security ‘blanket’ away, which makes one feel like they don’t always have to put their best foot forward, even in a new beginning like college, because there is something to fall back on: “I was a lot more careful with my words, overthinking interactions with people all the time.”

One of the biggest—and perhaps the most intimidating—parts about setting foot in a new environment is socializing, first impressions, and making friends. Arguably so; you are definitely not at your best in that department when you’ve just had your heart broken. It’s rather paradoxical, in a way. I felt like I was at a time in my life when I needed to be my best self when I needed to branch out, but all I felt like doing was wallowing and being by myself (lying in bed, eating ice cream, and watching Crazy, Stupid, Love.) Ria went on to say that it “affected [her] social battery, which completely plummeted,” as she had difficulty holding conversations. Each beginning in itself is so performative, because you are constantly policing yourself and perceiving yourself through the eyes of others. It's hard to project a certain image when you’re perpetually exhausted.

Retrospectively, however, I have to concede that it’s not all bad— you have no choice and no energy to be anything other than yourself. Each person I met happened to meet the least carefully curated version of myself, and what truly struck me was that they still wanted to spend time with this part of me, the one that just existed, the unedited version. It was a reaffirmation of my sense of self. Ria went a step further to say that even though she hardly knew anyone here, there were new friends checking up on her every half an hour, which created a sense of community for her here at Ashoka.

The good that comes out of such an end doesn’t always have to do with other people but with yourself as well. Mohan Rajagopal (UG'24) talked of re-discovering self-love post the end of a serious and committed relationship with someone on campus itself: “There's a Lorde lyric that has been really close to my heart during the breakup, ‘I care for myself the way I used to care about you.’ I'm being much more intentional with how I'm spending my time, and am putting in a lot more effort to take care of myself. My relationship didn't leave me with a lot of time to think about myself or what kind of person I was becoming, but I've made it a point to really take out time and focus on myself for a good long while.” Mohan’s experience reminded me of the beauty at the end of a relationship—how the love you were giving to someone else can be poured back into yourself.

However, another friend, Rehaan* (UG'27), had a completely different experience. He started seeing someone he met on campus during Orientation Week, and the two of them would spend hours walking around campus at night. He described it as ‘stargazing without any stars to see.’ Rehaan characterized himself as reserved and introverted and wanted to overcome his insecurities. The breakup, however, made him go back into his shell: “I was terrified to be in public—it was an uncomfortable week.”

One of the worst parts of being on campus when a relationship ends, that we both agreed on, was seeing the other person all the time. He went on to say, “At Ashoka, the layout is such that you go anywhere, it is impossible to avoid someone. Everything is so connected that it is physically impossible to avoid somebody.” There are both good and bad parts of this shared experience, but the most important thing is that no matter how alone you may feel, you never really are alone.

Although all of us had very different experiences, we all resorted to the same thing to feel less alone— art. Ria, much like I did, resorted to songs to process her emotions— Motion Sickness, Stick Season, and About You were some of our favourites. For Rehaan, he processed his breakup by watching reality TV shows: “I binged a lot of reality dating shows, which was very ironic. Watching people fall in love so quickly somehow really helped me— it kind of reflected my situation with this person, which made me feel like I was not alone.” Mohan is currently binging Gilmore Girls and other media that “depicts really wholesome and hopeful portrayals of love, and it helps remind [him] that that’s still a reality.”

At the end of the day, that’s the point, right? No matter how bad things get, you are not alone. There is a certain solace in the thought that there is nothing that you are feeling right now that someone hasn’t felt before, someone isn’t feeling right now, or won’t feel again.

My biggest takeaway from all of this— the silver lining if you will— is that so much comfort can be found in the midst of discomfort. My first interaction with one of my closest friends here now was her buying me ice cream while I vented. Another close friend, Swasti Chaudhary (UG’27), who I happened to come to college with, has made me realize that love comes in many different forms, not just romantic— I am fully convinced that coming to college together was meant to be both of our love stories. I found so much solace in music and movies, the kinds that made me cry and made me smile. I buried myself in work and tried things I never would have before. In the midst of moving in, all of my feelings (and stuff) lying in messy piles on the floor, I found myself.

*The interviewee wished to remain anonymous, and this is a placeholder name.

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