“I am 45 years old and I have been married for 25 years," she wrote. “He has never loved me, although I have done everything I could to make myself attractive to him. In a way my marriage had ended in the first year itself. My husband had lied to my family about his age. His family had lied about their business. He humiliated me when I confronted him and later begged for another chance when I returned home to my parents. I remember feeling suicidal that year.
“Our son is 22 years old now. He has moved abroad to study and work. Last year I discovered that my husband has a three-year-old child with another woman. I have known about his ‘office affair’ for a few years.
“We are separating now. He moves out and I get to keep the house. Why do I feel so defeated when I should feel liberated? I can’t imagine starting my life from scratch at this stage. I look young but I feel so old. I tried so hard to make everything work.
“Please write back to me."
In my first email reply to this reader, whom I began to think of as the young-old woman, I asked for time to respond properly. She wrote back like a friend, telling me about a holiday she had been on with some neighbours from her housing society. She sent a photograph of a group of women posing for their WhatsApp group feed. “It’s not urgent but I need someone to send me hope," she wrote. “I am afraid of loneliness eating me up, but how long can I keep up with socializing. I don’t know what to live for any more."
I asked for her permission to write to her as if we were long-term friends. As if we had known each other growing up and had gotten back in touch again. “I trust you for some reason," she wrote back.
I am going to hold your hand and place your finger on the crux of the problem, I replied to her. Not only has your husband betrayed you, but in your attempts to please him and try to gain acceptance for so many years, you have abandoned your own self too. You feel exhausted because no one stood up for you. You neglected your own self in the hope of being able to save something that might have been stillborn.
Accept the defeat you feel. Go down on the ground and beat it with clenched fists. Let the anger express itself. Feel your grief. You have loved and lost. You were holding something precious but it is now broken forever. You have all the time in the world to find something new to love. Love is a river, it will change its course and find its way again.
You will hurt for a long time. Do not deny yourself the time, space and energy it takes to feel your valid feelings. Twenty-five years is a heavy weight to have dragged around.
Who amongst us does not feel young and old at the same time? The old in you is wise but exhausted. The young in you feels abandoned but she compensates with her will to live.
You had hoped that you would be rewarded for your efforts and perseverance. You have got exactly the opposite of what you had desired.
Start with changing one decision. This young old woman will never abandon herself again.
You will fail at this too. You will cheat on yourself again. You will crash many times over. It takes practice to learn to walk.
So what? Renew your decision every day.
Give yourself freedom from the intimate relationships of your life. Daughter, wife, mother—you transitioned too quickly from one to another. These roles can make space for you now. This will need discipline. It will feel so odd that you will think it must be wrong. Then suddenly you will realize that you have begun to forget about grieving. You will out-walk your pain.
Forty-five is the perfect age to make a fresh start. So is 55. Also 65 and 75 and so on. Not everyone is as lucky as you. What a time to be free! You are old enough and you are still young. Open the wings you have. Travel, read, sing, sext. Be superficial, be deep. Be morose, be light-hearted. Go for the real thing. The real you.
Make a list of everything you wanted to be before you became nobody. Write to me again and tell me what you did when you had no one to depend on but yourself. Rise from your ruins.
After a few months, I received a reply again. “I want you to make this public," she wrote. “I want my story to mean something to others. I think it can.
“It’s not like I am not depressed any more, but I take responsibility for however I am feeling. In the small pockets when I feel happy, I feel safe. I don’t worry about who might resent my cheerfulness. I didn’t realize how anxious and jumpy I had become, till the calmness began to return."
As you know, I am an obedient person. The young-old woman asked me to bring her story here, and I did. The rest is up to you, dear reader. Accept the help she is offering and send her the good words and vibes that will heal her.
Natasha Badhwar is a film-maker and the author of the books My Daughters’ Mum and Immortal For A Moment.