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Anjuly Mathai
Anjuly Mathai


First, and foremost


Why when you let go of your first love, you let go of part of yourself

In the sixth grade, the boys in my class invented a game called ‘evil spirit’. According to the rules of the game, no boy was to touch or interact with girls because they were said to possess an evil spirit. When one of my friends sat next to him, he took out a ruler and drew a line bang down the middle of the table.

“This is your side of the table and this is mine,” he said. “Your things better not spill over to my side of the table.”

Who was he? He was my first love—a boy with a mop of dark hair and dimples that flashed teasingly when he laughed. When my friends complained about him and his gang of girl-haters, I joined in. I raged and ranted about him during the day and fantasised at night about his come-hither dimples and the way his hair curled at the edges.

If he believed in the evil spirit, then in the ninth grade he sold his soul to the devil. Because that was the year he gave me a fake silver necklace, a token of his teenage love. In history class, we sat next to each other, our elbows nearly touching, charging the air with electricity. Our love ran its course and came to an end two years later. And it took my innocence with it.

Things have changed so much since then. The age of women’s liberation, empowered rights and serial dating began. Facebook heralded online flirting. Tinder has made it possible to reject men with a right-swipe even before you accept them.

Sometimes, I think that with increasing avenues of finding love, it is becoming more difficult to do so. Perhaps, it is because today people are so intent on projecting an image that is designed to seem attractive to the opposite sex that it is so difficult to find out who they really are. Who are you when you are not “fun-loving, a go-getter or an intellectual”? Who are you outside your Tinder profile that says you “excel at being awesome”?

Perhaps, he was more real in my mind than he ever was in person. He is still a good friend but he no longer makes my heart jump-start like a faulty engine. In my imagination, I dressed him in the garb of who I wanted him to be. After him, I fell in and out of love the way some people buy and sell gadgets—with an initial surge of enthusiasm that later dies out leaving only a burning desire to replace an old model with the latest one.

Those profile pictures of buffed-up men with stylishly windswept hair are probably more real than my feelings for him ever were. But still, I had with him what I don’t have with any of them. I had my dreams.

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