My ex-boyfriend used to call it 'the bisexual haircut' because it wasn't a pixie and it wasn't long, and we all know the world is defined by binaries. It turns out he didn't invent the term, (and, in fact, it was quite prevalent), but until that day I'd only ever viewed the bob haircut as but one of two options:
1. The most flattering aesthetic to give your Sims character right before deleting the handlebars to the swimming pool during a neighbourhood party.
2. As profound a message as a horse-head in between your enemy's bedsheets.
Allow me to explain the latter. Ritualised behaviours are fascinating because there's often very little critical rationale behind them. It is ritual that compels a bride to throw her bouquet into a crowd of clawing, clamouring maidens for some reason that she can't truly call her own, but would feel subversive to defy. Ritual compels a family grieving their newly-deceased dog to fill the void hastily with a puppy of an entirely different breed from the last who, despite it all, remains irreplaceable. And ritual decrees that if you break up with a girl and she cuts her hair into a bob... she is never, ever coming back.
Just because something is superficial, it doesn't mean it is not significant. There is a strong linkage of identity to grooming that, I daresay, humans only understand to a skin-deep level (boom-tish). But it's there, it's seldom examined, and it should be.
When I came back to Australia for the first time in years, my younger sister - freshly nineteen years old and far more worldly and wise than I ever was at her age - cut her fringe back into shape.
"I wanted to look like I did when I was still your little baby sister," she said.
With a few snips, she had supplanted us back in time: she was a twelve-year-old with a fringe always just a smidge too short (and all the more adorable for it), and I had not yet left. It was inexplicably, wondrously easy to peer beyond her many piercings and artfully-applied mascara and see what she wanted me to see clearly again: the baby sister. My baby sister. A reminder that she never left, she simply spiced up her look.
The ritual of cutting hair is a sloppy short-hand for time travel if ever there was one.
But the post-breakup dramatic haircut - the kind where inches are vanquished all at once - is a different kind of ritual. It is the way we refashion ourselves into the illusion of someone your hands have never touched.
As with hurtling back in time, moving forwards creates its own subtle influence. My hair has been short for years; the last time my heart was broken, I had no silver bullet to recast myself as a mysterious stranger. Of course, I didn't know then that I would meet the love of my life in three... two... one. So, for lack of performative rebellion, I simply grieved whilst pretending I wasn't.
(Just because a relationship wasn't the last, it doesn't mean it wasn't significant.)
With nowhere to hide, the reality of the freshly-ended relationship bubbled to the surface, and I had no choice but to confront it. I find that even when I'm living in past tense, I revert to present. Every memory is new and beautiful and sparkly and sharp. I find that I almost like it.
There is ritual in prodding a bruise intermittently, just to see if it still hurts.
Time passes sluggishly, then abrupt. You think of the way lard solidifies against the surface of ramen broth as it cools; of flinging strawberry jam against a wall and watching it drip to the earth in stop-start slides. For the first few weeks you are invisible. The world tends to give space to people in pain. Even God gets tongue-tied sometimes.
I have been the younger sister. I know how to gaze longingly at the thing I don't want in order to distract him from the one I do. And break-ups have so many damn rituals.
'Ritualistic' is how we divide our friends. Our lives. I get the dinner parties on the eighteenth floor. He gets karaoke where the bar is always sticky and there's no shortage of single-serve acquaintances to make. We are both surprised at which friends cross the floor.
It is hard to give yourself permission to cry; harder still to make it actually happen. The tears smell a rat and refuse to come on command. There's a melancholy fantasy that doesn't feel like your own: Of running through sand dunes and letting a banshee wail rip across the winter sky. With it would come an unburdening, if only we were willing to make the trip, carve the path towards the water alone, commit to the act without fear of being overheard by strangers. I swallow my pain instead and make an insincere attempt to take a lover. They see my face after throwing themselves on your side of the bed and declaring it theirs. Their eyes widen with knowing at the sight of my gritted teeth; my flared nostrils. They leave, our flippant flirtation unconsummated. The side of the bed - the one that used to be my favourite before I let you claim it - stays empty.
Winter tucks its tail between its leg and lopes into towards whichever tilt of the earth hoards the most misery. The inverse of a Youtuber unboxing a parcel of junk, I pack away the priceless mementos of the relationship: the picture with the numbers scribbled, then crossed-out, on the bottom of the page. The stuffed fox. The card that, even then, hinted at a wince as it promised 'forever'. The springtime ritual of making space.
Nobody relishes the ritual of moving on, but eventually, somebody has to make the first move. Whether it is days or whether it is months, is always too soon. If you've prepared yourself for the inevitable, you might only reel for a day or two. You can remove your ego from the equation, recognise that you are not responsible for the other person's journey, and hope in that optimistic ventricles of your heart that this is not personal, it's not, they must have met somebody who would bring them a happiness that you were too sloppily held-together to provide. The word 'rebound' sounds ugly, even when deployed out of loyalty by friends. That hypervigilant part of you that always bristled to his defence trills. You soothe it with trembling hands. His battles are no longer yours to fight. But the muscle memory takes time to unlearn.
There is medicine in your shadow. I find a guilty sliver of relief in the sheer selfish indulgence of not having a second person live in my head rent-free. I get bored of being heartbroken; realise I'm recovering faster from the affliction itself than the months I anguished in anticipation of it. Fear makes the wolf look bigger. Sometimes losing someone is easier than trying to find your feet on the unstable terrain of their love.
You catch sight of your own petulant smirk in a reflective surface after somebody drip-feeds you a platitude. You can't help but laugh at just how seriously you've been taking yourself these days. You make a point of laughing more often. Sincerely. From deep in your belly, like your insides are seeping honey and you've swapped respiratory systems with a hippo, or a bear. Something that roars.
You forgot your laugh could be hiccupy. It feels good to remember.
There is a process that so many of us forget, but should not. In a digital age where everybody posts their shiniest moments and buries the dented tin stories underground, it is important to be authentic. We joined the internet for Neopets and social media for scrapbook memory-collecting, and since my red Shoyru is gone (his name was NibNib, in case you were wondering), we might as well double down on refocusing our digital identities away from haunting one or luring another. Never has there been a better time to delete Facebook, but if you're like me, you can't bear to lose access to your deep fried memes and posts from your great uncle who perpetually seems to use the status bar for Google searches. So reconnect with your own goofiness instead. Reinvest in the art of being visible for the right reasons. Let your technological footprint reflect the kind of person you are, and then pair that to your hobbies.
It's all Gucci if you got God, but if you don't, this is the time to channel something that makes you whimsical and wise. Consume more of it than can consume you.
There are infinite rituals that bring us change if we desperately need a disruption, so long as we do it for the right reason. The ritual of changing jobs. Cities. Countries. The ritual of coming home. The ritual of staying the same. The ritual of saying sorry. The ritual of becoming the girl Drake was singing about in Hotline Bling. (It would certainly be a better life than being the girl who had stayed with Drake.)
It's hard to understand what compels us to drastically and dramatically change ourselves during periods of turbulence, but there is something wonderfully curious and naïve about it. In light of the heartbreak I was so sure I'd never get over - until, like a snap of the fingers and the revelation that my happiness was my own, I did - I realised that it wasn't just about learning to love again. It was the revelation that by the time we reach our late twenties, we all carry neuroses and fears and defensiveness and traumas from the romances that have already passed. But, just as nobody is exempt from history, we are not special in our suffering. We owe it to ourselves to be brave. We owe it to ourselves to nurture our hearts back to whole like they are our skinned-knee children. We owe it to ourselves to forgive who we are today for the mistakes we made yesterday.
But sometimes still, I wonder: Would I have cut my hair into a bob if I didn't already have one? Truth be told, I don't think so. I grew as much from the embers of a turbulent, devoted, deeply healing relationship as I did throughout its roaring prime. We both became better - not just for those who came after, but for who we had to become. So I had no shameful history to purge.
But that's not to say that that my code of conduct should be yours. So do it, Rapunzel, if that's what your soul is screaming for... But only on one condition: That whatever ritual you perform next will be entirely your own.
Scarlett Hawkins writes novels... But in her spare time, she writes rants.