I wrote “Other Significant Others” during my first semester at grad school, in the wake of a long-term/long-distance relationship gone awry. I’d just started dating again (though labels, of course, were scarcely involved), and found myself thinking about the life cycle of romance and disappointment, especially in New York—where you’re surprised with genuine moments of intimacy that evaporate like the tail end of a dream as soon as you reach for them.
After spending too many years broke and lovesick in the city, I wanted to write a character who could turn these simultaneously humiliating and exhilarating experiences inside out. I wanted to pitch them between something tonally serious and funny, which is how I remembered my own. And at the risk of sounding too Modern Love about it, I wanted to stress that romance isn’t relegated to lovers. A song can woo you, the drooping branches of a tree can caress you, unsolicited advice over bad 3:00 a.m. coffee can keep you warm. Romance is place. Romance is timing. Romance is lonely when the moment passes.
I remember writing the story in short bursts over a day and half, in libraries, at the dive bar down the street from campus, and on my phone between classes. I remember spending an hour writing the line, “He looks like someone you once knew who looked like a young Johnny Cash.” I was flirting with a world without punctuation, and turned to the second-person perspective almost instinctively, perhaps as a means of distancing myself from the narrator.
The form was born out of my fascination for the little black book (a list of past romances felt neo-noir to me, rife with awe and drama). But instead of numbers and addresses, I wanted to record the consequences of intimacy, the opposite of a meet-cute, the small indignities of nights that didn’t go according to plan. The bits you replay and rewrite years later—and allow the main character’s story to spill into the margins. As soon as I wrote the first entry, I realized that the glossary would be an ideal shape for the emotional scope of the story.
Revisiting the story three years later is a strange experience. I’m married to someone who read it in workshop shortly after it was written. I don’t live in New York anymore. I don’t know what it’s like to date during the pandemic. I use commas more liberally. Still, “Other Significant Others” enlarges my understanding of being young and hopeful and stubborn—of recognizing patterns, but refusing to break them because it seemed like a fine way to kill time. And hey, some of it might even make it into a story someday.
GAURAA SHEKHAR’s fictions and essays have appeared in Nimrod, Contrary, Sonora Review, X-R-A-Y, Fiction Southeast, Vol. 1 Brooklyn, Literary Hub, The Toast, and elsewhere. She is a founding editor of No Contact, and currently serves as a contributing editor for Story Magazine. A recent graduate of Columbia University, Gauraa lives in Richmond, Virginia with her husband and young dachshund. Find her online @bloodandGauraa and gauraashekhar.com.