Category Archives: Digital Dil
I need to take lessons in dating.
Growing up in 90s middle class India meant that my early years of blossoming romance were spent furtively trying to hide every sign of it. This was not talked about, to friends. Members of the opposite sex who made one’s heart flutter were carefully avoided. It wasn’t that difficult since that was the prescribed social more. Even for me studying in a mixed-sex environment and growing up in a newly developed housing colony full of young families.
It was made further confusing by the Catholic customs of my neighbourhood. Dances and dates and ‘getting friendly to’ were as acceptable as aunties wearing dresses and uncles drinking wine – for them but not for me. I could be friends with ‘them’, visit ‘their’ homes, follow their prayers (Catholic school staple hymns, Hail Marys, grace and in-the-name-of-the-father). I could even eat non-vegetarian food so long as it was kept outside the house. But this cheek-kissing business, let alone the ‘getting friendly to’ stuff was sin.
By the 2000s, I moved into the more Punjabi (read Delhi) dominated part of Mumbai that shapes and is shaped by Bollywood. Short dresses on Hindu girls were suddenly okay but along with these came much more rigid gender roles. North Indian Hindu men have a laughable sense of machismo, or so it seemed to my more easygoing Goan/Mangalorean references. Throw in a few years of Gujarati college with the complicated hypocrisy of together-only-till-its-time-to-marry and yeh college ka aur woh ghar wala attitudes. I’m sure at least some of this mess contributed the confusion that led me to date this seemingly woke person.
I worked the agency life for a good few years and I’ll admit it. I’ve never gotten used to the casual cool of the old agencyhand – booze at work, smoking like chimneys, sometimes things beyond tobacco and the sex. Always the sex. It looked, smelt and was cheap and accessible. But not appealing.
And now all the way down to digitally enhanced, emoji-studded Tinder era romance. Where it’s acceptable to double- or triple- book dates. Where the most embarrassing thing is matching with someone one has unmatched before because meh, so boring. Where it’s supposed to be a hookup app, what are you, a prude? And on the other end, horoscope-matched, family-approved ‘we are so modern and we have the kundlis to prove it’ digitally arranged coupledom.
I don’t know. I still don’t know.
There are things I like about now, that I feel I’ve earned through painful experiences – like who pays for the dates and other such artefacts of ‘chivalry‘. It’s not as fraught with toxic gender roles and horrible awkwardness. Either people have changed or I’ve gotten better at picking dates who align with my thinking.
I’ve learnt to be a decent-ish first date – appearance, body language, stories, manners and even awkwardness carefully steered into comfortable jokes. And, I don’t know if this is good or bad, but I’ve learnt to detect early on in the date whether the other person is going to appeal to me and if not, to go to that secret, quiet place in my head all while appearing fully present, till the end of the date.
But what happens after the first date? Call? Message? Meet again? Friend on Facebook? Invite to a group activity?
Is it appropriate or even wise to have a first date happen at an event where one is likely to know other people? And if not, where and how in this crowded city does one have a first meeting?
The mobile phone poses a tangible problem. I used to think people who kept looking at their phones during meetings, during dates, during meals were rude, uncouth and immature. But most people I meet, including close friends, respected mentors, business acquaintances display this behaviour. I find myself constantly competing with a glass screen. If they’re Tindering or Grindring or the like, I’ve begun calling them out and requesting that they do their cruising on their own time. But what does one do when one has to compete with Facebook or Twitter? How about when one is a digital professional and these could very well qualify as ‘work’? Nobody has heard of work-life balance in this city.
How do people start ‘dating’ anyway? Me, I’ve always slithered (or more accurately, been dragged into) relationships from seemingly innocuous, often coincidental and always casual meetings. ‘Just friends catching up’ is a phrase that has described the better part of my love life. It has been comfortable, this looseness of definition. It has allowed me to swim away from situations where I do not reciprocate without too much backlash from injured male egos. It has also allowed me to save face when the situation is the reverse.
But I’m a bit bored by this. And it occurs to me that maybe my model has outlived its purpose. It worked for the fresh-out-of-90s Marol girl suddenly living the big city life, cautiously stepping into adventure. But the world has changed and so have I. So tell me. How do I learn this dating thing?
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Welcome again to the Dating Guide! I feel like it’s time to bring it back. This time perhaps as Dating Thirty-Plus? Or perhaps, The Dating Millenial Part 2? Never mind the nomenclature. It has changed.
I’m dating again after the better part of a decade. Most of these years were wasted in a relationship, engagement and the aftermath of the break-up. A year or two before that was frittered away waiting for the world’s systems (social and technological) to catch up with my (and now, I realise many of my generation’s) needs. Some of the time since the break-up has been spent healing and relearning trust, humour and strength, all essential skills for the single person setting out to find a match.
What do we find here? The dating landscape of the noughties decade is acknowledged today (bravo, bravo India, we finally feel able to admit to it). Human relationships and their creation have gone digital (once again, cheers). We now have a clear picture drawn in line strokes. Black and white.
At one end, we find that matrimonial sites are now acceptable and mainstream. After all, our mums are today’s biggest Skype and Whatsapp users. So it’s possible to find Higher-educated, Attractive, Family loving, Travel-enjoying, Horoscope-matched, Career-aligned, Well-Recommended matches at the tap of a button.
Simultaneously, jostling for screenspace with the aforementioned are services that let you Swipe Right for Hells No, Swipe Up for In Your Dreams, Swipe Down for Sexchat But No Meeting and Swipe Left for Your Place or Mine?
Which side do I pick? Umm, neither. I spent my 20s deeply uncomfortable with the chauvinism of wedding rituals, protesting the patriarchial hold on relationships and being shocked by the gender disparities in the law about these. Marriage? Uh, wait a minute please. I now have names for those niggling worries. I have proof of terrible idea for these outdated social systems. And now justifiably, I’m freaked out by anyone whose life goal is to get married and approachs it with the same one-minded zeal as chasing a professional deadline. So, no thank you ShubhShaadi, TurantVivah, JeevanSaathiya. I think it takes a lot more than a matched horoscope, profile, three templatised messages and one conversation to guarantee a happy marriage. I don’t know what guarantees one to be fair, but these are definitely not enough.
At the other end is the icy-chillness of the space (ironically) named for fire-related paraphrenalia. I don’t get hookups, I don’t want hookups and I’m too old to lose my self-esteem over that. In my opinion, it takes far more effort to have only sex-no strings attached than to try and build a relationship. I’d rather stay home with a good book, my feet dry in this horrible weather and my body clean of all the nasty things that doing the nasty with someone you don’t quite know could acquire.
I don’t believe I’m an exception or a misnomer. I am looking for meaningful relationships. Someone I can laugh with and talk about important things with. I want to feel cherished and desired, but not in the flashy, Instagrammable romantic gesture way. I want to care about how someone’s day was rather than critique and optimise their itenerary. I think these are the stuff of life itself and just like life, don’t follow rigid schedules and previously agreed upon boundaries. I want a connection, not the Terms & Conditions document of Tinder nor the 30 year merger plan of Shaadi.
I want to think that this is true of most human beings because how can it not be? This is the driving need of every generation for centuries. I know that there is an entire generation of Indians just like myself. I think perhaps the ones venturing out into the digital space are just louder and even they are probably being cautious. It’s easier to navigate a straight line drawing; much harder to explore the grey that relationship-building is, especially if one has been bruised in the past.
It makes the dating game as tricky as it has always been. When I connect with a person, how do I say please don’t treat me like a piece of meat because I won’t treat you that way but also please don’t think I’m your Manic Pixie Dream Girl answer to all your problems just stop and breathe and give me a chance to be me and you a chance to be you and let’s see if maybe you and I could have a conversation and a walk together and see where that goes?
No, there’s no easy way to say all that. The Tinder types have lost interest at ‘please’ itself (rudeness is considered cool, isn’t it?). The Shaadi sort has lost their hearts because the English is correctly spelt.
Sigh. Patience. Maybe the next decade will be better for the grey zone of those looking for love.
*Images courtesy David Castillo Dominicio and sattva on FreeDigitalPhotos.net.
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There is a new breed of people out there and they are a helluva lot better to be around than the others. They are the 30-something war veterans of relationships. They are divorcees. They’ve lived in without marriage and borne the backlash from family, landlords, friends and service people. They’ve been engaged and sent out wedding invitations only to have to retract and learn to say something no one in their families had to say.
“It’s over. I’m sorry. No, umm, it didn’t work out. No, there’s no wedding. Sorry.”
It used to just be me and one or two of the other local urban legends (“There was something wrong with him always”, “She was always a fightercock”, “He must have cheated”, “She must have had something going on with the neighbor”). Now I’m losing count of the number of people starting to drift into this group.
We are different. Our battle scars don’t just define us. They’ve made it necessary for us to shape lives that have no references. We are the generation of Indians that had limited career choices imposed on us. We are the ones who began speaking English earlier, went abroad earlier, dressed ‘like MTV and Hollywood and don’t you know that is not our culture??’. We celebrated Valentine’s Day and got into political trouble for it. Then we succumbed to arranged marriage or love marriages with twenty thousand rituals borrowed from Bollywood and ageing family matriarchs/patriarchs. We sank or swam in the open sexuality of new media which swept away the prudish touch-only-spouse-and-only-in-private attitudes we had been brought up with.
The compromises we made in our twenties, were supposed to be our prodigal returns from the rebellion of our satellite TV/internet bedecked 90s adolescence. Things were supposed to turn out fine. We were not prepared for dowry disguised as expensive rituals paid for by the girl’s family. We didn’t expect to have to compete with pornography or gaming, for our partners’ attention. We didn’t think we’d need to decide between dual-career-no-marriage or single-career-resentful-marriage. We didn’t forsee that mismatched libidos and opposed political views would enter our kitchens, our bedrooms and our relationships.
And we are dealing with who we are becoming in the dealing of these things. We are so different.
Yesterday I asked out to dinner a woman I had met a couple of times. “Just you and me?” she asked. “Well, why not?” I replied. We talked about mothers who called if it crossed 11PM and we weren’t home. We spoke of bitchy colleagues making our lives miserable when they heard about this. We discussed unsatisfactory exes and what made a woman good in bed and why this should mean we had to do things we didn’t want to. We brought up menstrual cups and younger men and how wonderful it was to have a conversation with someone who used the word ‘schism’ casually and correctly. And then we clinked our Cosmopolitans (what a throwback!) and went home.
Last week I met a man who once wore the tag of ‘boyfriend’ and has always brought along an air of fresh cologne and protective warmth to our friendship. Right now he’s walking around under a cloud of messy divorce and alimony induced gloom. I hugged him. He shrugged and told me,
“I’m looking at it as the price for my freedom.”
I hugged him again. I understood and I know he knew I understood. Only someone who’s been in that war will ever understand all the nuance in his statement. Then we went out to the shops. He helped me pick out a new pair of shoes. I stood with him while he smoked an only-during-bad-times-cigarette. And we enjoyed our meal more than the hundreds we’ve shared in the past decade. Because, who knows what poison might infect his system or mine soon?
Yet another friend has climbed his painful way out of that abyss, quit his corporate job and gone off to chase a longtime dream. Last year I asked him out. He didn’t say yes. He didn’t say no. Now, he may never return from the place he has moved to. But he sends me photographs of his life there. We both know something that people who aren’t like us, do. There is relating and that goes way beyond relationships. It took divorce and abuse and alimony and broken engagements to learn that.
We’ve seen too much to believe that rituals are romantic. We’ve borne too much to pretend that families always know what’s best for us. We’ve been through enough and more that something deeper in us, even the least aggressive of us, has sat up and said, “Enough.” It’s the amiable friend who remarried and didn’t invite anyone because he was done with the tamasha. It’s the ‘good wife’ who shed her burqa for a high-low dress and finally got herself a business card telling the world about the business she had run for six years. It’s the quiet colleague who moved to another city to start a bar and live with two bachelor friends.
This for me is the new India. It didn’t have to live through Independence or Emergency or most of the big wars. But it has had to make its way through outdated social rituals, oppressive familial references and being thrust into a volatile international economy that it was not prepared for. It has been on Shaadi.com as well as Tinder. And guess what, it hasn’t crashed as yet.
There are more of us and we are all around you. You’re related to us. You’re dating us. You’re working with us. You’re falling in love with us. You’re living next door to us and borrowing daal from us. You’re sharing parking space and theatre seats with us. You’re asking us for advice on what to wear, which college to go to and if we’ll give you a reference at your next job. You’re selling to us. We are not the others anymore. Many of us are the ones making pathbreaking choices and while they’re not comfortable, the generation after us looks up to us because we’re displaying the rebellion they’re losing in their twenties.
Divorce is not an evil word anymore. Living in is not a sin punishable by death. Sex is not a bad word. Virginity is not a prize. Men are not freer than women. Women do not make better parents. In-laws are not the same as parents. Big weddings are nothing more than expensive PR campaigns. Older people are just older people, not wiser people. Rituals do not ensure happiness. Intelligent people are not sorted-out people. An IIT or an IIM degree does not guarantee a good spouse or even a good life.
It’s time you revised your myths.
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