Category Archives: The Dating Game
We meet and we part. And sometimes we stay. All the rules, the victories (and the casualties) of these games we play.
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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I am not in dil-toot anymore. It was dil-toot, a phrase I’ve coined to denote a less-than-heartbreak, more like a heart-pinch, just painful enough for me to feel something and think about it but not so shattering that I can’t piece together a coherent thought or sentence. Did I ever mention how or why it ended?
It ended when he said,
” I don’t know what to say.”
It ended because he assumed it was all about what he thought and what he had to say. It didn’t even occur to him that a conversation is between two people and that the other person might have something to say. It ended either because he assumed that or because he did not want to face what I might have had to say.
I’ve weathered the deep sadness, the now-familiar disappointment. I’ve even been able to see how this was a life experience that bothered me just enough to learn from it and also feel very good about the good parts. Being in love really is a wonderful feeling. I have remembered something I keep forgetting when my heart shatters – that love is that undefinable experience that goes beyond attraction, logic, compatibility and shared interests. It falls in the realm of Malcolm Gladwell’s Blink moment and everything that follows is an attempt to explain it. I don’t have to, anymore. And that frees me up to look at the future with the hope of more love and other adventures.
I am tickled, even charmed by the surprised wonder in a boy/man’s eyes when it first occurs to him that I’m paying attention to him. I’m not even the most beautiful or desirable woman around but just the fact that I am listening to him and could it be – I like him? What’s worrying is that a lot of men never seem to get past that. That wonder takes on the quality of suspicion, fear even. And that’s part of what turns into slut-shaming, into cheating, into harassment or treating women badly. It’s the inability to handle any reaction from a woman but her derision or fear. Men who cannot deal with a woman’s appreciation or interest – is that not a poisonous problem?
I remember the deadend expression on his face, the frantic tone of his voice in the last moments as my dil-toot‘ed. I have seen it before on many men’s faces. I’ve assumed that it’s coldness, cruelty, selfishness and many other such things. But I’ve come to realise, this is something else. It is the outer limit of a man’s ability to feel, identify and express emotion.
Last week I watched Bramhan Naman, a disturbing movie by any account. It left me deeply sad because among other things, it exposes how woefully ill-equipped the Indian man is when it comes to dealing with the world of myriad emotions that make up the framework of relationships and adult life. In the movie (and echoed in real life) the verbose protagonist yearns for an intangible fantasy but can barely speak to the woman who spawns it. He treats professed, open affection with viciousness and is paralysed by his guilt and fear. When he encounters a woman with the right mix of attractiveness and vulnerability, he cannot bring himself to even respond, let alone initiate interest. So he settles for gestures like getting her food (the last), showing off his family business (the second) and stalking her (the first). These are the actions of a socially inept child, not a completely functioning adult. That adults with their freedom and power do this, is what makes it dangerous.
I complain long and hard about how Indian men (men in general but particularly, brutally Indian men) are infantilised and stunted in their emotional growth. This is what it looks like. They are barely functioning adults who are unable to deal with normal human emotions. Unable, not unwilling.
This outer-limit expression comes after bewilderment and panic. It’s not even resignation since that requires an ability to see that something is bigger than oneself and experience giving up. It’s literally like a very small baby who has not developed sight yet, running into a wall and being stunned, unable to figure out whatwherewhyhowohisthispainshouldicryuhwhatwait. Most men live in that place the whole time they are in love or a relationship. Boy, that’s scary. Add to it such nuanced, problematic ideas such as guilt over sex, Madonna/whore syndromes, mama’s boy dependency and toxic masculinity. No wonder Indian men are such a mess.
I cannot help but feel deep pity for them. And then great sadness for us women and the kind of futile relationships we have to endure as a result. Is there any hope for us all?
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The Crush has given me a book. The question is to read or not to read?
What if it turns out to be like ‘Tuesdays with Morrie’? What if it’s Kuch Kuch Hota Hain? I crushed but I still found it problematic even back in the 90s. Oh, what a grave falling there will be! Men, please note. If you’re calling yourselves modern and telling us you like ‘smart women’, you’ve got to be careful about twice as many things. Keep your shoes (and teeth and other vital body parts) clean. Smell good. Even intelligent women have noses. AND please, for god’s sake, have good taste! There is nothing worse than a snob-slob unless it’s a well-dressed guy who says he enjoyed Amish Tripathi.
Let’s come to the book. Goodreads and Amazon reviews offer some solace but I am a skeptic. Too many smooth-talking boys and too many well-written reviews of bad books, have me running to my Comfort reading shelf. I’ll take a well-thumbed copy of Harry Potter over all the fad ‘Best of 2016’ listicle books any day. At my age you cannot risk having your heart broken by yet another well-marketed book.
Besides 2017 has just begun and I’m still basking in the afterglow of ‘The Help’ (which I took 4 years to decide to buy, after enjoying the very excellent movie version). I don’t give my affections easily. Not to a man and certainly not to a book (and you know which one can break my heart worse).
On the other hand, there’s the supreme Male Ego and how pandering to it becomes directly proportion to said male’s interest in one. How can I say I don’t want to read this book because what if it’s really horrible or worse still it sucks and I can’t deal with omghowdoessuchalovelylikesuchahorrid and then I have to block you and scrub my crush-organs with bleach to obliterate any memory of you? No, it’s a lot easier to say, “No thanks, I don’t drink coffee.”
Better to lose a man than the fantasy of him. I’ll have a (potentially bad) book to keep me company. But what if it turns out to be really, really good OMiGawdIKnewItWeShouldBeBookSoulmates and he’s gone? Sigh.
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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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No, I’m not referencing my generation’s equivalent of Justin Bieber (times 5). I’m speaking of a very specific phenomenon that happens between men and women.
Say you’re a single woman who is friendly and lives in a place that affords plenty of interaction with both sexes. Most men’s first interaction with you tends to be at least a little flirtatious. You learn not to take it too seriously. After all, you don’t want to be one of those girls — the ones that imagine wedding bells ringing whenever a guy smiles at them. So, no, whatever, really, you thought I was going to go soppy on you, no dude, we are splitting the bill equally. You know you’ve had a close shave when the guys bitch and snark about those girls. You’re a Cool Girl.
It happens so suddenly you never see it coming. A burp here, a torn/food-stained teeshirt there. It’s okay, he’s human. Oh never mind that you NEVER do any of that around him.
Then he keeps you waiting for an hour and when he shows up, he says he got caught. Fine, you fume a bit but you get late sometimes too. Then he starts telling you about what a horrible week he’s had and how his job sucks. Well, you listen. I mean what else can you do? And he leaves before you get a chance to tell him you’ve been working 14 hour days straight. But well, okay, maybe next time. You’re We’re-Close Girl.
It’s all cool for awhile except he’s really busy. Then when you meet and you’re aching for some nice company, he’s distracted. He shows up on time but he’s constantly whipping out his phone. You go silent. He doesn’t even notice. Then he looks around (never at you) and says this place isn’t that great, how about leaving? You realise he is just not that into you. You thank your stars you didn’t fall in love. You eat some chocolate, drink some wine, talk a little too long to a girlfriend and then it’s okay. You’ve got a couple of other people calling and asking you out anyway. You’re Independent Girl.
Two weeks later he calls when you’re in a meeting. You can’t take his call and when you’re finished with work, you just want to go home and get to sleep. He calls again the next day and you can’t take the call just then, your head hurts because your period is due and you don’t really feel much like talking. Then your Whatsapp starts pinging like crazy so you have to look at it. He wants to know why you haven’t been responding and what’s wrong and are you feeling okay? You smile at the phone and think that’s sweet and tell him you’re not feeling too well so taking a day off. You have a pretty nice conversation on Whatsapp, which you don’t ask to take to a phone call. It is your day to yourself after all. You hang up after an hour feeling proud of your independence and your willpower, feeling good about the world. Even the period cramps don’t hurt so much.
The next day you call him. He doesn’t answer. Two days later you call him again. He answers with a curt, whispered “Hellocan’ttalkrightnowI’llcallyouback”. There is a phone call a day later which you don’t want to think about who initiated. There’s only this much willpower a girl can have right after her period. It’s been a crazy time he tells you. Same here, you say loudly, determined that this time you get to talk about your work woes too. You spend ten minutes mutual bitching and you decide to ‘do that event’ that evening. There are plenty of your common friends around so you barely have a full conversation. But it’s nice to see him. Your back is still aching so you leave early. He doesn’t offer to drop you home and if he did, you’d scoff. Pffff, are you mad, it’s only 8 o’clock, stay, have fun, I’m alright, just want to get to bed early. You’re No Fuss Girl.
A couple of more weeks pass. You had a couple of Tinder dates. All of them wanted instant sex. None of them even wanted a conversation. You didn’t want any of them. You are in touch. On Whatsapp. A joke, an emoji, a photo of his new Kindle, more emoji, a random sentence that you can’t decipher followed by “Sry ignire plz”. You shrug. You won’t be GrammarNazi Girl.
One time you call to tell him about this music event you’re going to and will you hang together? He says no, he’s working really hard. You go back to being Solo Date Girl.
It’s over a month before you hear from him. It’s a phone call and you tell your Independence to shut up lecturing you for feeling good about seeing his name flash across your screen. He’s calling to ask what was the name of that restaurant you went to once where you had to leave early because you didn’t like it? No, it wasn’t me you insist, he’s the one who had itchy pants that evening. He laughs at that and challenges you to a drink-off at that very place and you’ll see who has itchy pants.
You meet him three days later for the drink-off. It’s a Sunday afternoon but you might want to go home to your teddy bear after one Cosmopolitan he says. You give him a LOOK and order your usual rum-and-coke. You’ve always been A Girl Who Can Hold Her Drink. You finish before him and wait for him to catch up (sniggering, pointing out his half-full glass). He gets a call. You’re made to give directions, cafe suggestions, accompanied by elaborate indecipherable facial expressions from him. When he hangs up, he chugs his drink and calls for the bill. What, you start to ask. He tells you he has to go, he doesn’t want to keep her waiting and will it take longer to get there by road or should he take the train? Chuck it, he says, he doesn’t want to get smelly in the train. He grabs the first cab that comes along. You get a text from him ten minutes later saying “Sry babe, hope u dint mind.” You’re starting to get a sense of what Girl he sees you as and it’s not any kind of girl. Boys treat other boys this way.
He calls a week later and this time you’re out with a new guy, your first date in ages and ages (well maybe it is, but you’re not going to be the first one to call it that). You mute the call, resolving to call him back the next day. But Whatsapp starts ringing and you have to unlock your phone to mute it. And now he’s calling again. If you don’t answer it, you’ll have to tell your not-date why not. So you answer meaning to say you’re busy and can you call back. Before you can even say hello, there’s a barrage of words flooding through the phone in his voice. You look up at the guy sitting in front of you. You listen to the guy talking to you. Which one of them is likely to stick around longer in your life? You take a deep breath. You are an independent woman and you don’t have to let a new guy dictate your life. Your friend needs you. You get up and take your phone outside. He’s ranting about the shitty restaurant and can he come over right now? Not now, you manage to tell him, you’re outside. But you’ll meet him over the week. When you return, the bill has arrived. Your not-date is not a date anymore.
Rinse and repeat, Boyzoned Girl.
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1.I don’t know how to say cheesy lines so I’ll just say hello.
Means: I’m lazy AF and I think I’m so awesome that even my saying the world’s most common word since the invention of telephones makes you fall in love with me.
Means: I’m actually 12 and I think dating equals making friends with a girl equals treating her like I’ve known her forever equals nothing new bro, wassup with you?
3. U der? Hello? Hi
Means: I got stuck in cryogenic freeze in a chatroom in the 90s.
4. Sexy gril
Means: OMG I just spoke to a girl I just came usually that happens only when I hear that lady who says “The number you’re trying to reach is switched off”.
5. M new to this place….wanna chat….howre you?
Means: I hit on receptionists, call center operators, movie ticket sellers and tour guides because I think women exist to help me.
6. Hi dear
Means: I probably think I mean no harm and this true even though I just opened a conversation with a total stranger, with a creepy endearment (literally). Or maybe I didn’t know how to spell ‘there’ and I misspelt it creatively.
*Image via atibodyphoto on FreeDigitalPhotos
Last month I had a conversation with a friend I was meeting after a long time. My failed engagement came up. It would, of course, it’s one of the biggest things to happen to me in the past ten years. The good thing is it’s not THE biggest thing, only one of the big ones. Others have been quitting my job, writing two books and a column, going freelance, losing a grandparent and an uncle, getting a business partner, being an entrepreneur, changing professional streams, becoming a spoken word performer and moving houses thrice.
I talked about all the things that I thought might have gone wrong. Then he asked me something that stopped me midway through food as well as through the “I’m okay” trajectory I seem to have been on since the breakup. He said,
“All these warning signs. Why did you go through with it? Why did you stay with him?”
I sputtered at first and said, what what warning signs? I can’t see them. But I know what he sees as warning signs. An abusive childhood. A product of a broken marriage. Dysfunctional relationships with the family. The angry activism. No, I’m still not seeing it. These are not a person’s fault. Would it be fair for me to walk away from someone because these things had happened to them?
Yet, after everything I experienced, I often wonder whether this relationship was my punishment for being empathetic, for wanting to look beyond a person’s past and family and love them for who they were. It’s convenient to say that it’s not. But I’m left with a broken relationship with someone who doesn’t have the capacity for respect, let alone trust or love. And none of that is my fault, so why should I be bearing the social stigma, not to mention the humiliation and heartache of this?
Then there’s the other side of it. Let’s say I start heeding the ‘warning signs’. Where shall we draw the line on what comprises these? A person who has had many relationships before? A manipulative parent? (Hah! Find me one Indian with ‘family values’ who doesn’t have this). How about a fluctuating career graph? Well, I’ll need to blacklist myself then.
Suddenly, I’m finding a lot of people in my age-generation are getting divorced. They were living the ideal dream of my generation. This is the breed of people that emerged into adulthood in the millenium, grabbed up the professional avenues that the internet, IT, offshoring & mobile telephony offered and married in their mid-20s. A lot of them had been ‘average’ or even underachievers but the millenium brought new promises in the form of foreign shores, multinational employment, early entrepreneurship etc. It brought its own problems too — displacement, several culture shock, stress, opportunities and motivation to cheat. So, I’m not actually that surprised at this happening.
Many of them are friends and there’s even an old boyfriend or two in there. Suddenly, there’s a new pool of people available to me for friendship, relationships and more. I say friendship too because this group of people just like their more traditional counterparts sunk their lives and time within their marriages, leaving no room for other interests and associations. But they’re all citizens of the world and they’re surviving the shocks in a multitude of ways. One has reverted to the bachelor lifestyle, sharing ‘a pad’ 90s Friends style with two flatmates. Another has gone on a rampage of the classical wildchild sort with red hair and serial hookups. In addition to these so-called vices though, they’re also starting up new ventures, quitting deadend jobs, taking off on solo trips, signing up for marathons and rallies. The flash-and dazzle has not gone out of my generation yet.
A part of me is heaving a sigh of relief at this happening. Obviously, I’m not happy that something like divorce is happening at an individual level to people I know. But I feel a little less alone in my own unconventional choices. I have people around me who suddenly understand that relationships are not bedrocks of reliability and that life is too short to waste on one company or profession.
In addition, the twenty-somethings I’ve been dating for years are starting to feel like a compromise I’m not required to make anymore. There is nothing wrong with them. But they’re working towards goals that are not mine, struggling with life choices that I’ve experienced enough to know they’re not important. I cannot impose my lessons on them. These are experiences one must live through and be shaped by, on one’s own. But people who’ve faced these the same times as I have, they’re coming back into the space of being available and accessible.
We’re a new kind of people with our own never before seen problems and challenges. We’re having to redefine who we are, let alone what relationships and other people mean to us. Now, what are the ‘warning signs’ I’ll need in order to navigate these people with care? I can only tell you after I’ve been down the road and put down the markers for the ones who come after.