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’ve noticed a pattern in the last few men I’ve dated, echoed also in some of my male friends of similar age. They open with WORK FIRST. They’re managers, they’re artists, they’re performers, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re chefs and architects and engineers. They’re all about how what they’re doing is priority, how it’s super important and how it will always justify standing you up, keeping you in limbo and more.
Don’t get me wrong. I like ambition and drive. I enjoy focus. And these are not bad men. I can see they genuinely believe what they’re saying. They also all come with transformation stories of how they used to be XYZ and how they’re trying to be better men.
It’s just that I’ve lived this life more than a decade ago. And even back then, I didn’t have the option of prioritising one over the other. I had to be good at work. I had to fit beauty, grooming and hygiene standards. I had to be a dutiful daughter, niece, granddaughter. I had to be the razor-sharp brain, the fire-in-belly corporate shark. I had to be marriageable material. And I had to be the fun, sexy date and eventually the prize girlfriend who listened and challenged but never competed. I’ve had three major careers and several boyfriends. I couldn’t have done all that without ambition or focus.
I realised yesterday that 20-something men are commitment-phobic for different reasons from 30-something men. Men in their 20s saw women and dating as fun. It was theirs for the taking, they were out of the strictures of college and their targets were being pressured to please men (with a view of landing a husband). They saw women as a buffet. Why settle on just one when there were so many up for the grabs and when they could walk away leaving behind what they didn’t feel like continuing on their plates?
30-something men in contrast, have usually gone through a few relationships, maybe even a marriage or live-in or two. They’ve been called to account to pay bills, to answer to bosses and investors and clients. And more recently feminism has them worrying about #MeToo, about alimony payments, about pregnancy scares. It’s suddenly hit them that relationships are work, that women won’t stay mute objects and that inconvenient things will happen if they just stumble around in the blind pursuit of fun. Work in contrast is single-minded. It’s easier to chase the tangibility of career goals than live in the amorphous, ego-defeating world of human relating. So it is Work First, Fun Later.
They still think they get to pick one thing to do at a time and the world waits patiently till they’ve figured out whether they want to do it and how to do it. And they’re refusing to acknowledge that relationships, sex and dating were always going to involve work, hard work. The work of undoing years of brutish callousness, the work of learning to listen and care about the wishes of another person, the work of remembering that they are not the center of the universe and living with the reality that nobody, absolutely nobody has to care about them.
I can see some of them realise this in flashes and then it’s like the realisation is too big and scary to cope with. So back they go to Work First, not from pure passion but because it feels like a safer refuge than a world that demands a lot and promises nothing.
I’m trying but I’m finding it very hard to feel empathy for this man. After all ‘demands a lot and promises nothing’ has described this very man my entire life. My generation of women, we’ve lived this life for more than a decade and are reaching a point of asking whether men are worth it. We’ve also survived divorces, live-ins. And we’ve done it while juggling bully in-laws, the glass ceiling and the violent face of the male ego. So umm, yawn.
Yes, there is the fact that younger women are turning adults. And the slightly sharp 30-something man realises that all he has to do is turn his sights towards the younger woman. While the younger women today are woke-r and slightly better equipped to question patriarchy, the fact is, it’s still going to take years for them to develop the kind of resilience and strength to challenge exploitation. So on to another decade of today’s 30-something men finding a different base of prey while telling themselves they’re ‘adulting’ with their careers.
None of this has much to do with ambition or focus. And it’s got everything to do with avoiding responsibilities, a trait that isn’t particularly conducive to either ambition or focus. It’s anybody’s guess what kind of work this breed of man turns out while managing to blunder through another decade of women.
I’ve returned to thinking about men and romantic relationships after a nearly two year hiatus. There was just so much going on with other things, health, work and family that my inclinations had all but dried up.
To date, a woman needs one very important thing – the willingness to see herself as incomplete – not less or diminished, just incomplete in one area. This makes it possible for her to seek completion in that area – pondering what her needs are, looking for ways to complete it. When I’m facing a crisis of a kind, I go into survival mode. It’s similar to the phone’s Battery Saver mode where all but the most fundamental needs are ignored.
Around my 40th birthday I realised I’d hit a two year mark of feeling this way, a fact only revealed by my lack of love life. The last time I had this realisation was at 30 when I realised I had nothing in my life but my career (no health, no time for family or friends, no hobbies that made me happy). It felt like a good time to revive myself.
I’ve been on the dating apps for a couple of months now. It is dreadful, the levels of inarticulation and entitlement presented by the male species present there. It’s very frustrating to be the minority gender (so, in-demand and powerful, right? wrong) and have to wade through oodles of emotionally stunted, verbally deficient, waste of cells and digital bytes posing as human beings, hoping for a connection. I keep going off them and returning when my hope and soul feel renewed.
But I’ve met a few people, especially recently. And I’ve chatted with more of them. I may even have felt something. It is promising. Stay tuned, maybe it’s not men-o-pause for me yet.
If you follow me on Twitter, you probably know that I’ve been swimming pretty regularly of late. I love swimming. It’s my favorite physical activity of them all. Yes, ALL.
There is the fitness angle, of course. But I’ve tried yoga, cycling, aerobics, running, gymming and none of them quite fit me as well as swimming does (though yoga and cycling could tie for second place). With my shape and size, I have a body made for swimming. But also swimming made my body. I was diagnosed somewhat late with severe allergies that I was probably born with. The first decade of my life I spent struggling through undetected health issues that would flare up into more serious things. Injections, medicines and absentee notes were a common occurance for me. I started swimming a little after I had my tonsils removed (which may have been the bigger factor in my health improvement). Swimming taught me how to regulate my breathing, how not to panic when I couldn’t feel the oxygen pouring into my lungs after what felt like forever. If you’ve never had respiratory problems, you will never understand how terrifying this is and how every breath is a blessing. Swimming rescued my body from constantly feel sick.
But also, swimming taught me that my body was not defective. It was the first time I was good at something physical. Up until then, I had been the smart kid, the brainy bookworm that was good at maths and science and languages, who also did well with drawing and when I wasn’t sick, singing. But the playground, the track, the football field — these were places where I was the rejected one, the one everyone wished would have been absent that day so they didn’t have to put me on their teams. I was young for the class so everyone else was bigger (which to a kid, means better), more talented at sports, cooler and prettier (thanks to really bad teeth). But swimming let me be actually good at something that involved racing, length, speed and grace. Swimming did and still does make me feel beautiful and right in my own skin.
Now, as an adult how does it factor in with the beauty/body messaging I’ve picked up (and inculcated)? I deal with my share of opposition from the beauty/body-shaming industry. It starts with everything about how swimming makes one’s skin black (not true), goes on to the evils of dried out hair (yes true but I’m lucky), continues to the ill-effects of cholorine/ ‘chemicals’ on skin (debatable especially on the chemicals bit since all cosmetics are also, scientifically speaking, chemical) and ends with the classism of how disgusting it is to share body fluids with strangers. Maybe you believe all this. Maybe it is even true. But when breathing has been a struggle (one you’ll never forget), these things fall away in the face of that one activity that has given you reprieve.
It didn’t take me too long to kit up. I now have my swimbag that contains my gear (suit, goggles, cap), towel, hair-and-body wash, aloe vera gel, comb and lip balm. My peripheral going-swimming outfit has its own mini-wardrobe with sporty shorts, athleisure teeshirts and my own brand of quirk with headbands or socks. These have me in the mood to strip down and feel water-on-skin in the way that feels more normal than land and air, to me.
My favorite time to swim is in the late evening, after sunset. For one, the sun isn’t beating down on my back or in my eyes when I surface. Secondly, there aren’t thousands (okay, exaggeration) of squealing kids spreading out across lanes. Thirdly, the water is the right temperature. Fourthly, everyone in the pool is in a more sombre, adult mood, sticking to their own lanes, willing to match a dive or a lap occasionally without getting clingy or competitive. I could go on but suffice to say, I like it because I love it (just like swimming).
This puts it at just before a potential date, which makes it….interesting. I’m my best self right after swimming. There’s a happy kind of tired because it is the end of the day (not exhausted and dying to hit bed). I’m hungry in the most healthy way possible which is for food rather than an escape. The water has a way of washing away and settling stray thoughts and errant emotions so I’m a brand new person right afterwards. Ideal date material.
What makes it a bit complicated is none of my swim-peripheral wear is datewear, at least not in my book. While I love the #swimlife, I also love the aesthetic and style I’ve developed over years. I like feeling badass and quirky and beautiful in my look. But it does take some doing and I don’t want to be one of those awful women hogging the shower for half an hour while I preen. I’m still figuring it out.
I’ve been on two dates post swim. One was with a fellow swimmer who seemed very perturbed by his having to blow his nose often. I shrugged and told him not to worry, it was just a #swimlife thing and after all, I had gotten out of the exact same pool as him. I think it bothered him a lot. Thankfully, I was in a peaceful enough mindspace to not let it affect me too much (his issues being his own). The other was with a friend who I know is sensitive to smell and to a lesser extent, colour and style. On the first, I just wore a denim miniskirt with my sporty top, instead of shorts. The second time, I had an on-the-go dress to pull on and pass off as ‘dressy’. Both times, I carried a whole load of bath products.
Today I decided to cut back on bath products. I don’t need a shampoo and conditioner and face wash and soap. I just need something to clean the pool off me. And I need something to cover up any lingering chlorine smell. One product can do that. After that, it’s like I’m dressing while travelling — still nicely made up but with fast makeup/minimal effort. I’ve got my eye pencil and a tinted gloss. A pair of hoops or a statement earring and I’m ready! Wish me fun this evening!
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Alone time doesn't always look like this. More often than not, it's faded, crumpled, tattered even. And not in artful, Instagram-worthy ways. But it's important. We need tough love and the people who give it to us, especially if you, like me, find it hard to keep your head on straight in the throes of powerful emotion. People like us, we also need the gentle balm of those who tell us, it's okay to grieve, that it's fine to be sad even if it's not logical, to ache even if we were forewarned, even if we should have known better. And finally we need to meet ourselves, in our rawest forms. It doesn't have to happen immediately. Me, I have an inbuilt safety valve that lets me tuck away my messiest self deep down till I reach a time and place that I can take it out and face it, safely. And that must happen. A time when no other commitment or duty or person must intrude. Nothing else allowed to be more important than your own feelings which must be faced with no voices of the world interfering. And that is the time when you'll realise the ugliness is not you or in you. All you are, is a witness to the world and occasionally, a reflection of it. Reflections pass. You will, too. Watch it alone. ———————————————————————————– 📸: @unstable_elemnt 🎶: TAKE IT EASY – The Eagles #beach #alonequotes #alonetime #solo #solitude #introspection #healing #selfcare #selfhealing #theideasmithy #mood #sunset #sunsetbeach #beachsunset #beachsunsets #ａｌｏｎｅ #meditation #emotion #emotional
January was an interesting experience, as regards matters of the heart. Interesting, I say, as a way of deflecting the bad-taste-in-mouth feelings that came up. In December I found myself catching the feels for someone I’d known casually for awhile and not given that much thought to. That is not so long ago but given that I was coming out of a dry spell, anything in the range of attraction-affection felt big and intense. I’ve spent most of these weeks trying to discern what is, what I’m feeling and where this goes. It’s important for me to correctly understand what I’m feeling and act accordingly rather than vomit it out in a tantrum and hope for the world to make sense of it.
The good parts of these weeks were feeling desired and attractive. That was really, really good. That’s possibly why it took me some time to realise they weren’t real feelings and that I had inadvertently fallen into somebody else’s game, a game that I had no part in.
There’s no easy way to say this. I’ve written four drafts and all of them are rubbish so I’ll just say it. There’s a guy and there’s a girl. The guy calls her a good friend. The girl calls him a variety of things, depending on who is being spoken to and whether or not he is in the room (ranging from ‘jaanoo’ to well, stories about how he farts in her face when he wakes up next to her in the morning). The guy talks about how exclusivity is a patriarchal concept, how he is the constant in the lives of his friends-with-benefits (who purportedly have partners that are not constant for them). The girl says she knows he sleeps with other people but at least he tells her about it which is better than her last guy. The guy strings her along with “Later”, “Not now” while he’s on dates with others. The girl marks her territory by showing up at the restaurants where he’s on dates.
And why this is a game is because of what happens after. Girl and guy ride off together, often with the hapless date in tow. Sometimes in place of a date, it’s a damsel-in-distress to assuage the guy’s saviour complex. Only said damsels are just needy enough to be allowed mild PDA but never given the status of an actual object of affection. Once the date/damsel-in-distress/Jealousy Object has been discarded or dropped off, guy and girl ride off into the moonshine they’ve built together. Happily ever after.
I realise why I was so ‘confused’ as I described it all these weeks. I do not like being an object of any kind. I am not a fucking dildo for someone else’s messed up headgames. I’m not a sex toy to make somebody else’s fucked up relationship interesting. I do not like being used. I do not fight territory battles over people because people are not property. I’d like to say I don’t play games in relationships but that would be naive so I’ll just say this is not the game I play. Not the jealousy game, no.
I’ve been Sex Object a lot of times. I’ve buckled under the burdens of Affection Object (wherein man showers all his gawdawful poetry/singing and assumes his role is done with the hard work of building a relationship, managing the in-law people and the emotional labour of the relationship falls to me). And now I’m realising I’ve also occasionally been the Jealousy Object. This is the prop that (usually) men use to make the woman they’re with, feel bad about herself so (presumably) she won’t think to leave them.
This is the behaviour exhibited by numerous ex-boyfriends who’ve never been that nice to me but make sure to tell their current partners about how slim I am (body-shaming is the first play in the book of a Jealousy Game player). I’ve also been the ‘She’s more successful than you’ prop’ and the ‘So much cooler than you’ thing on account of my recent stage career.
I have never liked it. It’s a horrible thing to do a person and no, it doesn’t not feel like a compliment to me. Firstly, it is not a compliment to me to be used to make another woman feel bad. Secondly, there is nothing complimentary about using me as an object to incite some feeling in a relationship with someone else. That’s no better than a picture in Playboy that a man might use mentally to get off, were he not feeling that attracted to his partner.
Not that the girl’s behaviour is anything I want to feel empathy over. The feminist in me shies away from outright shaming but honestly, settling for someone who behaves badly is just a bad idea. What’s more, this willingness to play along and assert territoriality in desperate ways weakens things for all women. And finally and most important to me, it is directly disrespectful to me. I don’t care how badly you’ve been treated before or how weak you are or how much you care about him — none of these will ever be good enough reason for you to use me.
Ugh, I am utterly disgusted by both people’s behaviour, no matter how objectively I try to look at it. As some kind of poor consolation prize, I guess I’m lucky I got out with not too much harm done and at least with a post to boot.
Argh will it ever stop, this discovering of how fucky-ass fuccbois (and their complicit females) can be?
P.S. – Here’s another worthy piece of content that came to be because of the above experience.
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THE DIMMER I thought you were intelligent his tone matches the sudden darkness that falls as I scramble for clarity, fumble to see I'm confused, I say and as the lights come back on, I know I've said something wrong We were building a conversation on vulnerability and feelings, never the easiest building blocks And he has stopped building, ceased contributing Did he ever contribute? But… I thought you were intelligent, he reiterates, His critical look pinpointing my unshed tears and I swallow, tears, feelings, doubts, me This is how we begin orchestrated self harm, cutting away pieces of ourselves that he doesn't deem right editing our emotions like hanging threads on a neckline that must only show soft curves and empathy for his feelings He fiddles with the switches and it's clear again All's right, he's right and the messes don't show I thought you were intelligent But you're not being very intelligent right now I smell the acrid odour of things that char without flames And this is how we allow men to determine our self-worth with their scales of control their measures of self-interest disguised as logic This is how we barter away pieces of our souls for one scrap of validation, a morsel of attention I thought you were intelligent But you're not being very intelligent right now And the darkness is now inside me And the gas vapours don't hurt my eyes any more It's still and it's peaceful As my eyes adjust, so do my breaths Clarity can come in a dark room and battered lungs can still adapt to poisoned air As I watch him fumble in my direction, I hear myself say Dim the gaslights I will burn on. #theideasmithy #blog #relationships #menandwomen #men #women #gaslighting #abuse #emotionalmanipulation #emotions #emotional #genderpolitics #toxic #conversations #toxicrelationships
I’m like Sleeping Beauty in that I’ve been dead for most purposes, except for two years, not a hundred. An entirely consuming set of relationships and work projects burnt through me and left me in nothingness. And now I feel ready to awaken or be reborn. I say reborn, because everything feels fresh and new, like I can become a different person, find a different model of relationships, build a different career. This isn’t the first of its kind in my life. I have had many careers after all, and I’ve been many different people with all the relationships that have passed through my life.
Early this year, I waded into the possibility of a romantic liaison. It was great. Exciting, dramatic, fun, unexpected and always, a little terrifying. He didn’t want what I wanted. I felt myself standing on the precipice of endless, burning painful emotion and it felt so familiar, I almost didn’t recognise it for the bad pattern I’ve lived through my whole life. Somewhere dimly I knew I was ingesting something that had proved to be bad for me in earlier times and I choked, sputtering, asking for time and space to think it through. I didn’t get it and that reminded me of another time in my life. In the middle of the most corrosive, damning relationship of my life, I still fought for clarity in my mind and I suggested a specific framework of space to him, that would take out all the pressures that kept us in that status quo. He flat out refused and in frantic aggression shut it down with what sounded like a threat – that we’d break up if I did that. It ended with every form of torture, abuse and humiliation that he could exact on me. I still think if we had done as I’d suggested, he and I might at least have stayed friends, respectful of each other instead of these poisoned factions.
This time, I know better. I know I am right, even if I’m not able to articulate it in the cold-logic/intellectual arguments that characterise my romances. If I must act in undignified, messy, ‘overemotional’ ways, I will. And that’s what I did. I got sarcastic, I wept and I crashed. It allowed me to put that distance and space. And then I ran away to Pune.
Perhaps this was the person to take the chance on, that I did on the wrong people in the past. But this doesn’t feel like the right time now. I realised my love life has been driven by FOMO (fear of missing out). They have been flinch reactions to the fear that I can see an emotional range that the other cannot and that I must carry us till they’re able to.
A friend said something about a specific situation (with someone else) that made sense to me:
“I think you’re crediting him with a lot more emotional depth and intelligence than he’s shown in all these years.”
And I realised the truism in ‘Not my circus’. This always felt like a cold thing but it is really not. There are the indulgences that one can extend, the minor adjustments one is willing to make. But one really cannot and should not attempt to fill in the thinking (intellectual or emotion) that the other person is supposed to do. That’s only a relationship with myself if I do that.
I’ve gotten into the habit of struggling, really suffering through this situation. I had to remind myself that I find it relatively easy to free myself of habits, especially those that don’t serve me. It helped to be in Pune, a place that always clears my head. I moped a bit, slept a little too much at the wrong times, binge-watched Netflix, spoke a little much or too little to the wrong people and overslept the morning I was to return. And then I picked myself up and got onto that bus back. On the way, I looked at myself in that wonderful thing called the selfie camera and I realised I’d be okay.
The weekend was better. I started with a performance. I know the way to shake a habit is not to avoid it but to look it square in the eye. So I brought my story of Custody to stage. A friend accompanied me and then cooked me lunch. Another friend picked us up and we spent an evening together.
Somewhere along the way, we got to optimising my social media feed. Emotions and what’s happening in my heart will always lace the things I do and it’s best I let them instead of drawing artificial walls there. In the examining of the images that make up the last 6 years of my life, I found myself able to say this doesn’t matter any more, this must be removed, that can be put away without clinging. And 24 hours later, I have a cleaner feed and a lighter heart.
I am constantly coming of age, it’s true. And here, it begins again.
Arre ran one of my stories this week and I’m thrilled. It’s about my experiences as an ‘older’ woman on the dating apps, primarily Tinder. A very young friend told me how nice it was to see older humans not dissing the idea of online dating. I couldn’t stop laughing when I told him that my generation was the one that invented the concept of falling in love online. These were actually lines in my original draft of the article, that got dropped during edits:
“Speaking of dickpics, these didn’t shock me as much as my millennial friends thought they would. After all, the internet is basically my younger sibling (being that I was 16 the year VSNL made internet connection, an ‘it’ accessory). My generation had its first romantic exchange through a glass screen, hallelujah chatrooms! We invented (discovered?) so this was the inevitable future.”
Anyway, I’m really happy with the way my story shaped up. Writers tend to shape our own world view with what we write. And it’s put me into a very good frame of mind to have worked on a piece that is about carrying away experience, not cynicism from life.
Show me some love and read the article, people! It’s up here and it’s called: