Growing up in India, when I was in school I lived with an unsaid rule – Dating was strictly prohibited. It was believed that a heart in love could be a major distraction for the brain preparing for a “bright” future. And since nothing comes before career, I stayed away from boys. Even with the onset of puberty when I was being ravaged by hormones and what seemed like infinite crushes, I kept to myself. But secretly I did harbour a desire to be desired. My crushes would crush me because it seemed to me that no one would ever like me. I had to be more pretty, I had to be more intelligent, I had to be perfect but I was anything but any of that. So I hid deep under the books.
Then came college. Everyone falls in love in college or at least that’s what I had figured from the limited Bollywood movies I had watched. But the problem was I didn’t. I waited for someone else to fall in love with me but that didn’t happen either. I made many friends along the way, some of them were guys. Ek jawan ladki aur ek jawan ladka kabhi acche dost nahi ho sakte (a young man and a young woman can’t ever be good friends) – the famous dialogue from the movie Maine Pyaar kiya would echo in my head but soon I realized that that was utter bullshit. I learnt to love the platonic way. But still having no boyfriend made me feel like I was missing out on something. Everyone needs to have a love story, come on! While I crushed over some out of my league seniors, and rejected some so-called under my league juniors nothing materialized. First year turned into fourth and there I was still without love. But at least I had a few not-so-great stories of unrequited love up my sleeves – seniors dating other seniors, friends falling for other friends while I sat there watching, liking a few of them but clueless about what to do about that. And why would I do anything anyway, it’s not like anyone was going to love me back.
I was not pretty enough, I was not smart enough, I was not confident enough.
At the beginning of my professional life, I downloaded Tinder hoping that it would open new doors for me, that maybe it would revive my pathetic love life, maybe finally I would have some good gossip to share with my diary. This new raging popular app was about anything but love but that didn’t matter. It wasn’t exactly love that I wanted. I was desperate for attention.
And Tinder was perfect for that. I was overjoyed to see that so many people had swiped me right. Maybe I was more attractive than I thought (I realized later that was only partially true, I had an advantage of being a girl). Out of so many matches that I had, certainly I thought, I would find love. The year was 2015 and six years later through all the deep ocean of matches I found only and only disappointments. First, most of the matches are ghost matches. Your conversations would never begin and if by chance they do, they won’t go beyond how do you do. And if at all things go ahead and you go on a date, you’d for some reason never go on a date again with that same person. Something just wouldn’t match with your match and then you would go back to the app. Maybe after a small break or a long one, you’d go on another date. And finally, after a lot of swiping, you’d find someone decent. Someone you find yourself laughing with, someone you find yourself thinking about, someone you find yourself obsessing about. Congratulations, Cupid has finally hit you. You are falling in love. And that’s the precise moment things between you and him would end. Mr. Cupid has led you to another disappointment only through a slightly longer route.
Have you too dated someone who was already dating someone else but he chose to keep you in the dark about it? Blissfully unaware, things between you and him are going well. You have been seeing each other for a while. You have explored every restaurant in town together. You feel comfortable with him. You can be your weirdest self, crack lamest jokes and talk about all the things white and blue. You think about him all the time. “Dude, I like you”, you finally admit and tell him.
“Hmm, but I am already dating someone else.”
Your heart is a bit broken, but you pretend you are cool about it. You are chill, you are indifferent. He is not even worth your anger. But well you are angry. After a couple of imaginary conversations where you tell him how wrong he has been, he realizes his mistake, and he apologizes but it’s too late and you walk away even though you still like him but you know better. That you deserve better. But these confrontations would never actually happen. He would never realize his mistake. And in case you forgive him and give him another chance (which I actually did) he would hurt you again (which he actually did). You wish it wasn’t like this. You wish it was better. You still missed him. His thoughts wouldn’t stop haunting you but slowly and steadily, like that damn tortoise, you would finally heal and come out of it.
Congratulations, now that you are all fit and fine, time to get some bruises again. Feeling bored and lonely? I know just the app you need.
Once I met someone I thought was great. He was a part-time comedian and we really were hitting it off well, especially over the chats making each other laugh over lame jokes. Constantly sending each other texts, our phones were frustrated with 24X7 WhatsApp notifications. Then we decided to meet. It was a good date, there was a connection, I could feel it. “So, when can we meet next?” I texted later. “I have decided to get back to my ex.” He replied.
Oh well, that was a joke enough. My phone fell silent again.
But okay, fine, it’s just one date so you move on. Shit happens, you move on. You move to another country in fact. And yet the Tinder stories don’t have any better ending. So you decide to date someone outside the dating apps. The old way. The organic way. Just want a boyfriend for fuck sake! Is that really such a complicated wish? You ask the Universe. Nope, it isn’t, the Universe replies. And voila you have a boyfriend.
But he is nothing like you ever imagined.
Have you ever dated someone who is both absolutely obnoxious and ridiculously sweet at the same time? Someone who is both shallow and deep? Someone who is both smart and dumb? Someone unpredictable? Someone borderline bipolar? Okay, nobody’s perfect. You also have your vices. Weird as he might have been, at least you have a boyfriend. Every time you are with that guy, you question why you are with that guy. Every time you aren’t with that guy, you still want to be with that guy. Even when he is not there, he is there in your head. What will you say if this happens and he says this? What will you do if he does this? The daydreams won’t ever stop. Why do I have to be this obsessed? And why can’t you stop? Like you are trapped in a swamp, you fall in love. At last, you surrender. Love is blind after all. You will figure something out. Maybe you will learn to navigate through the confusing lanes of love. But before that even happens he is already stomping all over your heart.
Damn my heart has been broken so many times it doesn’t even resemble a heart anymore. It’s more of a heart bhurji, heart keema, heart soup, heart kachumbar.
And yet my beloved finds a way to break that into tinier pieces as if on a quest to find my heart atoms, and the subatomic particles, the quarks, and maybe also the sub-quarkic particles.
You break up and after a long process of healing, you are back in the dating arena. And somehow the only option you can come back to are the dating apps. And they throw at you all kinds of weirdos. Like for example, this one:
Do you remember that one kid in your building who would ring your doorbell and run away? We have all been him at some point but then we grew up and stopped doing that. Except for those limited edition premium quality fuckboys who have internalized that game into their psyche.
I met this person, I went on a few dates, I liked him, and it seemed that he liked me too, so I liked him a bit more. But then he started ignoring me. And I was like, huh I see. Another defective piece I guess. I ignored him and I moved on. We weren’t that involved anyway so it was relatively easy. But three months later, he was back. He was replying to my stories, liking my posts, trying to initiate a conversation. I didn’t understand that. “Dude what the fuck?” I asked. “I am sorry,” he replied. To ignore or not to ignore that’s the question. Maybe he meant that apology. Maybe there was a genuine reason for his behaviour. So I gave him the benefit of doubt, and in the process, I also gave him what he wanted – a place in my head absolutely rent-free. As soon as he has my attention he throws it away again. As soon as you ignore him he comes right back in. Some call it the typical “Hot & Cold” behaviour – if someone you are seeing displays it, get the fuck out. Otherwise, welcome to another freshly brewed toxic relationship made out of completely organic bullshit and mind fuckery. Throughout the time you are vested in him, he’d give you mixed signals. So you are constantly busy plucking the petals of a rose wondering if he likes you or not. Does he like you or does he not? Does he like you or does he not? And meanwhile, he is already engaged to someone else, and guess what you don’t have a clue about it.
How can one dare to date in the 21st century? Love is dead. Humanity is dying. Anyway, you don’t want children from someone who’s still a kid ringing people’s doorbells and running away, someone whose gene pool deserves to be stopped ASAP. There is no point in bringing children to a world that is dying, where there is no love, no respect, no kindness, no trust – just an endless game of swiping left and swiping right, scamming left and scamming right. We fear what machines will do if they become conscious like us. Do we fear what humans are doing while we become like machines – disconnected from our conscience treating others like play toys, like yet another commodity?
Stop it Saloni! Don’t be such a cynic, you tell me. There is someone out there in the world for you, you console me. And someday you will find that person, you reassure me. Yes, love in the 21st century can’t be this grim for everyone. And I am glad it isn’t. Surely the pre-wedding shoots tell a completely different story. If they are not a hoax, I guess there is hope. Some of us are lucky to have partners who understand us, who stand by us, who genuinely love us, trust us. While some of us are not that lucky despite having found partners. Because like we observed earlier that not all partners are right partners and sometimes it’s hard to tell them apart. Some of us may never find love. Some of us may never find partners but still find love. And some of us may find none. What category do I fall into?
Through all my dates (and I have only narrated a few here) went wrong and right, I have learnt something. First of all, I have realised that I am pretty enough, smart enough, and confident enough and I don’t need any man to validate that. In between the heartbreaks, there lie memories that are close to my heart and those have really helped me grow as a woman. I am grateful for that. Surely, I have not found romantic love that could last long but I have found love in a spectrum, taking different forms, holding different meanings, and that love still exists in my life in relative abundance. For that again I am grateful. As for romantic love that is supposed to last long, I am clear that I need a man who is not another disappointment and if that can’t happen, then I have been single almost all of my life. I think I can manage it for the rest of my life as well.
Being single in your youth is great but who will take care of you once you grow old? You ask? Well, with the kind of air we breathe, the food we eat, and the health services we have it’s possible that we might never get that old anyway.
So yeah, don’t worry, be happy.