Fall in Love with the Worst of Me

I wrote before on feeling inadequate for potential mothers-in-law in a previous post. It was and is a fair representation of my state of mind when it comes to getting into a serious relationship with someone, but there is another aspect that also hamstrings me considerably.

There are a lot of things wrong with me; I prefer to think of them as flaws that I can work out eventually, but some are circumstantial. The latter, I have no control over. They are what they are. But one of my requirements for someone to be my partner is that they need to see me at my worst and still love me, before I move forward. There is background to this, so bear with me.

Way back in school, I was very much an awkward teen. I couldn’t speak to boys without stuttering and flushing a truly iridescent and unattractive shade of purple. My mother was less than amused with the ridiculous segregation that was part and parcel of living in an Islamic country, and of being in a starchy Indian school. So, when a boy in my year asked me out [through the aegis of a common friend], she drove me to accept.

Now the boy in question was an Adonis. The only difference was that he was Indian, and didn’t have the rippling physique. But oh my goodness was he gorgeous. He had brown hair, considerably lighter than the dark mops that usually adorn Indian heads. He had big green-grey eyes, set in an alabaster complexion. He was as fair as, if not fairer than, me. He was taller than I was, but not by a lot [we were young teens, so he had some more growing to do]. He was divinely beautiful, and I was not remotely attracted to him. [This story deserves its own post really, and I’ll get to it after I finish this one.]

Uday was a dreamboat, but he was a typical Dubai kid. Massive chip on his shoulder, attitude issues because despite his movie star looks, he was not a popular kid. [Our school culture placed a lot of emphasis on brashness, physique, and academics for social ranking.] His parents were separated too, which must have been rough for him, but overall he was something of snotty toerag.

I couldn’t for the life of me understand why any boy, let alone this gorgeous hunk, would be interested in me. I was the very epitome of uncool; and honestly, I still am although I am way chill with that status quo now. So when he wrote poems about my eyes [yes, really] I really had no wits about me to answer.

He asked me out on a date – again, had no idea what to do. His dad dropped me home later, and the common friend who set us up told me the next day that he had spent all his pocket money on the date. I felt terrible, but I had offered to pay my share, but possibly a timidly squeaking date wasn’t terribly convincing. So the common friend suggested I invite him over.

My mom was very cool with this plan, and she had me rent a movie, got us some snacks, and went out for a meeting, leaving us alone. [Have I mentioned my mom is a very very cool person?]

We watched the movie, and then we wanted to surf the web. Now, the computer was in my parents’ bedroom which also housed my extremely unfriendly dog of the time; a rather murderous white Alsatian. To get access to the computer, she needed to be shunted out of their bedroom into mine. She was not pleased.

There was a certain protocol that existed for this manoeuvre, and I forgot one of the salient points: remove the carpet rug off my room’s floor. Of course I forgot, and in her annoyance, my dog peed on the carpet.

Uday and I finished surfing the web, and I went to check on my dog. To my horror, I realised that she had expressed her disapproval in a rather large stain. So I had to clean it out pronto. I happened to be dressed in going-out clothes because of my gentleman caller, so I changed into home wear for the clean up.

I lugged the carpet into my parents’ bathroom to wash, and Uday caught sight of my erm ensemble. His eyebrows shot into his hairline and he sneered at me a little: “WHAT are you wearing?” At the best of times, I was not poised. At this? I bolted into the bathroom, carpet in tow. I scrubbed the thing, and dried it out in the balcony, my cheeks burning with embarrassment.

The problem was that for that instant, I looked like the help. In the social status-obsessed culture of Dubai, it wasn’t a good move. As a grown up, I couldn’t care less: Carpet > Superficial ideals. But at the time? I was crushed.

The date progressed thereafter, and I moved my dog back into her room after we were done surfing the web. We made out too, my first ever kiss [slobbery and wet] happening a mere hour or so after the carpet washing incident. [I still wasn’t attracted to him. I didn’t even like him at that point.] I just wanted him to go.

My mother thankfully returned, and his dad came to pick him up too. And I was left with a weird sense of what-just-happened.

A lot of what I have just described came back to me as I was writing the post, and it makes me want to unpack that chapter a little more for the sake of closure. But this post is about my takeaway: that I needed to be with someone who understands that life isn’t a pretty little fairytale.

Human beings are messy creatures. We have fluids oozing out of orifices, and our skins form thin layers between the eyes of the world and a mess of guts and bones. There are times when hair is all out of place, and we are covered in mud or dust or grime. Cooking involves effort, and it isn’t always prettified with a gingham apron and colourful pans. Having a baby isn’t romantic either; there is copious amounts of blood and ooze, and shit too on occasion. Vomit is a part of life too, and it sure as hell isn’t Instagram-worthy. As we age, our bodies start shutting shop. Teeth and hair fall out, and bellies flop out and skin dangles loosely in folds. Suppose illness strikes? Cancer isn’t pretty. Neither is malaria or typhoid.

Forget the messiness of the body for a moment, and realise that life too is messy. I live in a broken down apartment, with doors that have bits missing, and walls that are in parts crumbling and others losing paint. We try and keep the house as clean and liveable as possible, but circumstances have made it necessary for us to continue here. One of my exes would have baulked at the thought of sleeping on mattress in the living room, and complained incessantly of there being only one sink. [There are logistics involved with this; we are not unsanitary.]

I feel like that a person who judges me for what I look like, my circumstances, and how I manage to be happy in less than perfect surroundings is missing the point. The point is that these things are immaterial. A connection between two people, their hearts and minds, is beyond all this. It is to be able to see the goodness, the kindness, and joy within, and revel in a love that both create.

Uday was an immature kid at the time, and I don’t think, looking back, that he intended to sneer at me. However, because of my hypersensitivity to his reaction, I learned that I only want to be with someone who understands what lies beneath.

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Ms. Impatience

Because, of course that should be my name.

I’m certain many of us have epiphanies about what we are doing wrong at various points in our lives. Apart from those of us who have our heads constantly stuck up our own asses, and thus find it impossible to acknowledge [even to ourselves] that we can do wrong at all. I have these moments a LOT; because I accepted a long time ago that I was exceptionally flawed, and those flaws needed acknowledgement and conscious work. Case in point: impulsiveness.

My impatience though was a little harder to pin down, because it isn’t universal. I have tons of patience for certain, usually frustrating, things like sorting out tiny things piece by piece; or listening to a boring story; or dealing with stubborn stains. You get the gist. The problem is that I had no idea that patience varies from situation to situation. And there is one area I have absolutely zero ability to wait: Life.

Hm. That’s a big topic, so I’m going to break it down a little. It does encompass my point though, but it deserves some explanation also.

Firstly, and most importantly, I am impatient when it comes to a breakdown in any relationship. This could be an argument with mum, or [formerly] a disagreement with a boyfriend. I needed to resolve stuff and get back to the original [albeit improved with now better understanding] status quo INSTANTLY. To a great extent, this is why I always make the first move after a bust up. I also am usually the one who has messed up too, but that’s another story.

Why is this a problem? Well, because people require time to process. Emotions, feelings, thoughts, anger, frustration, sadness, etc. It is hard to come through to a clear understanding without processing. And my blundering onto the scene is not helpful. It isn’t even helpful to ME, because then the processing happens AT me, instead of inside that person’s mind. I need to learn to respect that everyone needs their space and some time to process, and not be so driven to fix things in the shortest amount of time.

Secondly, I am impatient of uncertainty in life. For the big things, mind you. Not if I’m getting a taxi or something. I have constant thoughts of “where is all this going?” and it is stupid and unproductive. Countless times I have heard smarter-than-me people saying that the journey is important. But hasn’t percolated into my anxiety. It is scary to be faced with the spectre of bills stacking up, or medical emergencies, without an idea of where those funds will come from. And a multitude of things like that. Uncertainty scares me because I have no control over the outcome, but I still have to face consequences. I can work my fingers to the bone, but it might not translate to saleable commodities. Etc.

This is a problem because my anxiety achieves nothing. Whether or not I worry, the outcome remains unaffected. So basically I’m torturing myself at least one time too many. Pointless.

There are many times I have wished to know the end of my story – or current story arc – at my lowest ebb. Of course, it never happens, and yet the desire is strong. Perhaps it is the sense of an impending timeline that causes this stress, and that was the key to my epiphany.

I have been wanting something specific to happen for the past couple of months. It is partially in my hands to make it happen, but not completely. The trouble is that my actions could end this something much earlier than its time, much like overwatering a plant. The other day though, I sat down in a quiet a spot, and actually reflected on my feelings. I recognised that my impatience was because of what I thought were deadlines that would irrevocably change the status quo. And I had to force myself to accept that I needed to let things be. Not force any issues. Not get sunken into a pit of desire, anxiety, and gloom. Just let it be.

It was super hard, but I did it. I do however still hang on to hope. That’s the next on my list of epiphanies I guess.

Money Matters

Warning: Random ramble of no particularly import up ahead.

Yesterday, mom got a call from an ex-colleague of hers, way back from our Dubai days. Pre-1988, as a matter of fact. This lady, also has lost her husband, and now lives in Sri Lanka. She had reached out to mom before, just to talk, and it has been a while since that first phone call after 30-odd years.

Yesterday though, she didn’t call to catch up. She called to ask for help. Monetary assistance to be more specific. And the bottom fell out for the both of us.

It brought back many memories of our own family financial crisis back in Dubai. The days where we didn’t know what was going to happen on a minute to minute basis. The days where hope and prayer was what held our crumbling minds together. Leaving Dubai was a huge relief, what with visa issues too, but coming back to Mumbai was hellish. Living in this house with the rest of our family and the pets.

That was in 2002, and it has taken many years of hope and hard work to crawl out of that abyss. I read so much about people saying that hard work is the only way out of any situation. But what people fail to mention is that you can apply for jobs, and attend a million interviews, but an organisation would still have to offer you a job for you to apply that hard work.

Goa was a bit better for a while, but soon enough that ended too. Mumbai has been somewhat kinder, in that I was able to find work. For a few glorious years, financial stability was a reality. I actually managed to save! Ha! But that soon ended too, and dear lord finding work as a freelancer is tough: I’m expensive, because my team demands exorbitant pay. I’m a freelancer, because I work out of home instead of an office. And multitude of issues more. I try. Pick myself up [with a lot of help from the midget] and try again.

Hard work. I’m willing to do it. Whatever it takes. Whatever the personal cost. But. No takers.

There is no point to this post really. I was finding it difficult to process the phone call and all the myriad feelings it raised. In short, today I am feeling every single minute of my almost 34 years. Somehow I can’t draw on my reserves of silliness to tide me over.

Maybe a good night’s sleep will do the trick.

Female Friend Vacancy

I was pretty freaked out about that thing yesterday. But the sad thing was, I couldn’t talk about it with anyone who would understand what I needed.

For instance, over breakfast this morning, I regaled my mother with this story. In my acute embarrassment, I was grinning the whole time. The whole story was prefaced, punctuated, and finished with pleas for her not to freak out. Credit to her, she didn’t. But she did want to unpack the whole thing, and discover ways to “avoid this happening in the future”.

Which is.. great. But like I described in the post before, not something that I control at all. Could’ve happened in any public place. A discussion about this ensued, where debates about relative safety, and such and such followed.

Right.

Next, I tried pinging my BFF. He is a guy, about 8 years younger, and we work together on projects. He isn’t exactly mature, obviously, but has a heart of solid gold. He also calls me ‘mom’ on occasion, which is partially why I debated talking to him about this at all.

Which, to be fair to me, I was justified in feeling.

End of conversation.

At least I tried to tell him that I wanted to vanish into a puff of smoke. With my mum, I did talk about wanting to look unobtrusive, but we reached that point after a lot of back and forth.

The point is that neither of these people who I care a lot about, and who care about me, were able to understand that I needed to unpack my feelings about the incident. I just needed them to listen, without giving me solutions or telling me how I was being ridiculous.

The fact is I AM probably being ridiculous. I just need to talk it out of my system. Previously, this role of confidant and chief listener was fulfilled by the ex. Since then, I have found various outlets for the same sort of thing, but somehow I don’t feel completely better.

Oh, I started to tell Butterfly Dude about stuff like this, usually spinning it into a funny story. But now I feel too self-conscious to continue because I don’t want to regale a guy I may be interested in with stories about how I am constantly bombarded with unwanted male attention.

Therefore, I have come to the conclusion I need female friends. I tweeted about it too, and 3 people actually responded. Fingers crossed.

The Question of Children

“Don’t you want children?!” This is a refrain I have heard for many years now, usually second in line after: “Aren’t you ever planning to get married?”

My answer to both, depending on the twerp asking, varies from “No.” to “Hell no.” to “Mind your own business.” The truth is far more complicated, and only my mother has hitherto heard that version.

I never ‘planned’ to get marriage or have a family. My relationships, when they were happy, naturally moved in that direction. With each of them, I imagined a future built by the both of us, with a home, kids, pets, family, and the many things that go into what is traditionally considered a ‘family life’. Of course I want those things.

But. Life eh?

I’m 34 [in less than a month], and riddled with health problems. Many of them would go away with proper care and diet. But who has the time? [Don’t answer that, it is a rhetorical question.] I am trying.

I don’t have a partner. And I don’t mean a husband; I mean a partner. The ex came close, because he was willing to shoulder my responsibilities alongside me, as far as he could. Just as he knew I would pour my heart and soul into his. Someone who would love and cherish my family, just as I would cherish theirs. Become a part of each other’s life’s fabric. Make our own fabric. A tapestry woven with love and threads of joy and sorrow. That hasn’t happened.

Legal cases. Two to be precise. Still going on. Responsibility squarely on my shoulders. Not fault of our own, by the way, just the sort of shit that gets stirred up to mess up the lives of ordinary folk by those who can.

Crumbling home. I can’t even responsibly adopt a pet right now, because the house is dangerous.

Health issues. Not mine, mom’s. Myriad problems.

Day to day living. Cleaning, cooking, errands, banking, taxes, bills. The list is endless.

Work. Trying to support the family financially. Ensure that we have food on our table and a roof over our heads. Doesn’t come easily. Don’t have easy clients, nor easy coworkers. Don’t have a job. Trying to set up a business from scratch with zero knowledge about how to do it.

And yet, I am so grateful for what I have. So what do I tell myself? Maybe my destiny doesn’t have that tapestry I thought of before. And that’s ok. I still fall into the trap occasionally, of having dreams and of building castles. But common sense and practicality win the day.

The truth is that my life is not conventional or easy. I would love it to be so, but it isn’t. And that’s not a bad thing. And the answer to the question above? Yes, I do want children, but only if that’s what life has in store for me. I want children after finding the deep, abiding love that binds two people together regardless of circumstances. Because that kind of marriage yields happy children. [I should know; I’m a product of it.]

To condense all this verbosity into one rather sad nugget: I had a list on my phone, of potential baby names that I loved. But I deleted it. I still remember some of them.

[I’ve been meaning to write this post for many weeks now, but it just didn’t happen. Yesterday, I heard someone remind me that I don’t want kids. It felt strange to hear my own glib bullshit repeated to me as fact. And thus, this post practically wrote itself.]

Having a Pla..

Remember that scene in FRIENDS, where the girls are having a massive meltdown about not having a plan? I remember having several of those meltdowns at various points in my life: when I had to skip two years after school because of visa issues in Dubai; or when I thought I never go to college at all; or when I thought choosing writing as a career over software development was a huge mistake; and a million other times.

Adding to this general sense of “going nowhere in my life” was all the productivity and go-getter style content I consumed on the Internet. So-so achieved this-and-this by planning everything out to the last period point and crossed T. And not only was this malaise affecting my professional life, but also personal. My love life was in its death throes, as this all happened before I met my ex.

I don’t know what exactly changed in the last few years. I think I finally started hearing what my mother used to say: do your best, because the outcome isn’t in your control. True that. I thought life was set when I came back to Mumbai: stability, family, love, and a future. I thought the trials and tribulations were finally slowing down. I thanked every aspect of God that I could think of, profusely and with all my heart.

Then it all started falling apart. But this time around, I had the minimum number of meltdowns. I did question what our next steps would be, seeing as our options were limited. Having a plan hadn’t worked out as planned.

It wasn’t that my plans weren’t good, or achievable, or sustainable. They just didn’t anticipate the suddenness with with life can do an abrupt volte face. So what did I learn? To listen to my mother. [Ha. She would love this!] And not to make plans.

It is harder that it seems. It isn’t that I sit around twiddling my thumbs, waiting for things to befall me. The upshot is more that I try and do my best in every situation as far as possible, and stop banking hard on the results. This doesn’t mean that life has gotten any easier; it hasn’t. But it has become slightly less arduous.

Expectational Hazard

Everyone tells you not to have expectations, because they are doomed to make you unhappy one way or the other. That’s some heavy duty crap that I am not going to mull over right now though, because it finally dawned on me what a class-A idiot I am being.

So, the other day I finally posted about a first date I had recently. It was not my first first date overall, after splitting with the ex, it was the third. The other two fizzled out for various reasons, and I haven’t seen those blokes again thereafter, although one of them did become a kind of friendly acquaintance.

No, it wasn’t my first date after the ex; but it was the first time I felt anything remotely beyond friendship for a guy, after the ex. We were together for four years, and this was two years after splitting up. Six years of being physically, emotionally, and mentally tethered to one person takes some undoing. It was exhilarating. It was wonderful. It was terrifying. I think I forgot how to breathe at one point.

I have always started relationships by being friends first. There is no expectation of anything more, so the two people involved settle into a comfort zone with each other, without the pressure of feelings and attraction. With my other two first dates, I met up with these guys with that sort of purpose. Let’s hang out, and see where it goes. Why didn’t I do that this time?

It is partly the way I approached Tinder the second time. There was more determination to make an effort, and not to feel guilty about “cheating” on my ex. Thankfully, I was finally over him in the true sense of the word, rather than the front I was peddling to my family and friends.

Another aspect is that facet of my nature that I keep closeted at all times: the romantic streak. The part of me that loves onscreen love and happily-ever-afters, and thrills to stories of grand gestures and small tokens of affection. I could never admit to having that streak thanks to being surrounded by acerbic friends on one side, and overly romantic family on the other. Also could never admit to it because of the million times I’ve felt disappointed about boyfriends forgetting Valentine’s Day or my birthday. I never held it against them of course, because some people are built like that, but it did mean that tiny fledgling hopes got crushed.

Take the ex for example: he never bought my “I’m not romantic” schtick. He couldn’t remember dates, so I reminded him. But he did a million things that were super romantic: left hidden notes for me on the bathroom mirror, hidden love notes around the house, had 30 roses delivered to my office on my 30th birthday [this was crazy embarrassing, but worth a post], and a thousand other tiny romantic things that made me feel loved when he wasn’t around. I don’t expect that of anyone else though, but I did learn to accept that I indeed love romance.

Which is why I made such a mess of my own head that evening. I could’ve gone to that dinner with an open mind, and been myself. We would have avoided the awkwardness, and the evening, although nice, would have been much nicer overall. But I built it up too much in my head. That’s too much pressure: both for me, and the poor guy who has no clue what is happening.

My lesson in all of this is to stop overthinking. Stop over-imagining. Stop building castles in air and fantasising. Because I will end up losing out on the amazing present in the expectation of a fictional what-if.