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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Inadequate

There is this phenomenon that has bothered me for sometime, but being single pushed it out of my consciousness. Lately, it reared its ugly head once again, so I have been puzzling over the myriad thoughts in my head for a few weeks now.

I suppose it started off when I was really young, when I heard my mother recount something my father said: “She is the kind of girl you can take home to your mother.” Even at a tender age, it split the world of women into two: those who are marriage material, and those who are not. And it was also clear which of the two camps it was more desirable to be in.

Of course, none of this affected me at all till I came back to India. Back in Dubai, all my mother’s friends thought that I was the ultimate choice in terms of daughter-in-law. We belonged to the same milieu, and they interacted with me at close quarters. One of my mother’s friends even asked her whether they should promote a match between her younger son and me. [NO.] Thankfully he shot down the idea, because I was [apparently] the living spit of an ex. I was also 16 at the time.

But India proved to be a whole other ballgame. Of my exes, only 2 had families that approved of me as a potential bride for their precious son. Again, this is mainly because they spent some time with me before making a judgement call. The others though? Eroded all my sense of self. Here are some of the reasons I have heard [some gave multiple] for not being good enough for their sons:

– Too independent
– Too pretty [really?!]
– Doesn’t speak <insert Indian language here>
– Not the right caste
– Her parents are not from our culture
– Can she cook? [Was in college at the time, so the answer was no.]
– Will she participate in our festivals?

And so on.

The funny thing is that my parents never put up these objections, in spite of privately thinking every one of them wasn’t good enough. They were content to see me happy, and their only requirement was that I was loved by the boyfriend in question.

I, on the other hand, went about trying to live up to any and all expectations. Some of which were highly contradictory! I was supposed to be financially stable, but not completely independent because that would be emasculating. I was supposed to cook really well, but also be thin [not healthy, mind you] so that I looked attractive, but not too attractive either because don’t want to attract other male attention. And so on.

I even went as far as to lose my own identity in that of my partner. The most recent case in point being the “Navy wife”. I can’t even say I have recovered wholly from that, because I still am hard pressed to describe myself succinctly to strangers. There is also the problem of differing desires. I kept myself open to something again for the first time, and was soundly kicked in the teeth for it. Ouch.

It all came full circle for me yesterday though, when mom was recounting an episode from her youth. This was, obviously, before she got married, and I think was still in college. She was doing LLB part time, and had just discovered that she had cleared her examinations for her third year. Understandably, she was thrilled. Just then, a family came to see her and my aunt. [Arranged marriage thing.]

In the course of introductions and initial conversation, the fact that she had just cleared her exams came up. Of course I don’t know the sequence of events, but apparently the family grew steadily more obnoxious: read out aloud from the newspaper; walk in a straight line with this book on your head; let us measure your fingers; etc.

My mother is a lovely person, but had a towering temper that time. She was convent-educated, and the law degree was her third degree. [The fourth came later.] And at this point, she lost it and forgot all the injunctions my grandmother had bleated at her for behaving herself. The family was in for it.

They next asked her what she was doing. She said hospitality and catering, knowing full well that the trade was new in India and many people didn’t know what it was about. Right on cue they asked, oh? What do you learn in catering?

And she said: how to clean other peoples’ dirty plates [restaurant service]; how to clean toilets [housekeeping]; etc.

Horrified, they asked if this was the work she planned to do. And blind to my grandmother’s silent pleas, she replied yes. They were out the door in 5 minutes flat.

Some years later, she met my dad. They were both hospitality people. He didn’t ask her for anything, except her. They had nothing when they got married. They had 40 years of bickering, squabbling, fights, and a love that should go down in history books. I grew up seeing [and being part of] a marriage that was built on a rock solid foundation of trust, love, integrity, and mutual respect. I imagined that is how a marriage is built by two people.

It gave me hope that one day someone will come into my life and take me as I am, because I have a heart full of love to give. But it is sadly a dwindling hope, as I discover that love is not enough.

Tortoise Shell Moment

There was a time that I would have thrived on what I am about to describe, but that time has long passed. So, this is about my ex again. Because of course it is. It is going to take me time to fully process all the shit that went down.

Anyway.

I wondered for months after our break up, if he still thought of me. If there was still a spark, or he missed me. I was feel the pangs of grief and separation, and it would have been a balm for me to have known that he missed me too.

But, by all appearances, he had cut me cleanly out of his life. We were never friends on Facebook because he rarely used it, and since his divorce was pending, it seemed like the prudent thing to do. He did follow me, and I him, on Twitter, but he never tweeted. I on the other hand have verbal diarrhoea. Especially with someone I like talking to? Find it difficult to keep my trap shut. So I had no way of knowing whether any of my pining was being mirrored at all.

Then comes Whatsapp statuses. I was never really into them initially, because why? There’s Facebook, Twitter, and, my recent SM of choice, Instagram. Instagram stories are very much along the same lines of Whatsapp statuses, all of which I believe have been inspired by Snapchat. [I’m too old for Snapchat. I tried to use it and gave up in minutes.]

Side note: I couldn’t figure out the point of Instagram stories in the first place, as I’d rather have those memories permanently visible on my profile. So Whatsapp statuses were not a big deal.

Until I tried it out.

Ha.

I did not know, going in, that there was this little eye icon next to every post. Clicking on the little eye icon shows you who has viewed your post. Again, not something I knew going in. Interesting.

Mostly, it was a bunch of my friends, and some characters who I am absolutely certain have no clue that the poster can see you’ve viewed their update. These are people who would never admit to being interested in my life, and would probably faint at the thought that this was all visible to me. Not that I minded, to be honest. My life isn’t all that interesting anyway, so go ahead.

Except, the latter category included the ex. Ha!

So I tried a little social experiment. I posted updates regularly, and watched for when his name appeared on the viewers’ list. Invariably, it was either almost immediately or about 10 minutes later. Every. Single. Time.

I even tried posting absolute tripe. Like pictures of flowers. Or an odd thought that passed through my brain. Still. Every time. Like clockwork. His name was on the list.

Two years ago, I would have been jumping for joy, wishing and hoping it all meant something. Now, I just wish he would stop keeping tabs on me. Because I realise that’s what is happening. He may not be a friend on Facebook or an approved Instagram follower, but his best friend is. A best friend, I might add, who is devoted to him, and thinks the sun shines out of his ass.

I realised all this in crashing terror today. Tubelight that I am. So I went about changing privacy settings every where. I even swapped out my profile picture on Whatsapp for one I took of a tree. I am still figuring out ways to limit his access to me online, but I am in full tortoise mode now.

The thing is: he told me he would do this. He told me that, if we ever split up, he would ensure that I was ok. That he would keep an eye on me. I forgot that nugget of information before, and assumed it no longer applied, like the many other promises he broke. But it was true. And I now realise that I may be over him, but he does not appear to be completely over me.

A truly terrifying thought.

I Give Up!

I was still in a funk yesterday, feeling a bit raw and uncertain overall, and mom suggested I chat with her and get out of my own head. It worked really well, but the topic of conversation was, of course, unusual.

My mother isn’t new to Facebook, and has her own account. But she occasionally has these fits, where she wants to see [stalk] people from our past. Mostly my past – ex-boyfriends and the like. I showed her profiles of some of my school crushes too, and then I told her about this enormous crush I had in school. It was truly staggering how besotted I was with someone I barely even knew. Anyway, here’s that story:

So back in school, there were cute boys in great numbers. There was no dearth of cute girls either, so the overall hotness quotient of my school was off the charts, I have now come to realise. Supremely gorgeous people abounded in every class, and there were love affairs and so on by the bucketload.

Of course, me being quintessentially me, a contrary idiot with her head in the clouds, I had a crush for two years on a gangly, pimply, nerdy boy, who was quite athletic (because that is my type), had nice hair, and a giant smile (another one of my trigger points). He eventually became the head boy of our school, and I was the only person who was sighing romantically about him. [That’s right. Except for me, a 1000 other girls in the school apparently had taste and common sense and liked other people.]

Now, his best friend was a stunner. Gorgeous and sultry, he looked like a mix of a Mills and Boon hero and Shah Rukh Khan [back when he was not old]. He was dating a girl from my class, and had practically half the girl population of school alternating between sighing dreamily over him and plotting this poor girl’s “accidental” demise.

Both these boys were two years senior to me, and yet somehow the boys in their year picked girlfriends from my class. So there was a lot of interaction, is what I am saying. Not with me of course, because I approximated a wallflower with absolute passion and dedication. But then we discovered ICQ. An instant chat messenger which revolutionised our love intrigues. Suddenly, it was possible to chat with boys without actually having to talk to them.

I had a whole list of contacts, but I distinctly remember adding the best friend. I harboured not a spark of attraction for him, so I was fairly comfortable chatting to him.

The way it worked was that we had nicknames/usernames instead of our real names, and mine was Hazel. One of the boys in my year had nicknamed me that because of my eyes. In a poem he wrote for me. [Yeah, it was romantic. But I was oblivious at the time.] This ensured complete anonymity [at least in my stupid adolescent mind] and I continued chatting with all the security of a secret identity.

Only to find out, everyone knew who Hazel was. One day, the best friend walked past me and a friend in school, and he smiled at me and said: “Hi Hazel.” and walked away. I nearly melted on the spot in shock. My friend, who was one of his legion admirers, shook me and demanded that I reveal the secret to his heart. High school drama at its finest, ladies and gentlemen.

But I was only talking to best friend because of crush. Something that he didn’t find out till many years later.

Fast forward about 10 years, 2008 to be precise, and I had just signed up on Facebook. I had no idea how it worked, but I was excited to be in touch with my school mates, conveniently forgetting that most of them were shitheads of the first water. Beautiful shitheads, but still shitheads.

I added best friend too, and he sent me a private message:

“I’m guessing you are from Modern High, and you look very familiar. I’m sorry to be rude, but I can’t remember you exactly though.”

I laughed, and reminded him that we talked every day on ICQ, and I wasn’t surprised he had forgotten. And then he remembered: Hazel!

Yes! I exclaimed, and we talked for a while, on and off over a few months. I finally admitted that I used to massively crush on his best friend, and that’s when things got weird. It is relevant to add here that he got married too in the interim. And I congratulated him.

His first reaction to me telling him that his best friend, and not him, was the object of my teenage affections was: “My ego is hurt! I thought you had a crush on me!” Ok. Double take. Modest much?

I managed to gloss over that with some dexterity, only to have him say this:

Yup.

Again, me being me, I didn’t know how to handle this. It went on for months, with me deflecting each advance, and trying to get the conversation back to an even keel. He even offered to fly to Goa to “spend time” with me. I was not happy. At the time, I was being bombarded with advances from two other otherwise-engaged men. [AQ and JP from this list.]

Thankfully though, the chatting stopped. He had a daughter, and I thought maybe this guy has straightened his shit out. Alas, empty hope.

Two years later, the conversation picked up again. And he renewed his advances, paying fulsome compliments and so on. I finally screwed up my courage and shut him down. It took a few times, but he finally got the message. And said the sweetest three words I have ever heard from him:

“I give up!”

Hell yeah.

Relationship Drama

Yesterday was a difficult day for me. I had had a rather upsetting conversation with someone I have grown to care about, and reacted badly. I’m still not 100% sure what will transpire, but at least the sadness I was feeling passed.

Of course, my mother cottoned on to the fact that I was miserable. Hazard of spending 24 hours in someone’s company, I guess. I told her that an upset had happened with this guy I liked. But then, it was resolved so no harm no foul.

The conversation didn’t end there, because somehow I found myself telling her the damaging things that have happened to me in my previous relationships. I have no clue how I launched into that litany, but I was talking to her for hours.

Some of the things were not too dramatic, but overall there was a cumulative effect of psychological horror. In some cases, I was too young to handle it. In other cases, I was tethered emotionally to the person in question.

She was shell-shocked. She was absolutely horrified to think that all this stuff had happened to me, and she hadn’t a clue. And then it struck me. Mom used her previous relationships [before dad] to alleviate some of the pangs of separation I felt. But none of her exes were horrible douchebags.

In her mind, dating someone was holding hands with that someone. Or someone who carried her books for in college. Or someone who walked her from class to bus stop. And several other examples of this exceedingly gentle and pure form of dating. The funniest part was that, at those times, each of her boyfriends talked of marriage.

I sighed with the utter purity of it all. This has never happened to me. Two of my exes were convinced their parents would never agree to the match. One of my exes was upset that he wasn’t the first [and last] man in my life. Another said that his family wanted a girl who earned her own living, and who was thin. None of this constituted the revelations I shared with her yesterday, but serves to illustrate the kind of people I date. Ha.

People ask me why I am single. It is very simple really: when I fall in love with someone, I give them so much of myself that I am left like an empty husk thereafter. This time though, I feel emotionally complete. If someone comes into my life, it will be someone who is also emotionally complete as well, and together we will create our own completeness.

No more emotionally damaged parasites for me.

20.. err 30!

My ex was prone to romantic gestures, because he knew I loved them, in spite of my exhortations to the contrary. [It is a sign that I’m well and truly over him that I type up this post without crippling nostalgia and sadness, but merely as one of the multitude of funny things that have happened to me over the course of my lifetime.]

I had been with ParserPile for just about 5 months, when I turned 30. It was a big deal, because for the very first time in my life after childhood, I was feeling somewhat secure and content. I had a job, my parents were well and happy, and the ex was stationed in Mumbai, and thus was actually living with us. It was perfect.

I reached the office that morning, and was surprised to see a ginormous bunch of red roses at my desk. This was before people started talking to me, so apart from a few curious looks (from the few people actually in the office early that morning), I didn’t get ribbed much. I exclaimed softly, and my team lead smiled and wished me a happy birthday. He saw me look at the flowers in surprise, and nodded saying they were for me, adding that I was welcome.

That sent me from the atmosphere of surprise to the stratosphere of absolute shock. WHAT?! He then grinned and said they had arrived by messenger earlier, and he didn’t know who they were from. Not with a little relief, I ran to the cafe and found an empty plastic container to serve as a vase for the flowers. And left them there till I could take them home.

By the time I reached home, I had spoken to the ex and figured out they were from him. I was elated. He was not. Why? Because he has ordered 30 blooms, and there were only 20 in my bouquet. I was too happy to care, but he was miffed, so he said he would take it up with the company the next day. Sure thing, I said, and went off to admire my gorgeous flowers in glee.

The next day dawned without incident, and I was still on a happy high. I danced into the office, and settled into work as usual. Towards midday though, a colleague tapped me on my shoulder, and pointed to the door, saying someone was asking for me. I looked around in surprised enquiry, and the colour drained from my face.

At the door, there was a delivery person with a bouquet of red roses. And this time the office was full, and huge curious grins were on most faces. I had to walk up to the guy in full view of everyone and accept not only a bouquet of red roses AGAIN, but a lengthy apology for the incomplete bouquet of the previous day.

I called the ex up in an embarrassed huff, because I was getting sniggered at for having a “secret admirer”. Why couldn’t you have asked for a refund, I asked in high dudgeon. 30 is 30, said the smug voice on the other side.

Thank goodness it only comes once.

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.