Boyfriend Roulette

Many years ago, after I had broken up with a boyfriend, one of my college classmates had asked me: “How many boyfriends are you going to keep changing?” The guy promptly got downgraded from a “friend” to “someone I used to know in college”. But that is beside the point. I’m not even going to dignify that remark with a response, because really it reeks of sour grapes more than anything else.

I have historically made terrible romantic decisions, and yet it has rarely deterred me from plunging back into the deep end each time. Of course, each time has been different, with unique life lessons emerging from each encounter. There has been much pain and many tears, but there has also been transcendent love and gales of laughter. Ultimately, I regret only hanging on well after the expiry date of each relationship.

After I broke up with my most recent ex, that was in February 2016, I swore off relationships entirely. The thought of investing myself again into another mess with the wrong person was utterly terrifying. I could handle being single just fine, and in fact started to enjoy the freedom it gave me. [Being in a long distance relationship anyway got me used to this status quo, so it wasn’t a big leap.]

Then April 2016 came around, and I lost my father. All bets were off. Life took on a fragile aspect, where anything could go at any point of time. My life up to that point hadn’t be bedrock anyway, so the changeability of circumstances was anyway a part of my psyche. But losing my father cemented the unpredictability of everything. Who knows how much time we have with our loved ones? Who knows how many opportunities we may or may not have to tell someone we love them? No one.

I took some time to get my ex out of my system. It took almost 2 years. But it happened. I did develop burgeoning feelings for someone, and keeping in my mind the unpredictability of life, I told him. It wasn’t reciprocated, which was difficult to hear, but hey at least I tried. Oh well. I will not feel regret many years down the line, wondering if I missed the opportunity of great love and immense happiness. I didn’t miss it; I gave it a shot. And that’s enough.

I came across a line in an article about soulmates which resonated so deeply with me: it’s better to have a few “oh wells” rather than lead a life full of “what ifs”.

To borrow an oft-repeated phrase from a client: onwards and upwards!

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Missed Connection?

I have asked myself why I am a magnet for married/otherwise committed men on a number of occasions. Do I look like the kind of person that condones cheating? Because I really do not. There is a strong streak of family bonding that runs deep in my psyche, as I come from a closely knit household. There is conviction in the sanctity of relationships, and trust that builds between people.

However, don’t we all know that nothing remains static? So yes, in the past I have been accommodating of dating a man who was in the middle of a divorce. [I was not the cause of this divorce; I came into his life much later.] But ultimately, it creeps me out when someone flirts with me, or worse propositions me, when they are in a relationship. It feels degrading and cheapening. I hate it.

Which is why the following incident had me in a tizzy for a while. But let’s start at the beginning.

One fine day, many years ago, a guy pinged me on Facebook. He had read some tech articles on a website I wrote for back then, and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the author was an Indian chick. We ended up chatting a bit, and we followed each other on Twitter. Twitter, being Twitter, is a great place to get to know strangers. In a sense, there is less of a privacy concern than on Facebook, so it is more relaxed overall.

He and I became friends, and we exchanged phone numbers. We messaged occasionally on Whatsapp, and met a couple of times in Bangalore [where he stays] and in Goa [where I stayed]. We were not romantically involved at all, although we were both single when we met.

As time progressed, he told me about being forced into an arranged marriage with a girl his family. Clearly he was very unhappy with this situation, but he was afraid of hurting/breaking ties with his family, so he expostulated only to a certain extent. The rest of the time, he moaned to his friends, got drunk with them, and then moaned to me. [He also tried to get the girl to dump him, but she refused.]

Messaging me when he was drunk should have been a red flag for me, but I disregarded it most of the time. The second red flag should’ve been the fact that he admitted talking about me to his friends. I disregarded that too. Frankly, he never made any overtures to me whatsoever. So these were minor behavioural outliers for me.

And then he fell headlong in love with a girl in Bangalore, who was – wait for it – also engaged to someone else. They continued on a torrid affair, and were really in love with each other. But family pressures being what they are, they split up, and she married her fiance. His fiancee finally did dump him, much to his joy, and he was “saved from the scaffold”.

I heard most of this saga in real time. And then somehow life carried us away from each other, me with a relationship that took much of my time, familial responsibilities, a move to Mumbai, and a new job. Him, I don’t know much, except he did eventually get married. Perhaps my life events kept him from messaging me too much.

That is until last week. When, completely out of the blue, I get this message. [The screenshot also has my responses.]

I suppose it goes without saying that I was scrambling for a response. So I went with: 1) A deflecting joke. 2) Micro-admission. 3) Change of subject.

It didn’t work.

It took me a good 10 hours to figure out what to say to his second and third message. I could have shut him down, saying he was being inappropriate, but did I want to be so harsh? I wasn’t sure.

If I was in a relationship, would this have happened? It could go either way. Having been with jealous boyfriends, they would not understand that I didn’t want to write off a friendship based on this level of inappropriateness. It isn’t a lot. But then it could have escalated, and I would have been in a soup. I’m not the type of person who hides these sorts of messages from my significant other, because transparency is important.

Basically, my mind was going around in circles because of all the variables, and I finally decided to laugh it off. It was a dismissal, but not a relationship-ending dismissal. Sigh. What treacherous waters we are forced to tread in human interaction.

This was the extent of the interaction, by the way. He has historically thought of me when he is drunk, and I cannot fathom why. And in the middle of the night. Again, red flag. He has never ever flirted with me, or hit on me, so I do not understand the workings of his mind. But I wish that these people, who I enjoy interacting with and whom I do not want to have to jettison from my life, would realise what a sticky position they put me in.

Imagine his wife saw this message. What would that poor soul think? He might mean nothing by it, but why put someone through that? Why put me through this?

If someone who is in a relationship already wants something more from me, they cannot rest in the security of their existing relationship to see if things work out here. That’s unfair. I’m not hedging my bets. They don’t get to hedge theirs.

It is all so very tiring. Sigh.

PS: I don’t even know what he means by “flow”.

Embarrassment Max

Ah. This is a tale I don’t even know WHY I remembered today. But, lest I forget it again, I am typing it out.

Back in 1992, I was all of 8 years old. We were living in Sharjah, having moved there the previous year from Dubai. I was a tiny slip of a thing, with stick-like limbs, huge eyes, and long ratty hair. Oh and buck teeth. Let’s not forget the buck teeth. I didn’t care what I looked like, since I was 8. My mother told me often enough that I was beautiful, but it never registered.

The previous year, my folks and I had gone to Kenya for a holiday. My father was working with Dubai Hilton, and therefore we stayed in Nairobi Hilton. There is not much I remember from the trip, except the safaris and the heady rush of the markets in Nairobi. We have a stack of albums somewhere filled with pictures of lions, gazelles, and gnu.

We didn’t know anyone in Nairobi, except for one family. Again, I don’t know how we knew them. Perhaps they lived in Dubai first, and then shifted to Kenya after. They were a small family like us: parents and one kid, a son. We visited when we were in town. The son and I clicked instantly, and we had a grand time playing together.

Ok, so, remember how we had a camera? Every dad was a camera fiend back then [much like we are right now tbh]. Tim [the dad] also had a camera, and since it was the 90s, it was the done thing to click pictures of events as mundane as having guests from overseas over. To be honest, I don’t remember any of this. At all. I remember what I wore, because I had that outfit well into my teens. [A bit of a tangent, and not really worth exploring.]

Cut back to our home in Sharjah, and Tim had come to visit us. He sat in the living room with my parents, and I skipped in to say hi.

And then he told us a little story. [There will be excessive use of the word ‘apparently’ in the following paragraphs. This is by design to showcase my incredulity.]

Tim developed the photographs he had taken, and they had turned out really well. There were a few shots of me, apparently, that were exceptionally nice. Apparently. He put them neatly into an album, and away into a drawer. Then, he was slated to come to Dubai, and he thought about bringing some of these photos along, in case we would like mementos of our trip.

He went to the drawer and pulled out the album. And was apparently quite taken aback to find a few gaps. After pondering this for a while, he realised they were all pictures of me. He asked his wife about it, but she didn’t know anything about it. The matter was closed as a mystery.

A few weeks later, his wife had occasion to open their son’s cupboard to put away some clothes or something. She opened the doors and, to her surprise, saw the pictures of me taped to the inside of the cupboard doors. She called her husband, and he looked too.

I don’t remember exactly what transpired in their home after that, because I flushed deeply to the roots of my hair and pelted up the stairs to my room, chased by indulgent parental laughter.

I was only 8 years old, and Struan [Tim’s son] wasn’t much older. Boys were the furthest thing from my mind at the time. There were a bunch of critters I used to roughhouse with in school, but that was the extent of my interest in them. Romance wasn’t a word that had invaded my vocabulary quite yet.

But. I was plenty old enough to understand that this was not normal behaviour. A boy doesn’t tape up pictures of a girl in his cupboard, unless she is more than just a friend.

At 34 years of age, this story is darling. I get why the parents were laughing softly at the darling-ness of it all. It is sweet. I totally get it. At the time I was so embarrassed that it never occurred to me what poor Struan would have felt, had he known that other people had heard this story. And not just any other people, the girl herself.

Poor, poor guy.

PS: I don’t remember ever meeting this family again. Probably best for dude’s future therapy.

Father’s Day 2018

Yesterday, in some parts of the world, it was Father’s Day. My entire Facebook and Instagram feeds were flooded with messages and photographs, mostly of daughters posting about their fathers. Wishes, joy, and love abounded. It was lovely. It was also gut-wrenching.

I managed to stay calm throughout the day, reacting appropriately to posts and any jokes that came my way. Of course, the reminder that my father wasn’t around was omnipresent, but it didn’t overwhelm me. None of my friends or acquaintances was out to hurt me with these reminders of Father’s Day, and I kept that thought firmly fixed in my mind as I reacted to them.

Finally, I thought I was past the danger zone of having a breakdown when today dawned. But naturally, the universe wasn’t as obliging as all that. Because I came across this Bored Panda article.

Not going to lie, tears welled up, as I scrolled through the photographs. The emotions writ so large on each father’s face as he first beheld his daughter in a wedding dress. It was magical. And I am still fighting back tears as I write this.

When we lost my father in 2016, I told my mother that I couldn’t conceive of having any milestones without him: my wedding, my first child, perhaps some more children, my first home, etc. He wouldn’t meet my husband, and my husband in turn wouldn’t have met this all-important figure of my life. My children wouldn’t know their grandfather. It was all too raw and impossible to grapple with in that time of grief.

Over the months hence, I have accepted many of the changes that comes with losing a loved one. There were many moments where I have stopped for a fragment of a moment and smiled at what I imagine would have been my father’s reaction, if he had been around. The moments are always sweet and filled with love, but tinged with undeniable loss and sadness too.

I can imagine my father’s face if had seen me in my wedding outfit. He wouldn’t have cried, no, but looked at me fully with those great big hazel eyes, filled with emotion. He wouldn’t have said that I looked beautiful to me, but turned around to my mother [who WOULD be crying or exasperated with me] and said that I looked amazing. He would have stepped forward and hugged me, and told me that he wouldn’t give me to anyone and my waiting husband-to-be could go take a hike. [It sounds better in Hindi.] And we would have laughed a little because that was our equation. Oh, he would have also said something about how lucky I was to “have his face” too.

Even though I feel sadness that I will never get to experience this scene in reality, I count myself fortunate that I knew him well enough to play it out in my mind. I feel fortunate to think I had a father that loved me so much that when he saw me, even as an adult, he saw a curly-haired 5 year-old instead. I feel fortunate that, being a daughter, I had a relationship with him that I would never had if I had been born a boy. [Yes, he was really not cut out to be a father to boys. Awful critter. smh.]

Happy Father’s Day to all the wonderful fathers in the world. Wherever they may be.

The Practicality of Wedlock

It is a transaction, really, isn’t it? It is a transaction between two families in this crazy country that is supposed to happen at a certain point in one’s life, and meant to fulfil certain criteria, and yield specific results. The most bonkers part of this epiphany I had today is that I was blissfully unaware that this transactional model affected me in any way. But holy crap it has. It always has; I just never realised it. Till today.

I grew up with the vague idea that I wanted to marry another Indian. Same culture, similar background, a sense of belonging to the same homeland. [This, by the way, in spite of being born in another country, and being called a firangi most of the time.] I rail and rant against the “Indian male” syndrome of being patriarchal and narrow-minded and being unable to see that a woman is a being in her own right. She has dreams and desires and wishes of her own. And yet, I want to be with one of these very specimens. Strange.

In my previous relationships, I modified myself, my very identity, to conform to the transactional nature of marriage. Thankfully for my continued existence and mental stability, it never got as far as marriage. I fell blithely in love over and over again, not realising that the cookie cutter mould of a wife is what my dear exes would have dearly loved. Oh no. I thought it was ME they loved. Goodness what a bloody fool I am. [Note: present tense.]

I WANT to get married and have a family. I’ve admitted this so many times recently, because it was a revelation for me after my last breakup. I’ve said some of the things I am about say before, but there is stress pent up in my chest and I need to let it out. [A difficult conversation with mum in the morning is the root cause of this outburst.] Here is what *I* in my infinite stupidity thought marriage was all about:

Two people meet. They become friends and/or fall in love. One of those things comes first; and the other follows. The order doesn’t matter. What matters is that both things happen. You are one of those people. You are now in love with your best friend. With me so far?

You fall in love with that person. With their unique beauty of mind and soul, their heart, their thoughts, their dreams, perceptions, their flaws, their problems, and a million billion tiny and huge things that makes them who they are. You decide that life without this person by your side is not worth a second’s consideration.

Next, families come in. There are people who have perfect, loving families. There are those who aren’t speaking to their families. Families are complete, incomplete, difficult, trying, loving, accepting, welcoming, and much more. Configurations vary, but the goal is the same: be a support to your partner. They are close to their family? You become close to their family. They have trouble with dealing with their family? Stick by their side and deal with them. Support. Amalgamate. Absorb and be absorbed. Their family becomes your family.

It would be nice to have assets going into any relationship, but hey life isn’t a balance sheet is it? You cannot consider assets and liabilities when in love. Because that doesn’t make that person; it is just a thing they have to grapple with. Again, support. Be there. Just, be there.

Finally, and this is my biggest issue with marriage in India, forget what you are supposed to do. Life has no guarantees. You marry someone picture-perfect, with credentials down pat, and he turns out to be an abusive head case. She has affairs left, right, and centre. He gets mowed down in his car by a rogue truck. She goes blind. Your beautifully planned little life goes fucking kaput. What will you do then?

Yeah, so I was prepared to make compromises in myself and give off myself, because I loved that person on the other side. My partner was always my best friend. The person I looked to for unstinting support. The person, who if the roles were reversed, I would be there for with every fibre of my being.

I want to find love like that. I thought I had, the last time around, but it turned out to be an intricate web of manipulation and lies. But I loved like that. It took a long time to unlearn that love. That friendship. The desire to shoot off a text to say: “Hey. I’m sad. Just thinking of you makes me happy. Thanks for being in my life.”

Marriage is not about the wedding and the setting up of house and having children. It is all those things but so much more. Setting up your first home in a ramshackle building, with one bedroom and a tiny bathroom, but being happy. About coming home tired, and finding peace in each other’s company. About waking up in the middle of the night because someone’s parent has fallen ill, and rushing off together to the hospital with mussed hair and stale breath.

It is about cleaning your partner’s teeth when they’re too sick to do it themselves. About staying up all night when they have a report to file, just for company. It is about them paying the bills and you handling the groceries for the house, and taking over everything when one or the other is away. And being grumpy about it, but it’s ok because you are helping out your best friend.

It is about having fights about that expensive thing you bought without checking in first. And then you admitting it was wrong, and agreeing not to do it again. It is about laughing when you see someone else checking him out, and feeling pride at being his chosen one. It is about panicking about receiving a suggestive message, and him being the first and only person who you can talk to about it. It is about plugging in your ears with music, while he watches the game all through your carefully cooked meal. It is about kicking his ass, after the game is over, because insensitive much dude?

It is about all these crazy things that make you grow and him grow and you both grow together. It is about being complete with each other, and then building a family with that wonderful completeness. The joy of conceiving a baby, and the pain of bringing that baby into the world. Arguments about names, to arguments about why he should also get up in the night to feed his own spawn once in a while.

Ultimately, it is about growing old, knowing that someone has your back. My ex used to say: “I love you because I know when I grow old, and I forget to put my pants on one day, you’ll stop me from leaving the house and help me into those pants.” I would have. But I learned fast that he wouldn’t have. One sign of putting himself out, and out he would have bolted. Sigh.

My parents had a marriage like that, and I am starting to see why all their friends told my mother that they couldn’t imagine her pain, because she had a marriage in a billion.

Is it so crazy that this was my idea of marriage? Was is so insane that I never considered my single mother a “liability” like she said she was today, because I figured love conquers all? Granted with some difficulty, but yeah love still conquers.

Looks like I am destined to be unmarried and single. At least in this lifetime.

Sniping Away

I found an old Facebook post about a conversation I had with the ex, regarding having kids. Copying the whole thing here, because it really shouldn’t be tampered with in any way!

During a chat about having kids in the future:

Me: “I really just want girls. Don’t think I could handle sons. Might kill them in the heat of the moment, and regret it later. Not to mention the jail time. Plus, I cannot in good conscience release copies of you into this unsuspecting world.”
Anand: “I don’t mind either, really. Any child of mine will be awesome.”
Me: *snorting sound*
Anand: *ignoring me* “However, when my daughters grow up, I will have to set up a sniper’s nest on the roof?”
Me: “A WHAT?!”
Anand: “A sniper’s nest. To take care of boyfriends.” *smugly* “I am a crack shot with a rifle, you know. Part of our Navy training. Won medals and stuff.”
Me: “Really now? Does the Navy train you for being unceremoniously spanked by your wife for being an unconscionable hypocrite?”
Anand: *very small voice* “No.”

An actual, honest-to-God conversation. Still hilarious, so many years later.

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.