WEEK 1: First Moves “Hey! Stop that!” I have just returned from the oddly located restroom in Buddha bar—you have to pass through a gate that guards a flight of stairs—to find that Geekgod has stolen my cell phone and is now scrolling down my list of numbers. “Who is this Gayatri?” Looking down, he says, “She sounds cute. Let me call her.” “Give that back to me!” I make a grab for the phone but he dodges my hands. I make another grab, but he is on his feet, backing away quickly. I chase after him. “Give it back!” He holds it high above my head, just out of reach of my outstretched hands. Without my heels I come up to somewhere around his jaw—it’s a square, strong jaw, sort of like a younger Rob Lowe’s. Finally, he relents and hands it back. “So I guess you don’t want me to call Gayatri, huh?” “No, I want to keep you to myself.” I smile at him. He grins his goofy grin, and we stand face-to-face—actually face-to-top-of-head—for a second, saying nothing. My heart starts to beat faster. Is this it? Is he finally going to say something? Should I say something? Is all this flirting even leading anywhere? For God’s sake, is the man ever going to make an actual move? Aargh! Geekgod and I have been flirting steadily for the past few weeks. And it’s driving me crazy. Suddenly my phone rings. It’s Vids (names have been changed). “I have to take this,” I say regretfully. Vidharbha is returning my call. She is also driving at the same time. Nowadays it feels like she almost never picks up the phone when I call. Instead, she calls me back whenever she’s driving, or in the checkout line, or waiting for someone. I’ve become a time-filler. “So how are you? How is the roommate?” “Oh, he’s acting all weird.” “What do you mean?” “I just treated him like a good friend, but he has taken it the wrong way. He has started telling me that he wants me to be his girlfriend. I am moving out as soon as the lease is up. I don’t understand why this always happens to me.” She sounds hurt and confused. Well, I think, you bought furniture with him. But I don’t say anything—she’s going to deny the implication anyway. And I know I am being petty, instead of being supportive and non-judgmental. Vids’s birthday is coming up. For the past four years, we’ve always been at each other’s birthday. Last year she planned my party. The year before I planned hers. But this time, she hasn’t brought it up at all. I don’t know what to think. Is she going to say something? Should I say something? Does this even mean anything? Am I ever going to have interpersonal relationships that don’t involve playing games? Aargh! “Hey, I’ve got to go. I’ll talk to you later,” she says. We hang up. * * * * * WEEK 2: Corporate Culture Female Cousin called this morning, “Guess what!” “Tell me.” You have to give it to Female Cousin. Online dating hasn’t worked out for her, her crushes haven’t led anywhere, and her set-ups have ended in disaster. And yet she greets each new enterprise with enthusiasm. “I’ve found a new job! And I am getting to do project management.” “Wow.” I am really excited for her. Coming here as an immigrant, you often have to start over. Most of us have been brought up to be self-effacing and self-critical, and it takes a while to reinvent yourself as the kind of aggressive smooth-talker that American corporate culture demands. I’ve had to learn not to gag when I “suggest” what someone should be doing. I’ve had to learn to apologize to my boss for my mistakes without acting like I am dirt beneath his feet. And I’ve had to learn to suck up to him without sounding obsequious. At the moment, though, I am enjoying a different kind of corporate culture. Dinner with the Geekgod in a very Italian restaurant. For once, we are not talking of servers or networks. He’s been telling me how different it is to be single. (His girlfriend of six years broke up with him a few months back.) “I find,” he says, “that the balance of power has changed since I was in college. I am a lot more attractive to women than I was then.” I look at those long, dark lashes and don’t doubt it for a second. “And I enjoy the flirting. I flirt with everybody.” He pauses as the effeminate-looking waiter puts two glasses of wine down on the patterned tablecloth. “Even you.” “I noticed.” “Though I probably shouldn’t be doing that. We work together.” He looks at me expectantly. “Oh,” I say, “but it’s so much fun.” “It is fun.” He holds his glass up between incongruously artistic fingers and clinks it against mine. “To flirting.” And the dance continues. * * * * * WEEK 3: Arranged Marriage Younger brother has decided to skip the dating dance altogether and go the arranged marriage route. So some woman in India is calling my mother: “We are looking for a teetotaler.” “Well, my son drinks,” my mom says, preparing to end the conversation. Silence. Then the woman at the other end of the line says plaintively, “So what to do?” “Do?” My mother is taken aback at the prospect of actually Doing Something About It. “I am sorry. I can’t do anything.” Despite such hazards, my brother has actually met a girl that he likes and is preparing to meet her for the second time. He has already seen about six girls, so he is hoping that this one will work out. Nowadays, arranged marriages seem to be every bit as hard as dating. * * * * * WEEK 4: Birthday Night, 8 p.m. Today is Vids’s birthday. The day has gone by, and neither of us has talked to each other. In the afternoon, when I knew she was at work and couldn’t pick up the phone, I called and left her a really polite message wishing her a good birthday. And now, in the evening, I find an equally polite thank-you message on my cell phone. She must have called when I was in a meeting. And right then, in my heart, the friendship ends. Vids and I are done. No more wild adventures together. No more dealing with her never-ending, always-exciting crises. No more making demands on her. No more trying to fix this complicated—in a way only girl-girl friendships can be—relationship. I am very sad. And surprisingly relieved. * * * * * WEEK 5: Closing Windows and Opening Doors “So my brother met this girl that he liked, went out with her for coffee—twice. Then he asked her to marry him.” I pause dramatically, reaching for a quesadilla. I am entertaining a bunch of non-Indian co-workers with my brother’s arranged-marriage stories. We’re all at Kells, a North Beach watering hole with a grungy atmosphere and greasy, cheesy snacks. Geekgod is sitting right next to me, very close. “And then the girl tells him, ‘Let’s just be friends.’” Stunned silence. Finally, one of my co-workers says, “I didn’t know you could say that in an arranged-marriage situation.” “I didn’t either. But apparently you can.” I turn to Geekgod. He’s watching me, head cocked, hand pressed to his cheek, an affectionate look in those deep green-brown eyes. Suddenly, to my own shock, I say the words. “So, all this flirting—what are we doing?” For a moment he continues to look at me. Then he answers, “Why don’t we go downstairs and discuss it?” Downstairs is a small half-hidden room with a pool table that no one is using. Downstairs is dimly lit and totally empty. I don’t know what to say. He gets up, my first white boy romantic prospect, “I’ll wait for you.” I sit there, holding my glass of cheap zinfandel, and wondering what to do. So much has happened. Vids is gone, cinnamon-haired, life-of-the-party, crisis-magnet Vids, whom I both adored and envied. My cousin has found a new job, one to which she can bring the same manic energy that she brings to her boy-hunting. And I have joined the ranks of 30-something singletons who are realizing that the rules have changed, that you’re no longer beating them off with a stick like you did in college, and that when they say that things take longer to heal now, that includes your heart. But some part of me wouldn’t have it any different. Some part of me loves the constant adventures. The idiotic thrill-seeking. The occasional hedonism. I get up from the leatherette couch. My heart thumping like mad, I go downstairs. Sanju C. writes from San Francisco. This is the concluding episode of her series, Single in San Francisco.
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