WEEK 1

Why are there no Single People Jokes? Would they be too offensive, like making fun of the handicapped? Are singles now so pitiable that any joke about them is in really bad taste? Is that why we have Married People Jokes? And Single People Clichés?

I am being particularly caustic because of a conversation earlier today: one of my Indian colleagues made the inevitable comment, “You are married, no?”

“No.” I say shortly.

“No! But why?”

“What do you mean, why?”

“No, no, nothing,” he backpedals. “Just asking.”

Embarrassed, he rushes off. Darn it, why did I have to bristle like that? Why couldn’t I have said something airy and witty like, “No man has been brave enough to marry me! Ha ha.”

Living here, I tend to forget that single women of a certain age are still considered a cause for comment in Indian society. Or even worse, a cause for the family fix-up. On my last trip to India, my uncle tried to set me up with a divorcé ten years older. Publicly I told him that I was not looking to get married. Privately I told my mom that I could do better.

In fact, I thought that I had done better. Until the boyfriend turned into someone I didn’t know.

Just then the Office Brain comes around to invite me to Trivia/Drinking Night. The Brain is my co-worker, a tall gangly geek with a biting wit and an intimidating manner. He looks vaguely like an insect and treats most others like one.

I find him irresistibly attractive.

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WEEK 2

Most desi women have been subjected to Single Indian Girl Stereotypes in one form or the other. I have had my share, but the unkindest experience that I know of happened to Vidharbha (all names have been changed).

It all began when Vidharbha was in her “befriending couples” phase. Now, whereas couples regard single desi men with indulgent sympathy and invite them to hot home-cooked dinners, single women are viewed with a little more ambivalence. Vidharbha was usually seen as the Lovable Single Girl—couples would adopt her, take her to places with them, and advise her on her love life. I, on the other hand, appear to be one of those single women that couples regard as Disruptive. For instance, my attempt to join the Bay Area Potluck Group was shot down severely with a “Married Couples only” reprimand. Of course, I then hatched a plan to sneakily infiltrate the potlucks by asking one of my male friends to come along as a Kiraya Ka Pati.

We single people will do almost anything for food.

Anyhow, rambling aside, Vidharbha’s special couple was called—um—N and J. It was N who introduced Vidharbha to Bina. I have only met Bina once, but I remember her as a dark, lively girl with exuberant curls. At that time, Vidharbha and I were not on talking terms because of some tiff or the other and Bina instantly became my replacement. The two of them would do girly things together—clubbing, shopping, sharing secrets.

Not long after, Bina got engaged to someone she had been seeing. Vidharbha was excited, “Wow, that’s fantastic! Now we can have a bachelorette party! Maybe we can even go see a Male Revue,” she joked.

Then she met Bina’s fiancé.

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WEEK 3

Trivia Night with the Office Brain has been postponed.

The first post-relationship crush is always odd. It’s surprising to find that you can actually like someone else, or as in my online-dating cousin’s case, someone at all.

My cousin has just ended a decade-long relationship. Recently the two of us visited a male cousin in another state, where she developed a soft spot for a friend of his. She is exhilarated to feel something after such a long time.

“Set me up,” she asks him. We are all on the phone, having been conferenced into a 3-way call after ten minutes of dead silence and disturbing clicks.

“You’re not his type.”

“What’s his type?”

“Thin and blonde.”

My no-longer-that-thin-and-never-blonde cousin believes in the admirable philosophy that it can’t hurt to try.

“Well, let’s give it a shot.”
“No.” My male cousin has morphed into Protective Brother doing things for Foolish Sister’s own good.

“Okay, give me his e-mail. I will ask him myself.”

“I don’t have it right now. I’ll give it to you later.”

“All right.” She retreats, planning her next move.

Later, I tease my male cousin privately, “Are you really going to give her his e-mail?”

“No. What if that jerk doesn’t reply? I don’t want her to get hurt.”

The only thing worse than getting fixed up when you don’t want to is not getting fixed up when you want to.

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WEEK 4

What are you supposed to do when your friend’s fiancé turns out to be someone you’ve met before? Someone who cheated on two other girls you knew?

Vidharbha had no idea.

Part of her wanted to tell Bina the truth, but the other half wondered if it was right to interfere. But what if she said nothing and Bina married Evil Fiancé?

For a few days she dithered. Then she made up her mind.

We all have our own twisted ways of protecting those that we love. My male cousin did it by lying to my female cousin. Vidharbha decided to do it by telling the truth.

She told Bina.

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WEEK 5

Trivia/Drinking Night. Office Brain and I are sitting opposite each other, at a table already stained with water rings from beer glasses. It’s not quite going the way I’d hoped. When I visualized this at home, I was charming, witty, and knowledgeable. Now I nod stupidly while the group discusses obscure technology that I have never heard of.

Okay, they’ve started talking about the Asia SF restaurant. Hey, I’ve been there … quick, say something …

“Nice place,” I interject quickly, “The food is so-so, though.”

“Oh,” Brain is surprised. “You’ve eaten there?”

“Yes, why?”

“Well, you don’t seem like you get out much.”

I am crushed. I am certainly not beating them off with a stick, but now even a man who plays video games three nights a week thinks that I don’t get out much.

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WEEK 6

When your girlfriend reveals horrifying secrets about your fiancé, your first reaction is always to rush off and question the said fiancé. Even if you’ve known your girlfriend for years. Even if she swears you to secrecy. Even if the most sensible thing is to disguise yourself in a blond wig and spy on the fiancé. It doesn’t matter. You just have to question him.

Bina was no exception. She told Evil Fiancé what Vidharbha had said.

Predictably, Evil Fiancé denied everything. Then he called Vidharbha, “How dare you spread these rumors! Just because you want to remain single and want to sleep around, don’t ruin the lives of those who don’t!”

Vidharbha told me that she apologized.

But Evil Fiancé went on, “Stay away from Bina. Don’t think I don’t know that you tried to make her go see male strippers. Stay away from her. She’s a good Indian girl, not like you.”

There. The blow had been struck. Not a Good Indian Girl. Not good enough. Not Indian enough. Because you jokingly suggested a wild bachelorette party. Because you don’t want to get married. Because you don’t fit the stereotype.

At first, Vidharbha turned to N and J. Both were supportive. But two weeks later she discovered that they were going on a camping trip with a group of friends that included Bina and Evil Fiancé. She realized then that they had no intention of alienating their couple friends for her.

She had gone from being Lovable Single Girl to Disruptive Single Girl.

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WEEK 7

My boss has sent out an e-mail asking if any of us would care to housesit his place for two weeks. The mail hasn’t gone out to everyone, so I scan the list of names furiously, trying to figure out what exclusive clique I belong to. Brain, me, Andy—ah, it’s all the single people!

It strikes me then, the presence of American Single Person stereotypes. It’s there in Robert’s pitying assumption that I spend all my evenings holed up at home, in the implicit social custom that single people can be asked to go live in someone’s home for two weeks. Their clichés may be less annoying than ours, but they do exist.

Oh. An old friend from college—someone whom I was mildly attracted to years ago—has sent me an e-mail saying that he has moved to the United States. He and I are the only unmarried people left in our “gang,” so our common friends constantly make that tired old joke: “If the two of us are still single at forty, then we should just marry each other.”

Well, that’s one cliché I ain’t complaining about.

I click on the blue Reply button.

Let’s see.

Sanju C. writes from San Francisco. She bases all her relationship decisions on advice from other dating columns.

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