All right, so I have never really been single. If anything, I am a recovering monogamist, having dived, one after another, into disastrous long-term relationships since the age of 18. At this moment, I am at the airport saying goodbye to my boyfriend of three years.
To be exact, I am in the airport parking lot running around like a headless chicken because my car seems to have vanished. The boyfriend is already at the gate, hopefully agonizing over whether he’s making the right decision by returning to India. He wants to go back for good, and I don’t want to go back right now—but in maybe another three or four years I could give up the exhilarating freedom I have here.
I finally find the Civic. On the ride back home, I reach for the cell phone to tell my boyfriend about how I spent half-an-hour searching for the car—isn’t that funny—when I realize that I can’t. There is no one to call anymore, no one to share the commonplace details of one’s life with.
I am actually, terrifyingly alone.
Nowadays being single is supposed to be cool. Bridget Jones and Sex and the City have lent a sheen of gloss to the 30-something single girl. But does this glamour extend to the Indian context—has the prim-lipped spinster been displaced by the hip singleton who flings on her black strappy sandals and goes out to the hot new club, or in this case the happening desi party?
At this moment I am doing neither. The three-day weekend has just begun, and everyone I know is out of town or has other commitments already. Which means that I have absolutely nothing to do for the next three days, except to watch television by myself. I have called up several people in desperation, hoping that someone will take pity on me and invite me to something, however boring. My last hope, a couple I barely know, has just bailed on me. I am even searching that Bay Area bastion, Craigslist, for activity groups, just to find something to do, anything. I have foolishly forgotten the golden rules of singlehood: plan all your weekends in advance, fill every available spot, and have a backup plan if someone cancels.
I also have to find a roommate, now that I am alone again. For the past year the boyfriend and I have been living in a sunlit one-bedroom on the sixth floor of a red waterfront building in San Francisco. It’s a lovely place, but evilly expensive. My plan is to find a roommate and move into a two-bedroom in the same apartment complex.
I switch to the roommates section of Craigslist. Everyone is declaring their preferences—no dogs, no smoking, even a “no ugly roommates”! I have to cleverly craft an ad that will make me look responsible and mature, yet somehow convey the impression that I can be incredible fun. An ad that will keep away undesirable prospects without scaring away the normal ones.
Tonight, I am at a NetIP party with Vidharbha, one of my girlfriends. (I now cunningly plan all my weekends in advance, so that I have something to do every single evening of every single weekend.) It’s one of those yuppie meat-market things with loud Punjabi and hip-hop music in the background. I am surrounded by a mass of nattily dressed young men with gelled hair chatting up women half my size and three-fourths my age. There is no real conversation, just a lot of banter and flirting.
Vidharbha (all names have been changed) is adept at both. She knows how to say things like “wow” and “how mean” to guys while touching their arm at appropriate intervals. She’s a thin fair girl, mildly pretty but extremely attractive, with reddish-brown hair and long legs that make her look taller than she really is. Someone once called her “sleek.”
I, on the other hand, am standing in the background trying not to look like an idiot. Every now and then I chant mantras to keep up my spirits: Must not envy one’s friends. Must remember that I am a self-confident woman who doesn’t need male fawning. Must not pay any attention to these darned fools.
After a few hours of torture, one of Vidharbha’s friends drops us home, a young man with whom she wants to have a no-expectations relationship. She swears me to secrecy first: “Don’t tell anyone about us.” Good Indian girls can now date, but they still can’t have flings.
I call the boyfriend. Or the ex-boyfriend. I am not really sure anymore.
“Why don’t you come back here?” He asks for the umpteenth time.
“I don’t fit in there.” I tell him. It’s true. I don’t fit in here either. But the difference is that here there are other people who don’t fit in, other Indians who don’t belong. I fit in with those other people. I belong with those who don’t belong.
And thus the saga continues.
The next day is spent interviewing roommates. My first candidate is a desi guy who sounds promising, nice and geeky (read: less likely to be an axe murderer). He turns out to have long hair pulled rather oddly to one side, and he tells me that he likes to dance the tango.
“Tango people are different,” he explains. “They dance at odd hours of the night. Will that be a problem for you?”
“No. The only deal breakers for me are,” and here I launch into my memorized list, “One, no smoking …”
“You mean no smoking tobacco, right?”
I don’t think this one is going to work out.
Another meat market—this time a mixer at an Italian restaurant. Our bright-orange booth seats four on either side, and since three of the four other participants are already seated on one side of the table, I pick the far corner on the opposite side and put my jacket in the empty spot next to me. The remaining participant, however, a podgy young man with buckteeth, is quite determined to sit right next to me. He picks up my jacket, flings it over to the other side, and sits down in its place. Actually, he tries to sit even closer, such that he almost sits on my purse. I can see him wondering if he can possibly displace my purse too, which is now the only thing demarcating my personal space, but he mentally decides that “that would be going too far.” With characteristic cowardliness, I wait until he goes to the bathroom, and then put my jacket back in its place. He makes a surprised comment when he returns, and I mumble something about needing my jacket because I always feel cold. It seems to defeat him.
On the roommate front, there is new hope—an Indian yoga teacher with the e-mail address “Lata with Yoga.” (Shouldn’t it be “Yoga with Lata”?) We had made plans to meet before, but she bailed twice. She has other oddities too: her mails have a blank space in the area where people’s names usually appear. She is also getting a divorce, and has warned me that she may break down in floods of tears from time to time—will that bother me?
I reassure her that it won’t. At this point I’ll take anything.
I am tired. The whole single-life thing sucks. The not-quite-ex no longer calls every other day. His attitude has morphed from “maybe we can make it work” to “I can’t do this anymore. You have to come here.”
Should I go there? Will it really be so awful? Can anything be worse than this lonely, messy life?
Hurrah. I have finally found a roommate—John. He rents a two-bedroom in another building in my complex and I will be moving into his place. Bay City Movers has already shifted my furniture and I have spent the better part of this weekend hauling all the smaller things over.
Everything is done. I stand by the door of my apartment for the last time, looking at the living room, now just a triangle of carpet under the dim yellow light. I look at the fireplace that we never used and at the large bay windows that face the bridge. I would sit by those windows on lazy Sunday mornings gazing at the endless stream of cars on the bridge, sipping my chai and daydreaming.
Then I step out and lock the door.
Maybe I will spinelessly give in and move back to India. Or maybe I will give him up and continue to live in this city that I so love. But, as I slowly realize, no matter what I do, things will be different. We could build our lives anew in India, or I could live out a life of gloriously depraved singledom here. But never again will I wake up in that sunny one-bedroom, never again will we walk leisurely by the pier on Sunday evenings.
Never again will I have my old life.
Sanju C. writes from San Francisco. She bases all her relationship decisions on advice from other dating columns.