Okay, this time I am really done with the boyfriend. Finished. That man has treated me badly for the last time. How dare he not call me for two weeks?
I am going to move on.
I am going to do some online dating.
I have resisted online dating for the longest time, but lately everyone I know seems to be doing it. One of my cousins has just begun dating online, and two other girlfriends have tried it with mixed results. Seema (all names have been changed), who spent most of her single life falling for men that Vidharbha and I secretly deemed “not quite up to par,” made an astonishing success of online dating. She ended up married to a guy she met online, a stuffy IT geek who brought her flowers. Every now and then we would wonder how she could settle for someone so boring, but now I have a new answer, “It’s better to be with someone ordinary who treats you as if you are special than with someone special who treats you as if you are dirt.”
Armed with my newfound cynicism, I have decided to find this ordinary man. Someone for whom I will be so out of his league that he will literally worship me. No more attractive men. You fall in love with attractive men, they hurt you and you end up heartbroken. Boring men can’t hurt you because you can’t fall in love with them.
But first I need some expert advice on how to word my advertisement. And who better to provide it than Crafty Old Man (COM)? COM is an older male pal, a fine-boned bespectacled ladies man who acts as an honorary girlfriend.
“So how do I advertise for an ordinary man?” I ask, “Should I say ‘Simple’?”
“No,” he admonishes me. “Everyone knows that ‘Simple’ is a code word for boring. You have to say ‘Down-to-Earth.’ And on an Indian dating site you must always say that you want a mixture of East and West.”
“Got it. Also, I don’t want a man who tries to impose all sorts of restrictions on me, or thinks that we should be together 24/7. How do I word that … ‘gives me my own space’?”
“No. That’s too Westernized. You must say, ‘Someone who gives me room to grow.’ Preferably,” he adds mischievously, “a room with a lock on it.”
The next step is to describe yourself. My plan is to look at what other people have said and then fish the wittiest phrases out of everyone’s description. So here I am, spending my evening looking at profiles on IndianDating.com. Of women.
A sudden thought strikes me. Maybe I should look at Reema’s profile. Reema is the other friend who used to date online. Reema’s experiences were always initially promising and consistently disappointing. She wearied of the men at varying intervals. One man mispronounced the word Kearny as Kee-yar-nee on the first date. She never saw him again. Another told her that her hair was too oily. He made it to date 3. Another man she dated for quite some time, but we never met him because she considered him “too ugly” to be introduced.
Reema kept some of these men as “rainy-day friends,” the sort you call when everyone else has plans for the weekend. It sounds mean, but sometimes you need to have something for those Friday night moments, those brief terrible moments when you’re sitting alone at home and you hear the voices of people on the street outside, people in sleeveless blue dresses with sequins, people in groups of twos and threes, people laughing excitedly as they try to wave down a taxi that will take them to the nearest club. Those moments when you are eating your dinner in front of the television and the blinds of the window opposite swing open for a moment to reveal comfortable green furniture with cheerful cushions, the sort of furniture that belongs in a real home. Those moments when you long for someone to hang around with and do things, not grand things or adventurous things, but just simple ones like seeing a movie or going to dinner.
And maybe you are his Plan C too.
I try to have lots of girlfriends for the same reason. Unfortunately, most of them drift away … perhaps there is some social knack that I lack. I haven’t been able to make my peace with it.
Anyhow, I finally settle on a one-line description—Reasonably nice and somewhat quirky. “Quirky” is my way of putting a cute spin on “weird.”
“So, did you get any hits?” My cousin asks.
“Huh?” I press the receiver closer to my ear.
“On IndianDating. Has anyone contacted you on IndianDating?” Then she adds, “I haven’t got any. Do you think you can look at my profile and help me improve it?”
She’s very gung-ho about all this, approaching it with the enthusiasm of a pet project.
“Your profile is fine.” It really is, with a sharp, dry wit.
“What about my pictures? One of the girls at work was telling me that I shouldn’t put up a picture with five other girls in it.”
“She’s right.” I agree quickly. She lets me off the hook. Literally. I put the phone down to go look at my hits.
Fingers trembling, I log on to the green-and-white IndianDating.com site. All right, I see some contacts on my home page—a Patel who wears Carrier Pasha aftershave (eh?), several Jats and a white male who has seen both Bend it Like Beckham and Bride and Prejudice, but is okay if you look nothing like either Parminder or Aishawarya. One, two, three, four, five, six, seven.
Seven hits. Oh yes! I am no longer a shameful failure. For a moment I indulge in a daydream in which seven men fawn over me while the boyfriend watches sadly from afar. Then he begs me to take him back, but I just smile stonily.
I am the Queen of online dating. Oh yes!
Okay, spoke too soon. Evidently there’s a lot I still don’t know about online dating. Vidharbha and I are at a party in a cozy Potrero Hill house when I notice that one of the girls looks familiar. She’s nibbling at the samosas on the foil-lined dining table … dark skin, short curly hair roped into braids … wait a minute, she is one of the pictures I saw on IndianDating.com!
“Hey,” I walk up to her, “are you on IndianDating.com?”
She freezes me with a blank stare, “No, I’m not.”
“But …” Vidharbha is tugging at my arm furiously. I turn to her and she pulls me into a corner.
“You can’t do that!” She scolds me.
“You can’t ask people if they are on a dating site. And you don’t tell them that you’re on one either. It’s not done.”
Uh-oh. Apparently among desis, dating sites are like porn. Everyone uses them, but no one admits to them.
See, I told you I was socially inept, didn’t I?
Saturday evening. Seven o’clock. My cousin is asking for advice again. Someone on IndianDating has contacted her, but he speaks bad English. Should she contact him? But the question she’s really asking is, “Are her standards too high? Should she settle?”
I myself am idly browsing through the IndianDating e-mails before deleting them. I am not ready for online dating yet. Heck, I am not ready for any dating.
Someone knocks. One of my roommate’s friends, Greg, has come over. My roommate is out, but Greg wants to watch something on his replay TV. We sit down to watch Arrested Development.
The tag scene is playing out when Greg says, “Do you have some wine?”
I get both of us some Gewürztraminer.
“Do you want to watch something else?” I pick up the remote. My roommate’s electronic accessories are terrible and complicated things that only he (by instinct) and I (by long practice) can operate.
“No. Do you have any music?” Greg asks.
“No.” Is Greg trying to make this a date?
“This is awkward,” he says, after five minutes of silence.
“Yes.” Please please go now.
After a few lame attempts at conversation, he leaves. I do a little celebratory dance as soon as I shut the door. Then I pop a DVD in the player and sit down to enjoy a night of Six Feet Under.
I may not have made my peace with my friendships, or my relationships, but I have made peace with spending time with myself. I don’t need to hang out with Greg, or go to meat-market parties, or hanker desperately after company. Perhaps I am getting old, but at this moment, there is nothing I would rather do than spend a quiet night alone.
I am home and I like it.
Sanju C. writes from San Francisco. She bases all her relationship decisions on advice from other dating columns.