#23: Where are you taking me??

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As you know, I’m back on OKC. Yes there are many more 90+% matches than before, but as always I wonder about the logic of their match calculations and really miss the friendship% number. However, I do tend to go look at those high match profiles and just once in a while, ever so rarely, one of them makes my eyes go round and my jaw drop and okay maybe my tongue hang out a little bit. I write to them, but of course these paragons never write back. So imagine my surprise when my ‘Hello, care to chat?’ received an enthusiastic ‘Absolutely’ in response, followed by an actual joke: ‘Your real name isn’t <OKC ID> is it?’. And we launched into gentle banter, which, while less immediately exciting than intense banter, is really the best kind of banter, like caipirinhas on a summer afternoon, as opposed to tequila shots on a Saturday night.

Several OKC messages later we switched to gmail chat, and we always ended up talking ridiculously early in the morning, because he works nights and I’m up at 6. I sent him to the blog and he was most enthused, saying he wanted to be #25. Alas fate conspired otherwise heh. The only time that works is the weekend and the first weekend I have time is this one, so we settled on Sunday night, with a strict injunction to get me home by ten because it’s past my bedtime. Only it turns out he has to work this weekend, so we ended up going out on Thursday.

Right from the start I feel this date is going to be different, but I caution myself to not believe it–burned many times. The thing is though, he’s made a plan. An actual good plan. We’re going to a standup, which will end at ten so we will skate in only a little past curfew. He wants to talk too though, so we decide to meet at Cyber Hub at 5, and since I’m the expert I pick the place. Thursday rolls around and he’s late, moving it to 530 at 450. I haven’t left the office though so I simply settle back to read more. Then I head downstairs and he’s still late, showing up at 545. But he does show up, and he’s tall and wearing a collar and could pass for Tamil, so obviously I’m happy. He’s also pretty hot. And he apologises profusely for being late, telling me he’s really gotten off to a good start hasn’t he, making me wait, with a wry smile. Oh sarcasm!

We end up at Imperfecto, tucked into a corner and he orders some food, which I pass on because I had a late lunch, and we just start talking. I ask him a ton of questions and he answers without protest or complain. I hear about the long relationship, the crazy not-relationship, several travel adventures, school and college and family. He asks about my job, what it entails, why I like it. I tell him stories about my travels and my family–or not. I don’t really remember the details of that happy rambly conversation, mainly that it was happy, and rambly, and snarky, and we laughed a lot.

At one point he’s telling me a story about a bar/restaurant in Goa where he and his friends are and says Cyrus (I don’t remember his surname) owns it, the not Cyrus Broacha guy. And sometimes he’s there, hanging out in his restaurant with his hot girlfriend, it’s disgusting. So I ask him why it’s disgusting, and he has to stop for a minute and think about it. ‘You know,’ he tells me, ‘I have never thought about that before. I guess I was jealous?’ So I tell him about how much I love doing this to people, just asking them why they feel the things they feel.

Soon enough it’s time to go to Manhattan, which is where the show is. I’m quite excited because back in my early lonely days in Delhi I used to be a regular at the Cheese Monkey Mafia open mic nights at the International Diner, and both Mandava and Abhijit Ganguly were on so I was looking forward to hearing them again. As we’re riding down the escalator I say something about being tall and he snorts, looks down at me from 6 feet and 1 inch and says, ‘That’s cute’, which, I’ve come to realise, is his snarkiest dismissal possible. I protest and cite statistics of the heights of Indian women and he nods while I talk, but returns to ‘That’s cute’ at the end. We’re busy rambling and snarking and laughing in the car so we end up on a circuitous route there, but we do get there and as soon as we come to the door Mandava jumps on me to say hi, which is nice. We go in, weigh the risk of being picked on against the possibility that we won’t see much and decide that the back is the better place for us, and settle at a table.

I’m glad that the very loud music and the slightly awkward seating (at right angles, not across the table from each other) give me enough opportunities to lean in and pat him arm and other such things, but he also doesn’t really react. (Which is making me a little nervous as I write this; never has the inequality of this whole deal come home to me as strongly as it does right now.) He teases me about how much I’m yawning, and I swear it’s not him, it’s me. Then he teases me about using cliches. The show starts and it is funny, and then funnier, and then by the end, when Jeeveshu Ahluwalia is on, we’re both in pain from laughing. This despite my missing half the jokes since they’re in such rapid fire Hindi I can’t catch them and then, when I do, I don’t always understand them.

Finally the show’s over and we head out, at ten thirty, eek, and he says he needs to stop off at his place to grab some stuff before he heads out to Delhi, dropping me on the way. We end up taking weird badly paved back roads that don’t have streetlights, and I say to him in mock alarm ‘Kahan le ja rahe ho mujhe!’, which makes him laugh. Only, later, when we’re on a road I expect to recognize and don’t, he grins evilly and says, ‘Maybe I am planning to murder you.’ ‘Just murder na? Then it’s fine,’ I toss back. ‘Well I guess it depends on my mood,’ he shoots back and squeal and smack his thigh.

It’s drizzling and the night is gorgeous as we zip away back towards Delhi. The windows are open a crack and cool air comes pouring in, reeking of petrichor, and the street lights flash by. We talk quietly as he drives. He asks if I like drives, and I tell him I do, especially in this weather. ‘I love taking road trips, but I rarely have anyone to share the driving.’ ‘That’s so sad!’ he exclaims and I agree. I tell him how it feels weird to be going down MG Road in the dark, since I’m usually on it in this direction at 430pm. We continue to chat; I continue to yawn, and eventually we get to my house.

‘Would you like to come up for a bit?’ I ask him. ‘I wouldn’t want to keep you up; it’s past your bedtime.’ ‘Don’t worry; I’ll evict you when I want to sleep,’ I reassure him. He thinks for a bit, but finally declines. ‘I’ll go,’ he tells me, unsnapping his seatbelt for a goodbye hug. ‘Okay,’ I tell him, ‘we should do this again. I had a lovely time,’ and then I kiss his cheek and hop out. ‘Yes we should,’ he says. I head towards my house , pausing to return his wave as he drives by. I skip up the stairs and really really hope he meant it.

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Guest Post: Because. Words.

I often hear guys asking for the date’s perspective so I’m always thrilled when one of them volunteers to write about it. Bombay Boy did it, and now here is #22, writing his version, which really made me blush red like a tamatar (incidentally the same day I got an email from a guy on OKC that went: ‘Hi love Hey tamato hw u dng ..’ yes really). I have to say, I often worry about that fact that the guy always knows what’s in my mind and I rarely have any clue to what’s in his, so I am psyched to find out that this time at least we’re on the same page ^_^.

I am a sucker for people who love words, people who think of words as their friends. That’s my tribe: people who love words. Recently I had the good fortune of meeting a fellow member of this fast dwindling tribe. In the first few interactions with the author of this blog (who I’m going to call Aa because I’m going to get tired of typing author of this blog), I knew that we would hit it off.

Because.

Words.

She has succinctly and precisely described the chronology of events, so I’ll skip that bit. In the true style of David Foster (who I idolize), it will be crammed with nonsense, lazy grammar, non-sequiturs and possibly an eerily accurate assessment of the world of online dating (or not). Above all it will be about my two hours with Aa.

I am for all practical purposes the most shameless person when it comes to meeting new people. If I find someone interesting I will ask them out. The way I see it, a cup of coffee is a small price to pay for discovering a new person, even if it’s a new person whose novelty wears off in a second. I have had dates which have felt like going to the dentist. It’s a small price because you could discover a person in whose company you take delight for a long time to come. In pure game theory terms, it’s a no-brainer. The risk of rejection is a small price to pay ultimately. If someone rejects you, big deal, you suck it up and move on.

Except that things are not so streamlined and idyllic in the online dating world. A lack of inhibition is frowned upon. Politeness is a lost art. Women get harangued relentlessly by men whose gonads are threatening mutiny. Men are tormented (at least the intelligent ones I am assuming) by the lack of women in general. It’s a fact of life that any woman on an online dating site will receive more messages than a man. What this excessive attention from men does is scare away most women and eventually only the more courageous remain. The pool of women who are willing to meet in person, let alone date remains infinitesimally small. The pool of men with their lusty, testosterone-laced messages just keeps growing however. From a demographic and sociological viewpoint this is not surprising. India has an adverse sex ratio–all that female foeticide has just come to bite us in the ass.

Sociologically, the reluctance of women to get on online dating websites is self-evident in many ways. Veritably every conversation I have had with a woman online has begun with the “I am not looking for a hookup” disclaimer.  It’s almost mandatory in Tinder bios. Understandable, given the eclectic mix of buffoons most women encounter online. The tragedy here is the petty slut shaming. When a woman says that she is not looking for a hookup or alternatively says that I am not like those women what is she implying? That women who make liberated and conscious sexual choices are somehow lesser beings. I am sadly aware that a majority of interesting women exist offline, far from the prying eyes of ‘hey baby, let’s have some fun’ men with rapey vibes. But I don’t have access. So I resigned myself to scroll through a dead sea of uninteresting profiles on Okc and Tinder.

Which brought me to the date with Aa. But, first, a disclaimer. I am no Adonis; I am not Thor either; in fact I am totally unlike those mythical gods with a six pack stomach. I am a low paid journalist, reasonably self-aware and moderately intelligent. I have a beer belly and an insatiable appetite for marijuana and brutal honesty. I am, as a rule of thumb, politically incorrect. I will sometime say provocative stuff to lure politically correct people into an argument. I treat eviscerating hypocrites as a blood sport. This understandably leads to much acerbic behavior on my part and much conflict in general. In summary I am not an ideal partner by online or offline dating standards. So, if I have conveyed the impression that I am somehow God’s gift to womankind pontificating about the state of affairs of online dating, I assure you that is not my intention. I am not everyone’s cup of tea and that is fine by me.

So, the date.

First up, I came into the date with high expectations. I had read the blog and it would have been disappointing if the homo sapiens crafting those eloquent sentences turned out to be boring in person. Thankfully, she turned out to be much more interesting than I had expected (low expectations is the key to happiness after all). Aa is smart. Freakishly so. And she knows it. Thrown into her mix of character traits are dollops of humor and an appetite for self-effacing candor.

All of these traits are evident in full force when, under a balmy and lazy Sunday sun, we start to stroll in a near empty Sanjay Van. The first thing we talk about is my OCD. I perhaps use that bit of information to throw her off balance and see how she responds. Except that she is not thrown off balance for one second. Her first response was empathy. I admit, this surprises me. When I first mention to dates that I have OCD, I tend to get responses like  ‘oh you are a cleanliness freak, eh?’ or ‘We are all a little bit OCD.’ Which instantly makes me want to punch them. On the nose. But since I abhor violence of any kind I don’t. To most dates I explain OCD by asking whether they have seen Aviator. If their pop culture quotient is high they say yes. I then gently explain that I have the same mental ailment as Howard Hughes but, unlike him, I am not a billionaire who dates movie stars and has an army of man servants to satisfy his every compulsion.  I also add that I am on medication which helps me function. If I think they are being sensitive to the information I am divulging then I talk about my OCD at length. I tell them how I have a mortal fear of sexually transmitted diseases, rats, shaking hands and running over people accidentally, and a perpetual anxiety of being inappropriate amongst other such weird fears and anxieties. I also tell them how I get tormenting intrusive thoughts faster than Flash Gordon is able to run. It usually takes weeks for me to transfer this, possibly because I am not comfortable with them.

With Aa it takes around twelve minutes. That’s how fast a comfort level is established. We discuss polyamory in depth. It’s refreshing, this lack of mutual inhibition while discussing such intimate topics. Every so often my mind drifts off to check whether someone is listening to us. Thankfully, the park is near empty. I take this as a sign from the heavens that this conversation has the blessings of the flying spaghetti monster. We talk further about our respective experiences with mental illness. We talk about everything under the sun. And that’s what we will do. Keep talking. After all, people who love words are my tribe and whenever I encounter one of my kind I will not pass up the opportunity to talk to them. About everything.

Because. Words.

#22: Holy cow! Do you write that blog?

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Yes! I finally went on a date! It all happened very suddenly. I was sick, my weekend trip was cancelled, so I decided to spend the day in the hammock and finish a book off my reading challenge. And for some reason, I decided to peek into OKC just once. Only my 50dates profile has been banned or whatever they call it, because it never lets me log in, telling me that there’s a technical error, which is apparently how OKC, in the fine tradition of cowardly people in dating situations, avoids actually telling you you’ve been kicked off. But I digress.

I logged in with my old ID and idly looked through the matches to see if anyone new or interesting had signed up. There were quite a few over 90% matches, which is new, so I was reading through them when one jumped out. You know me and my gut. So I wrote to him, and he replied and suddenly I was lounging in the hammock, book cast aside, talking to this guy. I tossed him my standard ‘What brings you to OKC?’ question and he replied before tossing it back at me. Then I had to think because that profile does not have the experiment laid out. ‘I’m running an experiment,’ I replied, ‘and also you know I’ve met some fun people here.’ ‘Have you read that fifty first dates blog?’ he asked me. I started to laugh. ‘Hahahaha. Yes I have read the blog. Would you like to be #23?’

We soon switch to Whatsapp and he says let’s get coffee sometime, because I don’t drink. Since Saturday is his only day off, we’d have to wait till Saturday, but then I don’t have a Saturday free for three weeks, so we quickly decide to try and meet right then. It is about 1045 by this point, and he says he has to be in Munirka at 1230, so we could meet around then. I have a friend coming over at noon, but she will understand, and so I tell him okay. ‘Let’s go to Sanjay Van and wander around. I’ll see you at JNU gate at 1230.’ Only, he’s running late and it becomes 1 and I fret because my friend will be here by 230 and then his phone runs out of battery and when we finally do meet at Sanjay Van, it’s 120.

I see the bright yellow Nano he told me to expect and he’s standing next it. He waves at me and I quickly park in front of him and hop out. We say hi and I turn to walk in but he’s checking the doors of the car repeatedly. ‘Wow,’ I say, ‘you have a system eh?’ ‘No, it’s something I need to do.’ ‘Yeah, I get it. Everyone has their quirks.’ I’m trying not to use the word OCD because I hate how we throw around mental illnesses like they’re regular adjectives. ‘I have OCD,’ he says. ‘Okay, I get it, you like things a certain way,’ I respond. ‘No, I mean I’m on medication. I’ve been diagnosed.’ And just like that, the gloves are off.

Later on I realise that moment defines the date. No shame, no embarrassment, no judgement, no thoughtless words. Everything we talk about is brutally honest and completely safe. It’s intoxicating, more than anything I could ever imbibe. There are very few guys (okay, people) I know who can talk like this, and I love it.

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We walk a short way in, discussing mental illness, medication, and our own experiences it it. ‘That’s why you don’t drink,’ I tell him. ‘Yeah, it’s not worth it.’ I fully agree, and tell him about a person I used to be friends with who was taking Lithium, among other things, and then would drink and spiral into bas downs because the medicines didn’t work. I have never understood that mentality. He agrees. He asks me what I was taking for my depression and I tell him that no I have never been that ill thank GOD but the therapy really helped. ‘It isn’t much help for me,’ he says, and I agree, because well, I don’t think talk therapy would help with things other than anxiety and depression.

We’ve come across some benches, and he suggests we sit down. He lights up a cigarette and I refrain from telling my camel joke*. And then he starts to ask me questions. He’s read the blog, clearly, and is very curious about a lot of things. ‘What happens after?’ he asks, like many others. (He’s actually already asked me on whatsapp but we continue to discuss it.) He wants to know if I see them again. I tell him that of course I see the ones I like again, but barring #2, I don’t write about them. I also tell him that very few have reached mutual interest enough to still be around–only three in fact. But then how do you juggle so many relationships? is the inevitable follow up question, and I launch into my theory of dating.

The thing with real life is that it’s messy; it isn’t neatly divided into relationship, not relationship, and so on. Every guy who dates me knows about the blog, he knows there are other people I’m seeing. I ask them if they want to know more, or not. I respect what they tell me. I make a conscious effort to communicate. I try and express in clear unambivalent terms what I’m thinking and feeling, what I want, that I want them to do the same. There is no judgement. I try to create a safe space to express unhappiness, anger, jealousy–whatever feelings the other person might have. And I hope the other person understands this and tries too. That’s about all anyone can do in any relationship yeah? Anyway it’s not like anyone has asked me to or inspired in me the desire to not see other people! And it’s not like there are many other people to date.

All the while he listens, engages and asks intelligent questions. Our conversation is the kind I love; it goes tripping and tumbling and soaring off in a hundred directions and we rarely do finish the subject we’ve begun. This is the first time a date has ever got more about me than I have got about them. At one point I say something about how I’m older and see things differently, and it’s the first time in my life a younger person has just casually nodded and said yeah, you’re 32, I should hope you’d have a different perspective. I’m gasping in shock.

He asks why I wrote to him, and I tell him honestly that I have no idea. I pull up his profile and decide that my gut responded to his photo because it was sort of being conscious of its self consciousness. And of course we launch into a discussion being self conscious about dating online and how people react and present themselves, and how everything online is a construct and I like it when people are aware of this, and that’s what his photo said to me. He tells me about a woman who’s asked him is he was going to marry her after their fourth date–I am in shock. I tell him about my troll and the sheer amount of crap I run into on OKC.

We get up and walk a bit now, and end up discussing STDs and how people in India are so head in the sand about them. He tells me this is the first time he’s had a conversation about STDs with a woman who is actually open and informed about them. I laugh and tell him I’m special. He makes a mean crack about my age and shortly after I make one about his. It’s now 215, though it feels like it’s been three hours, and I regretfully tell him I better go. We talk out to the cars; he says we should do this again soon; we hug.

*Two women are standing in a bus stop. They pull out cigarettes and light up, but it starts to rain. One mutters and throws hers away. The other opens her bag, pulls out a condom with the tip cut off, pulls it over the cigarette and continues. Lady #1 is wide-eyed. ‘What’s that and where can I get one?’ she asks. Lady #2 says, ‘Oh it’s a condom. You’ll get it at a drugstore.’ Later that day Lady #1 walks into a drusgtore. ‘I’d like some condoms please,’ she says. ‘Sure, what size?’ asks the salesperson. ‘Big enough to fit a camel,’ she replies.

P.S. Eeek I make it 23 when it was 22. Why did I think it was 23? Huh.

#20: Don’t drop the soap

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When I got back from the US I was, strangely, very jetlagged. I’m usually good with jetlag, but maybe winter and illness and whatnot. Funnily this didn’t mean I was sleepy in the middle of the day, just that I was waking up at 1 am unfailingly. So I took to entertaining myself with Tinder. Swipe swipe swipe. Kept me going till I was sleepy again. Of course I rarely wrote to the matches and when I did they rarely wrote back. One night (I say this as if there were several heh) I got a message from one of them. His profile was brief but interesting, it cited finance, travel and my Mecca, New York. So I replied and asked him what was going on.

Enjoying the sun

Wishing I was on an island with monkey butlers in tuxedos

We then proceeded to discuss the monkey butlers and the emancipation of the monkey race into slavery for the next fifteen minutes. It was great. Lots of fizz. And so it went fizzing along most of the day, until I got sick of Tinder’s shite messaging and we switched to whatsapp, and by the next morning, to the phone. We talked for nearly and hour and a half while I did my chores, in one of those conversations where no story is every finished because it triggers another, and another and another.

He’s visiting family from Canada, where he lives and will be here for a couple weeks more, so I tell him we can go out when I’m back from Bombay. I send him a link to the blog and tell him to decide if he’s up for it! He says he is and remains on the other end of the phone my whole trip. We talk every day, with as much fizz as the first time, and lots of laughing. There are many whatsapp messages and by the time I’m back we’ve fallen into the this-is-what-I’m-doing-right-now mode of messaging.

On my return we try and figure when it will work and it looks like we’re going to have to wait till Saturday. Which is a pity, and I tell him so. This inspires him to agree to Wednesday lunch near my office, so we decide on that plan.

I’m teased at work all day because I have made an effort and am not in winter uniform of yoga pants and shapeless sweater. When I say I have a date I’m bombarded with questions and I have to tell people to wait for the post! Heh. We’re meeting at Delhi Heights (my first Gurgaon date! Now I can truly call myself 50datesinNCR), and I’m wondering what to eat because I have just begun diet (don’t ask). I get there and I can’t spot him. I try to call but there’s no signal inside, something I’d forgotten. Eventually I ask the ‘maitre d’hotel’ if a guy had come in solo and asked for a table for two. He’s seated in a corner tucked behind the bar which id why I didn’t see him.

He stands up and we side-hug, a titch awkwardly. Sadly, for the promises of bringing his A-game, he’s wearing baggy jeans and a giant sweatshirt. Boo. Phoren-living finance-working exactly-the-right-amount-obnoxious boy and he doesn’t wear a shirt. And me with lipstick and everything!

We sit down and start talking again. I am merciless with him, and take his trip at every thing he says. In my defence, he just makes it SO easy. He’s always dropping the soap in the prison shower; it’s impossible to resist! He’s laughing along with me, but I wonder a little bit if I’m being too harsh–they could be ‘I can’t believe she said that the bitch’ laughs from sheer shock.

We finally get around to ordering, and I tease him for drinking bottled water. These poor NRI types. He wants a burger but can’t eat red meat, so I tease him for being a fake Punjabi. He makes several deliberately obnoxious statements about the place of women in this world, so I hit right back at him and tease him about his clothes. ‘You could at least have worn a shirt,’ I say, shaking my head sadly. ‘Whaaat? I love this sweatshirt. It’s my favourite sweatshirt!’ ‘Look at me; I made an effort!’ ‘This?’ he says, raking me down, ‘this isn’t an effort!’ No wonder I’m teasing him so much. I don’t think I’ve ever been this mean to anyone on a date. I just can’t resist the urge to smack him down. But it’s okay because he is not scared of my intelligence or my confidence and it is an overwhelming relief to be me unadulterated, unfiltered, unaffected.

He shows me pictures of his dogs and his nephew; I reciprocate with ones of my cat and nieces. He tells me how he’s got all these crazy meetings with local businessmen, and one of them earnestly pats his hand and tells him he doesn’t drink, he doesn’t beat women, he lives in Canada with a steady job–he’ll get 2.5 crore dowry if he wants. I dare him to take it and live with the woman he has to marry. He apologises for being unable to focus on what I’m saying–apparently I have ‘an amazing rack’ which is distracting him.

The food comes; mine is superb, his a little strange–it’s an inside out chicken burger. He mocks me for eating potato wedges while on a diet, especially when I chop my burger in half and so I only eat half. I mock him for bring a Punjabi in Knedda. I ask him why he was on Tinder anyway, and he tells me it was random experiment. He asks me about my work and I explain it to him, with attendant whining about how it’s been too stressful of late. In short, our conversation continues to spark and explode, though we do manage to finish half our stories this time.

Lunch over, we wander out to find some coffee. He wants to go to Krispy Kreme and I glare at him sullenly for the suggestion. He suggests Starbucks and I tell him I’m judging him. We go inside, with me bitchslapping him verbally every other minute and him helplessly laughing and calling me mean. The coffee, when it comes, is execrable. I make endless jokes about dropping the soap in the shower, and he makes fun of me for insisting on sitting outside and then wearing gloves. I keep rubbing his back in apology for the horrible things I’m saying and he asks me what is up with that. When I explain he says he’s not a very physical person, and I warn him that I am: I always express emotions physically.  Eventually it is really as long a lunch hour as I can take, so I reluctantly get up to leave. We hug goodbye and I thank him snarkily for making an exception to the physical contact rule.

‘I’ll see you Saturday?’ he says.

‘Wear a shirt,’ I shoot back.

(P.S. He doesn’t.)