Modern with a traditional outlook.

She’s a fiercely independent woman. She’s defied conventional choices to vicariously create and live her own dreams. She has lost so much in life yet she’s found the strength to grow an armour around her. She uses that armour to push people away. She pretends to not care about anyone or anything. But her eyes tell me a different story. I want to break that armour, pull her close, and hold her tight. Not because women are better vulnerable, because sometimes, we all need someone else to hold us. I want her to know that it’s okay to break, and that it’s safe to sob with me.

We met each other on a matrimonial website.

I was already at that point where I’d started to lose faith in these platforms, and I wasn’t sure if I’d ever find love again. But out of nowhere, she came along - a breath of freshness. There was so much chemistry. She wasn’t afraid to be who she was, she spoke her mind. After a week full of exchanges over all-day texts, we decided to meet for dinner. We talked endlessly about art, culture, history, movies and it was like we’d known each other forever. We met again, and then again.

Everything was great, but I had this nagging question in my head. So, I asked her about her matrimonial profile - she had a strict salary filter of 25 Lakhs and over.

I used to be an engineer until I found my passion for cinema. I went to a film school in LA, and for the last couple of years, I’ve been trying to make films. I barely meet her salary cut off, and I am not quite sure when I will either. But someday, I will, and I will beat that 10 times over. But it doesn’t matter. Because if it did, I wouldn’t have given up my engineering career in the US.

I was hoping her parents managed her profile, and the salary cut off was their thing. Parents are like that. I remember my parents being like that when my sister was getting married. They wanted to ensure that they marry her into a family with the same economic status as themselves if not more. The problem is that Indian parents lack confidence that their daughters can outdo what they provide, on their own.

In fact, some of them don’t even believe that women are capable of anything. I remember conversations between my mum and my sister during the initial days of her marriage. Every time my sister expressed the slightest displeasure about settling in her new home, my mum would constantly say “Kshamaya dharitri” (being forgiving like the earth). According to them, patience and forgiveness are virtues of women, but turns out my sister needed to be “taught” even that.

Now, here I was sitting with a woman who I thought had scrubbed those biases clean, and wanted to enter an equal partnership. She said that the salary per se didn’t matter, but it was a great proxy for a person’s lifestyle and the schools a person went to was a good proxy for culture and values. I felt a pit in my stomach, and it made me sick. I don’t know if it was my own insecurities, or if she represented everything I resented growing up.

I grew up middle class. Where I come from, a masters degree and a job in America is more than what my family had hoped for. However, my dreams have always been too large for my life. Or may be that’s how one makes peace with how little they were born with. I find happiness in little things. But every failure also reminds me of where I come from a lot more than where I aspire to go.

It took a lot of letting go when I chose to abandon a stable big company job to pursue cinema. I can’t really justify my current state of penury with confidence to anyone, not until I’ve reached my goals. Everything she said reminded me of how far I was from where I wanted to be, and how I was still so close to where I came from.

I challenged her on her views because she hadn’t earned her privilege but she was born with it. She lived with her parents. She had the comfort of her parents funding her life while she pursued her passion. I was living off my own savings. In fact, I was running my household off my savings while I was chasing my dreams. Abandoning her engineering career to be an activist didn’t come at the same cost as it did in my case. I couldn’t see her as equal.

This felt more like my parents’ relationship where a large part of my mother’s identity was closely tied to my father’s professional success/ failure. While I remember my mother talking about her work troubles, and all of us pitching in to support, it was quite different in the case of my father. Any work troubles he had became a reflection of his inabilities and poor decisions, and after a while, I remember he barely spoke about work. There was a lot of implicit pressure for my father to be the alpha in the house.

As I watched her talk, I started to detest her. Her picture inside my head started to get uglier by the minute. She started to sound more like my mum, and all the women I couldn’t ever imagine being with. She said she really believed in my dreams, and that’s why she was attracted to me and that the schools I went to or the money I make now didn’t really matter to her. But I wanted her to love me for who I was right now.

Growing up, I believed that an important ingredient of success was critical feedback. My father wasn’t very good at taking feedback. There would huge fights at home when my mum suggested any improvements. My mum would constantly ask my dad to let go of his male ego, so he can “improve” and become a better man. I think that’s where I learnt that ego is a virtue of a man. I never wanted to be like my dad, not because he was egoistic but I didn’t want my partner’s respect for me being contingent on who I could potentially become, someday.

We parted ways that evening, although I don’t think I did a good job of explaining to her why I didn’t want to see her anymore. I didn’t go to the schools she respects, I don’t make the money she needs and even though she believes in my dreams, I wasn’t sure she’d be with me if my dreams never came true. I was afraid of being alone.

I wanted her to like me for who I am, and not who I could become, someday.

I wonder why.

Especially given that I thought like her too.

I guess I’ll never understand.

More from Shapely Gal

Here’s a little sneak peak into the various projects I am working on:

  1. Self-Love: This 7-week project has finally come to an end. The hope is that it’s given at least a handful of people much needed perspective and confidence before re-entering the marriage market during such troubling times.

  2. Ask Auntie: While I learn to navigate Instagram, the weekly Q&A videos continue on Youtube. Last month, I answered the following questions:

  3. M.B.A. Circles: I am starting a WhatsApp group for a few M.B.A. clients who are navigating matrimonial apps to establish a sort of support group. The idea is to have a safe space to share tips and tricks, stories and just to know that you aren’t alone on this journey. This will be a limited time experiment. If you’re interested in being a part of the group, get in touch.

  4. Dinner Club: Lots of people reaching out and asking for a season 2. Should I do it? What do you guys think? Write to me with your thoughts.

Sneak peak into what I’m reading/ watching/ listening to:

The Last Girl by Nadia Murad: Nadia Murad is an Iraqi woman from the Yazidi community who won the Nobel Peace price winner in 2018. She was previously an ISIS sex slave, and today, she works with reintegrating women like her into the society. This book really put my life into perspective. I take so many things for granted. While this was a story about how much worse life can be, it was also a story of hope. I learnt that if you find yourself in the dumps, you mustn’t EVER doubt that you could be the one pulling up people like yourself a few years on.

A woman is no man by Etaf Rum: This was a book about three generations of Palestinian American women, and their married lives. The book was so utterly stifling. At first, I thought it may be the writing, because really, there was not much character for these women in the book but I realised it was actually what their lives were like - stifling.

Being a transhumanist evolutionary psychologist: This was such an enlightening podcast, my millennial vocabulary grew 10x after listening to this podcast.

Shapely Gal song of the month: Perfect strangers by Jonas Blue.

Shapely Gal is a weekly-ish newsletter that discusses love, relationships, marriage and the various markets these are traded on. This newsletter is a concoction of observations, theories, ideas, real stories, figments of imagination and sometimes just rants on romantic relationships. This month’s newsletter was a piece of fiction based on several conversations. Hope you enjoyed it.