Tender diaries#1

If you’ve been reading my newsletter, you know that I dig cynicism a bit more than is tasteful. The thing about love is that it’s often more painful than you can imagine. But we don’t like to acknowledge that because it makes us feel lesser than we are. But in such self doubt and vulnerability lies the ability to open ourselves up to new relationships. Sure, there’s no dearth of such gyaan in the world, atleast not on my blog, or this newsletter. So, instead, today, I am going to tell you a story, hopefully less cynical than the ones I’ve told before. It has no lessons, no message. It’s just a story. So, read on and enjoy!

After re-reading my reply about 3 times, I finally hit send. I could finally feel the muscles in my neck. Maybe they’d been trying to relax all day, but in vain. When I walked in this morning at 9am, I thought I’d finally be able to relax after a week of travelling and client meetings, but I don’t know how I’d spent the last five hours going from one email to the next. I shuffled in my chair, feeling somewhat hungry, but at the same time with an incredible urge to pee. I couldn’t make up my mind if I should go get a salad or start my weekend early by indulging in greasy Chinese. I know it was a lot for my brain, which was already fried way beyond golden brown at this point. So, I just got off my chair without a second thought, adjusted my skirt, and walked straight to the loo.

I walked into the loo, and felt so immensely relieved to see it empty. Do you know what I mean? As I washed my hands, I glanced at myself in the mirror. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d looked into the mirror on purpose. I stared at myself, so I could feel my existence and watch my body from the outside. As I carefully eyed myself, I saw a strand of white hair gleaming from the top of my head. I tried to nip it out, but I couldn’t isolate the strand. So I just covered it up as best as I could. I looked at my body, without really looking. I wouldn’t say I’m fat, I just have a generous helping of curves, still in a good way I think.

I watched my face, slowly. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen my eyes without the dark circles around them. I closed my eyes for a second, hoping the darkness would be gone when them. It was still there. I quickly dabbed some foundation under my eyes. I now carried a tiny make up bag everywhere I went. It made me feel more like a woman somehow, it reminded me of how far I’d come in life to be able to afford good make up. But it’s not like I used any make up regularly, I just needed it for moral support sometimes.

As I walked back to my desk, I could feel the sun from behind the glass wall of my 43rd floor office. It felt nice. I grabbed a quick espresso from the coffee machine in the kitchen on my floor. I exchanged a bit of pointless natter with others in the kitchen about weekend plans and what not. I had no plans. At least nothing grand. I wanted to cook myself a nice meal, go for a yoga class, attempt to read Angela Duckworth’s Grit, once again, before I write it off for good. There are some books that are so hard to get through, you need so much will power to pick them up once you’ve put them down. It’s ironical that a book about grit needs you to have so much of it.

When I came back to my desk, I stared outside my window. Watching the sun beginning to set, and seeing lots of people walking around with a purposeful gait, it hit me that the weekend was nearly here. I had a date later that evening, with someone I met on Tinder. You see, I’m nearly 31, well beyond the respectable age for an Indian woman to be unmarried. My parents have left nibbles of my existence on all the matrimonial websites there are in India. In fact, they are on round two, after a one year hiatus we took due to my insistence.

Every time I get rejected by a man that mamma sets me up with, I can see that a little part of her dies. She always turns a full 180 degrees on the boys she passionately sells to me, in an attempt to cheer me up. How do I tell her that it only makes me feel worse? May be she knows, but probably doesn’t know better? The rare occasions when I reject someone, we go days without talking to each other. In one of these bouts of not talking to my mum, I installed a couple of dating apps on my phone, as if it was some sort of a revenge against the whole arranged marriage process.

I pulled my phone out of my handbag. No notifications. I felt more empty. And no, it wasn’t because I’d skipped lunch. I clicked on WhatsApp. Voila! There was a message from my date. There you go, instant gratification, thanks to muting notifications from him. The cheap thrills I indulge in. Sigh. He had pinged to check if the date was still on. It had been 3 hours since his text, so it felt reasonably safe to respond now. I told him that I’ll see him at 9pm post dinner with some friends. I had to lie, I wasn’t going out for dinner with friends, I was getting a drink after work with my teammates. I needed to pre-load on some wine before I met him. You know, just in case. More importantly, I didn’t want to do dinner with him. What if he turned to be super boring? What if I turned out to be super boring, and he’d be forced to fake a work call or a medical emergency to leave right in the middle? So, drinks post dinner felt safe. Also, it left room for other things, you know. Maybe.

Around 6ish, my colleagues and I landed at this really noisy bar right around the corner from work, I could barely hear myself. So, I mostly focussed on lubricating myself sufficiently for my date. Hmm, I wish there was pun intended, but no. As usual, we bitched about the current client, and how painful they are and how we can’t wait for this project to end. The conversation went from office politics to world politics and circled around sport for quite a bit. That was also my cue to leave. I wanted to get to the restaurant early. My face usually turns very red after a glass of wine, so I needed time to fix my face before my date.I took a cab so I could allow myself some quiet to think, and maybe even talk to myself. I ended up reaching the restaurant only at 10min to 9pm.

I dashed to the loo. It was packed, and the mirror was completely taken. Thank god for my new make up bag, I always have a tiny mirror handy. I dashed into one of the stalls, quickly changed into my new dress. It was a black dress with a high halter neck exposing my shoulders, the one part of my body worth exposing. I pulled my dress a little lower, feeling deeply satisfied by its length. It was just short enough to look sexy, but safeguarded my thunder thighs with utmost respect. My pumps helped flatter my thighs too. It made me look taller, and hence, somehow magically slimmer. Then, I soaked myself in generous quantities of my favourite Gucci Guilty perfume. I touched up my eyes, cheeks and lips and brushed my hair, that had surprisingly decided to behave well that night. Just before I left, I decided to put on an extra coat of lipstick because I thought - go big or go home. Again, no pun intended.

It was 9:10 when I came out. I scanned the restaurant slowly. I couldn’t see him anywhere. I picked up my phone to check if he had cancelled. No notifications, again. I clicked on WhatsApp, but I could see that he was typing. Was he cancelling? I felt my stomach knot up. I don’t know if it was anxiety, or just hunger. I hadn’t had a meal since breakfast. I needed to eat soon. Then his message appeared, “Hey, I’m here”. Phew. I looked up, I saw a guy slipping his phone into his pocket. He was walking towards the far end of the bar. He was in his work clothes I think, charcoal grey formal trousers and a white shirt that wore some wrinkles from the day at work.

Just before he could sit down, I started walking towards him. I watched him settle into the chair for a second before he looked around and our eyes met. It was him. He looked away like he didn’t realize it was me. He looked exactly like his profile picture. It was a picture of him, at some sort of an evening party, the others in the picture cropped off. The first thing I noticed about his picture were his eyes. That was an instant swipe right.

My picture was two years old. This was from the time I went on a vacation to Spain with some friends. I was standing in front of the Alhambra, hoping to get a nice profile picture. And I did. My silhouette looked the same, mostly, but it was probably easy to see that life had worn me down just a little bit. Yeah, I am talking about that devious strand of grey hair. He turned back again, as if realising it was me. We exchanged half a smile, acknowledging the awkwardness of meeting on a dating app.

He was sweet enough to get off his chair to greet me. He extended his hands to shake mine, and I stuck mine out firmly, like I always do in business meetings, only deciding to let them go limp midway so I could appear soft, and like a woman. It probably felt like holding a dead fish, but I tried to compensate for it by holding his hand longer. His hands were huge, bigger than anything I’d ever held. I sat on the stool next to his, and ordered myself a cosmopolitan. I know I shouldn’t have, given that I’d had a glass of red wine already. Mixing drinks is always too dangerous, but I also didn’t want to change my order now. I wanted to appear like I knew what I want in life.

We exchanged pleasantries about the weather and our fake enthusiasm for the weekend and what not. If the drinks had taken any longer, I might have died pretty quickly from boredom. I’d ordered some mediterranean olives to go with my drinks and he’d ordered a pale ale. As I was sipping my drink, I looked up to watch him slowly, at my own pace, without letting the bar rush me. He had the most beautiful eyebrows - thick and bushy, somehow making his blackish brown eyes look sharper. I shuffled in my seat, adjusting my dress, crossing my legs in a way to not let my thighs look like overused bolsters. He didn’t notice, though. He was still looking at my face quite intently.

May be the beer helped, he decided to switch gears and talk about why he was on Tinder in the first place. He’d recently moved here, and didn’t have too many friends in the city, and thought Tinder would be a good place to make some friends. Friends? I’ve never had to try too hard to make friends, especially on a date. Half the boys on Tinder could be soon be my Rakhi brothers, that much of an expert I am at being friend-zoned. Last thing I wanted tonight was to make yet another friend. I tucked a strand of hair behind my left ear, and gently rubbed my neck that was still screaming from the tension all day. I don’t know if this is something I do when I feel defeated. I felt his eyes follow my fingers carefully as it went behind my ear and then behind my neck.

I don’t know if it was just the vodka, I felt warm as I caught his eyes follow my fingers. I was imagining his fingers follow mine. I shuffled in my seat again, picked up an olive and put it into my mouth, letting my fingers linger in my mouth just for a second longer. It made my lips pout. I saw his eyes light up. He saw that too. Without letting the moment hang in there like a third person, I quickly ordered us another round.

As we waited for our drink, we briefly presented each other with our full professional resumes. He told me about how he’d switched jobs fairly often, and I told him about how I was planning to retire in my first. He laughed, and I noticed how he got a dimple just on one side. Sometimes alcohol really amplifies a few senses while numbing few others. Despite being a fairly dimly lit bar, I managed to notice the couple of strands of grey hair on his sideburns. Have I ever mentioned that I find a certain pattern of grey hair on men very sexy?

We chatted for a while, about our lives here, and back home and lots of other things I can barely remember now. I was half way through my second drink, and I knew I had to stop. So, I thought it was a good time to mention that I had a yoga class early next morning, and that it might be getting late. I think I caught him off guard, but I prefer to be the one to leave first or suggest to leave first. He kindly asked for the check. We promptly pulled our cards out at the same time. He offered to take this one, but I said I wanted to go dutch. He didn’t insist.

We said the customary ‘nice to meet you’s and were about to part ways only to realize that we were walking in the same direction. I remembered that we’d picked this place because it was close for both of us. It was still quite early in the night on a Friday, so the streets were bustling with people. We didn’t have to really make conversation, we could be distracted by the chaos around us with the occasional comment about restaurants and bars we walked past. I started to debrief on the date in my head, and was about to write this one off as one of those easily forgettable dates despite the occasional eye contacts.

My buzz was starting to wear off, and I could see less clearly, but hear everything much louder. I was about to bump into a newspaper stand. Just then, he grabbed me with his huge hand and pulled me away from the post, but towards him. I felt a whiff of his beer breath, mixed with his perfume that was too familiar. I felt a knot in my groin. That’s the thing about some smells. You remember things based on smell. He smelt exactly like my college boyfriend. He was wearing the same perfume - Azzaro, by Chrome.

I didn’t want to stop being held in his big hands. He was about to let go, but I held on for a couple of seconds. I looked up at him, my door stood right behind him. Without wasting a second, I told him that it was my stop. I let go of his hand. The thing with being single in your 30s is that there is always lots of pent up energy that is screaming to be let out. While the rational part of me was evaluating his inability to stay in a job, my hormones were yelling to be let out. I was two weeks into my cycle, it’s always that time of the month when I fill my need for intimacy with absolutely ridiculous romcoms that Netflix throws my way, knowing fully well that it’ll only make things worse.

I hesitated a little, but I managed to muster up enough courage to ask him if he wanted to come up for coffee. He asked if the caffeine would keep me away from my yoga class the next morning, and I said I didn’t know for sure at this point, but that I was willing to risk it.

If you enjoyed reading this story, or have one of yours to share, send me a note at marriagebrokerauntie@gmail.com.