The Zoom date

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 week’s newsletter is a piece of fiction, although not entirely. This edition is inspired by how quarantine has changed the way we love. Or…has it?

10:00pm
Friday

After the weekly call with my stakeholders, I put my headphones down. My ears were sort of numb from the constant chatter. I stood up and stretched like a cat. I broke my knuckles. A disgusting habit, I know. But that’s when I realised that I’d been hunching for two hours straight and now my shoulders had given out. I really miss my standing desk at work. But right now, I’m hungry. It’s 10pm, and I have no energy what so ever to cook myself anything.

To distract myself from the daunting thought of having to feed myself, I pick up my phone lying next to me. I try unlocking the phone with my face, but it doesn’t work. Dark circles? Excess quarantine fat? I don’t know. My phone doesn’t recognise me anymore. I wearily type my 8 digit password while wondering why I couldn’t just have a 4 digit one. As usual, I tell myself that I’ll change it before the next time.

I click on LinkedIn, half hoping there will be a Inmail from a recruiter. But no, zero messages. But there’s one notification. Could it be a recruiter who’s viewed my profile? No, damnit, it’s a random connection liking some arbit rant by Brigitte Hyacinth. Ok, muted. I click on Twitter - turns out outrage for the day is #Rs20. Someone’s got to fix Twitter’s trending algorithm. Now onto Instagram - urrrrgh, why is everyone baking and cooking so much?!! No respite from hunger at all. No notifications also.

Reluctantly, I click on Shaadi.com half hoping for at least a rejection notification - just any sign really, that the universe can see me. But what do I see?

An expression of interest!!!!

Wow. Speechless. Who says I don’t appreciate small joys?

With a wide grin on my face, I open the message…

“Hey, I liked your profile. If you’d like to chat, here’s my number!”

Yes, yes, yes, I do.

But wait, it’s 10:30pm - too late to text I think? Okay first thing tomorrow. Or may be later in the afternoon? Just so I don’t seem desperate you know. Oh but wait, the interest was sent 3 days ago. So, I am good baby.


11:00am
Saturday

The following day, I text her and she responded quite promptly. We spent the next two days texting through the day. You know, the general warm up type of conversation, nothing groundbreaking - weather, work, quarantine life, little bit about family, hobbies, etc. Turns out she works late into the night just like me, so figured it would be easier to get on a call when both of us are free. We agreed on a time, and I called her promptly. We talked about movies, books and a little bit about friends. We spoke for over an hour. Promising, I would think.


9:30am
Monday

I texted her wishing her luck for the rest of the week (Well, it’s better than sending her a meme about quarantine, aren’t we all bored of that by now?). Again, normal conversation through the day - work, life, etc. with a sprinkling of what our future plans are type of exchange. Around 8pm in the evening, she texted saying she’d finished work early, and asked if she could call. I started panicking. I wasn’t particularly busy or anything, but I couldn’t stop worrying about why she wanted to speak about on a weekday night. Rather, I was worried that it might be going too well.

Why’d that a bad thing, you ask?

Usually when things go really fast, they die almost just as fast.

May be I am overthinking. I should stop.

Just then, the phone started ringing, and I picked up. The voice on the other side seemed cheerful. I quickly forgot about my apprehensions. We chatted about work, as usual. Then we quickly moved on to TV shows, that were worth binge watching over the weekend. We both decided to watch Money Heist together, so we could discuss it with each other having missed the bus when everyone else watched it.

The conversation was going reasonably well - there were no awkward silences, we seemed to have quite a few common interests and we’d already spoken for nearly an hour. Naturally I felt something. I felt a strong desire to connect physically. But given quarantine and all, I suggested that we do a video call on Friday. In fact, I didn’t stop there, I told her that I’d come dressed up as if I were meeting her for dinner date. She laughed, and said “Well, see you on Friday at 9pm then.”


I think the New York Times had an article about how quarantine has opened up a new world of dating for introverts. I remember reading the article and wondering if it was even real. In fact, some of my single friends have have been complaining of far lower supply of WhatsApp profiles from parents as well. I had simply not seen any evidence of promise on any of the dating or matrimonial apps I’d been on until last week.

Now that I had the chance to be featured on one of these articles, I started scouring through almost every piece of literature I could find on the internet about how to make your quarantine date interesting. There were tonnes of games one could play, watch movies together, have a meal together, people sent each other hand-made meals for the date and so on. But it was only our first date, so I needed to do something simple, yet memorable.

I’ll be honest, I am tired of being in the market. My family and I’ve been at this on and off for well over 5 years. I’m a little sick of putting myself out there every other day, answering the same questions over and over again or carrying the burden of initiating a conversation. I just want to kick back and have a wife, and nothing to worry about. Is that too much to ask? Is this the fate of sons whose family deity is Hanuman? I don’t know, but I am determined to win this time.

After some research, I decided that we should have dinner together. I sent her a Zoom invite for our dinner date, and texted her saying that I’d like to take her to a Mexican restaurant, and it would be great if she dressed up and brought along something that had a semblance of Mexico in her meal for our date. Of course, I’d do the same. She replied with a blushing smiley.

That’s a good thing, I guess?


8:30pm
Friday

I finished work early and cooked some rice and rajma, thanks to someone’s recipe on my Instagram feed. I took a shower, dressed up in a white full-armed shirt…

Okay, the button around my belly will pop out if I don’t hit the gym soon enough.

But that’s a worry for another day. Now, focus.

I setup my laptop on my desk and place a tall glass of water next to it and dunk a branch of the Gulmohar leaves like a vase in a restaurant. Cool, huh?

Wait, what if I drop the water on my laptop in panic. Terrible idea. I abandon it.

I sit on my chair in front of my desk with a plain wall behind me. The lighting is terrible. So, I shine my Ikea table lamp on my face. Now, too bright. Okay, we’ll just have to go with lesser light. May be I can turn the other way around. Ah, this is great.

It’s 8:55pm now. I run to the kitchen, serve myself hastily, add a little bit of salsa from the fridge, throw in some stale tortilla chips from the cupboard. Fuck, it’s expired I think. I run back to my desk. Phew, one more minute left. I quickly open the Zoom link, and settle in to make sure I’m not keeping her waiting or anything. She’s not here yet. Good. I click a picture of my plate, in case. It looks pretty good, I think. I’m only missing Guac, but the chips make up for the look.

Okay, it’s 9:02.

Clearly, punctuality isn’t her thing.

I figured while I wait, I could quickly scroll through that article about 36 questions you can ask someone on a date to bring you closer instantly. You know, that way, I can also seem cool about waiting. Or wait, should I just leave the meeting and join after 5min, so I can be the one who’s late? Yes, that’s it. Mastermind. Mwahaha.

I leisurely go through the first 10 questions, but then I’m too caught up in my power struggle charade to be able to concentrate, so I give up.

It’s 9:10 now.

10 minutes late is quite fashionable I think. I rehearse a little line about how I got late perfecting my garnish. I click on the zoom link…

Shit, she’s still not here.

Ok, I better text her. I pick the phone, and send her a message on WhatsApp - “Hey, have you reached el restaurante yet?”

No double tick yet. Itching for the message to go through and get delivered.

Strange, she’s removed her DP.

Now, I’m getting a bit antsy. I refresh and click back on WhatsApp.

Still no blue tick. Heck, no double tick either.

Shit, I hope she hadn’t got Corona and died off. No, she texted me just day before agreeing to meet me on Zoom. I’m sure it takes longer for you to contract the infection, suffer and die. So, no. Not corona.

May be she’s still not done with work? At least she would’ve texted saying she’ll be late or rescheduled.

What if she forgot?

I think I should call her.

Damnit, she’s not reachable.

May be her internet died. Yes, that’s it.

It’s 9:30. My rajma is getting cold. I better eat. Sigh.


10:00 am
Saturday

I woke up feeling completely spent. Suddenly I remember the proceedings of the night before, and look for my phone within my blanket.

2 notifications of WhatsApp. Phew.

Okay, it wasn’t her.

There’s still no blue tick.

And no, DP either.

Hmm has she just blocked me?!!

No.

No.

No no no.

I go back and re-read the last few messages we exchanged.

No awkward conversations. All pleasant smileys. No messages unanswered.

Oh wait, I can ping her on Shaadi. I click on the app and quickly go to my inbox. I try to text her. But wait, why does it say this member cannot be contacted?! She’s cancelled her invite?!!!

I go back to WhatsApp again. Re-read our messages. Okay, now I see it. She had started responding in mono syllables and smileys since our last call. Did I say something weird on the call? I tried to recount our conversation but couldn’t remember anything strange.

I did tell her that I was unhappy with my job, and I was looking to change careers. Did that scare her?! I mean, why should it? She’s not my mom. She’s an engineer turned photographer herself, so she should understand better than anyone else.

Why won’t she just reply?!

Did she just ghost me? This sucks. This sucks so bad. If there was just someway to know why she did it, I’d feel so much better. In fact, she could just dump me on my face, and I’ll be fine.

Wait, no. Lets put things into perspective - she sent me an interest. I wasn’t even that interested, but I was bored, so I accepted her interest. Come to think of it, she wasn’t that good looking.

Or was she? I forgot her face.

I went on Instagram to try and find her picture.

Damn, her account is private.

No, I am not going to send her a follow request. I’ll seem interested, which I’m clearly not. Right.

Instead, I decided to google her so I can get some latest news on her. I didn’t find much apart from some passport photo level pictures uploaded for professional purposes. I went back to WhatsApp, scrolled through once, and then deleted our chat with a heavy heart. Every time I do this, I feel a bit lighter, because a piece of me just dies, and evaporates with each chat.


11:00 am
Saturday

I started watching Money Heist on my own anyway. May be through the 4 seasons, I’ll figure out a way to get over this heartbreak too. I say heartbreak because I put myself out there, and god knows if I’ll ever have the strength to chat up another stranger again, let alone have the heart to want to spend the rest of my life with her. I am already on the wrong side of 30s. Suddenly I panicked, and picked up my phone. I click on the Shaadi app to find another match because you see, there’s no time to waste.

But as luck may have it, I inevitably clicked on the chat tab and found her being “Online now”.

Sigh.


More from Shapely Gal

Here’s a little sneak peak into the projects I’ve been working on since the last time I wrote to you.

  1. R&P - It’s an experiment I am trying with a friend, Rahul Kolle, who is almost a decade younger than me. We chat about lots of random things that lay at the intersection of love and communication, and post recordings of our conversation for public viewing. We had our first conversation last week, and we’ll soon be posting snippets of this conversation. It’s super fun, I promise.

  2. Arrange your own marriage - After kicking off this course with an awkward intro video last week, I am more convinced about the value of this course. I won’t let my shyness or inability to record/ edit videos from creating and sharing this content, thanks to the positive feedback that I’ve received from a few people so far. This week’s videos will be out on Thursday, so stay tuned.

  3. Marriage Market FAQ - I launched the first episode of this weekly FAQ session on Youtube last week, and I’ve recorded a few more weeks worth of videos, so quite excited to be doing this.


Sneak peak into …

What I’m reading:

  1. The Beekeeper of Aleppo by Christy Lefteri. This is a heartfelt story of a Syrian couple who’ve lost everything back home in Aleppo and are now in pursuit of a new home in England. This book traces their journey across Europe, and the love that holds them together through nothing but loss and trauma.

  2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery - I can’t believe I never read this book earlier, but I feel like this should be everyone’s 10th standard graduation present, especially for Indian kids.