40 And Single: Notes On A Non-Existent Dating Life

27/11/2015 8:44 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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Close up of broken heart on computer keyboard

Perhaps because I have not yet evolved into a higher species that doesn't need companionship, I enrolled on a matrimonial website some months back. That enrollment was half-hearted. Like a petulant child, I had hoped that at least now, after a bad marriage and the resultant heartbreak, God would send me my soulmate. No such luck!

So, I thought the "assisted" unit of (not its real name) would do the chore of going through likes and dislikes, and come up with agreeable matches. As a first step, a profile had to be created for their main website. An executive explained the process over the phone. I realised with some alarm that they had zealously posted my profile on several domains -- Hindi, divorcee, and 40-plus. I must say right away that I wasn't 40 at the time of registering. And since the profile on the main website was not complete, the name they gave me on their numerous pages was "Later".

"[T]he thing is I don't trust my judgment... Who is to say well-read, widely-travelled, polished exteriors rule out cruel interiors?"

"Dear Later, new matches for today," announced their daily mails. The profiles of many men started landing in my inbox. Dark glasses were quite popular among men from Patiala, Chittoor, Arkansas in United States of America, Ernakulam, Meerut, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore, Durg in Chhattisgarh, Regina in Canada, Bhubaneswar and California. Most of them didn't seem my type. The few who did sported warm confident smiles and had shiny eyes. But the thing is I don't trust my judgment either. Who is to say well-read, widely-travelled, polished exteriors rule out cruel interiors?

That, and after an age, relocating for a partner is not an attractive concept. Going the distance for a long-distance relationship is okay, to my mind, if the partner is an overnight journey away by train or bus. I dread losing Hyderabad after having lost Delhi, the city where I was born and raised. I would not like to shift to Chennai or Ernakulam or Jaisalmer or London or New York. Actually, scratch New York. Movies and sitcoms paint a rosy picture of the place; it'd be nice to experience the Empire state of mind regardless of a significant other!

The young executives at the website insisted that more suitable matches would be sent if I paid up for their "assisted" service. Fine, I said. I requested them to send the collection staff at 7pm, warning them that I wouldn't answer the doorbell after 7.30. My neighbourhood gets dark, deserted and quiet at night. Their staff came after 8, and kept ringing the bell. In the daytime, their executives from Delhi had called ad nauseam. It seemed they were more desperate to get me married than I was.

I wrote them a mail saying that I was rethinking the whole idea of looking for a spouse and that they should not contact me anymore. Instead I got a mail saying, "I Apologize for this inconvenience cause to you. we will send the Filed executive on same time. We are holding this discount Offer for you. Please revert on this email. As this offer is valid for limited period only. [sic]"

I felt sorry for them. These were young people in their early 20s under extreme pressure to bring in business while depending on algorithms to set up something that is essentially unpredictable. They were trying to be matchmakers for people much older than themselves.

That's a feat even my dad couldn't pull off more than a decade ago. More and more parents in urban settings prefer that their children spare them the responsibility of finding grooms and brides. This is especially true of parents for whom the resource pool of caste, community and a wide social circle is fast receding. And matrimonial ads in newspapers can be obnoxious. They want women to be "milky white", and to come from a "status family," whatever that means.

"If you are 40 and single, chances are you're embarrassed to spell out how much heartbreak you've been through even to yourself."

After the website fiasco, I decided to get in touch with a high-end platform that helps urban and educated singles find a life-partner. This was their straightforward response: "Thank you for your interest. Our members are in their late twenties and early thirties. We're in the process of building a separate cohort of members that are in your age group, but have not yet gathered a critical mass." Right, never too early to hear one is getting on in age. Again, I wasn't 40 at the time. If you are 40 and single, chances are you're embarrassed to spell out how much heartbreak you've been through even to yourself.

There is another "bespoke" matchmaking service that connects "the very best" of busy Indian professionals from around the world. I asked if they have members in my age group. Their answer: "We do have members in this demographic, but they would be based outside Hyderabad (Mumbai; Bangalore; international cities)."

I can't exactly pinpoint why I didn't pursue them. Perhaps I didn't believe them.

You might wonder why I don't consider dating sites. I don't have a smartphone (this is a personal choice) and dating forums these days are usually apps. Also, from the few sites I browsed it seems men are either too young or too old or are "attached males looking for females."

So, here I am -- looking, yet not looking. I had thought that the previous abusive marriage would have cured me of the desire for love. No such luck! I realise I am an anachronism in today's throw-away society. Treating relationships as short-lived, disposable items is de rigueur now. "Moving on" is the great mantra. Kangana Ranaut once famously said on Koffee with Karan, "It takes 15 days to get over someone."

Perhaps it's for the best that many in the human species have developed such a Zen attitude towards tackling impermanence. But I wonder why this outlook is largely missing when people suffer losses in career and wealth.

"I guess it is okay to not know what's in store and flounder in the sea of longing."

Here are a few insights from my limited experience in dating. Disclaimer: It's likely other women might have the exact opposite views. First, a man you meet through a website could flirt with you even if he may not be romantically interested in you. Second, if someone is chatting or talking with you frequently and with a lot of verve, don't assume he (or she) is single.

The third insight I'd like to share with an anecdote. Nearly a year back a policy-framer, think-tanker, celebrated single writer living in Delhi was quite keen to initiate intimacy through technology, even as he refused to call that kind of closeness real. Romantic rendezvous through virtual means, according to him, should not be taken to heart. So, please don't assume that an intimate connection, technology or no technology, will naturally be construed as serious and deep. Please don't assume that it'd be considered casual either.

I guess it's important to find friendships rather than just romantic relationships. And I guess it is okay to not know what's in store and flounder in the sea of longing. It is absolutely alright to not be able to decide if one's dating life is funny or pathetic. Not all beautiful, charming and kind people are taken. Some of us belong to that tribe, and that's okay.

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