I am 35. An MBA with a job most people would envy, a bookworm, a traveller, with supportive family and friends, and with clear priorities in life. But I have never been in a relationship.
Until I met him.
After a random right swipe on Bumble, instead of spending time texting, I asked this man to meet me for dinner.
His first question when we met – “What if I’d been a serial killer?” – made me smile.
“Well, you’re not,” is what I think I was my response.
He proceeded to speak of everything – from introducing his family to politics to the protests taking place in Delhi then. When I told him I no longer keep in touch with my relatives, he said, “I approve” with such appreciation and laughter that I felt the warmth of genuine camaraderie.
We met again at the end of the week. He had asked me a quick set of questions – what do you think of having children? Do you dance? The directness of the questions had made me feel at ease. Here was someone who did not mind being open. Just like me!
“No. I don’t want kids – too much work.”
“And also, climate change?”
That had made me do a double take because very few people understood that not having kids because the world was going to be much worse off in the future is a conscious decision. How had I been lucky enough to stumble upon such a man?
“Do you dance?”
“Can’t, for the life of me.”
“I have two left feet too.”
The seemingly innocuous questions made me settle into his presence with more comfort.
I knew right then that I had wanted more. He was generous, he had been waiting with a chocolate bar the second time we had met because I had told him from the cab that I was famished. He liked flowers; he had sniffed appreciatively at the tuberose I’d picked up for the house at the end of our first dinner. He wrote essays for online publications – he had a way with words, and seemed to have a mission in life bigger than himself – a rare quality in today’s world.
We could not meet beyond those two times because the lockdown was sprung upon us. We continued to keep in touch. But by then, things had started to go wrong.
While I had thought we had been having fun, it appeared that he had been bored with our texts. Calls made me feel distinctly uncomfortable. But he seemed to prefer calls. This had been the first problem. When he had first suggested we should go our own separate ways is when I had had my first downward spiral. I sent him a PDF of reasons why we should explore dating each other instead of stopping contact. A cringe-fest, I know.
In my head, he had become all that I had been looking for in a partner. Generous, open, real, with the right words, and someone who thought of the world beyond himself. But, by this time, he had stopped engaging with me except for an occasional chat.
This is when my slide into very poor self-esteem began.
Having someone I regarded highly tell me the conversations we were having were not working out resulted in me feeling like I was not bright enough. I began to feel that something was wrong with me, that I had gaps to fill. I looked him up and followed him on social media platforms to understand him better. His observations on social media started to serve as a stream of consciousness against which I functioned every day, as the pandemic played out in India. Wave 1, Wave 2… all I wanted was to become someone he would grow to like.
This led me to read a lot, to take classes where I learnt how to think critically. Through the various lockdowns, I slowly went back to the straight-A student that I had been – well-informed about the world, and with the ability to have an opinion about some of the happenings of the world. This was the good part.
But, with the man, the opposite happened. I degenerated into a sort of stalker with zero sense of self.
My self-worth is now tied to what this man might think of me. I constantly think of him, his tweets, and his Instagram stories. I have woven a life around him, even though, to him, I may just be a random woman with whom he had two dinners. I comment on his tweets and participate in discussions with him so he might somehow see how I can have a decent conversation.
I fail miserably every time, so much so that now I have been blocked by him everywhere.
Which brings me to the question: did it have to have ended this way?
There is one lesson for me from this experience. Was it okay to let go of my sense of self?
A hard-won sense of self, hewn out of years of working on myself, cannot be abandoned at the threshold of the possibility of a relationship with a man I barely know. While I must keep working on myself to realise personal goals that I happened to leave on the wayside as the years passed by, flailing around in my head desperately seeking validation from one man is just not okay.
It’s not okay for anyone, but especially not for a 35-year-old woman who has come so far in life.
Sowmya Nagarajan is a 30-something year old who is tired of being inside her own head. You can find her on Instagram @electricpostcard on Instagram and @lechatnoirbutme on Twitter.
Featured image credit: Pariplab Chakraborty