Nearly 14 years ago, I found myself in a relationship because I didn’t know how to tell him that while I thought he was a nice guy, I didn’t like him romantically. I learned to love him (rather than fall in love naturally) and thankfully that relationship ended when I caught him cheating on me nearly 2 years later. I shed tears after the breakup, partly from relief and partly because I recognised that I didn’t know how to say ‘no’ at the right time (when he suggested we become exclusive). It was a mistake that I’ve never repeated in all these years.
The subsequent 12 years of dating, of rejecting or being rejected, have taught me that I have a knack for falling for bad boys who hurt me: good-looking, great fun with their devil-may-care attitude, emotionally unavailable when you need them the most but letting you know how much they love you just when you are giving up on them. After BF number 2 and 3 decided to break it off to marry family-approved girls who were ready to make them the priority in their lives, I was hurt and wary. And getting bored by the good guys who I end up hurting.
Related reading: Is premarital counselling necessary for both men and women?
I’ve learned how to recognise the difference between what I want and what I need; the difference between love, lust and crush; and, more importantly, how to be more myself even at the risk of never meeting my date again.
My views have broadened tremendously and I have formed hard and soft limits of what is acceptable or not acceptable to me in a relationship. Like that one guy with whom I clicked immediately. He was fun, intelligent and attractive. During our conversation, I realised that while he loved his parents, he was embarrassed by the fact they belonged to a scheduled caste. When he mentioned he had changed his surname to a socially acceptable one and kept some distance from his parents because he didn’t want to feel judged by his peers, it bothered me. The second date never happened.
However, one challenge of dating in India for single women in their 30s, like me, is that most men we meet on dates don’t understand the concept of dating. Most parents don’t teach their sons and daughters how to handle matters of the heart. Boys learn that it’s okay to sleep around when they are unmarried. Girls learn that boys want only one thing from us and that it’s our responsibility to remain chaste in body and mind. Both genders grow up learning messages that disregard a boy’s emotional needs and a girl’s sexual needs. Perhaps that’s truer for my generation and before.
Since many of my cousins are a decade younger than me, I’ve tried to learn from them. The younger generation of girls is less unsure of themselves. The new breed of boys are more sensitive and do think more emotionally. Not that there is no mess now, but the blindfold of love comes off a little quickly for them and they do often understand the difference between love and practical life or reality.
My cousin, dating a wonderful girl for a couple of years, was holding back proposing marriage because she was doing well as a lawyer and he knew his transferable job wouldn’t allow her to continue with her job. She gave him an ultimatum – either marry or it’s over. She later told me, “I was ready to make the changes needed to make the marriage work but he just kept feeling guilty! I had to give him the ultimatum because the relationship was going nowhere.” They’ve been married for over 4 years now. Another 23-year-old cousin broke up with a boyfriend: “Just because he’s a great guy doesn’t mean he’s the right one. I’ve recently started working and he’s getting jealous of my new work friends. Some time apart would help us both understand what we want in our lives.”
Call it selfishness or self-preservation, the younger generation shows signs of learning to depend on themselves first and not place the responsibility of their happiness on others.
In the meantime, the dating pool for a 30-something-year-old has fish, but the water is murky. It might take some time to find the right person who will complement your life but until then, keep diving in and remove the weeds and maybe wash away some of the outdated lessons we were taught by our parents and society in the process.