Love in the Time of Dating

Photo Credit: Johnny Lai

Over the last few years, I must have started writing this piece about twenty odd times before news of some grave tragedy popped up on my screen. Each time I stopped, scratched off or deleted whatever I had produced, because writing about romantic love or sex almost always seemed trivial, particularly in light of the gross injustices unfolding every day across our world. Not to mention that it is my socioeconomic privilege (among a few other kinds of privilege) that even allows me to lament about my pursuit of love, pleasure and partnership without having to worry about the basic necessities of life. However, a couple of days ago when I was feeling similarly disillusioned, I realized, that it is exactly in this kind of world, where hate and oppression can be found at every street corner, that it is okay to talk about love more often. It is exactly because we live in this kind of cold world that we need to call out the unkind, uncaring, disrespectful and dismissive nature of contemporary casual dating. Because there is enough cruelty going around without needing love to be defined by it.

About a year ago, I found myself lying on the floor of a public bathroom having a break down. I had never felt this devastated before and I scared myself with the intense sadness and heartbreak that I was feeling at the time. Thankfully, there was no public in this public bathroom or else I would have scared them off too. The next few days were difficult and isolating because I had no idea how to get out of this “mood”. I am no expert on matters of the mind and so I will not play fast and loose with the word “depression” but I will say that it was intense and I could have done with some help. Seeking help for matters of the mind is a stigma in the society that I come from and having internalized it over the years, despite knowing better, I did not seek help. Eventually, I placed the needs of completing university over needs of my mental health and tucked my pain away (as if).

The reason I was on said bathroom floor was because after yet another bout of casually dating and sleeping with someone, I had been dismissed. This dismissal had not actually been communicated to me by this seemingly wonderful man through his words, but had been implied in their absence. Basically, like had happened to me at least a few half dozen times before with a few half dozen other seemingly interesting men (irrespective of their geography and nationality, for those who might want to blame “culture”) , this man had grown disinterested in me, my body and my personhood. Or at least that is how I perceived it.

See when someone decides to stop interacting with you completely, after you have shared an intimate sexual and/or emotional situation (because who dares to say relationships anymore) without any notice or communication, it does not just feel like a rejection, it feels like a dismissal of your entire being. They take away from you your sense of personhood when after having shared intimate moments with you, they suddenly deem you not even worthy of a “hey, it’s not working out anymore” conversation. Because as painful as rejections can be, they at least give you some sense of closure. But such is the lack of responsibility, consideration and thoughtfulness that exists today- both on and off tinder.

Anyone who tells you that you are looking in the wrong places aka tinder is basically telling you that certain places justify this sort of cruel behavior. This unkindness is not exclusive to online dating. The dating history of some of my closest friends as well as mine will testify to this fact. After all, the douche bag (to put it eloquently) who had sex with my friend a few minutes after I refused to have sex with him was someone I met through a real world mechanism called common friends.

To clarify, douche bag and I had previously hooked up (albeit a year ago) when he didn’t seem like one. On this particularly memorable occasion, a couple of us friends were at his apartment for an after-party. He kissed me a few times that night and tried hard to get me in bed. But his drunken stupor combined with his relentless persistence had put me off enough for that night and so I did not oblige. I distinctly remember telling him that I didn’t want to because amongst other things (including my lack of interest) it would have hardly mattered who was in bed with him. And sure enough, a few minutes later, he was in bed with my friend. While I was still in the apartment, mind you. Class act, clearly.

The reason I described this almost comically uncomfortable incident is not to vilify anyone, him or my friend. For one, I confronted my friend and after a difficult period we worked things through. Two, I like to believe that you are not entirely defined by your bad or terrible decisions. Said man, like my friend, is a very accomplished and intelligent person. The reason, however, that I choose to narrate it is to exemplify how uncaring and inconsiderate we can be. This is also just one among many other instances of dating and hooking up that left me feeling dispensable, nonessential, etc. I know I have been insensitive and unkind too in my life and I hope that I will continue to be called out on it as I have been in the past. Because there just never is an excuse for cruelty in the quest for love.

Apart from the self-doubt, self-hate and self-loathing that you begin to internalize- my biggest frustration and epiphany has been that I have allowed these incidents to manifest into a pattern in my life. Because love became so hard to come by I began to seek out situations where I was willing to casually hook up with someone without ever holding them (like the nice man mentioned above) or sometimes even myself accountable for anything- even when there was a hint of an emotional attachment in addition to attraction. Not only did I stop expressing my feelings for fear of seeming “needy” but I also began to perceive honest expressions of interest as needy. Any number of blogs on the internet mocking modern dating will tell you the vicious cycle that is “playing it cool” while dating.

None of this is to say that every date needs to turn into something serious. None of this is to take away from the joy or choice of engaging in consensual sex for the sake of pleasure without wanting more. I have enjoyed that on occasion. I am just saying that we do not need to conflate kindness and consideration with commitment, monogamy or marriage. Marriage has never been a life goal for me (if it ever was, it only was because society told me it needs to be) but I do expect respect and honesty no matter the nature of our situation. I expect dialogue and conversation. If you are capable of starting a relationship, however brief, please be humane enough to end it.

So why am I sharing these explicit intimate details of my life? Apart from weeding out judgemental folks off my friend list, (I kid), I want to tell all the amazing people who are looking for love, partnership, pleasure or something in between to hang in there. To not let this define you, to not lose faith and to not lose the ability to love yourself and to not lose your voice in this heart and mind numbing journey. Your value is not defined by someone’s insensitivity. At the same time, I also want us to check ourselves and try and be a little gentler with one another- you never know who you are pushing over the edge with your unkindness.

In my own experience, the ability to trust myself and others has become a casualty of this war called love- I recently experienced this after going out with a man, who might actually turn out to be wonderful or better yet, mature enough to talk, to be kind and to communicate should his feelings for our situation change. Despite his behavior to the contrary, I am waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop and for him to pull the disappearing act. This disturbing way in which my unresolved pain from over the last decade has manifested itself became apparent when I found myself curled up once again in tears- albeit this time on my bed and after not a disappearing act but after a few wonderful dates. So in this case, I do hope that only thing to disappear is my lack of faith in love, my inability to trust myself and others.

This post is a plea to my fellow love seekers to not lose courage and heart. Be kind, be heard and demand what you want out of love, pleasure or whatever else. We may not always get what we want but we can at least try and leave a fewer broken hearts and hopes in the collective wake of our quests for love and lust, yours and mine included.

Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.”