Dear Mr. Narcissist, Yours Truly, The Cool Girl
The Anatomy of Modern Dating
By Rini Bankhwal
Disclaimer: No animals were hurt while writing this article. Only a few hearts broken and some bridges burnt. I almost pitched this story to the makers of Black Mirror. Based on true stories.
Welcome to dating in 2018- where we are all epicureans, soaked in culture, we quote Bukowski in our sleep, we love to travel, we're single, looking for love and we “just wanna hang”. The nouveau intellectual tribe of India’s urban pockets are the converted liberals who swipe right with their guards up high, are open to the many formats of relationships, and in the quest of writing their own rules, treat commitment like a cult practice.
India is the land of contradictions- the birthplace of old, puritanic love, Taj Mahal and also the creator of lust and polyamory, Kama Sutra. We’re atheists who won’t touch our tikkas on Tuesdays. Of course, we’re confused. Is the new found surge in sexual liberalism-in form of new age dating practices- a rebellious outcry towards our baby boomer parents or are we genuinely ready for it? Add to this cocktail, a solid few shots of dating apps. With Tinder toy in hands, swiping left & right became the favourite game and gave a platform to the liberal for mingling. But is digital dating making us a frivolous, rude generation which is losing its ability to emotionally connect as it navigates through the ‘market’?
PEOPLE WHO ‘CYNIC’ TOGETHER, DON’T STAY TOGETHER
Tinder: 0, Me: 1
After pestering me for weeks to “get out there”, a friend sets me up on a date. Because, as bizarre as it sounds, you can’t take your career with you to attend weddings these days. Whowouldathunk? The thing with this guy was that there was too much hair game. Though the Abe Lincoln whiskers for a pogonophile like me is quite a treat, the problem with boys who take longer to do their hair than you is that they take longer to do their hair than you. For convenience’s sake, let’s call this guy Mr. S in the upcoming references. You know, just because.
Mr. S and I ditch the dinner route and meet for coffee instead- easy breezy. Our coffee date goes on for four hours and when we hug each other goodbye, I am left wanting for more. Guards up, swipe right, it’s a match!
Mr. S and I, over the course of the next few weeks, do everything- movie dates, drinks with friends followed by mindless kissing in clubs, rooftop dinners in Delhi’s moonlit nippy nights. We indulge each other in mental masturbation invoked by our philosophies of life, through the night, as petrichor filled our lungs. We croon to Arctic Monkeys at 3 am, make travel plans to the hills and since we were geeky, we make our goals sheets for the year to see how they aligned with each other’s. We drive from nowhere to nowhere listening to throwback songs from the early 90s. We dissect Medium articles and feed off each other’s episolatory text messages.
Rewind and Superlike. (Tinder plus, anyone?)
He says ‘Let’s go to Japan’, I say ‘Let’s go to a sushi place in Delhi’. It is kinda perfect.
Down the rabbit hole we go
After 3 months of ‘hanging out’ and with the to be or not to be looming over our heads, I finally ask “What are we?”. When you are a liberal (or so you think- aka ‘The Cool Girl’ syndrome. But more on that later), you’re more akin to respecting a person for being honest than being bizarre.
‘The Cool Girl’, a figment of Gillian Flynn’s imagination, is brought to life in David Fincher’s Gone Girl. ‘Hot and understanding. Cool Girls never get angry; they only smile in a chagrined, loving manner and let their men do whatever they want. Go ahead, shit on me, I don’t mind, I’m the Cool Girl.’ Though, Fincher’s ‘Cool Girl’ was an extrapolation of ingrained misogyny, my ‘Cool Girl’ drew a line right there. Mine surfaced in more diluted, poised ways- ‘I don’t entirely agree with you, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.’
Maybe I’m learning. Maybe in reverse.
And as for Mr. S, self-proclaimed king of digital dating, he wanted to play Mr. Liberal. The sexually liberal, the preachers of honest-to-god free love. The ones who in the garb of challenging the status quo, operate in the grey or at least have the self-appointed ‘hall pass’ to do so. They put all their cards on the table- no lying, no cheating, no underhanded low blows and no labels. Okay then.
But (you know there’s a ‘but’ coming) at some point during crafting our own rules, I begin to grow weary of being chill and start to push for exclusivity.
Uber: 1, Me: 0
At this point, Mr. S & I have been dating for a whole of 4 months and I’m walking on stilts as elegantly as I can. I don’t know where this is going. In this emotional acrobatics, I’m balancing ‘the cool girl’ and the girl who likes to cut her losses.
The night I see him for the last time, we go to a rooftop bar with a bunch of friends, which eventually becomes an extended party of shrinking degrees of separation. As the night draws to a close, I book an Uber for Mr. S, me and one of his friends who lives enroute. Logistically, it makes sense for me to get dropped off first. “So lovely to meet you!” I excitedly express as I hug our friend, blow air kisses to Mr. S and get out of the cab. The next morning, my Uber notification tells me that my ex cab-mates went straight back to his place after dropping me home. (Uber, you sneaky matchmaker!) One minute you’re sharing cigarettes with people, talking about that movie that changed your life or the jobs we all hate and the next minute, they’re all aliens from a bad dream. Even in the most Lady Di-esque ways, scandal ain’t pretty.
When I confront him, I am presented with ‘The Legal Handbook of Dating’, which is basically to say that I know this sucks, but we were never exclusive. Sometimes it is a tough choice between being respectful and just having a good time, maybe?
That day I take turns between feeling sick to my stomach and feeling livid.
Zomato: 1, Me:1
While the remnants of my escapades with Mr. S are only fading off, I’m trying to salvage a weekend and introspecting on the depleting calibre of my judgement, with a bunch of friends. It’s a pleasant weekday evening within a suburban living room in Mumbai. French Montana’s ‘No I love yous’ (“We can do it all night but no I love yous”) seems to be making a lyrical point in the background like nobody’s business. Anecdotes from mental sorcery of dating are going down amidst a bunch of serial daters while I’m busy chugging pints of lager. We’re biting into a whole lot of words like gaslighting, mega-dating & catch-n-release along with the gluten-free hipster pizza, as if these words were straight out of Wren & Martin- why does this part of vocabulary even exist?
Kim talks about submarining, with an enlightened sense of being. You know, when an ex-date surfaces from nowhere as if nothing has changed and as if you’ve just been waiting for him like Rose from Titanic. Guffaws follow. Arjun talks of the woman who kept leading him on(breadcrumbing) and then completely disappeared on him (ghosting). But that high of newness has kept him swiping. I disagree- isn’t every new date like a rehash of an old date? You’re basically operating on a sort of muscle memory, knowing that you’ve said the exact same thing to someone else across the dinner table. I know of guys who’ve plastered the same dialogue from one Tinder chat to the next like a template. Why would you want newness when the new feels so old? (This is right before I declare that I need an annual cat subscription. Is there a startup for that yet?). But the collective voice of the group is trying to convince me that it’s all about volume dating now. And there are no rules. Oh there’s also a breed of sexist men around the block who’ve developed a pretentious new facade of being politically correct about feminism. How very exciting.
There we were, baeless in Bombay, carb-loading on beers and home-delivered pizza, legitimizing the existence of shitty dating habits by attributing new vocabulary to it. Yet we were so incapable of understanding that these dating stories were breaking the collective hearts of our generation wider and wider open.
We are all like designer drugs
Imagine waking up one day with just too many Superlikes on Tinder (yes, you!). Who are you anymore? You might just be God’s gift to mankind. Like Zeus of hooking up? Or some such. What has changed in the last decade that has led to this drastic commodification of dating (and sex, in particular), you ask? And I say, that the dating apps might have something to do with it.
While a research has proven that social media usage is directly linked to narcissism and low self-esteem, dating apps go one step further in using looks to measure someone up.
We are all high on our own selves, finding many ways to validate our presence through instant gratifications, giving rise to a culture that might just be overlooking intellect and glorifying the garbage notion of self love at the cost of another person. And for every narcissist that demands attention, there is a cool girl/guy willing to feed into their desires, till it becomes a loop of emotional abuse. Even those who’ve survived the mosh pit of dating don’t completely understand the economics of emotional abuse- the fact that the idea of ‘too many options’ is worsening our quality of interactions and making delinquent behaviour more passable in bigger numbers. Maybe, while we are busy swiping each other to the moon and back, we need a manifesto that declares guidelines of ethical dating before this emotional abuse becomes the strangest modern epidemic of our times.
Meanwhile, I make the sexiest move I’ve made so far.
(A version of this article was first published in Arre)