'What's up? Do you like the sex?'
Chaya Babu on braving the dating trenches and offers that immediately get clicked into the trash.
I have an OKCupid account, and I recently downloaded Tinder, a dating app on which my first 'match' wrote me and asked, mere seconds after we chose yes for each other's profiles, "Hi. What's up? Do you like the sex?"
Yes, this is the norm on many dating sites.
I'm on the free ones, not exactly looking for any one particular thing, rather just interesting people, so perhaps it's no surprise that many users of the low-investment sites are browsing for easy hook-ups and casual flings.
There's a lot of weeding out and filtering and ignoring of messages that needs to happen, particularly as a woman, but I figure that's true of life in general.
My open and easy-going attitude -- or maybe it's really just an intense curiosity about the way things work, what people want and why, and how they go about getting those things -- led me to want to explore the other side of this.
I decided to go to an Indian dating event.
The idea of this was foreign to me even though it shouldn't have been; I am, after all, a 31-year-old Indian-American female who knows well the culture of Indian matchmaking and relationship seeking, even if just peripherally from growing up hearing about older cousins' and family friends' urgency to meet someone from a good family, with compatible education and work, whose religious values and sense of community fit into their lives, and, of course, someone with whom they felt chemistry. The possibility for romance. The spark.
At Bharat Matrimony's Spark Singles event in midtown Manhattan, a four-hour affair that cost me $43.05, I shuffled in a few minutes late from the polar vortex that dominated most of January.
I got in line to get a nametag and two pink sheets of paper, one with instructions for how the event was going to work, and another with a list of men's names and a field to check off "yes" or "no" for each one. That was for the speed dating part of the day.
The men's sheets, being handed out in a separate line, were light blue.
In the dining area, men and women who appeared to be mostly in their 30s were separated by interest (though the event flyer said women 23 to 33 and men 25 to 35 and don't even get me started on that gendered age difference BS) for the mingling part of the event.
As far as I could tell, there was little mingling and mostly awkward silences as people looked around blankly.
I chose 'Food and Wine' by default, since neither 'Sports' nor 'Health & Fitness' nor 'Outdoor Activities' nor 'Movies' appealed to me. As a creative type, I could have chosen 'Museum & Theater', but since
I eat and drink more than I do either of those things, I sat with the winos.
To my left was an Indian-American woman who looked to be a few years younger than me and said she travelled a lot for her consulting job and thus didn’t get a lot of opportunities to meet people. So her dad insisted she come.
"He didn't make me," she said, laughing, her demeanor relaxed. "But I live close to here, so I figured why not? Try something new. You know?"
She reminded me of a type of Indian girl I knew at Duke: Poised, pretty, professional.
On the opposite side of me was Jagdish*. He had glasses and dense spikey black hair and was kind of muscly for an Indian dude. He said he was from Hyderabad and lived in New Jersey. He worked for AT&T.
"Don't take advantage!" he said, laughing heartily.
"Sorry?" I said, smiling politely. I didn't get it.
"Don't take advantage! Because of AT&T and you need phone service!"
It took me a second to grasp what he meant -- both because I found the joke to be not funny and because of his accented English -- but I couldn't help but laugh at his good-natured humour.
I listened to the table conversation and sat quietly for a moment.
The people talking were the consulting woman and two men, one who was balding and another with salt-and-pepper hair, parted and slicked to one side, both in button-down shirts and blazers.
It seemed they worked in the field as well; together the three of them joked about their jobs and threw a lot of, 'Yeah!'s around in mutual understanding. They had American accents like mine.
As one of the event hosts walked to the middle of the room to announce that speed dating was about to begin, I noticed two new women come in.
One was very attractive, with angular features, wavy brown hair that looked like she had slept with a braid and then took it out, and a silk scarf tied around her neck with a snug sweater.
The other had a rounder face and long straight hair, but equally put-together in a beige knee-length dress.
They looked like they could work in either fashion or finance and fit well into both places.
The tables were numbered and we paired off randomly into male-female conversations, with the guys getting up to rotate every five minutes.
I got Jagdish first, so we continued our friendly conversation from earlier. He said he liked living in the US, but was ready to meet someone; he likely wouldn’t move back to India because his job here was really good.
He had been to New York City only a handful of times, and I explained that I grew up in the area, had been in and out of the city since college, and was living in Brooklyn. Then our time was up.
"I hope to be crossing the lines with you again," he said, smiling as he got up to move to the next table.
Next was Chetan. He was in a plaid button-down shirt and had a flat, kind of cratered face.
"Hi, I'm Chaya," I said, moving my scarf slightly to show my name tag.
"Where you belong?" he said, his accent thick, his R rolled heavily.
"Excuse me? I... don't..." I wasn't sure what he was asking.
"I belong Gujarat. Where you belong?"
"Oh. I was raised outside of New York. In Westchester. It's just north of the city," I explained.
"You born and brought up here?" he asked.
"That's interesting." He paused for a second before moving on to, “Where your parents belong?”
"Umm… my parents are from Mysore," I said, assuming that’s what he meant.
"Mysore. South. Okay."
He was thinking, placing me. He asked a bunch of other similar questions, some of which were easy to decipher and others less so. He too lived in New Jersey, and worked an IT job, though I couldn’t grasp the exact nature of it.
"Basically I'm a techie," he said, although that didn't clarify much for me.
I was happy when the five minutes were up.
The next guy, who looked a little like a chipmunk, with big front teeth and a sloping chin, had thinning hair and clammy hands. He also worked in IT, had come in for the day from New Jersey, and told me his work was boring.
Then was Akshay, from Mumbai but now a New Yorker after having been here for 14 years.
He looked like he was going to fall asleep, had a belly that folded slightly over his belt, said he worked for a "Big 4" consulting firm, and sneered angrily when I referred to India as the developing world.
"What do you mean developing?" he said.
"What? What do you mean? It’' a non-industrialised nation. It's part of the developing world."
"No it's not. It's developed."
Why was this an argument?
"It's not an opinion," I said. "I'm not, like, criticising India. That's an economic reality of the country."
I was annoyed. That conversation needed to be over.
Nikhil, a resident at a hospital in Long Island, was easier to talk to.
He grew up in Pennsylvania, lived in Brooklyn as well, and, after he admitted that his parents made him come, we shared a few laughs about our families, Indian dating stuff, and the day so far.
He was on the shy side and was either bored of me, bored of the event, or just generally bored as a personality trait. He was cool though. I was glad he was who I got stuck with in the rotation when we took a break for lunch. Even though I thought I was too chatty for him, he seemed to at least get me.
As we ate, I noticed the two well-dressed women from the beginning put on their jackets and leave. Dammit, I thought. I had really wanted to hear their thoughts about the speed dating. But I guessed their exit gave me a clue.
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Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com
'I felt oceans apart from these men'
After lunch, it was more of the same.
It seemed that about 18 of about 22 men were from India.
There were a lot of IT jobs and Jersey in the mix, with one guy living in White Plains and going to school to get a degree in information systems.
One asked me what I thought of Dinesh D'Souza, and I was happy to have a conversation about something. He seemed smart, but alas, we had five minutes so we couldn't really get into it.
One who said he was from Toronto but had a vague non-Canadian accent, worked at a hedge fund, had lived in Tokyo and Cuba, and had a self-satisfied air about him, pushed a pad of paper toward me before getting up and said, "Write your number down."
"That's not how this works," I said.
He knew that. The deal was that you check off 'yes' for the people you want to meet again and the Bharat Matrimony people would contact you if you got any matches.
In the end, I didn't check off 'yes' for anyone. And when I talked to three women as we stood waiting for the ladies' room, there was a lot of eye-rolling, thumbs-down gestures, and complaints about how frustrated they were.
"I've been to some of these, and I always hope they will be better but today was such a waste," said one, who was tall but had the face of a little girl.
I wondered about the gender divide.
Quite a few of the guys I talked to expressed interest in connecting further and -- because I asked since I'm nosey and inquisitive -- they admitted that they found the women overall desirable to interact with.
The opposite seemed true in the opposite direction. Two women walked out halfway through and the others I spoke to, a small percentage but a random selection, were thoroughly disappointed.
I couldn't get a good read of how the female half of the participants were split between Indian, Indian American, and Indian something else. But from where I sat, there was an immediate rift between myself and most of the men, purely based on our respective upbringings.
I've lived in Mumbai and I don't believe relationships can't work between people raised on different continents, but in this particular setting, I felt oceans apart from these men and couldn't bridge that in five minutes.
We communicate differently, ask different questions about each other to assess potential, and likely express attraction and interest in different ways.
Now I know to do a bit more research to make sure a "dating" event is targeting someone who fits my cultural profile.
I'm not sure about the others, but for me, it's back to OKCupid. At least the questions the men ask me are easier to understand, even if they immediately get clicked into the trash.
*All names changed to protect identity
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh/Rediff.com