Culture, Dating

Love in the Time of Cloud: Architecting the Ideal Partner

It’s been well over thirty years since the release of Weird Science. For those of you unfamiliar with the plot of the classic 80’s flick, it goes a little something like this: two high school nerds use highly questionable computational and engineering methods to build themselves the “perfect” woman. While I can’t speculate as to how close the global scientific community is to achieving the ends laid out by Gary and Wyatt in the film (most likely dangerously close), I can say that societally, we now have other means for building the “perfect” companion in our brains. Technology gives us the power to fill in the many blanks presented by the potential partners we come across.

The blanks exist because these would-be partners want it that way. Anyone who wants us to know more  simply divulges to us to the information we seek. Yet we trudge on, stalking Facebook profiles, Instagram feeds, Spotify playlists etc. for anything we can find, determined to fall in love with who we think someone is. On top of that, we pair what we find with the tiny tangibles we are given to convince ourselves someone is “right” for us. Really, it’s what a person has resolutely and very selectively projected to us that we are so attracted to. Logic doesn’t seem to matter much in this arena. We know better. Despite sounder judgment, borderline-obsessive internet sleuthing in various degrees of severity persists in many of us. I must confess to it personally. While what we find isn’t always real, I’ve concluded that the feelings we generate in the process are.

Part I: The Setup

I vowed to stay off “the apps” for the first year in Boston, my new home as a law student. I wouldn’t need them. Dating in this city had already proven vastly more promising than in San Francisco. I was off to an auspicious start. I connected with a young and handsome MIT professor, a Newport Beach native, who conversed with me for the entirety of my flight from Orange County (a story for a different day). Furthermore, men in bars here actually talked to me. This was a discernible difference from the 20-somethings mindlessly staring at their phones while half-gyrating on the dance floors of the Marina. The same ones, only interested in a drunken night of non-passion either way.  I possessed bountiful optimism for finding lust and possibly even love in my new home, 3000 miles away from the Marina “fuckbois.”

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Three weeks as a Boston dweller, and I had been asked out in every social space I ventured to. Blessed with pleasant weather and armed with my fabulous LA wardrobe, I felt unstoppable. The only problem, if we can call it that, was that the gentlemen doing the asking were not of the variety I was interested in. Physically or otherwise. I will confess right now to being highly selective about the people with whom I spend my time. The individuals in my life are curated to perfection and hand-selected for quality. I demand excellence in friends and romantic partners alike. I seek it out. Most call it “picky,” but I loathe the negative connotation picky implies. I will never apologize (except to my parents when I am 40 and single) for the pains and care I take in human quality control. This being the case, the men of the bars, while all nice and with gainful employment, had not interested me enough for more than innocent flirtations and witty-banter-exchange . I was holding out for more.

On a slightly windy evening in early October, I gathered a hodgepodge of friends from various stages of my life. We indulged in Thai, immediately following indulging my escape room hobby. My focal point for the evening was an old friend I had not seen in well over a decade. Mentally, I was hoping he could be the “more” I was holding out for. Finishing up his last year at HBS and returning to California to work, he fit the bill as far as my logistical needs were concerned. Beyond this, our “story” would be adorable (also for another day). This night was my chance to see if we had anything in common beyond the hometown we hailed from. One hour into the evening, I bit into half of a particularly juicy plum tomato. The juice somehow squirted across the table onto this gentleman’s white shirt.  He laughed it off. My profuse apologies ended only because of my realization that the incessant “sorry-s” were more annoying than the light stain itself. Two hours in to the evening, I determined that I would be more than happy to date this man.  When the conversation inevitably shifted to the roundtable “state of the union” update on all attendees’ romantic lives, I took my shot when he did not offer up any information.

Holding my water glass and maintaining a coy smile, I “unassumingly” asked “What about you Ravi*? Are you seeing anyone right now?” For some (very stupid, non-) reason, I convinced myself the answer would be a resounding no, and I would make my move. Instead, my long-lost middle school chum replied enthusiastically in the affirmative. “Yeah! I actually just started seeing someone.” I maintained a poker face, listening to him tell me about this wonderful new woman. She was a resident at one of the Harvard teaching hospitals in the area. Goddamnit. No one can compete with a hot doctor. I then feigned happiness for him (only half-feigned, really; it’s difficult for me to not be happy for my friends and strangers alike). However, I was sure to ask one final question before the conversation and evening progressed. “How did you two meet?” “On Coffee Meets Bagel,” he told me.

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Fuck it. Three hours and two Moscow mules later, I was composing a witty “about me” section and specifying age and height preferences at my desk as I broke the vow.

Part II: Modern ‘Serendipity’

 “He’s already liked you!” the text at the top of the screen notified me. I mentally thanked this friendly internet stranger for validating me before taking a closer look.  You’re definitely cuter than him, I thought to myself, as I scrutinized over the grainy photos on his Coffee Meets Bagel profile. But his eyes look so kind. And he’s a doctor. But he’s probably too old for you. He most likely wants to get married and have children by yesterday.

It never ceases to amaze me how much more thought and attention women give to online dating profiles than men do. I liken my process, versus that of a standard man, to a holistic college admissions process versus one based purely on a GPA or standardized test score (represented by photos in this analogy). I’m not criticizing the latter methodology (or lackthereof). It’s all a crapshoot. I like to think of my “admission standards” as high, but no data links my selective criteria to more overall success than a man’s simpler process. I hate the “admissions reader” version of myself. I truly hate her. That version of me is shallow and more binary and cold than I am as a real person. It all feels so synthetic and wrong. Why wasn’t I lucky enough to have a college sweetheart I got to know as a friend first, or locked eyes with a nerdy stranger possessing superior literary taste at a charming used bookstore in Cambridge, or gotten stuck in an elevator with a friendly software developer bearing a crooked smile? Alas, none of these things appeared to be my fate. There would be no such “meet-cute.” If I could regularly make friends on airplanes and in supermarket lines, why was a similar chance encounter encompassing romance so difficult? For much of my life, I held an inherent belief that I was destined for some such serendipitous encounter. But here I was at 24, on my stupid dating app, making the best of what felt like my stupid, obligatory millennial fate. And I had to decide: did this perfect stranger belong in the reject or accept pile? I was taking longer on him than my normally efficient process allowed.

He truly was a borderline case.  I’ll admit that the idea of a physician as a romantic partner has secretly always appealed to me. I say secretly because it’s not something I like to share or say out loud. Given my race, it feels extra stereotypical to want to be with one (it also seems strange, generally speaking, to want to be with a person because of what they do for a living). I can’t count the number of eye rolls I’ve shot at friends as they recount another “alliance” their families are trying to push on them. He’s a cardiothoracic surgeon. She’s a fellow at Stanford. He just started his residency at UCLA. I’ve heard it all. Yet, when I’m through rolling, my eyes do beam, if only momentarily, before I move on to a more productive use of brain capacity. There really is something special about the idea of doctors collectively, in their purest form, individual personhood put aside.

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It has never been about status, or the way-too-many episodes of Grey’s Anatomy/House M.D. I’ve seen. Rather, I have always enjoyed the company of those who speak fluent biology. Human genetic disorders fascinate me endlessly (Klinefelter’s syndrome is my “favorite” chromosomal abnormality). I think resized and hand-painted karyotypes would be a cool mod-art/gift trend. As an electrical engineer, life sciences-based devices are my favorite variety to read up on and study. I find partners who can teach me about areas I know very little about, but retain an active interest in, the most alluring. I could listen to patient case studies for hours. Simply put, I find the combination of subject matter expertise, altruism, and problem solving skills that I (perhaps wrongfully?) assume all physicians possess to some degree incredibly sexy. I also find many of the ones I meet are painfully arrogant/ego-centric, forever playboys (more power to them), or do not value the company of those outside their profession during daytime hours. Sadly, none of these experiences have kept me from continuing to (secretly) find physicians irresistibly attractive.

On this particular day, looking at this particular dating profile, I exercised some sense. I put this man into the reject pile, because I found it shallow that I was mostly attracted to his profession. I knew nothing else about him, except for what his face looked like and how many years of life he had lived. I gave those kind eyes one last look before begrudgingly tapping the ‘X’ in the bottom left-hand corner of my screen (a left swipe seemed too harsh and dismissive for someone I had spent way too long thinking about). I swiped right on the following “potential” and gently tossed my phone on to my bed, returning to reading and briefing cases for my Contracts class.

A week later, I sat on the living room floor of a Cambridge apartment inhabited by one of my dearest friends. We laughed and delivered life updates, as the first season of Desperate Housewives played on in the background. Maheen raved to me about how much fun she was having back on Tinder. She filled me in on all the “just for fun” coffee dates with older Frenchmen and Harvard Phds she had set up in just a few days’ time. We laughed at the results of the “daily pun challenges” she posed to her matches. “Download it!” she insisted. Like most people, I have a love-hate relationship with Tinder. It has brought me some of the most violating and troubling interactions with strangers imaginable (although for the most part, things I could laugh at. Hard.). Conversely, it was also responsible for presenting to me the man I’ve been most in love with to date. “Fineee. Just for tonight.” Thus, a living room swipe party was born.

Ten minutes into my first tinder session in over a year and a half, I encountered a familiar face. It was the doctor with the kind eyes. A decade my senior, he was slightly outside of the age range I set (a +9 year gap). This time, I didn’t hesitate. I smiled. I giddily showed Maheen the profile. “Look! This dude showed up on my CMB. I said no then. But here he is again! Do you know what this is?”

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“What?” she chuckled. “It’s dating-app serendipity!” We both proceeded to laugh, and I explained myself. Maheen and I both read the NYT Modern Love column religiously. This version of “Serendipity” felt like something that would be covered in an artfully crafted essay about re-imagining fate. I shared my belief with Maheen that crossing paths with someone twice on two dating apps (which on pieces of software utilizing a location-based algorithm, is not remarkable) makes me feel like I am supposed to say yes to him. It’s not logical. In fact, it’s rather idiotic. Yet, it’s my tiny attempt to inject some romance into a process that is the antithesis of romantic. Sparing the holistic admissions-type-review, I swiped right, exercising my belief in modern serendipity. It’s a match!

Maybe I read too much into the serendipity and gave this soul more consideration than he deserved. Maybe he really is as wonderful as the idealistic version of him that I fail to un-see even today. Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between. Whatever the case may be, my feelings for this contemporary, digital-John Cusack spiraled out of control in a way I could not have predicted upon his initial (and generically lame) message a few minutes later. In my highly unsuccessful attempt to win him over, I learned less about him than I did about my own self.

Part III: The Tangibles and the Mental Projections

“It’s ok. Our eyes will adjust to the darkness.” He was right. It took a few seconds, but my eyes were able to make out each of the distinct features of his face lying next to me.  He had appeared at the bottom floor of my apartment building just 15 minutes prior. I was obsessed with the sound of his voice. I told him this. I knew upon first hearing it that I could happily listen to it for hours if we had hours (awake) to share. Later that evening, once we had ceased to use words as our primary method of communication, he injected words back into the mix by shouting something in the throes of passion that took a great deal of self-control to not laugh at. “Oh my god Radhika. What if I fall in love with you? What am I going to do?”

I know men often yell imprudent things in bed that they don’t mean, but this particular indiscretion fascinated me. It wasn’t raunchy, or an outright expression of a feeling that he didn’t mean (I love you! Etc). Rather, it was what would be considered in any other context, a coherent thought. Will he even remember shouting this? Probably not. While such verbal musings a week into meeting someone, even if only expressed unconsciously, might send a person in my place running, I was flattered. Maybe I was that good!  I took his utter nonsense as a compliment. I suppressed any impending laughter, muttered under my breath something along the lines of “so what if you do…,” and carried on with the task at hand (and mouth).

As I caught up with friends in a group chat, I shared the episode with them. The reaction, much like mine, was laughter. I was given many “props” by my male friends. My straight girlfriends also picked up on the uniqueness of his language. Many told me about men inadvertently shouting out “I love you”-s when placed in similar (compromising) positions, but never a “what if I fall in love with you?” I secretly hoped that one day he would have that thought voluntarily. I had only started to learn him, but I could tell I was in trouble.

I should clarify now that the nature of our dealings was intended to be “casual.” This was not something I would normally be ok with. If you can’t already tell by my routine, psychotic analyses of the mundane, I am interested in something beyond a steady supply of sex. But after my prior relationship crashed and burned for a variety of reasons, one of them being that I was with a partner who did not desire me physically, I wondered if it would really be so terrible to allow myself something “simple” with someone who (I would come to realize) quite literally worshipped my body? I decided not. I somehow convinced myself I was meant to know this human, dating app serendipity and all. Leading up to our initial meeting, I was taken with him. His honesty and forthrightness about what he wanted from me were instantly attractive.

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He is a writer. A deeply cerebral and imaginative one. Moreover, like the best writers, he is a reader. This, I somehow sensed before asking or “creeping” to confirm. I felt an immediate (and perhaps false) sense of comfort and safety with him given our shared race and religion. In the last few years, I had developed an uneasiness in dating men outside my own race. I finally cured myself a few months ago, but to be frank: I like Indian men and I cannot lie. For some reason, I was compelled to enter a tryst with this one. One that I would have denied anyone else exhibiting his same behaviors. I was drawn to him. Yet, after the overwhelmingly intimate nature of our initial encounter, I concluded that if this was what “casual” looked and felt like, I simply couldn’t do it. I wanted to know him intimately. To me, that meant knowing him in the light. I wanted to hear his stories, learn what each of his subtle facial expressions meant, and absorb his hopes and dreams. I was well aware that it was absolutely crazy for me to want these things. I know I’m in trouble when my imagination goes into overdrive this soon with a “potential.” It’s only happened once before. This time, it was different. The premise of these series of interactions fundamentally disallowed what I was feeling. Casual I reminded myself. It was an utterly useless reminder.

Soon after that meeting, I decided what I was feeling exceeded a simple oxytocin overdose. I reneged on any minimal self-control I could maintain.  As I’ve done for most of my life, I decided to try and get what I wanted. In the midst of mindless texting about fitness routines one night, I dropped a bomb. “Do you consider yourself an emotionally available human being?” “Yes. Why?” he responded. My fingers furiously typed out a large chunk of text detailing my inferiority complex around him. After all, given his extra decade, he had already accomplished so much. Meanwhile, I was a lowly 1L with no income and a folder of script treatments I hadn’t touched in two years. I told him that I would understand that if he couldn’t take me seriously as more than a sex object, but that I couldn’t continue to engage with him without wanting more eventually. As I would tell my friend Sidhant on a phone call later that week “He wants to hook up with the girlfriend experience. And that makes me bitter. Because it makes me feel like I am not good enough to be his actual partner.” I sent this long message past his bedtime, so I was not alarmed when I received no immediate response.

Days went by. I scared him off. I knew I had. I thanked myself for doing it early. This mitigated any wasted time. If he did not want from me what I wanted from him, I did myself a favor. Simultaneously, if my assumptions were correct, I was slightly impressed. I wanted to believe I wasn’t good enough for him, because he demanded an equal. I momentarily contemplated the very likely scenario that I would find myself single in my early 30s. Wasn’t it a good thing to know there was hope? This man instilled in me the belief that maybe, some of my single male peers then would not insist on dating much younger women. My assumption, rooted in absolutely nothing, made me slightly more attracted to him.

At this point, he possessed a tea mug of mine and a piece of Tupperware. I’m not the OCD-type. Missing one tea mug from my set of 4 didn’t bother me. In fact, I liked the idea of him coming across it in his cabinet one day, months from now, as a reminder of me (even if he didn’t want me). Just two weeks before he had texted me that he was drinking tea from it. However, I desperately wanted my good snapware back. I bought a small set for this move that had exactly the number of pieces I needed for my week. Missing the one piece I had sent him off to work with one day (admittedly, another #girlfriendmaterial move) was bothering me. I swallowed my pride and texted again, this time asking for the Tupperware. I began my text with a “Clearly, I’ve terrified you..” I received a response two days later. He insisted I hadn’t scared him off.

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It should have been game over when he disappeared on me after I posed serious concerns about my self identity and voiced desires that went unanswered. A smart woman would have victoriously reclaimed her Tupperware and never talked to the man again. Not two days later, self-respect all but gone (and still no Tupperware!), I woke up in his gorgeous one bedroom apartment. He was already in the shower, getting ready for a weekend shift when his phone alarm sounded. I silenced it. I noticed on his lockscreen a notification from Dil Mil, an Indian-only dating app. Once again, I controlled myself from bursting out into uncontrollable laughter. How many dating apps was this fool on? Also, people actually use Dil Mil? In the time since I had seen him last, he celebrated a birthday. I showed up to his apartment the previous evening with 3 used books I handpicked from a store in Salem (according to my own taste, not the taste I perceived him to have), along with a small woodpainted piece of bedside table art. I kissed page 34 of the Walter Mosley novel I selected with a devilishly red lipstick, to pay homage to his 34th year. I hoped months from now when he got around to reading it, it would make him smile. He commented on my pretty handwriting on the post-it-note turned makeshift card. We discussed Moonlight for a few minutes before turning out the lights.

That same morning, he insisted I sleep in. For all his weirdness in communicating with me, including empty, sweet-nothings about his “weird mix of hormones and butterflies” and talk of his heart “literally racing,” there was no bullshit in person. He was caring and courteous. He hugged me goodbye as I sat up in his bed. I kissed his cheek. What is it about scrubs that makes you want to undress the person in them? Moments later I heard the door click. I wasn’t going to sleep in. I had a spin class in a little over an hour, and was no longer tired. I brushed my teeth and changed into the workout clothes I packed. I needed about 30 min to get to my class with Maheen, where I would inevitably fill her in on all the details. Then it dawned on me. He had left me alone in his apartment.

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I am the creepiest person I know. Who the hell would leave me alone in his/her apartment and expect me to walk out of it without a little bit of snooping? Only a moron or someone who didn’t know me very well, I concluded. But there had to be ground rules. Privacy in one’s own home is sacred. So I set out standards. There would be no touching allowed. I was allowed to look at what I could see without moving things, or laying my fingers on them.  After all, what if there was a concealed “nanny” cam? What if this was a fetish of his? What did I really know about this man, other than that he was a physician, had excellent taste in film and literature, and made my body temperature rise? What if leaving women unattended in his home, and watching the footage of them tip toeing around his living room stacks of papers and peer through bags of freshly bought books was something he got off to? While I wanted to believe he didn’t have time for such pursuits (he really doesn’t), could I really be sure?  I kept my snooping to a respectable level just to be safe.

Taking those five minutes to absorb the tonality of his space did me no favors. I hoped to find something, anything really, that would turn off the irrational feelings I was having. I wanted to be wrong about him. I wanted to write off my imaginative daydreams as poor taste. There would be no such luck. My snooping sesh only reaffirmed in my heart how badly I wanted to mean something to him. Because he seemed remarkable. As I stepped out of his bed, I noticed an old-school CD holder that was flipped open. The visible Shins album made me smile. I thought back to the guitar I saw in his living room the night before. I pictured him doing cliché but loveable covers of New Slang for his friends at intimate dinner parties, while drunk off of craft beer and nostalgia-fueled conversation. He has beautiful hands, but they were made more beautiful to me by the fact that their fingers could pluck at the strings of an instrument. I wanted to write him off for how messy his space was. I am normally quite judgmental about personal spaces in states of disarray. But his messes didn’t bother me. The piles of papers and manila folders screamed organized chaos to me. Everything had a purpose. I recalled numerous studies I had read on how messier personal spaces are correlated with higher cognitive function and creativity levels. This was clearly the case. After noticing some plaques strewn about on the floor (journalism awards), and lurking his bookshelves, I felt my work was done. Short of a dead body, I wasn’t going to find anything that would cure me of my infatuation. I admired his living room views for a few minutes post-snoop, before heading out to spin away my pent up passions.

I knew he would never be mine for more than an evening at a time, if that. I wished for the willpower to stay away completely.

Part IV: Sleuthing the Digital Footprint

Mostly, my attraction to him grew in the moments we spent apart. I fell in love with his writing. I filled in the blanks with data mining from the limited information available through social media. Viewing his words as a natural extension of his mind, I wondered if I would fall in love with him too if he were to let me. I developed a pre-bedtime ritual of reading one of his many published pieces before turning out my lights. It would often be tempting to read more than one, no matter how tired I was. The tips of my fingers scrolled through pages and pages on my ultrabook. From his views on the effects of marijuana legalization, to his eye witness account of the medical tent at the Boston marathon bombings, I ravenously consumed his words.

It was game over for me when I happened across some of his creative writing and poetry. I firmly believe that great fiction writers cannot be made from just anyone. I think that good storytellers are born, and great storytellers are those who embellish upon their birthright with practice and rich life experiences. But poets? The gift of poetry is divine. I wondered, as I read, which among the lines of poems and short stories possessed grains of truth from his own life. I closed my eyes and imagined him, over a decade ago, sitting with a notebook in the library of his medical school, composing and crossing out stanzas, pursuing perfection with a pen.

Upon completion, I wondered if this happened to his readers often. Were many of them as seduced by his words and composition as I found myself? His nonfiction pieces appealed to me in a more traditional sense. Like most, I find talent and giftedness in any form attractive. His essays reflected a raw talent honed by years of practice at his craft. His fiction made my eyes well with emotion. My admiration was exceeded only by my envy. In an era where digital publishing is possible for anyone with an internet connection (myself no exception), I was accustomed to reading mediocre pieces on ThoughtCatalog/Personal Blogs/EliteDaily et al by acquaintances and strangers alike proclaiming writing as their full-time profession. It wasn’t my place to be so critical, but I was. Writers must write. It’s a thought I have often. I’ve always felt self-conscious identifying as a writer, because of the inconsistency with which I find myself at the keyboard. Furthermore, I know the moment that I identify as one, I open myself to the very criticism I exercise against the Elite Daily authors. But here was a real writer, who I could find very little fault with.

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A quick deep dive into his limited, but rich social media footprint further fueled my irrational obsession. Many of the same songs and artists who gave my youth meaning also composed the soundtrack to his. Mostly, this “dive” was for me to paint a picture of someone I would never know. I quickly clicked through photos from years past to get a snapshot from many snapshots. Was he happy? Well-liked? What did he dress like? What were his favorite outdoor avocations? The first two, I inherently knew to be in the affirmative. I could sense we were kindred spirits in that regard. His charming oddities aside, it was blatantly obvious to me that he was a naturally popular person. Like I had done with his apartment, I also creeped to find something to quell my mania. I knew already he wasn’t a conspiracy theorist, anti-vaccine fanatic, or a Trump voter. But perhaps he was in a cult? Maybe he enjoyed hunting as a hobby? Or worse yet, maybe he was a huge Nickelback fan (JUST KIDDING. I get Chad Kroger moods sometimes. I admit it.). I found no such indications. As I would tell friends later,“The worst thing I found was that he suffered from an unfortunate case of wearing cargo shorts until 2008.”

Once I built up my version of him through mining all available data, I played God. In the confines of my imagination, I was the sole creator of our nonexistent future together. On T rides through the city, I pieced it all together. In my permutation of the universe, I convinced him to move back to LA with me when he finished his fellowship and I finished school. He protested initially, but I cajoled him, with promises of sunshine, cultural enrichment, beaches, and of course superior tacos. “Imagine never being Vitamin D deficient again! Plus, think of how much closer you’ll be to your sister. Don’t you miss her?” “Give it three years,” I had begged him. “If you hate it, I promise we can move back. I will transfer to the Boston office of my firm.” It worked, and he adored it.

In this delicious mental sanctuary, we were an enviable power couple built on mutual respect and insatiable desire. He, a respected and in demand practitioner at Cedars Sinai, penning public health pieces for the LA times and working on a paperback of his own beside me before bedtime. Myself, a patent litigator on the rise, doing meaningful civil rights and international human rights work during my pro bono hours. I chopped up vegetables in the kitchen on Sunday mornings, while playing a range of soft indie rock to upbeat Hindi film classics. He liked to hug me from behind, while humming along to the former. We maintained a large and lively group of friends.

The further down the green line my train chugged, the further our story stretched. Our kids would give both of our lives renewed purpose. I would take time off when the youngest was born, to stay at home and finally write out a feature comedy script I had been hacking at for years. It would be exhausting, but they would provide me inspiration. Our parents would come to live with us and help out. They would of course have a dedicated room in our 5 bedroom abode in the Hollywood Hills (an upgrade from the three bedroom bungalow with a charming deck we started in), for whenever they wanted to visit.  We would raise the kids to speak Hindi. Given our differing mother tongues, this would be a compromise that was both fair (although skewed slightly in favor of his native Marathi) and highly practical. We would go to weekend classes with them at the temple as a family, and inevitably embarrass them. They would never be pushed, but always encouraged. He would inspire confidence in them, and help them to unlock their desires and passions. I would teach them how to love life and prioritize relationships. We would read together, gift them books, and instill in them a lifelong love of the classics. From him, they would get their sharp mental aptitude and eye for details. From me, their sharp tongues and slightly rebellious nature. We would culturally enrich them with travel, dear to both of our hearts, early and often. Above all, we would never stop loving.

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It was a wonderful fantasy. Really, it was. But fantasies are a form of fiction.  I was in love with a romanticized version of a real human being, who I truly knew very little about. The man I desired existed only in the confines of my parietal and occipital lobes. At the end of my train rides, I felt compelled to mouth the words from the first stanza of a celebrated Pablo Neruda sonnet. Te amo como se aman ciertas cosas oscuras, secretamente, entre la sombra y el alma. In English: I love you as certain dark things are to be loved, in secret, between the shadow and the soul. Sadly, I never had a fighting chance at attaining this beautifully flawed and real individual. The one in the light, who I would not need to love in secret. This was apparent upon our initial meeting. But it wasn’t upsetting. It was just life. I likened him to an amazing dress borrowed from a friend. It’s not yours and you can’t afford it. But when you put it on, you believe it looks better on you than whomever it belongs to. It makes you feel whole. Alas, all borrowed dresses must be returned at the end of the evening (or the following morning, after a thorough dry cleaning). He was not mine to keep.

I then remembered something I once read in a touchy-feely anthology of quotables. The kind composed of cursive text blocks that teenage girls love to post on their Tumblr feeds.

“You will never have to sacrifice your dignity for your destiny. If it’s meant for you, you won’t have to beg for it.” The words, while overly cliché and “cutesey” for my usual tastes, were never more relevant. As a goal-oriented individual, I often forget to draw separation lines across various spheres of my life. I had made this mistake before, and I was not going to do it again. Suddenly, I made sense of it all. I was treating another human as something attainable if I worked hard enough. I did my diligence work on him as if he were a start-up I could secure employment with, if I sufficiently impressed. It was all wrong. It was crazy. But damn it felt good to know I was capable of feeling these things. I had not met someone that piqued “imagination overload” in nearly three years.

The key now, was finding someone I did the same for. Empirically speaking, the data showed I was presently the most desirable I had been in my entire life. I had three quality men trying to date me (the mostly poorly educated among them with “only” a bachelor’s degree from Stanford). An Indian fitness model living in Banaglore was trying to marry me (affectionately dubbed #BangaloreBae by my friends). I had a hot professor at a nearby institution (not my own!), who was ready to host me for “office-hours” whenever I so desired. And in the last two months alone, three different men I attended high school with came out of the woodwork to “slide into the DMs,” in an attempt to reconnect with me (one among them a handsome neurosurgery resident). It was time to focus on one of the many quality individuals manifesting themselves in my life. I needed to get the “hot doc,” as my friends called him, out of my head. It was time to give life to a fantasy that could live both inside and outside of the confines of my mind.

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Part V: Clearing Disk Space in My Life

In my short but meaningful set of life experiences, I’ve realized that the best people are the ones who far exceed anything you can dream up. The greatest love of my life thus far was a human whose very presence and personhood put my highly potent imagination to shame. So much so, that I was acutely aware upon meeting him that I would never be able to keep him. While I firmly believe in the necessity of pragmatism to achieve balance and wellness in one’s life, the romantic in me has silently but relentlessly chased that high from my first great love. In its honest absence, I’ve grown accustomed to attempts to recreate synthetic versions using some crafty “cloud architecture.”

Those attempts ultimately proving futile recently led  to me opening my digitized “shoebox” of prose and poetry from the era of my “great love” for the first time since writing it. In reading my own words sprawled across pages of letters and poems and free-writes inspired by (and some delivered to) my then-muse, I was reassured that indeed, it had all been real. At the very least, it had been my reality. I had captured tiny snapshots and fragments of an intangible state of being on paper. The words reminded me of how badly I still believe in fighting for the authenticity of the sentiment they represented. That love changed me. I can look at myself before and after experiencing it and see two different people. The pessimist in me wonders how I could possibly find someone who makes me feel and grow that way again. The optimist in me feels grateful to have experienced it even once, and must believe something/someone comparable or better exists for me.

I no longer crave a poor man’s version of that high. I want the real thing. In fact, parental pressure aside, I’d rather have nothing at all than anything short of that authenticity. I prefer to expend creative capital on dreaming up something more worthy of my mind. Perhaps a new comedy pilot, or a design for a cost-efficient bot to zip up my dresses for me (some of them can be really tricky!). At the very least, if I am to allow my mind to wander to “what could be-s” with another, I want the dreaming to be mutual. The ones who are meant to be in our lives will not force us to flex our minds alone in order to learn about them. Rather, they will dream for us and with us. It’s an incredible and overwhelming feeling to realize that someone’s dreams include you. I’ve experienced it only once before, and it’s not something I will soon forget.

In short, I endeavored in the last few months to use a combination of technology and imagination to fill in some gaps that could not, and should not, be filled. I don’t want to do that anymore. There will never be a dearth of mediocre-mannered “potentials” with commitment phobia on online dating sites for me  to mentally repurpose as something more. Regardless of this seemingly infinite pipeline, I resolve to no longer do the latter. No matter how sexy their digital footprints and LinkedIn’s may be, they always leave us with a lingering emptiness that cannot be filled in the absence of meaningful human contact. We want their bodies. We want their stories. We want a role in their futures. Mostly, we want them to want these things too. Sometimes, it’s painfully apparent that they don’t and never will. Forcing our minds to accept this perfectly acceptable scenario, and to stop pondering an alternate reality in which they do, is ultimately the most difficult task.

However, I am hyper-aware that if I spend too much time imagining what could be, I might just miss what is. This year, I plan to use my freshly acquired 20/15 vision (shoutout to Dr. Abrams)  to fall in love just a little bit every day, with the things and people that make my life lovely. I will look deeply at these exquisite things and people, silently begging to be noticed, rather than the ones forcing me to beg for attention.

Often, it takes getting our heads out of the “cloud” to truly see the beauty that lies right in front of us.

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