You have no idea,” a young woman said to me, “how much women agonise over a date.” I suppose they do. I think men agonise, too. It’s just that we don’t remember our agonies. We choose to elide them, to forget them as quickly as possible, mainly because we’re never sure people will be sympathetic.
But, men have them as much as women, and the first terrible problem is asking. Men still do most of the asking, and this puts terrible pressure on them. This means they must bear the sting of rejection when a woman says no. It is a different matter that as soon as a woman says yes, for many men, she loses about 50 per cent of her charm. It’s horrible, but what can I say? Person up. Some things are horrible.
As soon as a woman has said yes, the next thing the man must confront is his bank balance. Is it enough? There was a time, he thinks nostalgically, when he would simply tell the woman his love of the sea, and they would wander there, hand in hand, and, at the most, he might have to splash out for a cone of peanuts. He thinks back to those days and their low demands on his budget, but he also remembers how they left him passionately unresolved, how he longed to reach out but was constrained by the eyes around them.
So, he takes some consolation from the fact that he can now afford something better and has a credit card. A friend of his told him that Einstein was once asked what the most powerful force in the universe is, and the great sage of relativity and e is equal to em cee squared said, “Compound interest.” And, now he owes more in interest than in debt, but he can deal with that by dismissing his friend as a squirrel who does not understand how a man’s passions work. He kisses his credit card and calls Frangipani for a reservation.
On the day of the date, he thinks once or twice about whether he should dress for the date, but he thinks this is impractical. So, he puts on his good shirt in the morning and takes all the ribbing that his colleagues lay out for him. But, in the afternoon, when he steps out for a smoke, he begins to notice that his deo is waning and his sweat is waxing, and that if he does not move quickly,he will end up smelling like a horse in May.
He tries to arrive on time but finds that he is early, so he sits in the lobby and wonders whether it would be better for her to see him waiting or whether he should lurk in the toilet and come out just in time. No, no toilets. He’ll take his chances. Should he get his iPad out and appear to be working? No, no working. Best to be sitting there. Should he cross his legs or let his knees fall apart? Is that latter a bit too…
Okay, here she is. Gosh, she’s beautiful, and she looks as if she went home, dressed and dolled up for the occasion. She is really something. How would she look without… he does not need to complete that thought. For another thought has crossed his mind. How would he look without his… there was a time when he had a lean frame. And, then, the fat started creeping up on him. First love handles, then a bit on the tummy, then a bit on the butt: he should have gone to a gym. Only how would he pay for it? Didn’t Einstein once say that compound interest… what is that scent she’s wearing? It’s magnificent… is his body odour showing up? Should he have gone to a mall and tried out something on the counter? No, too many scents, too much scent, not a great idea.
Oh, please, don’t let her order drinks. Alcohol in a five-star hotel is… oh great, she wants naariyal pani. For the love of every Bollywood star, can they really want the better part of a thousand bucks for coconut water? They must be demented. A beer isn’t even that much more expensive. He orders a beer.
She is looking at him. Does she like what she sees? Quick, a conversational gambit. “Say something cool. Say something provocative. Say something intelligent,” he urges himself. He can only think of MS Dhoni’s scores. Could she be interested? No, that’s not the way to go. Ask her about herself, that’s what they all say. Show her you’re interested in her as a person. That’s stupid. I’m willing to pay the better part of a thousand smackeroos so she can drink naariyal pani, and she doesn’t get that I’m interested in her person? Sorry, as a person?
Then, there’s food, and she’s vegetarian, but somehow in five-star hotels that doesn’t make much of a difference. And, now they’re eating and conversation is flowing, because she’s telling him why Ranbir is better than Imran, as if he cares. He can barely tell them apart. But, he is listening and laughing and thinking, “Will we get naked tonight?”
And, when she’s been safely left at her doorstep and he’s on his way home, he heaves a huge sigh of relief. It’s over. It’s done. He can loosen the top button of his jeans and pull his T-shirt out to cover it and light a cigarette and whistle aimlessly. And, then, her face floats back into his consciousness, and he thinks he should text her. Could that be constructed as creepy? He doesn’t want to be creepy. Women don’t like creepy. He doesn’t like creepy either. He wouldn’t want anyone sending him texts in the night. He doesn’t want a woman writing him texts. He sighs and saves it as a draft. Many months later, when they break up, because he never communicates, never calls, never texts, he sees that SMS, and he laughs a little.