“For there is nothing heavier than compassion. Not even one’s own pain weighs so heavy as the pain one feels with someone, for someone, a pain intensified by the imagination and prolonged by a hundred echoes.” – Milan Kundera.
In seventh grade, my classmates and I were given an assignment by our English teacher. The assignment was to compose a fictitious piece through extrapolating on one of two statements: “Love Makes the World Go Around,”or “Money Makes the World Go Around.”
Being the idealistic and naive 13 year old, I wrote a piece that I still remember, about the year 2770, where a paleontologist discovers some wonderfully rare remains of the tyrannosaurus rex, and realizes that because there is not enough compassion left in the world to care about these remains, that he cannot do anything with his discovery.
The lack of love, conflated with a healthy disregard for compassion, was what drove the story. In other words, compassion, in my mind, was inseparable from love. Furthermore, through the writing of the piece, what struck me more was that it was the love of money that would have made the story move forward, but with an “A” under my belt, I chose not to to think about this assignment until fairly recently, where I began to ponder about this early observation about equalling love with compassion, and the absolute necessity of doing thus.
Flash forward some several years, and I’m in college, about to embark on the longest relationship that I have had to date. The man in question is a spoilt Slovakian jerk, and this is revealed in a horrifying manner to me, when a mutual friend is sent to hospital because of the violence on the football field thanks to my dear beau. Things are further complicated when I find out that his bedroom in Bratislava is a dedicated shrine to me, with hundreds of photographs that I never even knew were snapped.
I’ll contend that ending that particular relationship is one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, because you really don’t know what kind of a man you’re dealing with, until you see the way they treat someone they consider their non-equal, or when you are made to deal with their neurotic obsession, not with who you are as a human being, but of the way you look. Add this to being called “mojka cocoladka” (“my chocolate”), and the affectionate insult of lovingly dedicated positive racial profiling is complete.
Flash forward some more years, and you find me accepting dates from a plethora of men, as a “healthy” decision to go out there and attempt to meet “the one.”
After all, there comes a time in every woman’s life, somewhere between 23 and 29, where almost everyone you know has begun to procreate, get married, purchase property, and vacation with their soulmate, and I didn’t want to be the last one left standing.
In a span of 17 months, I went out on dates with 15 men from all walks in life. There was the Cuban investment banker, the failed Filipino musician, the obnoxiously rich Bengali entrepreneur, the Greek diplomat’s son, and of course, the Italian IT professional, just to name a few.
My only criteria were that I had to be able to converse with them, and that they be nice to me. That they are all considered universal eye candy tells you the depth of my issues with validation.
Their only criteria, I have come to learn, was that I put out.
When the two ideals clashed, as they invariably always did, we parted ways, with my belief in totalizing ideologies such as love replaced by a growing love of dark chocolate, to substitute all the oxytocin I was not receiving.
What I learned in the process is that all you receive from such short term attention is a deeply distrustful validation about who you are, superficially wrapped in fluffy words and 200 dollar bottles of sauvignon blanc, all made with an attempt to get you to have sex with them.
I needed these men to tell me that I am desirable, but I’ve also realized in the process that someone who is quick to want to take your clothes off has more serious issues than the 21st century bug of speed-dating (or should I call it speed fucking?), and there is something absolutely wrong about someone who doesn’t care about wanting to get to know you as a person for weeks, months, perhaps even years, before you allow for any form of physical intimacy.
Years of wearing braces and being the nerd in the back of the class, alongside being absolutely harangued and gutted when I was the laughing stock of my high school class for having the biggest crush on the Australian hottie (who grew up to be a pot bellied underachiever, go figure), meant that I never quite learned how to love myself from a very early age, and somehow, through all the personal successes I was having in terms of my academics and in my professional life, this gap was never addressed, and unfortunately, I was addressing this through men, who, for whatever their personal reasons were, never cared enough about me as a human being, but more about me as an object.
What I realized in the process of these dates is that I began to find ways to excuse the most deplorable behavior- missed dates, being stood up, being cheated on, to even being physically abused by one man who thought that there was “great evil” inside of me because I didn’t want him to live with me.
I allowed the men I have dated for the past 12 years to basically define the terms of our interactions whilst being so insecure that I lost all sense of self respect or dignity.
Things turned to a head when, last November, I was attending an Emerging Leaders program at Harvard, where, in a group of 64 participants, only a handful of women were present. Being my extroverted and bubbly self, I attracted a lot of attention, but here’s the thing: EVERY single one of these men were married.
And that led me to realize that it doesn’t matter whether you’re married or you’re single, men always chase if they think there is any hope of “the game,” and when and if they realize that they don’t have any “game” going, they don’t back off well. Case in point: I was taken out of the bar one night by my well-meaning French classmate, and told to “quit acting like you’re one of the boys, when you’re really too pretty to be so immune to our advances.”
Aside from the misogynistic and completely disgusting undertone in this statement that anyone is fair game as long as they’re charming and viscerally attractive, was this particularly depressing reality: these high profile men, whose testosterone levels probably put all the rest of humanity to shame, thought that I shouldn’t have the morals to respect their vows, and furthermore, they actually did have the audacity to think that my self esteem was at such a low, that I would allow myself to embark on an extramarital affair.
But life doesn’t quite work like that, and of course I was never going to allow myself to graduate from being a friend to the “other woman.”
In between laughing with friends about being an asshole magnet, I was told during a sobering moment on a fire escape in the early hours of a Park Slope morning just a couple of weeks later from a female friend, in no indubitable terms, “You need to be good to yourself.”
I began to wonder hence, why it is, that being good to myself involves having a man in my life, when what I had witnessed in one of the most premier universities in the entire world, was the exact opposite of this loving and caring man.
Sure, biological clocks are ticking away and at the end of the day, we are all fearful of ending up old and alone, but when did it become an absolute necessity to reach “milestones” such as finding “the one”?
And if we, as heterosexual women haven’t found this “one,” then we’re made to feel inadequate. I couldn’t find an apartment in Bangladesh where the guards and even landlord would stop harassing me. Just because I was single, every time I had a male friend (and even cousins!) over, I had to hear about how “in our society, we really don’t do these things,” as though my entire experience of being an adult is nullified because I don’t have a spouse or a boyfriend.
After November, I was led again to believe I had found “the one” when I met a man, who to this date, has spent almost a year oscillating between telling me how much I mean to him, to irrevocably normalizing each circumstance when he pushed me away. When I was going through a difficult time, he bought me a ticket to see him. Minutes after I boarded a flight, he sent me a message that I didn’t receive until two days later, telling me that he thinks that coming to see him was a bad idea.
I spent the summer of 2014 trying to figure out how to get over this man, especially when I realized that I just couldn’t allow myself to move on, so enamored had I been with his intellect. I stopped saying yes to dates from other men, I cried myself to sleep on a nightly and daily basis, but at the end of it, all I have to show is one single photograph, several hours of Skype conversations, and a Facebook message history that is probably taller than Everest if printed out, and it was a constant mess because I’ve realized that he would never want to make me feel wanted and loved.
And so I finally crystallize a thought that has been with me since Harvard: Yes, it is my right to choose who I want to be with, and if they cannot realize how loving, affectionate, and incredible I am, that is a reason to back off.
After 12 years of being a serial dater, I give up on dating men entirely, because I am neither a piece of meat, nor someone who anyone can lightly just discard, and be expected to come back like a puppy with serious victim complex.
I give up on dating, because I realize now, that I have never met a man who is interested in me, who is compassionate and selfless, and that means I have been doing double the work, every single time, not only in keeping them interested in me, but in reassuring myself that I matter.
I give up dating because I do matter, and I matter to myself. The only person whose validation I hence need, is also myself.
And I know now, thanks to Harvard, that if someone cannot see this at the beginning of a relationship, they will never see it in the middle, or the end, or thereafter. It’s high time that I let the other side of me- a successful and independent woman, shine, instead of being thrust into the soul-defying logic of thinking that loving someone will make them love you.
In an ideal world, it would, but we don’t live in any ideal world.
We live in a world where domestic abuse and alcoholism is rampant, where 50% of US spouses would cheat on us, and almost 60% of weddings end in divorces, whilst we are constantly given cookie-cutter Disney versions of forever to work with whilst everyone around is embarking on affairs.
So why bother with finding this “one” and being hopeful when compassion and love, things that should actually be interlinked, are continually likened to one night stands at the end of which you pretend that you don’t know each other? I’ve seen this happen too many times, and frankly, nothing disgusts me more.
This is the worst reality of 21st century dating, and frankly, chocolate is better than all the men who have tried to win a date with me over the past 12 years.
Chocolate won’t come back to tell you that you don’t matter. It won’t even tell you that you matter one minute and don’t the very next, and it can’t even get you pregnant. It will just release oxytocin, and you can feel all the love you want, and what’s best is you can have as much as you want, as often as you want, and there won’t be the repercussions of any heartbreak (except perhaps to your weight levels, but hey, a small price to pay for such incredible freedom).