Have you ever felt the pressure to keep dating through the apocalypse? Every time an intimate relationship ends, the ultimate test of having ‘moved on’ from them is to be able to date again. To fill that void that your loved one’s departure has left you with another person, another relationship. Distract yourself with a different commitment, they seemed to tell me. And so I did - with work, a gruelling workout routine, a thriving social life bursting with friends…all to cover-up the ‘shame’ of not being able to fall in love and sustain that relationship in a socially-acceptable way.
And since we live in the 21st century, the way to ‘get back in the game’ is by sprucing up your dating profile on an app. Whenever I find myself re-installing these apps, the dysphoria of being hit on by straight-identifying cis-men sinks in. I anticipate restrictions on the fluidity of my gender experience, imposed by their desire for me. I fear feeling attracted to them, only to hear comments about how I’m not like the ‘women’ they usually date. The dread of being in a ‘straight-passing’ relationship sinks in. While it may seem rosy and hunky-dory on the outside, being on a date with a straight-identifying cis-man has always felt like a performance to me. I have little leeway to ‘mess up’. I mask the permanent lump in my throat. I ignore all the signs that point toward their perception of me, the gendered expectations that may eventually come up - the performance of a wedding, the role of a dutiful ‘daughter-in-law’ who meets relatives, the uterus-owner whose bodily autonomy is constantly violated with unwarranted enquiries about progeny, the expectation that I deal with all of this and more with ‘gracious femininity’ - all of this and more, flashes in front of my eyes as if it were a future that I’d signing up for with a single right-swipe.
However, over the last couple of years, I have had the time to reflect on why I wanted to date at all. It often stems from this idea that if you have intense emotions about a person, then it must be romantic. And if it is romantic, then it must turn sexual. And if it sexual, then you must lock them into a commitment with you, because you obviously, automatically, want that from them. Well-meaning friends then share with you their two cents about what the potential red flags are, what behaviours you must beware of, the sort of boundaries that are non-negotiable and so on. I am not saying who should or what they shouldn’t. This is just me, voicing the inexplicable frustration that I feel about not having the space to explore relationships organically, without a goal in mind. The way we did in the kindergarten sand-box. The way I similarly did, in the site opposite my grandparents’ home, where a house was being built, and I’d skip towards the mounds of sand and gravel, to play with the children whose parents worked there.
As a culture, we seem to have become obsessed (and I don’t use that term lightly) with wanting to keep up with the life being sold to us by a certain Merchant of Dreams - be it the media, religion, moral values taught to us by our schools and families, our parents’ unfulfilled desires and expectations. In each of our interactions, we try to please others, with little focus on the moment. Are we enjoying their company? Are we curious? Do we feel loved, cherished, held, even when there is tension? Do we feel challenged, stimulated, and intrigued by where the relationship is taking us? Where is the richness of experience and emotion, if we keep seeking out that which is heterogenous - dating people who remind us of our parents, our first crush, people from the same socio-cultural backgrounds who enjoy the same foods as we do, who think like we do, who studied the same textbooks that we did, whose grandmothers told them the same stories as us? Is that equilibrium or is that just putting a lid on a basin of bubbling lava, hoping it will contain its fluid wrath?
These are the questions that leave me feeling curious about dating, but the minute I open a dating app, I feel it all drained as I see the ol’ pattern of message from a string of cis-het-suitors, seeing me as a girl auditioning for the love story they have already imagined.
About the author:
Tejaswi is a media professional and researcher focused on pleasure & joy in areas of public health. Their attention is captured by post-colonial human relationships at a time of the Internet of Things. Tejaswi is autistic and identifies as queer in more ways than one.