Navigating Relationships//

Dating and the Unnecessary Agony of Waiting

To reach out or not, that has long been the question for women in any courtship. But the conventional role of bystander is often more stressful than the fear of rejection. It is also a dated rule of the dating game.


Here I am, sitting in a beautiful Bandra café — the vibe is more Goa, less Bombay — and serendipity has introduced me to a kindred spirit. We strike up a conversation which reveals multiple mutual connections. For context, this is about a month ago. My first piece on modern-day relationships has just gone live, and I am excited to share it with people who’d relate. Long story short, the next half-hour is spent in animated discussion about dating in our 40s.

We agree on most everything but this: An annoyingly sticky gender role, or is it rule, in dating—that of the initiator, the prime mover or what have you. Remember, this is 2019. But she says: “I know we’re in our 40s, that this is a liberated time for women, but we have to let the men come to us. If we make the effort, they won’t value us.”

I don’t know how to react to that. She’s as liberated, modern and, well, cool, as they come. I am disconcerted that even she buys into that unbendable strategy of the dating game: Play hard-to-get. However, as I talk to more people (single and not-so-much), I realise a majority of educated, modern, evolved men and women are convinced of its efficacy—of its necessity even. Even through their gender-neutral lens, the advice for women is: Wait for him to ask you out. Let him initiate the first kiss. Don’t be too prompt in replying to texts.

Simply put, wait.

Now, I’ve never been a waiting person. Some may call it impatience but, as a friend puts it, for many of us, it is knowing what we want and not hesitating to go for it. For us, the anxiety of being a bystander to events is greater than from the failure of effort to shape the events.

I don’t know if it’s a gender or a generational perspective. But I find it akin to to learning to ignore conventional wisdom as a job-seeker in the professional world. I still remember my early days—this would be the late ’90s—of applying for jobs. I’d send out my CV, keeping all the rules of courtship in mind.

–        Don’t show over-eagerness. It brings down your bargaining power.

–        Let them call you.

–        Even when you follow up, don’t act like you need the job.

Now cut-paste these to the dating space, where the same principles have long applied. They are so deep-rooted that, often, even men feel the need to adhere to them.

In both cases—personal and professional—they inevitably lead to avoidable, manufactured anxiety. Reason? You waste time second-guessing the other person’s thoughts, and no good ever came from trying to get into anyone else’s head. Experience tells me that in cases of tense ambiguity, the burden of finding out if the other party is interested should rest with you: Be it a potential employer or boy/girl friend.

The fear of rejection is ever looming but take a long-term view. Weigh the lightness of clarity against weeks of agonising over the presumed worst and the indignant ego will learn to take a backseat.

Remember that corny chick flick He’s Just Not That Into You which had most women rethinking the way they interpreted male behaviour? That was a buzzkill but also a reality check. Relationships-by-assumption are often not even relationships, as the ditsy incurably romantic female lead was rudely reminded in the movie. If he hasn’t called, he’s not interested, she was told. But since we’re not helpless with a phone, I say, why wait for him to not call? Don’t assume either way. Ask. Of course, the wrong answer is hard to digest. The not knowing, however, is worse.

Also, as the innumerable quotes floating around in Instagram will remind you, do you really have time to waste—and wait? (There are worlds to be conquered.)

Are you new to the dating world? Or have you been there and done that? How do you manage the upheavals, the highs and the lows? We’d love to hear at [email protected]. Do join the conversation.

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In the movie Runaway Bride, Julia Roberts’ character’s tendency to accept her partner’s choice of breakfast eggs as her own was a reflection of her inability to be herself. That lead to implosions in all her relationships till Richard Gere’s character came along. Illustration by Kavita Ramchandran, a New York-based illustrator and graphic designer, originally from Bombay. She likes to draw food, ephemera and children’s picture books. You can find her @wemakebelieve on Instagram.
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