First Dates: A Not-So-Cool Twenty-Something’s Guide

What (not) to talk about on the first date

I date a lot. (Mum, if you’re reading this, a lot is an exaggeration) By this, I mean that in the past two years, I’ve gone out on at least one date with ten to fifteen people, ranging from friends of friends to complete strangers carefully curated from dating apps, or in one case, someone I’ve run into in a cafe. These have included coffee dates, dinners, movies, bookstore visits, poetry slams, cookouts, and aimless walks or drives around town.

Now if you’re smirking at the fact that I call this “dating a lot”, well, don’t read ahead. If you’re still here, good for you. If like me, you’re less than bothered about not having Angelina Jolie-esque looks, are “not here for hookups”, have only ever awkwardly danced at weddings, and swear by hot coffee instead of chilled beer, well there’s still a date for you somewhere. So, after you’ve crafted a bio, swiped left and right, and found a person you enjoy talking to, what next? Well, you need to meet them. (In a public place, please.)

You could choose not to, of course, but most of the time, a date turns out to be fun, interesting and a genuinely pleasant experience, very different than the perception created by a stream of Romedy Now movies and our very own Karan Johar. There possibly won’t be any love at first sight, or second, but let’s be honest- don’t we often go on dates only because we’re starved of human company? Treat your first date as an experience firmly rooted in the present, instead of the beginning of a pre-planned progression and you’re likely to end up with a smile and some food for thought. (Or just some food, which isn’t bad either.)

There are a lot of articles out there that talk about dating etiquette- who pays, where you meet, etc. What I’m going to talk about here, is what not to talk about. It’s not just the obvious taboos- sex, your ex, their ex, sex (I wonder why), your baggage, their baggage, etc. Apart from my own dates (most of which have been fantastic, thanks to some really intuitive people), the following points come out of significant work experience in eavesdropping on date conversations in cafes and restaurants (Writers are a shameless breed, it’s how we make our living.) –

  1. The Weather: A sentence or two on how hot it is getting is fine, but if they really wanted a blow-by-blow weather update, they’d rather have a chat with Siri or Cortana or whichever AI they prefer.

Overheard on a first date: “When I went to Gangtok, it was October and it was 11 degrees…” “No it couldn’t have been 11 because when I went I’d to use the fan, and it was 10.5 only in February and 9.2 in January…” and so on. Unless you’re both co-workers in the Met department, no. Actually, not even then.

2. Bodily Fluids: Puke stories are funny, but only with your best friends at 2 a.m. For a first date, it’s best to steer clear of any kind of…umm…discharges, and project a really clean image of yourself. If they’re meant to know all your (literally) dirty secrets, then save it for the fourth or fifth date, or maybe even for the actual relationship if it happens.

3. Distance, Time and Speed: Unless you’re a Math teacher, and they get turned on by quantitative details, it’s best not to sit down and compute in detail how long it took your date to get from their office to the cafe you’re sitting in, and whether they could have taken a route that is 650 meters shorter. Google Maps, bro.

4. The “What did you eat for *Insert previous meal* today?” conversation filler: Yes, I understand some awkward pauses are likely, but they don’t need to be filled by this question. Save it for the “sweatpants and farts” stage of the relationship. Ask them what cuisines they prefer, if you’re that into food.

5. Sartorial Discussions: In eight out of ten cases, if someone compliments what you’re wearing, it is a polite ice-breaker(the remaining two might imply that you’re out with a fashion designer). A simple Thank You works.

Narrating your entire sartorial history and the three possible options your tailor offered before making the blouse in this cut- err, no. Trying to be casual whilst saying “ Yeah, it’s from *Insert expensive brand*” doesn’t work either, unless they’re a brand snob and you’re playing it up. (In which case, more power to you.)

6. Obscure Relations: While most people steer clear of mentioning family troubles on a first or even a second date, a funny story about a distant relative can become significantly less funny if you’re spending ten minutes explaining how it’s your mother’s second cousin’s third-oldest grandchild. “No not that cousin, the other one who lives in Gujarat.” Details. Save them for married life, period.

At this point, if you’re an introvert bordering on ambivert and obsessively plan conversations in your heads before they happen, you might be looking really pissed off wondering which weird questions are actually allowed. Yes, contrary to what those other articles will tell you, you do have the right to ask some unconventional questions if you so please, but this comes with a disclaimer.

If you end up making ordinary, polite conversation, you’ll definitely have a peaceful first date, which is what most people want, and possibly even get a second one. If, however, like me, you’re not sure whether you’ll have a second one (for me it’s mostly because I’m never in one place that long) and if you have the unabashed directness of a four-year-old on roller skates, you can ask the weird ones. The disclaimer is that this will scare away some people. But not all people.

(If anyone, at all, is reading this and wants me to do a piece on potentially awkward questions you should try asking on a First Date, please leave a comment.)

Advertisements

Lipstick Dreams

The last scene of Lipstick Under My Burkha resonates, in a rather curious fashion, with the book I happen to be reading at present, Reading Lolita in Tehran. As the various men in power say their piece and move away, ostensibly to get a good night’s sleep, the women protagonists of the movie are left, quite literally, to pick up the shreds of their existence. They gather around the remains of the forbidden romance novel capturing the sexual fantasies of Rosie, in what is, on the face of it, an impromptu reading session, but in effect, captures the essence of what director Alankrita Shrivastava is trying to say throughout.

What makes Lipstick an engaging watch is that its women are feminist by the sheer dint of being real. The characters range from the college-going Rehana (trying to reconcile teenaged rebellion with her cultural identity) and Leela (the beautician whose dreams are bigger than an arranged marriage in a small town) to the older Shireen (a saleswoman struggling to carve a niche for herself within and outside her marriage) and middle-aged Usha (rediscovering her sexual identity through telephone sex). Each is flawed in her own way, and therein lies her perfection.

Perhaps it is the gift of a stellar cast at the hands of a female director, but Lipstick manages, for the most part, what movies claiming to be pro-women generally don’t — well-fleshed out female characters that make both appropriate and inappropriate choices, and have dynamic personalities extending beyond but not necessarily in alienation of the men in their lives. So, Usha Buaji (aunt)’s desire to read racy romance magazines is not at odds with her solid business sense, and Shireen’s success on the professional front does not erode her desire to keep her family intact at any cost.

Another stroke of brilliance that the script possesses is a fine sense of balance, be it in its portrayal of right and wrong, or in capturing a whole spectrum of sexual desire. So, on the one hand, where you find yourself rooting for the women taking the obligation of a Burkha and turning it around to live their dreams, you also find them facing up to the repercussions of some of their ill-thought out actions. The women of Lipstickknow that all is not well with the world, and thankfully, the director doesn’t sweep in with a magic wand to make the young swimming instructor fall for Usha, or for Shireen’s husband to suddenly realise how much potential his wife has, or for the police to let shoplifter Rehana off with a warning even as Leela’s nice fiancé comes back with a clichéd “Main thaamunga tumhara haath” (“I will take you back”, or some such shit). Lipstick Under My Burkhaconcludes the way such events in life usually do, with a lot of tears, an occasional giggle and a mountain of understanding, collapsing upon you all at once.

The best part isn’t even really obvious until you focus on what’s not happening in this movie. Halfway across the movie, it hits me that these women are, for the most part, all very non-judgemental of each other. In what is a refreshing change from the “A woman is another woman’s worst enemy” trope, we see Shireen helping Usha buy her bathing suit, and Leela acknowledging that Shireen’s need to be touched affectionately by her husband isn’t something she should be hiding. Even as Rehana’s classmate gets her arrested and lashes out at her in anger, we don’t really see the typical “You stole my boyfriend” scene. The anger is directed towards the legitimate recipient, the man who got one woman pregnant before leaving her for another. The final scene is a silent war cry and a flame of solidarity all at once, as the women read the end of the novel and share a cigarette. And as you watch, perhaps you would wonder, like I did, if the next day, Shireen would hand in a resignation at work, and the widowed Usha be sent away to Kashi (a city where abandoned widows live in India). Maybe Leela would choose to not run away to Delhi with her boyfriend, and Rehana would eventually complete her degree through distance-learning. And if you’re reading this, maybe you’re a woman who has the ability to make some, or all of these choices for yourself. The question is- If you aren’t wearing as much (or as little) lipstick as you want, who and what are you waiting for?