What It Feels Like to Be 30 and Never Have Been in Love

Love and Sex

What It Feels Like to Be 30 and Never Have Been in Love

Illustration: Akshita Monga

“Dude seriously do you even understand how break-ups work,” exclaimed my weeping, heartbroken colleague whom I was miserably failing to console. She was right. I have personally never experienced it, but have witnessed friends dealing with it. And I’ve also seen a lot of rom-coms. So I told her, I’ve never had any break-ups because I’ve never been in love. I’ve never been in love because I’ve never had any serious relationships.

And with that confession I became the consolee from the consoler. I have gone through this drill often and I knew how it ends – with people suggesting that I put myself out there.

Being 30 and never having been in love is a curious position. It is the equivalent of living in Mumbai and never having a tasted a vada pav or being in Delhi and never hearing, “Tu jaanta nahin mera baap kaun hai.” You are the oddball, the anomaly, the socially handicapped and emotionally vacant.  

I don’t think I am either.  

I just haven’t had some of the experiences that most “normal” people at my age have. I’ve never had high-school romances, only crushes (nothing too passionate). I’ve never had to spend sleepless nights thinking about what to gift someone on Valentine’s Day in college, I’ve never received any gifts either. I’ve never had any scandalous office relationships (again, just passing crushes). The closest romantic experience I’ve had is when some anonymous canteen guy working in the kitchen of my office would send me heart-shaped sandwiches. I’d smile and eat them, I never found out who it was, and then I quit.

I know what love feels like theoretically — considering I get my dose of dopamine from chocolates. Allow me to give you the lowdown on what life on this other side looks like.

When you have been single for too long, there’s always this one phase which is on repeat mode. It starts with meeting a prospective new love interest and feeling all the hope and excitement that Yash Chopra movies have been peddling you for decades. You almost always ask the guy out, but then you begin to hope that it does not go anywhere. If he says yes and you have a date, you are terrified: It means now you have to put on a nice dress, make a list of interesting things to talk about, and be more likeable. The fact that all your days of singlehood have made you too comfortable in your own skin doesn’t help.

You wonder how you ended up here. How did you miss the memo about falling in love at the right age, and have enough time to scope out your one great love?

On the date you anxiously try to strike a conversation in an attempt to find common ground. You are not looking for perfection, but you too have certain expectations, that are probably set all wrong. Somewhere towards the end of the date you realise, you were trying to get to know the person, but all he wants is a casual fling. You even try to fit into the mould because like it or not, that’s how love is done these days. So you find yourself on a bed with someone you barely know.

But that’s all there is. You’re fine with casual sex, but not being able to have a genuine conversation is a dealbreaker. No amount of passionate heavy petting or enjoying each other’s bodies can compensate for that sadly.

So you retreat, and tell yourself what Don Draper once said on Mad Men, “The reason you haven’t felt [love] is because it doesn’t exist. What you call love is what guys like me have invented to sell Nylons.” Love seems like a grand conspiracy to disrupt your peace. Romance is an exhausting thing to pursue.

That said, your loneliness can be daunting, especially when you see your friends and cousins in love, getting hitched. You become a serial third-wheeler and just someone your married friend turns to when they don’t have plans with their spouse. When you miss the intimacy, it drives you to reinstall that dating app which you’ve already deleted a dozen times, only to realise once again that there is no one really out there.

You can’t bring yourself to go through the ordeal that is modern dating. You fire your inefficient Cupid. You begin to savour your freedom and hope to become the “cat lady”soon.

You wonder how you ended up here. How did you miss the memo about falling in love at the right age, and have enough time to scope out your one great love? I know I was either too busy studying, finding and keeping a job, and trying to figure out who I really was. I’m either just not cut out for this arduous level of multi-tasking or as my friend tells me, “Maybe I’m just too rational to be in love.”

It’s true. Maybe I’d rather sail alone than be with the wrong companion. An essay I read in the Guardian titled “I’m a Relationship Virgin: I’m 54 and Have Never had a Boyfriend” floated the idea of people who are “somehow programmed to be single.” Maybe I am single at heart.

So when friends tag me in articles such as “36 questions designed to help you fall in love with anyone” and relatives send me promo codes to matrimonial websites I laugh it off. I still love the idea of romance — but now I consider myself the queen of singlehood, the Liz Lemon of my world, who believes that “all anyone really wants in this life is to sit in peace and eat a sandwich”.