By Lofn Feb. 07, 2018
I join an online group that calls itself “A 40s friendliers group” and my inbox pings with a request from “Roy”, asking whether I would like to be connected. There’s no harm if no numbers are being exchanged, I tell myself. A massive step for a middle-class, conservative, 40-something Indian divorcee.
Divorce. Such an ugly word, even now. But I’ve seen young women in their 20s and 30s go through separation with far more élan than their counterparts pushing 40. At 20, you can still dare to date and fornicate without fear. At 30, you seriously hunt for a replacement, with an eye on the biological clock.
But if you are on the wrong side of the 40s like me, it’s far better to keep the fact hidden. Disguised. Mentioned only while filling name-change forms in banks where the clerks – who usually ignore you – will give you sidelong appraising glances. In family circles, the fact comes out grudgingly, only when all other ruses to cover the unfortunate fact fail. Yes, poor thing, she had to walk out. But she’s coping.
Coping? Excuse me, but she’s thrilled to bits to have her life back! Only, she cannot shout it openly from the rooftops lest she be viewed as a slut, a man-eater, or a lesbian (having grown up in a time before social media allowed you to reclaim these labels.)
Two years since the family court pronounced us man and ex wife, I am happily single. Well, mostly. At the end of a long day, however, when I curl my toes under the comforter and watch the moon from the window, I yearn for something that’s still missing from my life: Maybe a whiff of adventure, a dash of romantic excitement, a tacit promise for a life that feels a bit better.
If you are on the wrong side of the 40s like me, it’s far better to keep the fact hidden.
Mind you, I am no Tinder-savvy, Aisle-hunting, Second Shaadi-shopping kind of person. I am an introvert who likes her occasional Old Monk in the company of a few trusted friends and bonds over books and movies with colleagues. One marriage has been one too many. I am content to watch the domestic drama unfold in my friends’ lives while I do my thing – work hard and party moderately. In fact, I once even tried to shake a leg at a suburban Harry’s once, and was helped back, breathless, to my table by a young dude who told me, “Auntie, you dance well! But you need more practice.”
So the days are exciting. It’s the nights that are long.
And that’s how a 45-year-old divorcee gets sucked into the enticing anonymous world of online “friendships”. Virtual “friendships” as advertised on different websites are a euphemism for alliances of so many sorts, they beggar description.
I wouldn’t admit it to my best friend, but my online shenanigans usually start with innocuous searches for groups that do social work in Dharavi. Visit orphanages with goodies in Mankhurd. I convince myself I am looking to do good while trying to build meaningful new friendships. With all genders.
My online adventures are limited to shaky ventures called Meetafriend, Meetme and Meetup, where I upload the grainiest profile picture I can find and give myself a pseudonym. I know the perils of online wandering.
When I join a group that calls itself – rather dubiously – “A 40s friendliers group” (Is it for those who are 40 years old and and counting? Those who want to be kind to 40-somethings?) it’s with the mildly innocent hope of having interesting evenings with like-minded, similar-aged people to look forward to. No more solitary evenings with the Monk, that is.
When my inbox pings with a request from “Roy” the next morning, asking politely how I am doing and whether I would like to be connected, I am confused. I am not asking for your number, he tells me, you just looked interesting.
Life histories pour out in midnight calls, that progress alarmingly quickly from audio to video chats.
Interesting? That blurry profile pic taken by a drunk friend two years ago is interesting? I have a second look at the said pic, and then decide there’s no harm if no numbers are being exchanged. A massive step for a middle-class, conservative, 40-something Indian divorcee.
Hours later, likes and dislikes are exchanged, witty repartee shoots through the ether, and a consensus is nearly reached – we like each other!
A few hours later he’s dug out my LinkedIn profile (horror!) and I reciprocate by unearthing his profile on Facebook. And shudder to the depths of my soul to realise he’s a full decade and a half younger! Now that’s where a nice divorcee in her 40s would draw the line, and retreat to watching F.R.I.E.N.D.S. repeats on Comedy Central.
But when the devil gets hold of your imagination, there ain’t any looking back.
Cyber anonymity takes on a whole new meaning when Facebook messenger plays Cupid. My ears strain to catch the ping of the FB messenger alert during serious office meetings, and work recedes into the background as the online fling takes on teenage romance proportions. What are you wearing today? Now, no one in the last twenty years has bothered to ask what I have worn to office or if I have ensured matching accessories. Now I am careful to pick out my fanciest lingerie too, just to impress a young dude I haven’t even met, and may never.
The thrill is in not knowing if and when online may spill over to offline. Life histories pour out in midnight calls, that progress alarmingly quickly from audio to video chats. I stumble into office bleary-eyed from lack of sleep but high on endorphins, oxytocin, and the rest of the stuff that brings a glow to the cheek.
A novice in the online stratosphere, it takes me a while to get my bearings – this is a world where phone chats devolve quickly into explicit conversations aimed at quick gratification, and circuitous plans for rendezvous are made. And me? I ask myself if I am ready to share my bed with a guy whose Aadhaar number I don’t know? But the lure of the unknown is tantalising.
And as quickly as it starts, it ends. Throwing me into a welter of confusion. A slight misunderstanding, and he calls it quits. Not unkindly, but with a virtual shrug of the shoulders that I can sense through the cyber light years between us. I track him on FB messenger obsessively over the next few days. He’s obviously online, but with someone else.
Slowly, life returns to track, but it’s a new me that gazes into the mirror. A more confident 40-something divorcee, who now knows the rules of the game.
It’s been fun. So long and thanks for everything, Roy.
There’s an ocean out there. The nights are long. And the fishing’s just beginning.