Saturday, October 17, 2015

Too Good for Arranged Marriage?

You’re not going to college; you’re getting married. Your husband can decide whether you go to college. When are you going to get married, so your husband can take you to the hospital instead of us? Are you too good for an arranged marriage?
Fifteen years of my life were consumed with talks of arranged marriage while my parents tried to prevent me from dating. Of course, I found my way around these things… I dated their employees. I stole their car and ran away to college. They’re typical, “don’t!” and I “did” kind of things.
On both sides of my family, I am the first to be born outside of India, the first to be born in the U.S., and I suffered through judgment for the wicked act of expecting more from potential life partners. Yeah, I gave it a shot. And, yeah, it has worked out for other people. This is the story of the best candidate arranged marriage had to offer me.
I was 26. He was 30. I was in the Bay Area, home from Santa Barbara for a wedding, and he was visiting from San Diego going to the same wedding. I was told to talk to and consider, let’s call him Bharat, because that’s his name­—B for short. Of course, being ordered to talk to this guy meant avoiding him at all costs, just as he was avoiding me. We were circling the room in opposite directions and kept running into each other in the same two spots, and each time, quickly brushing past each other. I don’t think we spoke once that evening. And, I felt bad. I mean, I had known him since we were little kids.
The last time we hung out I was 10 and he was 14. We were at someone’s house for a dinner party, the kind where all the little kids would sneak away to watch TV or play cards or whatever. At this dinner party, there were four boys and my sister, all around the same age 14-16 years old, and there was 10 year old me. They were your typical mischievous, rock-and-roll- listening, guitar-playing, skateboarding, brown boys. And, we watched porn. To be fair, I’m assuming it was porn, but it very well could have been something on Cinemax or HBO late night. There was this chauffer who kept driving this same woman around and they kept banging on hay in this barn. At one point, she was banging someone else in the barn, and he came in with a different girl to bang her, and they were trying to hide their banging activities from one another, and it was hilarious! At one point, I remember laughing and pointing at the TV, but the boys turned on me and singled me out, “What are you laughing about?,” “She’s probably freaking out over all the sex.” No. It was funny the way the scene was set up and that particular… plot… point. Anyway, they shut me down, and that was the last time I hung out with this guy.
The day after the wedding, I felt bad that I was so rude to him. I mean, come on. It’s not like we HAVE to get married. We knew each other, so it really doesn’t have to be awkward. What did I do? I tracked down his number, gave him a call and apologized for being rude. He then invited me to meet up at the Durant Hotel in Berkeley. I did. We reminisced about the porn watching, and laughed, and went for a walk on campus—like my dad, he had graduated from Cal, and had a soft spot for anything Berkeley. It was all together, not so bad.
He invited me down to visit him in San Diego, his turf. He lived in Pacific Beach, and I got to see Jewel, before she was famous, playing in the coffee shop down the street. That’s the highlight. So, I get there, and he has 6 female housemates, and they all proceed to tell me at various times, how they’ve each gotten together with him in the past year. Ew?
Later that night, we went for a walk in La Jolla and one of the pretty housemates came along. We were walking and talking, and he kept trying to hold her hand. In front of me. As if I couldn’t see. She saw that I saw, and at one point, when I turned my back but could still see from the corner of my eye she was flailing her hands at him telling him to stop being an idiot. Serious. That night, he asks me to make out with him because he has insomnia. Uh. Let me think… No. To be fair though, from what I’ve experienced in the dating scene the past few years, guys still don’t have game—not much has changed. So instead, we talked about our childhoods and our dreams of the future. We both loved Spanish Mediterranean homes. He still played the guitar, and he loved horse races. He spent quite a bit of time at Del Mar tracks. I love dancing, and singing, and music, and writing, and reading, and bike riding, and rollerblading, and hiking, and being on stage, having an audience. We drifted off to sleep.
   The next day, we drove up to LA for another of his friend’s weddings. During the drive, he pointed out Del Mar racetrack as we passed it, and we continued our talks about what each of us wanted. At some point, he brought up some money troubles, and asked to borrow $750 for a car payment while he waited for his next paycheck. I pulled out my checkbook and wrote it out to him. I mean, family friend and all.
We arrive at this fancy pants house where I meet gorgeous Armenian women close to my age. Gorgeous, but rude. I’m Indian from Santa Barbara, and they’re Armenian from LA. Plastic Beach Town vs. Plastic City. They were all wearing different color handkerchief dresses. Remember those? It wasn’t a planned thing; they weren’t bridesmaids, just all wearing the same thing. They were all very stylish, and totally and completely snubbed me, the outsider. I tried saying Hi; I tried small talk; I tried complimenting. It became clear that this bunch needed me to be cruel and crafty. And, that’s just not me. So, I hung around B’s guy friends. They were all very nice. One of them, Azim, actually treated me like a human being and asked me about my life and my thoughts, and we had a real conversation until his bitchy girlfriend came over to shut it down.
We arrive at the reception hall as one big overdressed young group. It was beautiful. A dim-lit dining room in a posh LA hotel with rich mahogany woods. The long tables set up on either side of the dance floor.
B and I sat at a table with the mean girls. After some small talk, at one point, B turns to me and puts me on the spot. Out of the blue he’s pointing at the girl in front me and asks,  “What do you think of her hair?”
Me? “I think your hair is gorgeous! It’s a great cut, and has great movement.”
B turns to me, his demeanor and person physically intimidating, and spits in my face, “She’s wearing a wig and she has cancer!”
Whaaat? Did I space out? I wasn’t exactly sure what I was supposed to do anymore, but being screamed at, hearing this news, and I’m not even sure if I blundered. The weekend has not been great, and I’ve been a pretty good sport up until then. Everything that was not working welled up inside me. I excused myself and found my way to the bathroom.
I went into a stall and finally let out tears of frustration and sadness and humiliation and anger and disappointment. I was trying to think of what to do and where to go. I wanted to get out of there. This is before there were cell phones, and I wished for my car. Even if I could get a car, where was I going to go? I wasn’t really sure where I was. Am I  going to drive back to Santa Barbara at that time of night? The rest of my things and plane ticket were all in San Diego.
Then Azim. Wordless…. Entered the ladies lounge. Found me in the stall. Led me to the couch. Held me until I cried it all out. Wiped away my tears. Fixed me up. Kissed me on the forehead, and told me I’m beautiful. We stayed there in the bathroom until we started laughing and cracking jokes. The kindness of a gentle man with a good heart.
He led me out and back into the dining room. He and his friends took turns dancing with me, and twirling me about, making me smile, keeping me occupied, keeping me away from their women, and from B, all of whom were still shooting daggers at me. The last time I saw Azim, his girl was yelling at him near one of the tables, and B and I were heading out to the car. We locked eyes for a second. That was our goodbye.
It was a miserable drive back with B. I was thrilled when I got on that plane to go home. If I could have gotten out of San Diego faster, I would have.
But then, remember that $750 dollars he borrowed? After a few lies, and a couple of months, of still not seeing that check, I finally had to call my dad. $750 is a lot. I told my dad everything: the other girls, flat out asking me to make out for nothing, screaming at me in front of everyone, crying in the bathroom, Azim. The only thing my dad had to say, “Wait. You mean, that mother-fucker borrowed money? From YOU? Jeez. You need to call his mom now, and tell her. I’m not getting involved with this guy.” So, here I now have to call his sweet, kind, mother. I said something like, “Hi auntie. How are you? I’m so sorry… $750… something about horse races…” Three days later, I get an angry scrawled check in the mail.
I’m not perfect. I also wouldn’t say I have impossible standards. Am I too good for an arranged marriage? Well, considering B was the best of the lot I had met. That may be. 

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