Lessons from a matrimonial ad
'How many times must we meet before you know me?' she kept asking on our first meeting; we didn't marry - but I never thought I'd be the reason she's married today
I am not the sort who advertises in the matrimonial pages. Not at age 32 anyway. Could anyone really find their soul mate through a small paragraph full of abbreviations in a crowded newspaper?
But one day, I did. Maybe I could craft an ad so clever, I thought, that parents would ignore it but young women would be captivated by it. So, many decades ago, I advertised in the Times of India — and it worked. I received about 80 replies, most from young women who thought I wrote very well and might be good husband material.
Alas, I found it difficult to start a correspondence with any of them. A part of me said nothing would come of it anyway, and I'd just make some girl feel rotten. Finally, I wrote to only two and met just one, in a coffee shop in south Bombay.
"Listen," I said. "That ad was just a way to meet like-minded women. You're more than a paragraph for sure and I certainly am. May we forget the ad now and slowly get to know each other and see where this goes?"
She was an intelligent, reflective woman. After some thought, she said, "That's fine. How many times would you like to meet me before you feel you know me?"
I hadn't prepared for this question. "Five times?" she asked.
When I remained speechless, she continued, "I ask because I'm 28 now, and don't usually reply to matrimonial ads. Yours was so different that I really wanted to meet you — assuming you had written it. I'm already on the shelf. An Indian girl unmarried at 28 is as good as a spinster. And I'm only human. Each time we meet, my hopes will rise a little more. I'll think He likes me, he'll say yes. But one day you'll tell me, sorry, love, this is not happening. I just don't feel it. And I will be destroyed."
This was not how our first conversation was supposed to go.
"So, let me ask again," she said. "How many times must a man meet a woman before he knows her?"
"I never thought about that, to be honest," I stuttered. "I thought we could just let this evolve in a very natural way."
"Even if at the end of many meetings," she continued, "you decide you like me and propose to me — the day we marry, I will be a different woman. I will be your wife. And you will have to start getting to know me all over again. As I you."
"It gets worse," she said. "Like any human being I expect to learn and grow and keep changing all my life. We'll have children, and that will change me — and you. I'll see losses, death, sickness, and those will change me. I'll learn new things, develop new skills, and those will change me. So the chances are that even by the time we reach old age, we'll still be discovering each other. I'm sorry to say this, but I doubt you'll ever completely know me — or I you."
"In fact, I'd hope my husband and I never ever start thinking we know each other completely. That would be so boring," she added.
I did not even try to respond now.
"So — how many times do you want to meet me?"
She smiled, the warmest, gentlest smile.
"I can say that I've met you, and my gut says you're a good man. I'm ready to say, here and now, that I'm willing to marry you and take my chances. Perhaps we'll grow old and happy together. Perhaps we'll grow apart. Life gives us no guarantees."
I went home, promising to think about it but I knew I could not do this. Later that night I wrote her a letter as kind as I could, saying that I simply could not decide to marry a person after one meeting.
That should have been the end of the matter. But she wrote back, already crushed by the rejection. I could not let that be the last word on this episode. I invited her to one last cup of coffee.
"You and I are the same," I told her. "We want to marry, be happy, have a family. The difference is that I'm doing something about it, and you're waiting for lighting to strike."
With her permission, I crafted and placed a matrimonial ad for her, every bit as clever as my own. I screened the replies and gave her a shortlist of candidates. Then we lost touch.
I met her years later, by accident. She was with a good-looking, kind-eyed man, who she introduced as her husband. I learned later that he was one of those who'd replied to the ad I had put out for her.
The bump in her dress told me that soon there would be a happy addition to their lives.
Here, viewed from there. C Y Gopinath, in Bangkok, throws unique light and shadows on Mumbai, the city that raised him. You can reach him at email@example.com Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org
The views expressed in this column are the individual's and don't represent those of the paper
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