On Chemistry- or the lack thereof

I was talking to an ex recently. We had dated briefly, a couple of years ago over the course of a month, one summer in India. I was nineteen and he was twenty one. I was dropping by on vacation from university in Canada to visit family, and he was home for the summer from an engineering school in the South. He was one of those people the internet had dropped into my life. We’d met through Blogger. We had a few mutual acquaintances; I’d stumbled onto his blog through one of them, and had been amused by his particular brand of self deprecating humour and snide commentary. I’d left a comment, and he’d visited my blog in return.

We began chatting in the Winter, over Gtalk and Skype (but never webcamming)- and soon we were talking almost daily for an hour or so. I was charmed by the way he used big words nonchalantly, and the slightly awkward, verging-on-flirtation texts he sent me. Here was a boy who’d read Douglas Adams, who discussed Iron and Wine with me, who was actuallyfunny. Who going by Facebook, also appeared to be six feet tall and ripped. We were so compatible. We agreed to be each others’ back up if we were still unmarried at forty. As someone who’d been told throughout high school to save my vocabulary for an essay, I felt like a starving woman, suddenly told she was now a judge on Top Chef.

I had no idea what was going through his head, but I found myself crushing on himself in the way that a nineteen year old girl can crush on someone she’s only ever interacted with online.

The two of us made plans for the summer when we were finally going to be in the same place. Then suddenly, inexplicably, my crush wore out. By the time I was in Calcutta, sweaty and going to meet him for the first time at a chain coffee-place, it was only a vague memory. The conversation flowed easily that first day, as we sipped overpriced lemonade, and I listened somewhat uneasily to Akon singing about his Lamborghini Gallado. I commented on the unfortunate choice of music we were being subjected to, and he looked somewhat sheepish as he confessed that he quite liked Akon.

Okay. Was not expecting that.

Nevertheless I shook it off, as we left the coffee shop and started ambling down the dusty greenery of the city streets. We talked and laughed, our hands lingering by the invisible line that marked the space between our bodies, never working up enough courage to actually touch. I think I took his arm, in a brave attempt at crossing it. We repeated this sort of pseudo-date several times over the course of the next week, and then on one of these repeats we were joking about being back-ups when he said carelessly, “So do you want to try it out? For real?”

I froze in disbelief, mumbled something about needing to think about it and ran off home. As I rolled over the question in my head that evening, I wondered why I hadn’t just said yes.

Here was a boy who’d read Douglas Adams, who discussed Iron and Wine with me, who was actually funny. Who really was six feet tall and ripped. We were so compatible.

And yet, there was something missing. I called him over the phone and asked him why he was asking me out. “What do you mean?”, he said. I stuttered, trying to phrase it correctly. “I mean, there doesn’t seem to be any mush… does there?”.

I don’t remember his reply, but I ended up saying yes, and so we introduced our social circles to each other and went on actual dates. Then we kissed. Several times. And it became clear to me that this was not going to work. “It was like kissing a goldfish!”, I wailed to my friends. I had it on good authority that he was a good kisser- he’d dated a friend of a friend before- so it couldn’t be that. “Are you seriously going to break up with him because your kisses are shitty?”, my best friend asked me.

As it happened, I did. I wound up breaking up with him over the course of one of our long walks, and getting together with another boy- a musician with dimples, a fondness for distorted guitar riffs I didn’t understand, and a limited vocabulary (our kisses were altogether more satisfying). It wasn’t a terrible loss to the Ex though. As it turned out, he wasn’t quite over the friend-of-a-friend and asked her out again. It was quite an amicable break-up and we continued to talk over the years.

Here was a boy who’d read Douglas Adams, who discussed Iron and Wine with me, who was actually funny. Who really was six feet tall and ripped. We were so compatible.

But we have no chemistry”, I told him as I said goodbye.

We hadn’t talked in a while when he pinged me on Facebook a few days ago. I am now twenty two. I’ve believe that sexuality is fluid, and gender is performative. My taste in music has become more obscure, I’ve become a strident feminist, and I try to question the language I use and the cultural and social prejudices and expectations I’ve been taught to consider as the way things “should” be. I have also been dating a skinny, incredibly sarcastic Editor with the personality of a grumpy old man, for the greater part of the last two years. He looks nothing the suave pretty boys I used to date, he will probably never make a lot of money, our first kiss was terrible, and he doesn’tdo romantic gestures, but he makes me laugh. Two years on, we haven’t yet run out of things to talk about and I still find myself hooked. What I’m saying is that I’ve changed a fair amount.

The ex is single, and finds himself weary of hook ups; he wants a real relationship.

“I look around and suddenly everyone I know is in a long term relationship, and I’m thinking wtf have I been doing?”, he confessed to me the other day.

He doesn’t seem to have changed all that much, though he’s become more set in his tastes, and switched from Engineering to Management. I recomended OkCupid to him, while warning him of the creeps, and although it hasn’t really taken off in India yet, he messaged me to thank me for the suggestion, and asked me to check out his profile. I obliged and noted that the site screamed “You’re a 93% match!” at us.

“Just shows you how the algorithm can’t really account for chemistry”, I said.

He agreed, but added, “ It’s about place, time, state of mind, openness, objective at that point of time, and a lot of other things, which put together you call chemistry. It’s not like it could never exist between the two of us. It just didn’t back then, otherwise arranged marriages would never work.”

I privately thought that I’d changed so much since, that we wouldn’t really be compatible today, despite what OkCupid thought. On chat, I agreed with him, and he told me that the fact that we hadn’t had a chance to really spend time together hadn’t helped our case back then. Neither did we really have common friends.

“We were doomed to fail”, he said.

I disagreed with him. “You can like-like someone from online. We may have been compatible, but there was no real mush there, and that was the problem.”

He countered by insisting that you couldn’t possibly begin to connect with someone online.

I’d met the Editor only once (at a Farewell party for their graduating class ironically enough), and I’d started to like him from the long conversations we’d had on Facebook since then, before we met in person again. We’d had no common friends at the time.

“You have to be in the state of mind to really want a boyfriend at that point then”, the Ex said.

Again, not true. At the time, I hadn’t been looking for anything. I was once again, visiting India over the summer, and I had no intention of leading myself to heartbreak when I left. He wasn’t even in the same city for the majority of that summer.

“ But there are unconscious pressures, which you can ignore just as easily as give in to, like friends and their expectations, age, opportunity and curiosity again, the intangible part that’s difficult to reason”, the Ex argued. “There has to be some common ground to go on”.

At our first meeting, the Editor and I had barely spoken to each other, but I was strangely drawn to the scruffy, lanky man with glasses, who refused to step into the rain with the rest of the drunken rowdy bunch, and stubbornly swigged his beer inside the house, as he rolled joint after joint. I snuggled up to him briefly in my drunken haze, and gave him a kiss on the cheek before I left the party.

“Aha!”, said the Ex. “That was your common ground. Something to laugh about and bond over later.”

Not quite. When I remembered later, I was mortified, and as when I finally brought it up two weeks after we started talking on Facebook, it turned out that he didn’t even remember, given how drunk he had been. And when I hesitantly brought up my unexpected crush to my friends, the general reaction I received was one of bemused puzzlement.

“So no common ground, no common friends really, he wasn’t even my type”, I said.

We argued back and forth for a bit, both of us firm on our stance.

“My theory is chemistry is a state of mind”, the Ex declared, at the end of our conversation. I still disagreed, but it was late, and I was sleepy, so I said good night.

I am most decidedly not a romantic, but from my romantic misadventures, I’ve come to believe that whether two people connect or not is one of the more unpredictable, unexplainable things in life. Chemistry is either there, or it isn’t.

Companionship, sure, that can come with time, and it needs to if you’re looking for something long-term- but unless that indefinable something exists in the first place, that something that turns someone ordinary into someone whose every orifice the sun shines out of, compatibility isn’t going to quite cut it.

– Written for Medium 


Last Day of Undergrad

A couple of weeks ago I was wishing I was Michael Chabon, and today late at night, reading Billy Collins, I was wishing I could be him.

Last day of undergrad classes today, and I missed almost all of the only class I had. Turned up late, and didn’t pay much attention; Skyped with S and the Boyfriend, then walked out in the pouring rain, to get tattooed by a South American lady called Anabela. Arguing with tattoo artists always makes me iffy- it’s so hard to come to an artistic vision when two people are involved, each with definite opinions. Julie came along to hold my hand. Then we went back to school and had Chinese food and unnecessary ice cream. Comfy lounge with the remains of my ice-cream, watching New Girl and trying to figure out the nth version of a not-needy message to send a boy who’s decided to cut me out for some reason. Ran to watch an experimental play at the Black box theatre: got there with my hair sticking up, 5 minutes before it started and straightened my hair in the reflection of a fire extinguisher, only to find Erik staring at me from the end of the corridor, waiting. Then back home, with Erik who tags along and eats all my pizza- and some amounts of deep conversation interspersed with youtube and music.

The roommate came home late, trying to convince me to ditch the Indian hippie plan, and live with her in Toronto instead. She also informed me that no, I’m not making shit up in my head, the boy in question is definitely annoyed at me.

Note to self: Stop putting people in a gray area? Even if it works, it will probably end up messy.

It rained all day today. I wish it hadn’t.

It’s been a long time since I’ve written anything remotely romantic about the Boyfriend, so here’s one for the day.  A line I read from a favourite band singing some words that rang true:

I’ve got reservations about so many things, but not about you.


(while we’re being romantic, I’ve had this song in my head all day. it’s the way it makes me feel, not the lyrics, really.)

so all my time on OkCupid has done is give me a profound sense of gratefulness at having found my boyfriend. 

Jesus H. Christ, I’d forgotten about the creepers, the grammatically challenged, and the uninteresting people out there.

I don’t think this is quite what the makers of the site had in mind. 

We have:

gnarled, veiny hands and forearms,

(and feet too, from too much walking),

an interest in the blues,

a propensity for hedonism,

a love for the written word,

an appreciation of beauty in stretches of untamed road,

contrasting views of the world,

and an unceasing fascination with each other.

– dug up an old tidbit I’d scribbled sometime earlier this year. Inspired by something Shalmi said.

For N- who complains that I only write depressing things about him

dropped into my life

with whiskey-blood and a mouth full of smoke.

my feet forgot the pull of gravity

for months afterward.

i should have paid more attention to what the storm was singing.

the happiest i have ever been

is struggling not to fall asleep on strange living room floors,

on make-shift beds,

beside lights strung in bottles

losing track of which of these limbs belong to me.

The crackle at the other end of the line
told me that he was still there,
despite the dead silence.
The click at the back of his teeth,
and the sudden sharp uncontrolled intake of breath,
Impatient at the rising pitch of my voice,
wavering perilously close to tears.
Tremulous and shaky,
for the third phone call this month.
I am stricken by the irritation in his voice,
and struggle to make amends.
I apologize for being irritable,
for being a bore, for being predictable
and for the lack of sparkle in our conversation.
I dredge out the same dull things each time.
The worry in my thoughts
translate to a crease in between my eyebrows,
turning into a ceaseless litany of woe on the phone.
I can imagine the mouse
hovering over a link in red
and the impatience perched at the corner of his absent smile.
I hang up feeling stupid.
That evening sitting with work,
with cats lolling on the floor,
and stray roommates behind closed doors,
I remember my grandmother,
and us children rolling our eyes, every time her voice would start to rise
about my dead grandfather,
about money, and the servants.
The crack was coming, we knew it
because it came so often.
Impatience, and irritation.
‘I love her, but why can’t she just keep her misery to herself?’
I did not think those thoughts,
I did not vocalize them,
not even to myself.
Am I a bad person,
I wonder.
Don’t think so much,
a friend told me over the phone.
Isn’t it exhausting,
she asked, bewildered, frustrated.
Yes, I said.
But not giving shape to the thought in your head,
doesn’t un-make it.
But I am a fool,
who thinks too much, and sleeps too little, and gets confused,
and cries on the phone.
Offering apologies, swallowing the knot in my stomach.
So I keep my feelings to myself,
and try to take up littler space.
I will not intrude in your world.
I will back away one half footfall at a time,
and you will not hear me leave.
You will not care.
And I will make a mental note to myself,
to be kinder to my grandmother
when she tries not to cry.

On distance

Here is a hard truth about distance: No matter how much you love each other, and how fascinating you find each other, and how many interests you have in common, there are some days on which there simply isn’t anything to say. Nothing earth-shattering has happened, nothing sounds particularly amusing over the phone, and one of you probably keeps saying “What”? after every alternate sentence. Now this happens even when you’re in the same place, but can usually be bridged by doing something together- drinking chaa, killing time with small talk, lying around listening to music, getting stoned and watching something, cooking, fucking, whatever- and that, *that* is the crucial thing which long distance can never, ever compensate for: inhabiting the same space takes up so much of a life.

Look, the heart of the matter lies in

Look, the heart of the matter lies in a little worm. The worm eats away at your core, day by day. Little by little, it crawls into your brain and nestles there, spinning away. It is a monster worm, this one. It spins a glowing black cocoon out of doubt, and misery, and old patterns. Again, and again you try to spray it into oblivion. Futilely, you throw drops of happiness, and security at it. “Shut up, getout, leavemealone!”
It merely grins its hideous grin, and oozes its way into dark corners. It will resurface; it always does. It knows this and you know this.
I will claw your heart out, and suck the marrow from your brains. I will lick my lips with great relish as I tongue back an artery dangling out of my mouth.
“Man, I love it when we tongue”.
How many other tongues have you loved?
I will cut off your tongue, garnish it with salt and pepper, and feed it to my little giant worm. I have a gremlin little cat, who likes to listen to electrohouse. He climbs onto the drawer by the record player and cries in time to the drop. Little cat, little cat, little black cat, won’t you please eat up my worm?

on the surface of it

one day we will own a house with shabby comfortable couches, that you can sink into, and french windows. one of the rooms will have rust coloured walls and a fake fireplace on the mantel of which will live an empty frame that i have spray painted gold. we will own a cat whom we will name Murakami. Murakami will like you more but love me more, like children often do their mothers. i will have faint frown lines that finally show between my eyebrows and you will have the same old metallic frames housing your gaze. your hair will be more tamed, with a few blotches of white in it. mine will have resisted and have gotten messier than ever, clinging to girlhood. we will have a record player cohabitating with a stack of books we don’t read very often, but like to look at for their covers. perhaps they will have grand impressive titles like ‘Sarte on existentialism and bacon’. Actually, that is a book I would like to read, so scratch that. I should have been an art director in films. Perhaps I will be an art director for small films, and you will be writing something you like. one of the walls in one of the rooms will have lines from poems and books we love on it; parts will be yellowing, but we like it better that way. there will be a stack of dirty dishes in the sink that i am putting off doing, and there will be a line above your forehead, signaling your growing impatience,as you sit in an armchair and read The Times cover to cover, leaving out the obituaries and the tabloid. i will be traipsing around the house with a vague look in my eyes, in purple slippers and a long t-shirt that i have stolen from you. i cannot remember what it is that i’m looking for, but i keep throwing glances at the refrigerator each time i pass it, and finally, i settle down with a block of dill havarti (in a coloured jar with a paper label saying ‘I Can Haz Cheez’) on the other armchair on the opposite side of the room. i sit cross-legged, open Ulysses (which I have not managed to read in all these years), and catch you looking at me.


you just sigh. “never mind.” a slight twitch of the head.

“what?! why must you always leave things hanging?”

“i suppose you’re going to want me to do the dishes again”.

i smile in what i think is an endearing manner, but you don’t catch it because you’re looking at the kitchen and besides, you stopped thinking it was endearing about forty two weeks ago.

“only if they bother you”

“whatever”, you snap, and bury your head in the paper again.

sunday crawls along. i’ve never liked sundays. bloody evil days providing you with time to mull over things you have no business thinking about.

one day we will own a house, and a cat, and comfortable couches, and grow old and tired of each other. or perhaps not.