Tuesday, December 18, 2018

I Can't Hurry Love



At Cedar Point with Greg. I'd learn he was very scared of roller coasters so we rode small rides all day. Ah, the things you do for love.

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I was still bopping to the sounds of MC Hammer and Vanilla Ice on the silent car ride home. My first junior high dance was in the books and a TOTAL success. The harem pants from Express were perfect for doing the Running Man and Roger Rabbit until I was out of breath. I cannot believe a circle formed around me! I felt like Paula Abdul! Even a few EIGHTH GRADERS came up to tell me I'm an "awesome" dancer! Whew, such a great time! But, it had to come to an end when I saw Mummy walk in to the gym to pick me up...

"Uh, bheta?" Mummy said with furrowed brows.

"Yes, Mummy?"

"I saw some of those girls and boys... dancing close..."

"Uh huh..."

"And girls sitting on boys laps."

"So?"

"Well.. Sheevu, WE don't do that, okay?"

"UGH! Mummyyyy!"

"No, you're too young, Sheevani!"

"The kids you saw are going together! Like boyfriend girlfriend."

"How the school can allow that?!" She mumbled something else in Gujurati through gritted teeth.

"Mummy, it's not a big deal!"

"School is for studies!! Not boys!"

We sat in silence. I'd had versions of these conversations with my parents before, so it wasn't surprising to hear what Mummy was saying, only this time her words were coated with more urgency and worry. It was as if she was forced onto a stage to give a speech well before her lines were memorized. In an effort to not let this escalate into a shouting match (something my family always tended to do), I decided to change the subject.

"I think I got a 100% on my pre-algebra quiz today."

"THIS is why all these girls get pregnant! This is what is wrong with America!"

I guess we're not changing the subject. Her hands were gripping the steering wheel for dear life and her eyes were darting around with panic. There was no going back now, she was in it.

"Okay, GOD!! I didn't even say I wanted a boyfriend!!"

"At the salon, I hear about these things, okay? I know more than you, Sheevani."

"Mummy, you don't understand because you didn't grow up here! This isn't India where the girls and boys are separated!"

"Doesn't matter! You just concentrate on your studies, bheta. After college, then you can think about that stuff."

"AFTER COLLEGE?!? I have to wait that long?"

"You are not in school to do this dating dating stuff! School is only for studies!"

Eh, what was the point of arguing? Not that a lack of a point ever stopped me before, but I didn't want the buzz of my first dance to wear off because of this conversation. I mean, the relevance of this subject doesn't even apply to me since the thought of having a boyfriend freaks me out. Better to save my energy for when this actually matters... so for now, I'll just stop... collaborate and listen.

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I didn't experience my first love until the age of 19, during my sophomore year at Michigan State University. I arrived on campus excited to return to the freedom of college life as well as redeem myself after a mediocre academic performance my freshman year. My mind was also occupied with awakening my forever dormant love life. Freshman year had proven to be the year where I made a lot of guy friends, but romance was in weak supply. There were a couple of attempts at dating, but my lack of experience with the opposite sex and the insecurity that caused only led to many (wonderful) platonic bonds. I mean, I really loved my guy friends, but during my 2nd year, I was hoping to find a relationship deeper than analyzing R.E.M lyrics.

My arms were juggling a poorly packed box of disorganized belongings when I first saw him. We were in the back parking lot of Gilchrist Hall where droves of students and parents were maneuvering around each other carrying boxes, mini-fridges, TVs, desktop computers and Yaffa Blocks. It was brief, but time slowed as he walked by me and I immediately noticed everything about him. "Whoa, some hotties in the dorm this year," I thought. Historical evidence shoved the next thought into my brain which was that I'd never stand a chance with someone like him, and I'd probably fight waves of jealousy seeing him with numerous pretty girls all year. "Ah well, I'm used to it," I thought.

Crush Crazy

My first crush happened in 7th grade. I had never felt as distracted by a boy as much as I had with Tim, and it hit me like a bolt of lightening. He was tall and funny with a wide smile and bright blue eyes. I suppose you could characterize him as the "all-American" boy and this little brown girl was all about it. I found myself trying to catch his eye, raising the volume of my voice in his presence with some interesting rehearsed dialogue or racing to be next to him in the lunch line. None of this was reciprocated, mind you, but that didn't matter to me. I knew I didn't want to be his "girlfriend" per se, but these feelings were exciting and definitely made school something to look forward to. That is until my friend asked if he thought I was cute one morning before first hour. She knew I had a crush on him and said, "Wait here! I'm going to see if he likes you!" Before I could protest she was off and my only choice was to peek around a locker to watch the interaction unfold like a silent movie. His answer came in the form of an expression consistent with smelling a fart. The crush dissipated slowly after that and then completely disappeared when he told me I had "E.T. hands" in science.

By the time high school rolled around, I had a crush streak on numerous cuties for the entirety of my four years. Sometimes they would overlap and other times I would fixate on one guy. There were a couple crushes that lasted from freshman to senior year that ebbed and flowed depending on who else was on the roster. My type remained that typical all-American boy who was both popular and unattainable. There was no agenda to these crushes other than to make my days in school a bit more bright and tingly. Since my parents were pretty strict with all things dating, I felt crushing on those impossible guys would cushion any disappointment of them not like-liking me back. "I wouldn't be able to date them anyway - so what if they aren't interested?!" At Kimball High School, a weird egalitarianism existed when it came to popularity. There was no distinct division between the jocks and guys who participated in the arts. Often times the captain of the soccer team was also the lead in the school play, or the wrestling champ had a solo in the choir concert... and I crushed on all of them - from the popular drama club guy to the popular tennis player guy. The one thing they all had in common was their complete indifference to yours truly.

G.S + S.D = 💗

Turns out that guy I saw on moving day was the younger brother of one of those platonic friends from freshman year. I had heard about Greg from his brother, but of course he left out how dreamy he was! I was so excited that I had an "in", but being the brother of a friend and living in the same dorm could be complicated. Even knowing the risks, I couldn't help but feel an electricity when he entered a room. If he talked to me, I'd try to be cool but jumbled my dumb words and sounded like an idiot. I was secretly hoping he'd be a jerk so that the impending rejection would actually be a relief, but no such luck; he was incredibly sweet, genuine and charming. Yeah, I had it BAD for Greg.

The idea of bagging Greg seemed as implausible as any of the dudes I crushed on in high school. I was sure that, at most, we'd become friends and I'd have yet another platonic dude to add to my collection. I'd often imagine hanging out with him and his eventual hot girlfriend while I'd jealously sit there shrugging my shoulders at the predictability of it all. Nothing in my dismal dating past told me that this tall, blonde, athletic, self-assured dude would want anything to do with me and I came to believe that as a fact of life.

Only, being away from my parents and having the freedom to spend a lot of time with this guy could change those odds, right? Since my feelings weren't going away and despite my insecurities, I went full-court press on my pursuit. Most of our interactions were in a group setting, which was perfect for my level of game; I had no moves, I had no technique, I didn't know the right pathways that avoided friend-zone traps - I knew nothing. Amazingly, my clueless approach worked. By the time the leaves had all turned to the brilliant shades of autumn in Michigan, Greg and I were inseparable.

He was my first... everything. I'm not sure I was prepared for the sheer intensity of those unfamiliar emotions, but I gladly dove into all of them. He was all I thought about and minutes away from him seemed like hours trapped in molasses. It was all the ooey-gooey feelings for which I had longed and I couldn't believe they were coming true. I couldn't get enough of Greg and he couldn't get enough of me.

Leading up to the first Christmas break after we became a couple, Greg was understandably concerned that I had not told my parents about our relationship. He was aware of their outlook on dating from our many conversations, but he also made it clear that he wasn't a fan of being a secret. As a first generation Indian-American, I'd seen my fair share of secret relationships amongst my friends in the community. Dating happened under the guise of various cover-ups, from study groups to extra-curricular school activities... basically if the lie included some sort of academic diversion, it was a fail-safe. Even though it made my stomach lurch with anxiety, I loved Greg too much to keep him a secret, so I decided to tell my parents over the break.

My dad sat in silence and my mom sheepishly nodded after I said the words out loud. By Desai family standards, the conversation was a success; there was no yelling or unreasonable assumptions or tangents. My parents absorbed the information calmly but also without a hint of what they were feeling. My mom suggested that we invite Greg over to our house so they could meet him and my dad agreed by not moving a muscle, no doubt fixating on the fact that this Greg boy lived in the same dorm as his only daughter.

"I almost threw up on the way over here," Greg said under his breath as I held the screen door open for him. My parents greeted him with smiles and awkward handshakes. The details of that first visit are fuzzy, but suffice it to say, it went completely fine and everyone was on their best behavior. For our entire relationship, my dad was never very warm towards Greg and many years later he'd express regret about that. "Beecharo," my dad would say which is Gujurati for "poor guy." This first love was a learning experience for all of us, my parents included. To his credit, Greg handled it all like a champ, which only made my love for him grow. He didn't quite understand the rules, especially after he had proven to be a great person, but he never once expressed any disrespect toward my parents.

We stayed together for 3 years. The end of our relationship was not messy or the result of betrayal, but rather the realization that perhaps we weren't each other's best match for the long run. I called my brother immediately after Greg and I broke up. Even though it was a mutual split, I was devastated. "Was it another girl or something?" Sheel asked as I was struggling to speak through sobs. "No, nothing like that... we've just grown apart and... (sob sob sob) we don't think... (sob sob sob) there's a real future for us.. (bwahahahah)!" Just as Sheel was impressed that I was open to our parents about my relationship with Greg, he was impressed with the mature outlook that caused our break-up. "Well, that sounds like a really smart way to think about it.. I mean, better to realize that now." I knew Sheel was right and I knew Greg and I were done, but I couldn't help but mourn my first real love and how much I'd miss him.

About a year after we broke up, Greg emailed to let me know he was bringing his new girlfriend to a wedding we were both attending. My heart raced as I read his words and it was all I thought about for the rest of the day, week.. pretty much every minute until the wedding. I went over to a friend's house, sprawled on her couch and tried to understand what I was feeling. Upset? No. Jealous? No. Panic that I'd need to find my own date for the wedding? A little. Ultimately, I think it was just a finality to our relationship that comes with any first love... he'd moved on. Of course it also stung that I was totally single without any prospects on the horizon. At any rate, his email allowed me to be perfectly prepared to see him with another person. At the reception, I made sure to thank him for that. We had agreed to always look out for each other after we broke up and he certainly did with that gesture. It was a compassionate way for me to get closure.

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Looking back on my relationship with Greg, I can't help but be so thankful. Those love-less years prior to meeting him, I had no clue what value I could bring to a relationship, and he gave me such confidence about my worth in that realm. Our years together were filled with ups and downs, dramas and romance, near break-ups and cannot-live-without-each-other honeymoons. Through it all, even in the deepest of lovey hazes of our relationship, I could always sense a missing link between the two of us. I wouldn't let myself dig too much into what that was, but it was constant. Years ago, at a mutual friend's destination wedding in Mexico, I met Greg's then fiancee, now wife. After observing them together for a couple of days, I thought, "Yes, that is exactly who Greg should be with." She had that indefinable missing link that I did not have, and I was genuinely glad he found that.

In those 3 years, I learned so much about myself and how I should be treated, not only as a woman, but as a partner. He set the bar pretty high which is probably why I chose to marry someone who is pretty damn spectacular. Today, we are distant Facebook friends and I often scroll past pictures of his family that make me smile. After my father passed away, Greg sent me a heart-felt email that included memories I never knew about. He even organized a group donation to the American Cancer Society from all the guys he lived with at MSU.

A recent conversation with friends exposed me to how rare this wonderful first love experience can be. Some got cheated on, some were constantly lied to and others went through worse. Those experiences often created baggage that took years to reverse. My experience, however, gave me the self-assurance I needed to define my standards in a relationship. Thanks for that, Greg. Also, thanks for showing me that I need to be with someone who doesn't watch an obscene amount of SportsCenter. Sorry, but that shit was brutal. 😜

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