Our common friends thought Manav* and I would be good for each other and set us up. I was to meet him at India Habitat Centre on Saturday evening. “Do people even meet like this in today’s age and time? I mean, I am soon going to be a famous writer and I don’t even know how to find a date for myself?!” I was shouting out to my best friend Tara* over the phone.
“Relax yaa, just go for it. What harm would it do to you? He can’t be that strange,” said the ever-encouraging Tara.
“Okay never use yaa with me! And may be you’re right. Even Anurag* and Ritika* said some really nice things about him,” I mulled, slowly coming around to the idea, “Yes, I should go; it could be really fun.”
“I want ALL the details on Monday, okay?” Tara trailed as she kept the phone down.
The next day, I admit I had butterflies. Primped, plucked and perspiring, I waited for Manav to pick me up outside my PG gate at 7.30. I had had to make all sorts of promises of returning on time to my landlady. Nevertheless, I stood patiently, looking out for the black SUV he said he drove.
I looked at my watch, it was 7.45. He was fifteen minutes late. I was slightly annoyed, but kept calm. Another fifteen minutes went by, he was now, almost half-an-hour late!
I called Tara, “He’s late. Maybe he’s not coming. Maybe he doesn’t like me? What if..”
“Oh God! Stopppp…He’ll be there. How can anyone not like you? He’s probably just running late and you can complain to him when he gets there. Now, calm down!” she cut off my ranting.
“Okay, okay, he’s here! I’ll call you later. Bye,” I said as I hung up.
“I’m sorry, I’m late. My dog was whimpering and I couldn’t bear to leave him as is,” he said once I had sat in the car.
Did he just mention he is a dog lover? I already liked him! “Oh okay! I was almost worried you might not come. I hope your dog is fine now.” *Stupid nervous babbling.*
“No no, I wouldn’t do that. Anurag is always saying such nice things about you,” he charmingly spoke, and I couldn’t keep my eyes off of him.
At the restaurant, when the waiter came to take orders, he cut me off and ordered for the both of us. I felt a little slighted, but then took it as proof of a confident personality or nerves or both. God knows, I was jittery. I had to give him the same benefit of doubt.
Dinner came, and we made first date talk—ambitions, hobbies, and all that jazz, but there was an air of awkwardness that would not dissipate. We bumbled and blushed through each others’ revelations and decided to skip dessert. The discomfort was palpable. He drove me home in silence as The Smiths played in his car. Don’t even ask how awkward the goodbye was!
*That’s that, then, there’s not going to be a second date.*
But suddenly, Manav spoke. “Look, I know it’s not been the best of evenings, but I think we should try again in a less formal setting. How about going to Nehru Park after classes on Monday?”
“Yeah, sure, I would like that. This has been a little nervy. See you then. Goodnight,” I said suppressing the widest grin that my face was dying to break into.
On Monday, I told Tara all about the date, and about the walk we had planned to go for in the evening. She looked so excited at the idea that I ended up inviting her to go with us.
“You guys go ahead, I’m going to feel too much like a third wheel,” she whined.
“No, you won’t! It might even ease up the pressure a little bit, besides any guy who feels uncomfortable around my best friend, can’t be my guy anyway.”
“Haha! In that case, let’s go for a walk to Nehru Park and meet this Manav of yours!”
The three of us met outside my college after classes, and just like I had hoped, having Tara did work. We were all a lot more jovial and relaxed. Plus, Nehru Park on a Delhi winter evening was magical enough to make us all a little warmer. I could see Tara and Manav instantly hitting it off and talking like old friends. After Manav left, us girls decided to hang out a little longer and chat.
Impetuously, I asked Tara, “So… what do you think about Manav?”
“Ermmm…he’s really nice. Funny, too. I can’t believe you guys felt weird. Today seemed pretty chill to me,” she replied.
“Yeah, I know. I can’t believe it either. Today felt nothing like the other day. Thanks for making it easy,” I said gratefully.
“Anytime, babe. I’ll see you tomorrow. Bye.”
The three of us soon became inseparable. We hung out before lectures, at lunch, and even frequently after classes ended. Having Tara there didn’t seem out of place, and I felt lucky to be able to hang out with my boyfriend and my best friend everyday. Two months went by and we had a routine of sorts. I came back to college, one day, having been out for three days at my LG’s place. I tried looking for them everywhere around college, but couldn’t find them. Even their numbers were switched off. I suddenly experienced a major FOMO moment when I realised Tara and Manav had carried on without me. A bubble of jealousy went up inside me. When Tara finally met me in the evening, she said something about her phone not working and how she and Manav had gone towards Chattarpur where the reception was bad.
“Tara, do you like Manav?” I decided to be direct.
“What?! No! Of course not,” Tara looked shocked, but I could see the sheepish look on her face.
“Look, I won’t be mad, you can tell me the truth,” I honestly wanted to know; though my head said it was obvious, my heart still longed to hear a ‘no’ from her.
“Okay…listen, I didn’t want it to be a big deal…I may have a little thing for him, but I swear I won’t do anything about it. It’s only because he’s a great guy. For you, I mean.”
I could feel my insides seething; I just want to run away and cry. However, on the face of it, I was just blank and kept hearing Tara going on and on about how close they had become in the last couple of days. What really hurt me was that Manav never showed any inclination towards Tara in those two months that we were together or was I too blindly in love with him to notice it?
I decided to talk to Manav, so I just walked away from her. Tara looked distressed but didn’t follow me.
I called Manav, “Where are you? We need to talk. Now.”
We met up near the famous ‘kissing tree’ in North Campus. He looked confused, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing’s wrong. I just think you and Tara have been hanging out quite a bit. Is there something I should be concerned about?” I wanted to be clear.
“No, nothing like that. We’re friends, that’s all. She’s fun, she’s smart, and a genuinely nice person,” I saw that look again, the one I had just left Tara with. The moony-mushy look.
So, it didn’t take long for the next words to come out of my mouth, “Manav… I think we should break-up.”
“What?? Why? Just because your best friend and I are getting along well? Isn’t that absurd?”
“No, it’s because my best friend and my boyfriend get along too well,” I shot back as I left him standing there.
As I went back to the PG, I refused all contact from either of them. I did not attend lectures for a week and binge watched every rom-com on Netflix. I swear my own life felt like it was a movie plot as well. After two days, the tears automatically dried up.
My head kept thinking over and over again about how funny attraction is. Here was this wonderful guy and all I felt was ambivalence towards him, but Tara and him, had this wonderful chemistry. Would it be so bad if they got together? Could I live with it? A week later, I asked to meet both of them for the first time since that day.
“Before you both say anything, I should put this out there. I’m not sure how you feel about it, but I think you have somewhat of a spark. One just has to be around you both to see it plainly.”
Both looked down at their hands, I guess they knew this.
Tara looked up first, “Are you sure?”
“Yes, but don’t rub it in.” I was forgiving, but not that forgiving.
It took a while, but things slowly got back to normal. Just because we were not meant for each other, didn’t mean it didn’t hurt a little to see them together, but I made my peace with it. It’s not like they intentionally set out to offend me. And besides, there was my best friend, Tara, willing to give up her feelings for me, maybe I could do the same for her. She was the one who had been with me when I cried over my first beak-up, or celebrated my first internship stipend with, I couldn’t even think of living my life without her.
*All names have been changed.
As told to Tanvi Jain.