It’s the second date.
We are in that no-man’s land between deciding whether we want to tell each other our favourite Game Of Thrones character or deciding who pays for dinner tonight. In the last 40-odd minutes, he’s told me he’s an alcoholic, wrote a long vicious email to an ex who he broke up with and is now so broken that he can never get into a serious relationship. And I thought we were only getting dinner.
If I collect any more red flags, I can start my own souvenir shop. Would you like to buy one for your friends back home?
“So I might have to go grab dinner with a few friends later. Do you mind if we just get a drink at home instead?” he asks me, stirring me out of my monologue-inspired reverie. It’s only 6.30 pm. The sun is still out, deciding what to do in the dull city sky. Ranveer is an executive producer with a media mogul — in his plush suburban apartment; he only sees the things I don’t. I don’t blame him — why would he see the white picket fence dream when he has a sea-facing view? Why can’t he be like every second profile on Grindr — sane and sorted, butlooking for fun?
I agree to the drink nevertheless (White rum, four cubes of ice, some lime water). I also agree to other things.
Hugs are exchanged when I leave two hours later.
He never calls me back. Is Ranveer with the mousy hair and the droopy, beady eyes, the conventional bad boy? He’s not. According to him, he’s ‘broken’ — damaged beyond repair. He doesn’t cheat. He doesn’t get abusive. He doesn’t even steal your fries. He just can’t feel.
‘Do you know a biological electrician who’d help re-wire me?’ His question had sounded genuine. Ding ding ding. We have ourselves a Prince Harming (and he will be soon be coming to theaters near you) who will always be far, far away in a time long, long ago.
There’s only one question: is broken the new bad?
The conventional bad boy does feelings like breath mints, as an afterthought. The broken one, on the other hand is the breath mint. He’s refreshing, but you get ones like him by the pack. He quotes Rumi at wine soirees, and then laughs about being pretentious. He binges on Netflix every other night, and goes for Sunday brunch twice a month. He’ll dance, but only when he’s three drinks down. He’s comfortable, because he blends in.
But so is being emotionally unavailable; it’s comfortable. Ranveer pulls it around himself, like a security blanket. It looks quite snug. How do I get one of my own? (Side note: I don’t, because I already have my patchwork quilt full of red flags.)
I get the kind of comfort that comes with it — it’s your personal ‘get-out-of-Jail-free’ card for whenever someone even hints of emotional intimacy. A readymade excuse whenever you feel too lazy to tell someone that you are just not into them. I would know — I am full of such excuses. Like most gay men, I’ve done boys I don’t want to date, and dated boys I don’t want to do.
Arjun, on the other hand, clearly falls in the former.
Arjun, a straitlaced writer from Delhi is not a man with any such qualms — he revels in his paisley shirts and his obnoxious attitude. “Should I text Ranveer again?” I ask him, one night over cocktails. It’s a moment of desperation — of too many drinks consumed, and too many boys that have slipped away. A self-proclaimed damaged man, Arjun thinks that I think too much and should finish my drink before he does. Clearly teaching a mean boy how to be empathetic is like teaching a cat how to swim. You only get scratched.
“I’ll tell you a secret,” he whispers to me, and I lean across the table. I can smell his mint julep — it doesn’t mix well with his aftershave, “We are all happy damaged men, and we like it that way.”
I am waiting for the climax. The julep clearly isn’t a great orator.
Does he like the solitude? Does he like the flipping of emotions like a light switch? On. Off. On. Off. On. Off.
“Damaged is the new dashing,” he scoffs (I switch off). “Being damaged doesn’t make you a bad person, it’s just another kind of person to be — like someone who likes mint chocolate, or someone who thinks that Cuba is a company that manufactures cigars.”
It might be, but it’s also a one-way ticket to heartbreak. Emotionally unavailable men will never commit to a relationship — they like the single life — it’s not a jigsaw puzzle that needs to be finished. But then again, most boys don’t need finishing.
Neither does Arjun’s mint julep. It’s his sixth. I don’t say anything — not wanting to sound like the clichéd Sex And The City Season 5 plotline that anything I say would sound like.
The truth is, hidden between listicles that tell you about winter trends and an advert for strength performance pills, is a relationship column that tells you that when you are gay, being single is not the result of not having found Mr Right, it’s knowing that Mr Right Now is easier and just around the corner. The only difference between a bad guy and a broken one is the latter plays the blame game with the ex who broke his heart four years ago.
And that’s how it is. “Emotionally damaged” is the bane of existence for most self-aware gay men that I know: they pick at their feelings like they pick at scabs, and wait for them to fester — so that they have wounds to lick. They can’t be fixed, because there’s nothing to fix. But they’d still buy a T-shirt that says “Handle with Care”.
But hey, I’d buy that T-shirt. And knowing me, I’d also buy that boy a drink.