Saffy was spring cleaning the other day and came across an old diary.
“My God, it’s a record of all my dates!” she reported. “Ooh, look, here’s the entry on Tandip Singh! Here, listen. ‘Met a lovely man today on the train to work. His name is Tandip.’ Let’s see…27 June… ‘Tandip called!’ And I put, like, ten exclamation marks after that!”
And just like that, the years rolled back.
“Yay! I’m going on a date with a restaurateur and a businessman!” Saffy had said grandly, blithely re-branding a Serangoon Road roti-prata shop, and a a tiny fabric boutique into a Fortune 500 outfit.
“I like the fact that he called the day after,” she’d added, radiating approval. “Some guys play this stupid game and wait three days before they call, just so you think they’re not that keen on you. They must think we were born yesterday.”
“Shameful,” I agreed politely. I remembered one of Barney’s lectures on the rules of dating.
“You do not ever call for a date the day after you exchange numbers,” he’d instructed. We were at the gym and he was holding court from the stair-master. “The industry standard is three days. Doesn’t matter if you’re gay or straight. You must wait three days. If you call too early, it only shows you’re desperate, and that is never a good look,” he noted with the satisfaction of someone who had never called earlier than the three day mark. “But if you call after three days, that’s just plain rude, which is even worse than looking desperate! Unless, of course, your Mother died or something in which case you have a very valid excuse, but frankly how often does that happen? Touch wood, touch wood!” said Barney who adored his mother. They went for facials and massages together.
“So what are you wearing?” I remember asking Saffy. I had learnt very early on that this is an important question to ask a girl on the eve of her date.
Saffy looked grateful that I’d asked. “I haven’t a clue,” she began. “I really have nothing to wear. I want something that conveys the impression that yes, I would sleep with him, but at the same time, it must also stress that I am not cheap and that sex is not happening on the first date. And right now,” Saffy said with a deep sigh, “there is nothing in my wardrobe that even comes close. Everything I have is too slutty!”
It occurred to me that guys have it easy by comparison. We just slip on whatever looks the least crumpled and no one would think to comment. Girls, on the other hand, take two days to get ready, and another two to change because the first outfit makes them look fat.
“But something’s been worrying me,” Saffy went on, smoothing on moisturiser onto her arm. “His surname is Singh. So that makes him a Sikh. I, on the other hand, am not,” she added, somewhat unnecessarily. “So do you think that’s going to cause problems? Because isn’t a Sikh supposed to marry another Sikh?”
“I think that’s a Kaur,” I said.
“As in the Irish band?” Saffy asked perplexed. I spelled it for her.
Saffy was impressed. “Really?”
“But are you planning on marrying him, Saf?” I asked. “Jumping the gun aren’t we?”
“Well, not right now, obviously. But every date is a potential husband, so if it’s never going to happen, why bother in the first place? My eggs aren’t getting any fresher, you know!”
And there it was: the secret fear of every woman, that nameless shadow that hides behind every bright smile, every purchase at the cosmetic counter, every facial appointment and every second spent on the treadmill. The reason why, despite all the disasters and dashed hopes, they still pick themselves up, freshen their lipstick and head out for another date. And that was the unspoken dread that, perhaps, this was as good as it was going to get.
For once, I was at a loss for words. What could I say that would have made any difference or, for that matter, offered any comfort?
Barney Chen’s voice loomed up in my memory. “Listen,” he told me once. “Sometimes, there is just nothing you can say. Whatever you do, don’t offer any advice! The best thing is not to say anything!”
In that still silence, I reached out and offered an awkward pat on Saffy’s back.
And much to my surprise, as she lifted her head and smiled wryly, I realised how much that helped.