Contrasts

He walked out of the building feeling relaxed and hopeful. In his heart, something was bubbling. It was too faint to resonate within the rest of his being, but he knew such moments were precious. They don’t come too often his way.

Compared to this, the 26 short minutes he spent in another office was nothing short of a disaster (“The Disaster”). The heart-shaped cushions, in all of the red splendour, against the black sofa unsettled him. The photos of their success stories – featuring people who could have been plastered on the front cover of magazines – did nothing to boost his flagging confidence. Even in the room, he felt claustrophobic.

But now, he knew where and how to draw the line between a business driven entirely by profits and a business run with a bit of heart.

***

On both occasions, he was asked about his preferred or ideal partner.

The girl from The Disaster could only repeat the question when he was finding it a little difficult to find an appropriate response to it. In his mind, he didn’t want to just start on a person’s looks (because everyone will age). He was not in the mood for latching into a lengthy explanation about why this is not top on his list. If it was physical attributes (height / weight / figure, etc) they were looking for, he had indicated most of the basic info in the form (which he had to fill in earlier). Case in point, not many women wear their hair long as they grow older.

“I don’t know where to start,” was the only answer he could muster.

Question was repeated. He too repeated himself.

Then, there was the insistence about participating in group events when in that form, he has explicitly stated his preference for one-on-ones.

“I fade into the background when there are more than four people in a social setting. I don’t think I’ll find this very useful,” he explained.

“Oh… Don’t worry about that. We’ll ask the facilitator of these events to draw you out,” she was trying to be helpful.

For someone who is extremely averse to being in the middle of the spotlight, he was abhorred with the idea. They were the stuff of nightmares for him, ranked alongside those involving him going on a fall from some high-rise building.

“I think I’d prefer one-on-ones,” he smiled tiredly.

“No, no. You must learn to participate…”

That was when he switched off. The girl from The Disaster went on about how he must strike a balance between sit-down events and those sporty ones. There were good reasons why he avoids sporty events unless they involve him being wrapped up in some suit or gear from head to toe.

By the 24th minute, he thought it was obvious that the girl from The Disaster felt as though she was banging against a wall consistently. Her body language showed and her attempts to get his “buy-in” (in the form of touching his knee [which he thought was a little contrived] and then assuring him that he would not be alone in attending their group events because other singles would feel the same) were clearly not working.

For the second time, she pressed a postcard into his hands.

“If you have the time, you can log onto the website of our subsidiary. It’s an online dating site,” she explained.

He was half expecting the words “Foreign wives agency” sprouting on some big and bright spot on the postcard.

The look on her face was a signal that the session was coming to an end.

“So what happens after this?” He had to ask.

“Nothing,” was the terse answer, expressed with a smile he thought was a little forced. (The same smile you get from salespeople when they were rejected.)

It was too late for him to stop cocking his eyebrows.

“Nothing will happen?”

“Nothing,” the smile remained.

“No follow-ups?”

“No.” She could have repeated her “Please visit the website” the third time.

A minute later, he was shown the door. They exchanged fake but cheery “Byes!” and “See you again!”

***

“Tell me about the last woman you were attracted to.”

He thought about her and immediately there was the slightest hint of a lump in his throat. He described her very briefly (which she helped by asking if she’s petite) before going in depth about how well they connected.

“It was as though we could not stop talking. Like, there are people whom I go out with and by the third time we meet, we’ve run out of things to talk about. But with her, we haven’t run out of conversation topics by the tenth time we met!”

She was able to draw him out through questions. It didn’t feel like she was reciting or doing something out of an SOP or a routine. In fact, she took time to examine the questionnaire he had filled in earlier before asking specific questions.

“So, you are open to women who might be older?”

“Yes. She was possibly a few years older than I am.”

Then, there were the questions about past relationships. For him, he could only talk about “close encounters.”

“So was it emotionally disturbing for you when you found out that she was getting married?”

He was stumped for a moment. For starters, he wasn’t sure what she meant by emotionally disturbed.

“I was a little… No, I was emotionally disturbed.” He made a guess.

She nodded. “Well, the women you’ll meet are singles. So, rest assured, they are also in this together.”

It wasn’t a room where all of these were conducted. There weren’t red heart-shaped cushions that were so “in your face” or blindingly obvious. Their business premises were a quarter of where The Disaster operated from. There was enough time for him to observe where the little hearts (in a pleasant shade of earth green) were plastered to form the petals of flowers on the partition wall. Instead of a black sofa, there was a white non-descript plastic chair. Instead of having to look up at the consultant (the girl at The Disaster was sitting on a chair which puts her eye-level substantially higher than his, as he was seated on the sofa), they were at the same eye-level here.

By the 90th minute, he was listening to her as she brought him through the different “packages” they offer.

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