What love looks like, from 16 to 30, for this girl

Having a reassuring, slightly older male hand resting on your back while doing your first tentative tequila shot is a big rush.

 |  4-minute read |   17-11-2015
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At 16, having a boyfriend seems like an all-access season pass to the cool people's club. If you were 16 in the 1990s, you learnt that after a point, your parents' wealth stopped being impressive. You have to actually have a whole lot more to earn the right to be called a grown-up by the peers whose approval you so desperately crave. Convinced that something had to be done, but clueless about what it exactly was, one would put the responsibility of securing her seat at the adult's table often on love. At 16, being "in love" is the ultimate launch pad into the adult world. Having a reassuring, slightly older male hand resting on the small of one's back while doing your first tentative tequila shot is a bigger rush than the alcohol itself. At that age, self-worth is comfortably cushioned by the existence of a reasonably appealing boyfriend, whose hands I can hold during break time and birthday parties.

At 19, having a boyfriend means making a significant decision on one's life. The makeout sessions start to take on an impatient quality that is, in equal parts, thrilling and terrifying. The demands of biology aside, there's mounting social pressure. The people worth making envious are no longer impressed with merely the existence of a beau. Love must be laced with a generous helping of lust to be potent. Or relevant. We were living in the immediate aftermath of the Friends frenzy and all its wildly exciting ideas of what adulthood - real adulthood with jobs, rent and sex - looks like, filling our still mostly empty heads. And on the other end of the spectrum, there are the virgin-till-I-die, queen of virtue and self-denial Hindi film heroine role models. It is all very confusing. Are you going to be the kind of girl who has sex before marriage and risk eternal shame on the family or are you going to clutch your virginity to your chest and protect it from the monster boyfriend who wants to despoil you?

At 21, being in a relationship means you have your ducks in a row, the bases are all well-covered and you are ready to take on the world with an old boyfriend, a fresh degree and a newly-acquired job. Being in love is comfortable. It is a lubricant that helps you through the dry parts of life. The parts too unexciting to write books or make movies about. Love is convenient, it lets you have something in common with the older, more experienced women at work.

Analysing boyfriends/husbands is one of the most powerful and unifying conversational currencies among women, no matter how different their individual lives might be. In real life, most of us would fail the Bechdel test miserably.

At 25, being in love means feeling the weight of lost opportunities. Of not quite having lived as much life as you had imagined at 21. Of looking at the boyfriend the parents mostly approve of and wondering if this is it... Of hearing thinly veiled hints about the benefits of doing the "roka" and making things official and feeling the unexpected bile rise in your throat. Of being hypnotically attracted to a man who is nothing like the man you're being encouraged to tie the knot with. Of erotic dreams starring inappropriate strangers. No, no, no, no, NO!

At 27, you've had a couple of years to adjust to the single life. The world has finally, finally, grudgingly forgiven you for throwing away the perfect husband material and is almost ready to accept you back into the fold. Twenty-seven is also the year you spend pretending and keeping up appearances. On the outside, you're living a life many would kill for. Successful, confident, together... But they can't ever know that on some nights you're scared witless that you really did kick a gift horse in the mouth and now you're going to grow old and gnarly all alone because good luck never knocks twice. The bad boys, the thrill of the unknown, the possibility of the next big adventure being just around the corner... they're all overrated. They can't know about the panic you feel when Kalki Koechlin of the porcelain skin fame moans about fine lines, wrinkles and the seven signs of ageing on TV. You want life to come with a do-over option. At 27, love is a need, because you now know that while a woman may need a man like a fish needs a bicycle, some fish would be miserable and lonely unless they have a bicycle to call their own.

And at 30, you discover the only love you really need is your own. You're still sometimes scared of being single. But only because it's difficult to unlearn everything you've ever been taught. You worry about becoming too hard and insular to allow for the upheaval that a new partner brings with him, but you don't mind your imperfections. You're kinder to yourself, more forgiving of your flaws and more loving of the good parts. Sure, there will still be the twinges of insecurity and loneliness, when best friends stack up the anniversaries, but you will handle them with the grace that comes with intelligence and experience, not the panic you feel when you are a mass of contradictions. I know, because I've been there.

Writer

Radhika Gulab Radhika Gulab @msgrannypanties

Current relationship status: planning a romantic vacation for two. With Rob, the vibrator.

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