All these internet women lie, I tell you. All of them. Funny that the anonymity draws everyone in. But it’s also what keeps you from trusting a word.
Sometimes the lies are about the fundamentals: previous marriages, whether they have kids, what line of work they’re in. Oh, and age. Age is a big one. The last date I went on was with a woman whose profile said forty-one. Impossible! There wasn’t a chance that Ms. Mittal (formerly Mrs. Mittal) was a day under fifty.
My son, Nikesh, laughed at me when I told him about that one. “But, Dad,” he said, “you
.” Well that may be, but I didn’t go around grossly exaggerating for sport. I was more reasonable about it all. On my profile, I described myself as “Suresh Raman, a healthy and active, five-foot-ten, fifty-five-year-old divorced man of Indian origin.”
All right, so fifty-five was four years ago, the height was a rough estimate, and “active” was only an accurate description if it included toenail-clipping while watching CNN in my carpeted den. But these were reasonable deviations from the truth. RDTs, I called them. So long as you kept it reasonable, where was the harm, really?
It was early evening now. I parked my SUV in front of a small, white brick house. I had to quash my misgivings—for the next few hours, at least. I reminded myself: This was a first date, a new woman, a clean slate.
I sniffed under my arms. Good, still powdery fresh. I’d left my house in Clayborn, Texas, three hours ago, but I blasted the AC the entire drive to Austin. Whatever my doubts about lying internet women, I’d never want a date to see unsightly wet patches blooming across my shirt.
I checked my reflection in the rearview mirror. Even at this hour, the late-August sun beamed harsh and unforgiving. My eyebrows looked like two furry worms wriggling around a pockmarked forehead. I licked my forefinger and tried pasting down the errant hairs. But it was useless. Hairs kept popping up in every direction. Oh well. Perhaps the restaurant would be dim and Mallika wouldn’t notice the unruly duo dancing above my eyelids. Mallika.
We’d been emailing each other for two weeks. Now, this one did not seem like a liar. I couldn’t be sure, of course, as I’d yet to see her in the flesh. At the moment, she was still three parts fantasy to one part reality—a concoction of my hazy, lonely brain. Though given the mendacious tendencies of these internet women, it was hard to maintain any fantasy for long.
Mind you, this wasn’t just abstract cynicism talking. It came from months of experience. And in my months of experience, I’d learned that even when these internet women weren’t lying about important things, like age, then they were lying about ridiculous things—things I wouldn’t have even cared about had they told me the truth. But when I discovered they’d lied about it, I had to assume it meant something.
Last month, for example, I went out with this divorced real estate agent from Baton Rouge named Usha. She lied about all kinds of trivialities. Favorite Food: Italian
Trusting this preference in her profile, I suggested going to the Olive Garden on our first date. It had been a tiring six-hour drive from Clayborn to Baton Rouge, but I wanted to show her that I was sensitive to this detail about her—that I cared enough to remember. Upon hearing my suggestion, she shrugged and explained that Italian wasn’t really her favorite. She wanted a steak. Feeling rebuked, I asked her why she didn’t just say “steak” on her profile. She replied that she was afraid of scaring the divorced and widowed Hindu vegetarian men from answering.
Now, I wasn’t an unsympathetic man. Or a vegetarian. And while I questioned the sanity of anyone who enjoyed masticating thick slabs of beef, I understood that a forty-two-year-old divorcée with two teenage kids needed to expand her pool of possibilities in any way she could. Only that wasn’t all.
Over the course of that evening, which began and ended at Matthew’s Steakhouse, I discovered that in the dozen emails and phone conversations leading up to our fateful meeting, she’d lied about her car (a Honda not a Volvo), her glasses prescription for nearsightedness (minus four, not minus two), her tennis elbow (she didn’t even own a racket), and her subscription to National Geographic
(ha!). None of those things in isolation would have caused me to do more than raise a puzzled eyebrow. But read together, the insignificance of those lies added up to one significant thing: She was a liar.
There had been countless such evenings. During the long (and sometimes multistate) drive back home, when disappointment sat in the back of my throat like undigested food, I’d say to myself: “Enough, old man, enough of this silly business.” But at such moments, I too was a liar. For within minutes of pulling into my garage, I’d head straight for the buzzing glow of my computer. I’d check for new responses, answer the promising ones, and update my profile—the three-step ritual that had become second nature to me, like the windshield-to-rearview-mirror-to-speedometer visual reflex of driving.
Nikesh called me “hooked.” I’d describe my dating mishaps to him, and he’d say, “If they’re so bad, then stop; or just stay local, at least.”
Local? What was the point of trying to meet an Indian woman in Clayborn? They were all friends with my ex-wife Lata, who’d left me, and would therefore be biased against me. And a non-Indian woman? That was too foreign to contemplate. But I didn’t say any of this to my son. Instead, I’d meekly reply, “You’re right—this is the last one. No more.” But he wouldn’t believe me. He’d chuckle and chide, “You’re hooked, Dad.”
He was right. I had yet to go on a good date, but I wasn’t ready to stop.
Out of the corner of my eye, I could see a curtain flutter in the front window of Mallika’s house, a ripple of black hair against the glass. Was Mallika peeking out? Was she wondering why I hadn’t gotten out of the car yet, hadn’t crossed the dried expanse of lawn to her front door?
I thumbed my brows one last time. I ran my palms over my grayed—but mostly full—head of hair. I unbuckled my seatbelt, leaned forward and then fell back again, my back hitting the leather with a loud smack. Why couldn’t I sit here for just a little while longer? Just a few more moments to savor the Mallika of my hopeful imaginings and delay the inevitable disappointment.
For a second, I considered pulling out my phone and dialing Nikesh. I could ask him to tell me a joke and lighten my spirits. But then, maybe I shouldn’t bother him at this hour. Six o’clock in Texas meant it was seven for Nikesh in New York. He would likely be busy—either at work late, or giving Alok a bath, or coaxing him into bed.
It startled me sometimes to think that Nikesh, my youngest, was no longer so young—no longer that spindle-legged teenager with an unruly mop of hair, but a thirty-year-old man with an eleven-month-old son of his own, working long hours at a prestigious Manhattan law firm. My grandson, Alok, was by all accounts a sweet-tempered boy like his father. Thankfully, he’d inherited none of the Nordic sternness of his mother, Denise, a woman that neither I nor Lata had even met before Nikesh married her—correction, before he eloped with her, telling us about it only after the fact. No doubt Lata was still licking her wounds from the shock of their elopement. For my part, though, I was relieved not to publicly perform the role of delighted father of the groom. At least Nikesh had spared me the indignity of reciting some fraudulent speech about the joys of marriage in a Hilton ballroom, while our friends (Lata’s friends, mostly) squirmed and Lata glowered behind me.
In truth, I couldn’t find much fault with Nikesh. Oh sure, he might tease me now and then for being hooked on internet dating. But at least he was indulgent and kind to his aging, addled, romantic-idealist father.
My eldest, Priya, on the other hand, hurled harsher words my way: post–midlife crisis; act your age; ridiculous; embarrassment.
I tried not to take it too personally. It had been almost a year since Lata moved out, but the wound was still raw for my daughter, a thirty-five-year-old history professor in Austin. Oh sure, give her macro-level changes—civil wars, fallen empires, mass famine, and pestilence—those were her bread and butter, she couldn’t get enough. But throw some micro-level change her way, and she turned on you.