The Making of a Hopeless Romantic

I’m not really sure when it started.  I remember that the movies I watched as a child had a significant impact on my emotions.  I didn’t just watch for entertainment.  I became a part of the film.  I was the main character and I felt what they felt.  When a man fell in love with a woman, I fell in love with her too, and over time I developed an endless yearning for wanting that feeling to be permanent.

I can remember as far back as 1st grade, 6 years old (my daughter Luka’s age)… having a crush on Katy, a cute blonde girl in my class.  She’s the first girl that I can remember that caught my attention.  In 2nd grade, 7 years old, Melanie was the first girl that ever showed interest in me.  I remember feeling on top of the world.  We would literally sit up in a tree and kiss on the lips.  It’s amazing to see my 6 and 7 year old girls start to express their curiosity about penises and vaginas.  Just yesterday Luka said to me, “Papa I’m really weird, because every time I meet someone I wonder what their butt, penis, or vagina looks like.”  “It’s not weird Luka,” I responded.  Poor Melanie had to resist my many attempts to see her naked.  I remember saying “I’ll take my clothes off if you take off yours…”  She always refused.  Biology is truly amazing.  7 years old…

Was it just biology though?  In Miami we had a next door neighbor, Mrs. Hardwick.  She was an elderly lady and I really enjoyed spending time with her.  She was a classy, southern widow and I know this is going to sound terrible but she helped me discover my sexuality.  She never ever touched me, but she would let me sleep naked in silk sheets, and it felt great.  She had a book about human anatomy and would teach me about the sexual organs.  This awoke in me urges that I had never felt before.  I used to sleep in a long t-shirt, and I asked if I could take it off during the lesson.  She sat in a chair and I stood next to her, naked, while she read the book to me and explained.  I remember her saying out loud as she pointed to my body parts “I’m not going to touch you.”  I remember feeling disappointed.  I wanted her to.  It was a very erotic experience and I still remember it to this day.  When she started to explain the female anatomy to me, I remember purposely pretending that I just didn’t understand.  I had already seen a vagina by that age.  Our neighbor Becky and I had played doctor in my closet.  But I pretended that I didn’t understand what Mrs. Hardwick was trying to tell me and asked her to show me.  This must have made her quite uncomfortable in hindsight and I remember her saying “Now, I can’t show you…” and of course I just asked “But why?  Why not?”  Shower time was fun as well.  She never showered in front of me but I always showered with her in the bathroom and I loved it.  I loved being naked in front of her…  Our relationship was much more than just an awakening of my sexuality.  We would play imaginary role playing games where I was the captain of an airplane and I would use these tiny little plastic models to simulate the flight.  Somehow, Katy from my first and second grade class became a part of this game and was in the plane with me.  I don’t know if I brought her into it or Mrs. Hardwick provoked that.  We would go out and eat at Wendy’s, get Slurpees at 7-11, and she would often take me to the toy store and buy me something reasonable.  She was amazing…  The closest thing I ever had to a grandmother, given that my real grandmothers lived in India, I saw them once every 2 years, and I really had no cultural or emotional connection to them.  I wonder if my parents had any idea what was going on when I would sleep over at Mrs. Hardwick’s next door.  But even now at the age of 42 I look back on the time I spent with her extremely fondly.  I think she had a lot to do with who I am as a husband and father today.  Thank God I never said anything to my parents about it.  I’m not really sure what would have happened but I’m pretty sure that today if any child were to sleep over an elderly neighbor’s house and mention these types of experiences to their parents, that neighbor would wind up behind bars pretty fast.

The summer after 3rd grade, I had my first heartbreak.  My parents sent Kunal (my older brother) and I to Camp Mishemokwa just outside of Asheville, North Carolina for 3 weeks.  It was my first sleep away camp and I was extremely homesick.  But there was a girl there named Christina Berry and she was SO cute.  She would wear those black parachute pants.  Nevermind that she had no idea who I was… Kunal knew I liked her and one day, there was a dance.  Heaven by Bryan Adams came on and I worked up the courage to walk over to Christina to ask her to dance.  I found her, dancing on the dance floor, with Kunal.  I ran out crying.  I felt so heartbroken and betrayed.  He knew I liked her.  Was he just trying to prove to me that he was better than me?  Did he really like her or did he do it just to make me feel bad?  Who knows.

For 5th grade we had moved up to Great Neck, NY.  You can read about that here.  Kunal was going into 9th grade and Sanjay, my oldest brother, stayed in Miami for his final year of high school.  Rajesh, my first cousin from India lived in our house for one year and he was in 10th grade.  Rajesh and Kunal discovered hardcore porn and showed me the magazines and video tapes they were trading with their friends at school.  This of course opened up a whole new world for me and the timing couldn’t have been better.  One day though in 5th grade, Macha Blechner asked me in the hallway if I masturbate.  I innocently responded yes, and before I knew it she was running through the halls yelling “Ew! Ashwin said he masturbates!”  “Everyone does!” I yelled back at her, in my defense.  It was the first time I can remember feeling ashamed of my sexual desires and behavior.  As I describe in my post about moving to Great Neck, 5th grade was a very emotionally destructive year for me for many reasons.

The summer after 5th grade, my mom signed me up for swimming.  There were kids there from both Great Neck North, and Great Neck South, and that’s where I met Gwen.  I was under the water kicking off of the wall and practicing my dolphin kick, and Gwen said “He has a cute butt.”  When I found out that this cute, blonde girl and said I had a cute butt, my heart melted.  After a really difficult year, this attractive girl showed an interest in me and that’s all it took.  I was in love.  Her parents took us to the beach for fireworks, and it was my first really romantic experience.  I remember everything so clearly.  Her parents, were so nice to me, and embarrassed Gwen as they would dance to 50’s music on the beach.  Gwen and I went for a walk in the sand, and laid together on the blanket as the fireworks illuminated our faces.  What was this amazing feeling??  It wasn’t just sexual, it was much more than that.  It felt like love.  That night, I took a pocket knife and carved the date into the palm of my hand.  I wanted that night never to end and I suppose that was a way of memorializing it.  I wrote a poem about it, and I remember telling Gwen about it.  It’s probably a good thing that we were in different schools.  Gwen and I would talk literally for hours on the phone, all the time.  We would fall asleep listening to each other breathing on the phone, and watch TV together, listening to each other laugh and commenting on what we were watching.  It was really beautiful, and in many ways Gwen was my best friend.  In 6th grade were both invited to Danny Wiener’s birthday party which was at a night club.  There was a Latin boy named Oliver who was an amazing dancer, and Gwen fawned over him.  I remember feeling betrayed but somehow, I got over it.  Over the years Gwen would tell me about all of the different boys she was dating.  Kunal would be mean to Gwen over the phone when I was talking to her, and guess what?  She liked it!  When she would come over she would flirt with him.  WTF??  I didn’t know back then that some girls like the bad boys.  Nothing sexual ever happened between us until 11th or 12th grade, and I think it was disappointing for both of us.  It didn’t go very far but I remember that I regretted the way I behaved when it did happen.  I think it was so surreal for me that something was finally happening with this girl that I had been so close to for 6 or 7 years that my emotions and feelings for her weren’t present.  It didn’t feel right for either of us and it was the first time that I learned that sex and friendship don’t mix well.

Most of my friends in Middle and High School were female.  I was never good at sports, wasn’t really all that interested in violet video games either.  But I just loved being around girls.  I had one close male friend throughout middle and high school, Uval.  Uval was a computer whiz and got me interested in computers as well.  Yeah, were not the cool kids.  But hey we had some great times.  We would always talk about which girls we liked, and really grew up together.  Uval also taught me how to use my IBM 386 compatible and a phone line to dial into other people’s computers and access BBSs so we could wait 1 hour to download one picture of a naked woman.

My mom would give me a hard time about why most of my friends were female.  She would encourage me to find more male friends.  “How do I explain that you are walking around with all these girls like some kind of Casanova…?” she would ask.  I just ignored her.  I didn’t know why I preferred being with girls, and frankly I still don’t.  But who cares really?  Spending so much time with girls made me the husband and father I am today.  From all of the movies I watched and conversations I had with my female friends, I learned that generally men are pigs and do not treat women the way they should be treated, and that clearly if men were just always nice and romantic, the girl would always fall for them.  WRONG.

In 7th grade, Susan and I seemed to like each other.  One day in the hallway, she came up to me and said “My mom thinks that you like me and that I like you and I think it’s true.  What do you think?”  I don’t really remember what I said but I’m pretty sure I confirmed her mother’s theory.  I was excited.  I had liked Susan since 5th grade when she sat in front of me on the bus on our class trip to Philadelphia and her hair smelled amazing.  “What shampoo do you use?” I asked.  “Aussie Moist,” was the reply.  From then on I begged my mom to buy me Aussie Moist and then I smelled Susan in the shower every day.  When Valentine’s Day came around, I was convinced I would win Susan’s heart.  I had my mom take me to the florist that morning to buy a single red rose.  I took it to the nurse’s office and asked her to keep it in the fridge until I could meet Susan coming out of one of her classrooms.  For some reason, this all seemed totally normal to me.  Nobody else was doing this… and my mom tried to talk me out of it.  I think I believed what I saw in the movies, and thought that this would be the beginning of a beautiful romance.  It wasn’t.  I’m pretty sure the entire school knew about my master plan and so did Susan.  As she came out of her classroom with a red rose in my hand, she took one look at me, rolled her eyes and walked right past me.  Tears started to stream down my face and another boy quickly seized the opportunity to ask me if he could have the rose so he could give it to another girl.  I just handed the rose to him and don’t remember what happened next.  But it was a hard lesson to learn.  I could have let these experiences change me, and decide to become more of a jerk so that girls would like me, but that just wasn’t who I was.  I couldn’t have done that even if I tried.

Years went by and though I had an interest in many girls in school and summer camps, nobody was ever really interested in me.  It was a difficult and depressing time.  I wanted to fall in love so badly.  It would have saved me a lot of heartache I could have gone back in time and told myself, “Ashwin, just you wait…  one day the girls will realize that you are the real deal.”

In 10th and 11th grades, I had my first real girlfriend, Sara.  I loved her at first and we spent all of our time together.  My parents gave me a hard time because they didn’t like her or her family.  They tried to restrict that amount of time I could spend with her and made me come home early, and I hated them for that.  After years of rejection and depression I finally had a real girlfriend and they were trying to ruin it for me.  But over time, my feelings for Sara changed.  She would say things like “I love acting so much, that if a boy asked me to have sex with him on stage, I would do it.”  She would also tell me about her male friends that wanted her to act in a movie where she would be tied up and stripped to her underwear, and she was ok with all this.  Well I wasn’t… and the jealousy just killed my feelings for her.

College.  Wow.  Just wow.  Beautiful girls everywhere, living away from home.  Uval came to the University of Rochester with me for the first year and lived in the same dorm room, just 2 floors above me.  My roommate was… let’s just say… a less cultured guy from small-town America.  He and his buddies spent their time drinking beer, playing cards, and probably talking about guns and hunting.  I was ready to transfer out of Rochester until I spoke to Uval and he said, “You can’t transfer just because you don’t like to 10 people that live in your hallway. There are 5,000 people in this school.  Why don’t you come upstairs and hang out on our floor?  There are some cool people there.”  He was right.  He told me about a girl named Chloe that he had his eye on, and I was determined to help him win her love.

One night after we had all gone out to a James Taylor concert, we were all hanging out in Chloe’s room and I stayed back after everyone left so I could tell her that Uval liked her and she should date him.  But something very strange happened.  Chloe said, “But I don’t like Uval… I like you.”  In the span of the next 2 seconds, 1 million thoughts ran through my head.  Just get out of here, I thought. I told her I had to go and walked out.  The door shut behind me as I started walking down the hall and she let out this loud grunt of frustration.  I walked back into her room, she threw her arms around me and we had the most epic first kiss ever.  I mean… I will never forget that kiss.  It was unbelievable.  So now what???  “Ok, you go home over Thanksgiving break, and break up with your high school boyfriend, and I will talk to Uval and break the news to him.”  I was dreading this moment.  You’re just not supposed to do this.  But there was something powerful happening between Chloe and me and it wasn’t just a slight attraction.  I couldn’t ignore it and neither could she.  That weekend, in Uval’s room back in Great Neck, I told him the truth.  He was extremely mature and nice about it, and told me to go for it.  Chloe was the first girl I fell in love with.  Deeply in love.  Her dad was French and her mom, American Jewish.  I couldn’t really explain why after finally escaping from Great Neck where everyone was Jewish, the first girl I fell in love with was Jewish.  I think I actually wrote a paper about this in college, explaining how the Hindu and Jewish cultures have many similarities.  I would have done anything for Chloe.  I was so thankful that she loved me that I showered her with constant attention… letters, gifts, dinners, you name it.  But this time, she loved it.  Finally, someone appreciated who I was as a man.

Chloe and I started dating in November 1994.  In December, before going home for winter break, she said to me “I don’t want to make you nervous, but I really can’t wait to be physically close to you.”  I was a virgin at the time, but Chloe wasn’t.  It felt like there were fireworks going off inside me.  This experienced, beautiful, half-French woman was seducing me and I loved every second of it.  We planned it all out.  Valentine’s Day, the night before my birthday, February 14th, 1995, the date was set.  We went out for a romantic dinner and went back to her room.  Many people think back to their first time and don’t look very fondly on it.  Mine was beautiful, romantic, and I wouldn’t have changed a thing.  Chloe and I dated for 2 years, and aside from my jealousy when she joined a sorority, we had an amazing deep love for each other.  But in our sophomore year, we both knew that we would study abroad during Junior Year.  Chloe was going to Paris and I was going to Sevilla, Spain.  That summer during one of our many phone conversations, Chloe said that if she met someone in Paris, she wouldn’t want to pass up that experience.  And just like that, in the span of 10 seconds, our love came crashing down.  What was wrong with these women??  After growing up hearing about how men are pigs and can’t commit, here was my first real serious girlfriend, who I was convinced I would marry, telling me that she didn’t want to pass up the opportunity to have a fling in Paris.  I couldn’t even possibly think about being with someone other than Chloe, despite being very attracted to two of my female friends in college, Kara and Katy (more on them later).  I immediately told Chloe that she could go to Paris and do whatever she wanted, but I wouldn’t be her boyfriend anymore.  It was a sad time…  But I had many friends in college and had even joined a fraternity (you can read about that here), and that gave me the strength to get over Chloe.

I wouldn’t have another serious girlfriend until after college, and even though there were hook ups, I wanted love.  I wanted to find the love of my life and I was willing to do whatever it took to find her.  After studying in Sevilla for one semester (you can read about that here), I went to visit Uval in Israel.  He had moved there after his first year of college, so I hadn’t seen him in 2 years.  Uval’s sister was getting married and he invited me to come to Israel to attend the wedding.  There was a girl there named Sagit.  Uval had mentioned her to me over the years.  She was amazing.  Beautiful, sexy, and a very outspoken, lively personality (not unusual in Israel), but I fell for her… hard.  I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that once again, I was screwing over my best friend.  Could this really happen twice??  Why the hell did I keep falling for girls that Uval liked?  I really don’t know the answer to this but it’s not something I’m proud of.  Nothing happened between Sagit and I on this trip, but there was clearly a spark between us.

2 years later, I had graduated from college and was working at Andersen Consulting (now Accenture).  I was back in Great Neck visiting my parents and for some reason, I decided to stop by Uval’s parents’ house to say hello.  “Guess who’s coming to visit us tomorrow?” they asked.  Sagit was arriving the next day and staying in New York for 2 weeks.  My heart exploded with emotion.  The next day, I was there to receive her, and we planned out the next 2 weeks.  I took her to Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey, and all over NYC.  We fell in love and there was nothing we could do about it.  We agreed that I would go back to Israel to visit her in a few months.  Those were a couple of long, painful months.  After countless letters, emails, and extremely high phone bills, I went to visit her in Israel.  She was living at home at the time but somehow had organized for us to stay in a friend’s apartment.  Our 2 weeks in Israel confirmed what we were feeling, and we decided that we would do whatever we needed to so we could be together.  I would have gone to Israel at the time if she had asked me to, but she said she would come to New York.  She was finishing college because of the 2 years she had spent in the Israeli army and it was easier for her to take a year off than for me to quit my job.  I rented a one-bedroom in a brownstone on the upper-west side and furnished it thanks to Ikea.  I went to my Indian parents and explained that I would be moving in with this Isreali-Jewish girl that I hardly knew, and Sagit went to her Israeli parents and explained that she was taking a year off from school to move in with this non-Jewish Indian guy in NYC.  Needless to say, neither set of parents was very happy about this.  Sagit and I loved each other very much, and she was probably the sweetest, most loving person I’ve ever met.  After one year, I got a ring and asked her to marry me.   From that point on, things fell apart.  I don’t know if I can explain exactly what happened.  When I called Sagit’s parents to ask for their permission to marry her, her mom was thrilled, but her dad said “Ashwin, if I were to choose a boy for Sagit, he would be just like you… but Jewish.  So if you want to marry my daughter, you will have to convert.”  I told him that, with all due respect, I wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that.  While my parents are technically Hindus, they never taught us to be religious.  I was exposed to Judaism throughout middle and high school, but felt no religious affiliation at all.  You can read about that here.  “David,” I said, “if I were to convert and tell people that I was Jewish, it would be a lie because I really don’t believe it.  Is that what you want?”  He replied, “Ashwin I am just telling you, if you don’t convert, you won’t marry my daughter, and I always get what I want.”  He was right.  I can’t say it was entirely his fault.  My parents didn’t help the situation either, and wouldn’t allow me to invite her to my brother Kunal’s engagement party at Tavern on the Green in Central Park.  The pressure from both sides was very difficult and at the age of 25, I wasn’t mature enough to handle it.  Also, if I’m honest, I didn’t feel comfortable with the Israeli and Jewish cultures becoming a permanent part of my life.  I was extremely familiar with the culture, but I always felt like an outsider when we were with her friends or family.  I didn’t know if I wanted that for myself, or for my kids, for the rest of my life.  Eventually Sagit felt my hesitation, and she left me.  A week later, I was fired from my job at PricewaterhouseCoopers (you can read about that here), and so I packed a bag and disappeared for 3 months traveling through Asia (you can read about that here).

After completing my Masters at Cornell, I started my job at Sol Melia Hotels & Resorts in June 2003.  In August 2003, I met my future wife, Sina.  But I would have to wait at least 5 years to be with her.  In the meantime I found myself trapped in a 4 year turbulent relationship with my assistant that you can read about here.  The moral of the story is, don’t do it unless you are really sure he/she is the one.

Today I am married to an extremely beautiful, intelligent woman.  You can read that story here.  I’m only 42 and probably still have a lot to learn, but I grew up thinking that women were these perfect beings and that men were broken.  On one hand that drove me to be the best possible man I could be, to be a good boyfriend, loving husband and father.  But I have learned along the way that everyone is broken, not just men.  We all have our own selfishness, insecurities, and need for self-fulfillment.  I found someone who I loved enough to accept everything about them, the good and the bad.  There is no perfect couple, husband or wife, but with love, trust and commitment to a true partnership people can have many years of happiness together.