My father said, “If you put two people together long enough, they’ll eventually fall in love.”
I wondered if this was true until, while on a family holiday at a game reserve, I heard our guide tell us about a male and female cheetah who refused to interact despite being kept in the same enclosure for years.
And then, at 24, it happened: I met a man in graduate school who was worldly, confident and spoke boldly about social justice, and I felt drawn to everything about him. This was the feeling I had anticipated for so long, the crack of lightning.
I wrote him letters, baked for him and imagined a future in which I could take down the blue box, put out the tea set and place the warm hat on his head. But as years passed, he remained noncommittal. The man I tried to give my heart to did not seem to want it, until, eventually, he married someone else.
And suddenly I was 30 and alone.
This reality stunned me so much that for a long time I couldn’t leave the house. I was ashamed for holding so much hope. I tried to keep my dreams small after that; I only kept what could fit in my hands.
My parents were deeply disappointed but did not try to coerce me into marrying. They didn’t know what to do with me; I barely knew what to do with myself. The box on the shelf remained untouched. My mother had long stopped buying things to fill it. And love, the idea of it, the great flicker of it, dimmed.
My parents resigned themselves to a life with me at home. In my culture it is normal, if rare, for an unmarried woman to remain living with her parents. It would not be typical for someone like me to get an apartment or home of my own, despite the professional success I have found as a writer and the independence and sense of adventurism I have gained from having traveled internationally to conferences and residencies.