In this edition of our weekly sex column, we’re talking about love. I know. However between cultural expectations and pop-cultural expectations love seems to be a thing that is rooted in big explosive moments destined to wither into mutual hatred and offspring, but is that all love is? In my opinion, if you’re trying to go back to how you felt about your partner on your wedding day, you might not be in love with the person sleeping beside you today.
Written by Aarushi Ahluwalia
Climaxes are very important to storytelling, or at least, they were important to the stories of the ancient Greeks and because those guys get to put their name on everything literary we’ve had to play by their rules for millennia. I see the value of a good climax, it provides good structure for the story and it lets you know how close you are to the end (and whether you should buy more popcorn or not). All tragedy must contain a climax, you were right Aristotle (for now, but we’ll take it up when I have more time), but as far as romance goes, I think we might have had the format wrong for centuries. Romance doesn’t need a climax, it is its own climax in entirety. Okay, enough abstraction, let me explain.
You know those romance movies and novels that all essentially have one-of-three acceptable heterosexual plotlines? There is always a moment in those movies (usually in the rain), when shortly after a certain amount of romantic struggle or push-and-pull, the leads (re)unite in dramatic fashion? Either someone is crying, someone has died, they’re in Paris, they’ve just resolved a long standing fight, something. That’s the peak of the story of romance (and what follows is either a deterioration of love or happily ever after), that moment is portrayed as the essence of the relationship, and is always the one that plays in flashbacks of the happiest times of their lives. It’s not just movies and novels though, that sentiment reverberates through real-life romance as well. I routinely meet people who wish for things in their relationship to return to how they were “in the beginning”. All personal stories of romance that I hear are centred around a big moment — a gesture, a night, a fight, a realisation, a wedding — and a lot of relationships are focused on the retention or re-creation of that sentiment. Art informs life and life informs art, and at this point it is impossible to tell whether the stories taught us to love that way or we taught the stories to write love that way.
Regardless of which way it spins, the notion of the climax of love being its peak is damaging to relationships. There is the usual argument against this pop-culture based expectation from love and how it leads to an unreasonable understanding of real life. Relationships are built on compromise and struggle, they argue, and when you think it will all be roses you are so deluded that you can never be happy. Relationships are portrayed either as a perfect moment frozen in time or constant strife that ends in hatred of one another coupled with a determination to persevere for the children. Love is not easy, they say. I disagree. I don’t think that is the problem. Love is hard? Nah, love is the easiest thing in the world. Love is strife? Nope, it is one of the most joyful experiences of human life. As far as I am concerned, all the stereotypes about love are wrong. Love doesn’t just happen once. There isn’t just one perfect person out there for you (imagine the math and logistics that would require). Love doesn’t fade into definite sadness. Love doesn’t make you a better person. Love isn’t a cure. Love isn’t addiction. Love isn’t synonymous with co-dependency.
Love is misunderstood.
When we try to recreate that feeling we once had about someone when we stood underneath the stars and violins played, based on who we were ten years ago and think that is the key to our happiness with one another, we are misunderstanding that moment and disregarding the present. When we want to go back to how things were in the first six-weeks or two years, it’s not love that made that time so special, it was curiosity and adrenaline. And that’s fine, it is possible to experience candle-lit romantic intensity with someone and having it wear off after nothing is new anymore. That’s perfectly human and tremendously fun. It’s even fine to seek only big moments and have those be the coordinates to your life story. It’s all fine, but when that all we represent about love we do undermine it a little bit. Love deserves to be fully represented too.
Oftentimes we continue relationships because thy once felt like love, and that is where is becomes murky. It’s natural to equivocate going through big important life events with someone with continuing love, but living with an idea of your once-relationship is dangerous. It’s not dangerous in that it will kill you, but it is a threat to genuine happiness. It’s dangerous to be in love with the person you stood beside you at your wedding when you cannot bear to spend two hours alone with the person who lives with you today. It’s hard to admit that, it’s hard to admit you no longer feel that way about a person who once inspired poetry and hour-long massages from you, but it’s unfair to say that’s just what happens to love once it grows older. That’s what happens, I think, to relationships that were built purely on spectacle, moments, adrenaline and joint-routines, and that’s a lot of relationships because that’s how we are taught to love. That’s what love is supposed to be. The way I see it in a lot of older couples around me is that they see putting each other down as a hobby and change in personalities as a threat, but love doesn’t freeze you in time and promise to keep you that way.
Expecting that your partner will change is something relationship counsellors warn against but that is incomplete information as well. Expecting that your partner will change into the idealized version you have in your head is unreasonable, but it’s much more unreasonable to think they won’t change. What most of us really want is for them to remain exactly the same as when they were perfect to us but who doesn’t change? I used to say dumb shit like “I can’t be friends with women” and that changed. I used to eat hella meat, and that changed. I used to go to bed at 3 AM, and thank goodness that changed. People will always change and in that there is an eternal gamble, you may realise someday that the person you once loved is different now, but for me, that is where love really comes in. I advise that it’s akin to viewing your partner like a character on a sitcom, you don’t know what they are going to do or become, but you’re invested in watching it unfold. You don’t get to decide what happens to the character, but you get to watch and it’s endlessly entertaining if you love them. Love doesn’t fade or bore, it makes you equally excited to be with that person every day, and even on days when you haven’t slept enough and they won’t stop snoring. Every day I cannot wait to wake up beside my partner, every day I cannot wait to hear what he thinks about this or that, every day I cannot look at him enough. I may not get to do those things every day because life, but every day I want them. Every day I want to see what he will learn and what he won’t. I want to see the dumb shit too, I want to hear the farts and hide before I can smell them. I don’t want to go back to any moment from our past and have things be like that, I don’t even want to see what tomorrow will bring, I’m just happy to be with him right now and today. Whether we are taking a walk in the rain or making a no-fuss 20-minute dinner together.
People often accuse me of having an idealistic, almost magical idea of love and I do, but here’s the thing, in a world where we are willing to put two kgs of rice in flowing water so we can impact the course of the universe and our lives in the name of a doctrine of God, I’m putting my money on the magic of love. If there must be some faith, some irrationality that every human being must adopt, I would like mine to be love. There are endless arguments as to why love isn’t possible and some of them are meritorious arguments too especially the ones governed by the oppressive soci factions that criminalise love outside of a set structure, but if I’m going to believe in something, let me believe in something I know brings me endless joy. I don’t want to believe that there is a magical moment and the rest of life is just us moving slowly away from the magic of that moment into a rut defined by circumstance and fraternal love between partners, I want to believe in constant magic. Perpetual violins. A world littered in candles. It doesn’t take from my ability to cope or handle the vicissitudes of life, it just give me a magical backdoor into a world where I can be happy even when everything is horrible. Love shouldn’t be the thing that makes your life harder, not when it exists to make it easier. If that makes me naive, so be it, I’d rather have a reason to describe the flowers in metered verse than crush them because I hate my life.