Does experience matter in love?

Recently, a friend met a girl he got along with very well, but unfortunately got turned down by her for not having been in a relationship before.

“Does experience matter?” he asked.

I didn’t have an answer for him.

I usually meet equal number of people who’ve been in relationships, and those who haven’t. So, personally, “experienced” or not, it’s never made a difference to me as an outsider.

Does a partner’s experience matter to me?

At the time that I met my husband, he had less experience than I did. I definitely appreciated his inability to play mind games, which is usually a strong coping mechanism with most people who’ve gone through one failed relationship at least. It’s not like my husband doesn’t try to manipulate, but he’s not very good at it, at least not as good as someone who’s already tried it on someone else.

Since I was struggling to empathise with people seeking experienced partners, I asked a friend (who has above average EQ for a man) as to why this might be. Apparently, a girl once told him that she can’t be bothered training men from scratch on how to be with women, and that she’d much rather be with someone who’s already trained by someone else. It seemed logical, except I couldn’t quite empathise with it. Isn’t it easier to learn than unlearn, and then re-learn?

Does my experience matter to a partner?

Yes, and no. People who had more experience than me thought I was too enthusiastic for them, and the ones who didn’t, never noticed, or just thought I was good crazy. In fact, the indifference that comes from being jaded, is even considered sexy sometimes. Now, what can I say? We are a very strange species.

So… if experience can make us sexier, why do so many of us not have any?

Whenever I meet someone who is over 25, and they’ve never been in a relationship, the most common reason I hear is that they come from a conservative household, and hence, dating or any clone of it was never allowed anywhere close.

Do I buy it?

No, I don’t. I had a rather conservative upbringing too, living with grandparents, being allowed to only pursue professional interests while being expected to respect the boundaries of my family in the society. We were strictly encouraged to pursue “other interests” only once we were on our own feet. That meant no boyfriends through school or college. Anyone thereafter would also be strictly screened. Love was taboo. Love marriages were extensively debated, looked down upon and strictly not allowed in the family as long as my grandparents were around (2006).

But did that ever stop me from falling in love? No. Will my parents be upset to listen to these stories and feel cheated? May be. But am I better of having gone through these experiences in life? Hell yes!

So, how did I manage my “experience”, then?

I strictly operated on the philosophy of survival of the fittest, so my instincts were only natural. But, why did I need surviving in the first place?

Imagine this….

You are back in school after 5th standard holidays, the pinafores are replaced by bosoms, boys are suddenly wearing pants, their voices half cracked and we’ve all just discovered the concept of “having a crush”. There are rumours that some boys have a crush on a couple of girls. You think that it’s a pandemic like the COVID-19, and it’s going to get us all, except it doesn’t. This unfortunately follows a power law, only a couple of boys and girls will be affected by the “crush”, the rest of us just have to be affected by the lack of - crushes, bosoms and baritones. Now, the problem with middle/ high school is that it operates on mob mentality - everyone is only allowed to have a crush on the crushable.

What does this mean to those of us who are not being crushed? We will never be crushed, to the point where it will be considered uncool if someone ever dares to crush on the uncrushed. This is not like prom in America where everyone just has to find themselves a partner. So what do you do? Find solace is education, and good marks. Your parents were right all the time - the only thing that no one can take away from you is education, and that’s what you’ll go after. I, thankfully, didn’t fall into this trap mostly because I never got any good marks, or solace from it.

I wasn’t going to let my school steal my confidence. I had to have what I couldn’t have. So, I decided to bet on other markets - I found myself a boyfriend outside school. In fact, I’d found more than a boyfriend - I’d found a strategy to cope with life.

Fast forward a few years, I found myself in the exact same spot, yet again - I was in the tail of the curve in college. There were a handful of hot men and women who got all the love, and the rest of us just had to make do with what was left. Luckily, mob mentality is less under play here, so people do end up finding love far more easily in college than in school. You don’t fall in love, just to seem cool. There are other “benefits” of love when you are in college, and so people are more generous with love. Given that hedging was a lifestyle by then, I had plenty of love in and out of college.

The point is, when one market isn’t working for you, you need to find yourself another one where you are better off, especially when you can’t outlaw the power law.

But why even try?

Every time I meet someone who’s never been in a real relationship, and we talk about what they seek in a relationship, I find their needs fairly basic and naive. This includes people who’ve dated for 10+ years without ever being in a meaningful relationship. I think there is something about being hurt in love (or being in a relationship, which is the same thing) that makes you have realistic expectations from life. It makes you a better person. It’s like a secret passage in “Prince” that will take you a few levels higher.

Think about this - Wouldn’t you love to chance upon someone amazing, unexpectedly fall in love and spend the rest of your life being with this person? What is the likelihood of this happening in your life today?

If not for COVID-19, it would be fairly high you’d say.

Right, who are we kidding?!

The likelihood of having social encounters (IRL) is highest either in school, college or at work. Now, falling in love at work is a bit trickier, people like to keep their personal and professional lives separate, there’s a lot more at stake if things go south, and you’ve far lesser appetite to deal with widespread repercussions as you grow older. You are most likely to fall in love organically and benefit from it early on in life. So, wasting these precious years of socialising is a sin.

So, when I think about it, “prom” is a great concept. It gives everyone a shot at gaining some experience. You’re better off going to prom at 16 rather than at 26. Most Indian kids think prom is the bride/ groom seeing ceremony. Being a fresher might fly at the ceremony, but not when you’re called aside to “talk in private”. Having the right skills helps you get the right “job”. It’s always easier to get a job when you’ve some experience, rather than not, right?

But your parents told you otherwise, didn’t they?

In India, parents are super invested in the intellectual upbringing of their children since it directly results in earning a decent living, and this is great. Where this starts to loose credibility is when this “study well” logic is applied to finding oneself a partner - If you study well and get a good job, you can get a good partner. Back in the day when women married men for financial support, this logic worked. But how does it even make any sense today? Women don’t need men for financial support. Men don’t want women not needing financial support. So, getting good marks or having a decent job might help us survive on our own, but it never implies that you’ll easily find yourself a fulfilling relationship.

What would happen if our parents had applied the same rigour they applied for education when it came to our emotional development? Would we have turned out any different? Would we be any more desirable as partners than we are today? Or, would our population simply have doubled if not for our “culture”?

We’ll just have to wait, and watch.