Have we simply lost the ability to fall in love?

My earliest memory of being in love was from when I was 12 years old. It was quite fashionable back then to have a crush or be crushed by someone. There was this boy in my class who sat several benches away from me. Once in a while, we’d exchange glances and giggle for no apparent reason. I can’t put a finger on how I felt but I’ll simplify it here and say I used to blush every time he smiled at me. I’d call his landline, just to be able to hear him say hello, and later get abused by my dad for increasing the phone bill. Now, if this isn’t love, I don’t know what is.

I’m not terribly old myself, but I’d like to say when I was younger, love was relatively simpler.

Even as late as about a decade ago, love was pretty straightforward. There was a boy I worked with and we obviously had some chemistry, and it didn’t take us very long to do something about it. But before we even got there, I’d always long to chat with him, tell him about all my joys and sorrows, and somewhere tucked in the longing was a dollop of love, intensified by the mystery of our intentions for each other. We didn’t need an app, we didn’t care how much money we had and we were happy living in the moment, which didn’t last too long, but for all it was worth, it felt like love. I’ve never felt the need to rubbish this just because I fell in love with someone else, enough to want to marry them.

Through my journey of being in love several times, I’ve seen that love takes too many forms for us to stand holding a template into which some perfect person would come fit into.

In order to fall in love, you need to be vulnerable.

It’s like leaving the door slightly open to let somebody know that you are home. When someone knows you are home, they’re more likely to come knock. But if you keep your door shut, no one will ever know if you’re home, and that you’re ready to let someone in.

Easy enough, huh?

Except, we’re too afraid that we might get robbed. Robbed of our freedom, robbed of our space, robbed of the opportunity to choose who we let in, and when.

When I ask people what they are looking for in a relationship, the first thing most people tell me these days is freedom, and space. Isn’t it rather ironic? If it is freedom that we seek, aren’t we better off single, relatively speaking? Why is there a need to find ourselves in a couple where freedom is not the benefit, but it is the price we pay.

Love isn’t about being independent or having your own space in the relationship. Love is about making space for another person and letting them depend on you and vice-versa. In the process, if you’re able to carve out your own space, that’s a benefit. This benefit isn’t a given, it is earned as a result of nurturing a healthy loving relationship. This is a reciprocal effort, never works one way - in order to receive, you’ve got to give. As long as people feel entitled to receive love, it’s unlikely they’ll ever fall in love.

I advise people who are looking to get married, but I never advise people that they get married. May be that’s why I always work directly with people who are in the market vs their parents, because frankly, marriage isn’t for everyone. It’s for those who choose to go on that journey.

Yes, marriage or any relationship for that matter isn’t so much about where it started or where it ended, but it’s about the journey in between, and what two individuals can create in the process.

This one time, a woman told me that she can’t wait to get married and have her happily ever after soon. I couldn’t help but wonder what gave her the idea that she could live happily ever after once she is married. For some reason, we as a society have refrained from discussing this journey in greater detail and only glorify the various milestones such as finding a partner, having a child, ending the relationship and so on. May be that’s why, some people have unfounded expectations from relationships.

People know that relationship is work, and that’s precisely what they want to avoid by picking the “perfect” partner. For instance, if someone you consider unattractive expresses interest in you, what do you do? You reject them instantly because you don’t want to deal with the personal (having to force intimacy) and social repercussions of being with this person (as to how people would judge your choice) no matter how amazing they might be. You don’t look twice to try and find out what’s beyond their looks. It’s not just looks, we are fixated about people’s jobs, salaries, education, dietary preferences, family backgrounds and what not. Dating and matrimonial apps are no less - they indulge us all the time.

Let me tell you that it’s not enough that you pick lovely looking tomatoes to make a marinara sauce, you’ve also got to have the right recipe, skills and patience to make a good sauce else the outcome could vary greatly. Also, tomatoes are easy, it’s not like they’ve to like you back in order to be picked. I’ve made some of my best food when I’ve salvaged something from leftovers because I knew I had to work with what I have. Just saying.

Desire is a cheeky thing - It makes your body fool you into thinking that it deserves reciprocation.

When you desire someone, ask yourself if they’d ever long for you as much, and if so, why? When I ask people this question, they pounce on me to answer the question, except they never hear the question right in the first place. If you want to try this at home, I have a little activity for you, send me a message if you want to try it.

Love on the other hand, is kinder.

Different loves are different. Love between parents and children is just as special as love between a couple. Love between friends is just as special as love between siblings. None of these loves are engineered, they’re all mostly salvaged. It’s like we’ve evolved to salvage love but don’t quite know how to choose the one we want to share the love with.

This isn’t surprising because most of us are raised to believe that everyone from the opposite gender is like a sibling, and it’s immoral to have any other type of feelings for them, let alone expressing them explicitly, especially when you are still living with your parents on their money. We’ve not been raised to explore our sexual or non-platonic feelings for the opposite gender, or for any gender for that matter. So, when parents, and the society as a whole expect an individual to make an unexpected switch from viewing everyone as siblings to a prospective gene propagating partner, it seems a bit unreasonable, isn’t it?

Some of us have been fortunate to not rely solely on the exposure provided by our families, and hence, have experienced love at least once in our lives.

But there are millions of people who’ve never allowed themselves to experience romantic love in all its glory. This is not just because they didn’t have encounters with the opposite gender, but they were simply incapable of appreciating how they felt because they either thought it was immoral or that they didn’t deserve to feel anything.

Our society mostly dealt with this problem through child marriage, forced marriage or arranged marriage where the choice was facilitated for the ward, and the ward did what he was evolutionarily equipped to do - salvage love. But now, the gaps in our upbringing have been exposed - we’re neither emotionally equipped to fall in love nor choose our partners. This also means, people have a harder time getting laid. I don’t have any data to back this up, but I can bet that we’ve more 30 year old virgins in India than ever before, despite pre-marital sex being on the rise.

So, what do we do about this?

  • Abolish arranged marriages altogether so people are forced to fall in love and find their own partners? That might work.

  • Start love training centres alongside JEE coaching the moment kids turn 18? That would be hilarious, but I wouldn’t rule that out.

  • Stop telling your kids to not fall in love when they show some inclination to do so? Sure, as long as they’re not living off your money, no?

  • Not scorn at thy neighbours daughter hanging out with a boy at a mall? That’s it. That’s what we need. Freedom for people to express themselves, and our trust in their judgement, especially if we’re finding it hard to acknowledge that it may not be any of our business.

So may be our ability to love starts with letting people love - others, and then ourselves.