A young colleague on the verge of matrimony, asked me the secret of wedded bliss. “Be yourself,” I told her. “And, accept him as he is. Do not hide the essential you, nor judge or try to alter him.”
“Should I lay down the rules early on in marriage?” she asked.
“There are no rules,” I told her. “Give yourself up completely to the beauty of the relationship and lean in with trust.”
To love is to be vulnerable, to leave yourself open to hurt. If you have not experienced the ache and vulnerability, you have probably neither scaled the heights nor plumbed the depths of love! Not many dare wade in deep enough to risk breaking!
We shield our vulnerabilities by adopting masks and skimming the surface of relationships, wading in shallow waters while avoiding deeper engagement and interaction. Armed with sexist clichés and advice handed down generations, we enter relationships with preconceived notions. We strike poses and keep trying either to live up to, or fight, stereotypes. We fear being ourselves lest we are taken for granted — or worse, rejected or ridiculed.
However by avoiding complete disclosure, we also keep ourselves bereft of the wondrous pleasures of loving. Dipping your toes in at the edge in no way compares to diving in deep . Pain in fact opens new dimensions to loving. As bureaucrat-poet Vijai Vardhan puts it beautifully in his book of haikus Ibadat –The Breath of My Soul, “Anguish can open our hearts to a deeper stream. For when we are broken, we are open. Resurrection follows demolition.”
And yet, we are scared of revealing our true selves in a relationship. What is actually vulnerability in a relationship? It is the courage to be yourself, to put ego aside and invest in a relationship without any sureties, lay yourself open, warts and wounds, without caring about consequences. Research shows that most women are nurturing because they believe men want them to be so, and men hold back emotions because they are expected to be disciplinarians and protectors! Where then is the integrity, the true self in all this?
Brene Brown, relationships expert, says, “What makes you vulnerable makes you beautiful.” Brene recommends embracing vulnerability, having the ‘courage to be imperfect’ and ditching who we think we should be, in order to be who we are!’ Author-politician Tuhin Sinha says vulnerability helps us “remain grounded and objective, and keeps complacence away.”
In trying to live up to stereotypes or breaking them, we forgo the real for the imagined. In striving for perfection, we forget to give the normal its due. We all try to live up to, or live down, ideals. Where then is the scope for being just ourselves, open to love and hurt, to pleasure and pain?
Author Preeti Shenoy agrees, “Falling in love is to make yourself vulnerable. It is giving another person power over your emotions. But oh the joy!” Nikita Singh, romance writer, says, “Giving someone that kind of power over you doesn’t usually end well…. But when I fall in love again…I’ll dare to open myself up and be vulnerable again.”
Could you get a stronger case for embracing vulnerability? Open up, let yourself be seen deeply! As Vijai Vardhan says in this haiku,
‘Open your heart.
On paper, the boy is perfect. He works in Private Equity, is Harvard-educated, is tall and handsome, and we even have eleven common friends on Facebook; friends in Boston, New York, Delhi and Bombay, all the cities that we have both lived in.
I wanted to know how it felt to meet a total stranger with the idea of spending the rest of your life together, how the “click” that people spoke about happened. A hopeful inner voice of mine urged me to meet him. My main motive in meeting Nakul was to get more insight on the book that I was writing, India in Love: Marriage and sexuality in the 21st century—but I was secretly curious about him being a good match for me and wondered if the arranged marriage process could be for me, especially because I had been fighting more than usual with my boyfriend. He wanted to get engaged but I wasn’t sure if he was the right fit for me. If I did break up with him, I knew I could not bear going through the painful rigmarole of dating for a long while, and an arranged marriage seemed like a relatively painless option at this point.
When I had looked at Nakul’s bio-data, he seemed to have some of things that I felt my relationship was lacking and that were the crux of our differences. Research tells us that we have more compatibility to people with similar life experiences, and Nakul reminded me so much of myself. We had similar education, both having studied in Boston and done our MBA’s, we had similar family backgrounds, and we had spent our formative years in both the U.S. and India. Nakul seemed ideal.
When I revealed to my inner circle of friends that I was meeting someone for arranged marriage, they were not surprised, even though they all knew that I had a boyfriend. Many had been through this situation. They were dating men that they liked, but their parents pressured them to meet men that they preferred. Many would resist, but after a while ended up meeting these men, for no other reason than to placate their parents. I knew of a friend, who had great relationship, but met a man through her parents, and immediately decided to marry him, because she thought he would make a good husband. I have another friend who met hundreds of men to keep her parents happy, though she had a boyfriend who she had decided she would marry and was waiting until her parents came to terms with it. I had advice coming in from all directions because everyone that I knew had at some point gone through the arranged marriage process. My friends regaled me with their matrimonial horror stories—a friend of mine had ruined her nuptial chances because she had gone back to the guy’s hotel room after the second meeting. Another had blown it when she introduced a potential to her wayward friends, yet another because she smoked a cigarette.
In an unusually bold step (for me) Nakul flew down from Bombay to meet me. We had never even spoken on the phone, chat, or email. We had only exchanged SMS’s to confirm the time and venue. This made me even more uncomfortable, first because of his apparent seriousness, and second because this earnestness further reflected his good qualities. What if he actually turned out to be the one? Was I indeed ready for this?
Nakul was everything that he promised to be. He was older than I had expected at 36 (his bio-data had said 34) and he was sweet, kind, well-spoken, attentive, curious, and funny. We had lovely time over coffee, and agreed to meet again the following day.
Though everything had gone well with Nakul during our date, as the time approached to meet him again, I did not want to see him. All my nervous energy of the previous day had coalesced into dullness and other unfamiliar feelings that I could not quite understand. I was still nervous, but not in the fresh, light way of the day before.
Somehow, something with Nakul seemed to be lacking in my mind. I couldn’t put my finger on it, and I started harping on the small things: the elasticity of his socks, the unappealing computer bag that he carried, the unimpressive thickness of his hair signaling premature balding. I felt a sinking feeling when I thought about Nakul. The matchmaker was unnaturally clear-headed and had a vaunted prescient about these things; he did do this for a living after all. He had told me to meet Nakul a minimum of three times. After that, he said, I would know. So I did just that.
The buccaneering Nakul flew down again to have dinner with me. As the waiters closed the restaurant, stacking the chairs and rolling the front gate halfway down, Nakul and I talked about everything under the moon. The conversation was smooth, entertaining, and intelligent, but my heart beat with odd little jerks, my hands were cold, and a distasteful feeling oppressed me. I have no idea what unspoken covenant had been broken, or what unwritten law of nature had been transgressed, but when he dropped me to the car and said good-bye, I knew that I would never see him again. As he walked away, I only felt sharp relief.
The truth was that it was difficult for me to accept this arranged marriage business, though I strongly wished that, like many of my friends, I could, too, internalize my past calamities and lend them the heroic dimensions of arranged marriage. It seemed to be so easy, so straightforward. With economics, social acceptability, and background in place, marriage should be easy. I had seen so many of my friends and family, including my parents and sister, both men and women, meet their spouse in an easy arranged marriage with none of the anxiety and heartburn of dating. It seemed perfect in theory, but for me, the biggest hurdle towards an arranged marriage was my own mind.
According to Sudhir Kakar, “Arranged marriages work best, and perhaps can only work, if the sexes are kept apart in youth and if marriages take place early, before young men and women have had an opportunity to compare a range of potential partners.” Clearly this had not been the case for me, I had had plenty of interaction with the opposite sex so I wasn’t mentally prepared to take on arranged marriage. Maybe if Nakul and I had met through friends, or at a bar, or night-club, we could have had a perfectly natural, and healthy relationship that may even have resulted in marriage. Just like if some of my boyfriends and I had met through an arranged context, I would have rejected him after the first meeting, only based on his bio-data, despite him being a lovely partner.
But somehow it seemed unnatural to think of marriage as a strategic transaction, to be a calculative decision, and even more, to make loves with a man that I didn’t really love. I wanted to actually fall in love with a loud bang and have scars and bruises to show for the fall. I wanted to date, to be best friends, to fight, to break up bitterly and to make up even more sweetly, and then one day, when the timing felt right and natural, to be married. Though I had been brought up on a diet of arranged marriage, the later conditioning of my mind towards love and romance was much stronger than I had ever imagined. The meetings with Nakul had made me feel interminably uneasy and awfully awkward. It was like going on a date knowing that your choice would be for life, it was more pressure on the heart than I had ever imagined. Ultimately, an arranged marriage was about marrying a person who has the qualities for you to fall in love with, not someone who you are already in love with. Yet all my dating experiences had told me that love was a nebulous, intangible feeling. You couldn’t put a value on it, and I certainly couldn’t make it happen by matching myself with bio-datas supplied by a marriage broker.
t is a painful emotion that can either devour you, or be turned around to take you to divine heights
In a freewheeling discussion on love and life over dinner at the residence of the charismatic Gudmundur Eiriksson, Ambassador of Iceland, at least three women categorically stated that they believed in onesided love that could carry on forever, with no hope of being loved back.
Along with most of the men present, I too was surprised, because one-sided love sounds more like a punishment than a happy state of being. To love someone who does not love you back seems like an exercise in disaster. I can understand such a love when there is some hope of it being returned in some measure some day, as happens in the movies. Or when you are, at least, admired in return. I can even understand a yearning for something you have shared and lost. But a love that continues with no possibility of return?
What good is a love that cannot be indulged in, celebrated, danced and sung to, a love that cannot enfold you securely with your loved one? A lonely love that finds no outer response is bound to feed on itself, resulting in frustration and emptiness. The Ambassador’s wife, the lovelyThorey Vigdis Olafsdottir, a psychologist and active participant in the discussion, agreed with me that a one-sided love is a sure path to frustration and obsession. It must surely be a very painful emotion, she said. She agrees with experts who opine that the pain is actually both ways – for the one who loves and for the object of that love. For the one who receives such a love, it is often very difficult to let the lover know that his/her feelings are not reciprocated. If the one loving you is someone close or someone you care for, it is not easy to hurt them by declaring your lack of love. Who doesn’t like to be loved or admired? So, more often than not, the receiver allows the situation to continue, giving the lover hope, thus making things worse.
At Ambassador Gudmundur’s dinner were three young, successful women — a poet, an advertising professional and a lawyer, who spoke of their belief in undying, unrequited love.
Shadan Ahmad, poet & theatre artiste… “I can relate to unrequited love. Sometimes you may glimpse your ideal in someone but the situation may not allow you to do anything about this feeling. I cherish such an emotion. It is enough for me if I have found someone worth loving. It may result in something at some point or maybe nothing ever, but the existence of that ideal in my heart is enough for me. For creative people like me, our own sense of self and purpose encourages us to seek divinity in love, and divine love is not likely to be actualised in this life. So it is good enough for me that I am able to live with my kind of love on my own terms, without having to pay the price for it. There was a time when I could not relate to Meera’s one-sided love for Krishna, but today I understand that she lived a divine life. It is better this way…”
Divya Shante (name changed), advertising professional: “Even after a break-up that I brought about, I continue to love this guy because that feeling of love stays with me just as strongly. It was a clean break; I do not even know where he is now. So it’s more about a continued love without the labels and bonds that define the relationship. I live with it without the hope that it will be returned because when things reach such an emotional stalemate that you love and yet are not able to resolve some stuff, then your feelings don’t die; you are just forced to stifle them. I go through phases when I feel sad looking at another couple; another time I feel blessed for living with such a divine love. I wish him well and pray for him. Yes, it does hold me back from loving someone else, but that cannot be helped.”
Shreela Sen (name changed), lawyer: “Once you love someone, the emotion doesn’t die just because some day the other person stops loving you. It can be a very painful emotion to be the only one to love, but I believe that it does exist; how can the chemistry of all that you have shared with a loved one, become nothing?”
What comes through strongly is three women who, having taken risks and made their choices, are unwilling to compromise with their idea of love. Women with strong personalities and a clear idea of the kind of love they seek, who prefer to enshrine the ideal within their hearts when reality or circumstances, as they call it, do not allow them to reach out and indulge. And somewhere, these women do realise that it is only here, in a realm removed from reality that love will not deplete into mundane emotion, where it will thrive, to never fade away. And the fact that they need do nothing about it — there will be no expectations either way — may actually be the best thing about it.
And yet, does it not seem like playing in the shallow waters of the beach, not allowing the waves of life to throw you up to the heavens before you land on ground – only to be thrown up again?
This then would depend on the strength of your personality. Are you strong enough to use the one-sided emotion to your benefit, to allow it to energise you and to feed your creative instincts? Or, do you let it enervate you and leave you to regret and fade away like Devdas? Will you allow the emotion to leave you forlorn or thrilled? That depends on how you allow it to play out in your heart — a lonely love away from love — or a divine love that is beyond all love