The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 7, 2000
Your Option

Making love last forever
By Taru Bahl

IN the May issue of the Reader’s Digest, there is a personalised account of a cardiologist who says that love and intimacy are at the root of health and illness. He backs this claim by giving some interesting survey findings. A 119 men and women, who were undergoing coronary angiography in Berkeley, were part of a random survey conducted by scientists at the University of California. Those who felt the most loved and supported had lesser blockage in the arteries of their hearts than those who were inmates of old age homes or were living alone. In Sweden, more than 17,000 men and women between the ages of 29 and 74 were studied for six years. Those who were the most isolated and unloved had four times the risk of dying prematurely. The cardiologist concluded that love and intimacy lead to greater health and healing whereas loneliness predisposed one to suffering, disease and premature death.

If love is central to our relationships and is directly linked to our emotional, psychological and physical well-being, why don’t we follow time-tested guidelines which everyone in any case seems to know of and ensure that love stories last forever ? Why is there so much unhappiness, disappointment, regret and unspoken hurt on account of love gone sour ? Why do people fall out of love, and are trapped in relationships which are a mockery and a farce ? Why do many of us feel we are not loved enough, our sentiments and feelings not regarded and/or reciprocated with the same intensity ? Even in seemingly normal relationships, a brewing tempest is carefully concealed behind an exterior as people apparently try to camouflage feelings of being let down, of experiencing a vacuum and an emptiness which creates a chasm separating loved ones, building bridges, leading to miscommunication, awkward silences and pent-up frustrations.

  While there may not be a ‘love forever’ recipe, we can findsomething like it if we combine unbridled passion and intense love with maturity, discipline and restraint. Surely, not all relationships can have a happily-ever-after ending, but when most of our relationships seem doomed we need to do a serious stocktaking to study the pattern they take. We may be loving too much or too little, we may be too controlling and obsessive or indifferent and casual. To quote Krishnamurti: "How easy it is to destroy the thing we love. Through usage we wear ourselves out and that which was sharp and clear becomes wearisome and confused. Through constant friction, hope and frustration that which was beautiful and simple becomes fearful and expectant. Though we would like love to be static, enduring and continuous we must understand that each relationship is a movement. Love in relationship is a purifying process as it reveals the ways of the self. Without this revelation, relationships have no significance." Each one of us is entitled to and capable of forging healthy loving ties, be it with a lover, spouse, parent, friend, sibling, colleague, neighbour or with one’s job, home and nation. If we have the right attitude vis--vis ourselves and the kind of life we want to lead, our expectations towards people who matter to us will be realistic and we will find ourselves investing just the right quantum of love, allowing it, like old wine, to get more mature, aromatic and valuable.

Most of the time the motives behind injudicious giving and destructive nurturing stem from an insecurity in the lover. Here the reference to ‘lover’ is not necessarily in the man-woman context. He responds to and meets his needs with scant regard to the spiritual needs of the receiver. The possessive, obsessed, suspicious, questioning and demanding lover stifles the relationship with what he brands as ‘love’. He imposes his directives, way of living, concepts of right and wrong on the other, convinced that he is doing it out of love, responsibility and concern. This kind of misguided love can border on the more serious perversion of love commonly referred to as sadism. It negates the very essence of healthy love where loving comes naturally. Love, which has to be a self-replenishing activity instead of enlarging and filling, diminishes and depletes the self in this case. Instead of spontaneity there is unrealistic pressure to perform, be good, honourable and up-to-the-mark. By taking the individual’s freedom away, fear looms large over the lovers’ minds. One makes deliberate attempts to please, pushing one’s own needs, opinions and desires into the background lest they stir an hornet’s nest. Outwardly loving manifestations like a couple eating out of the same plate, holding hands, looking at each other intensely and uttering loving endearments does not translate into their sharing a loving relationship, a relationship which respects and nurtures the other’s individuality. Forcing oneself to be what one is not can lead to bitterness, resentment, mental distancing and a lack of communication.These may force one to betray the other person or seek gratification elsewhere.

The too loving, too sacrificing, too good, too giving lover can make the other person run a mile as he feels stifled and nauseated in the relationship. Since he does not perceive the others as an individual in his/her own right but only as an extension of himself, the narcissistic individual lacks the capacity for empathy (feeling what the other is feeling). Lacking in empathy, narcissistic parents, lovers, wives, and elder brothers end up responding inappropriately to their children, lovers, husbands, and younger sisters on an emotional level and fail to offer any recognition or verification of their feelings thereby creating a complex web of emotions and situations which victimise both the parties.

Psychologists insist that it is the separateness of the partners that enriches any union. Great marriages cannot be constructed by individuals who are terrified of being alone. Genuine love has to respect the individuality of the other and cultivate it, even if it be at the risk of separation and loss. The ultimate goal in life has to be the spiritual growth of the individual, the solitary journey to peaks that can only be climbed alone. Significant journeys cannot be accomplished without the nourishment provided by a successful marriage or a successful society. Marriage and society exist for the basic purpose of nurturing such individual journeys. Once this is grasped in its totality, we will not have difficulty in fully appreciating the separateness of those we are close to. Our love will not interfere in our role of parent, lover, spouse or friend.

There are times when we become complacent in love. Wrapped up in ourselves, we start taking the other for granted forgetting that he has a mind/voice of his own. Without realising it, we trample over his feelings, turning into bad listeners, insensitive to his indifferent body language and other distress signals. We fail to see his hurt, disappointment and gradual distancing. It never occurs to us that the missing spark in the relationship could be due to our being selfish and non-nurturing.

Passion and intensity are critical components in any loving relationship, but they lose steam if not backed by solidness of commitment, discipline, fidelity and the reliability factor. A person who is genuinely loving is also forgiving, gentle, compassionate and caring. He never makes the other person feel burdened by the weight of all that he does for him nor does he make him feel guilty for his inadequacies. He wants no certificates of appreciation for being a fabulous lover, all he wants is to love and be loving. He automatically builds a strong foundation of trust and confidence which ensures that even the other person’s mistakes and blunders are accepted without recriminations.

Going back to the cardiologist’s findings: "Why do some people get well even though their physician thinks they have no chance while others die who seem to have had every chance to recover ? There is more to it than medicines and treatment. Knowing that others care, that we matter to them strengthens a deep impulse towards life - a will to live." Such is the power of love. Love does make the world go round. Loving relationships do last forever. Love can heal and produce miracles. We only have to find it and hold on to it.