The Tribune - Spectrum

Sunday, May 14, 2000
Your Option

Romantic vs real love
By Taru Bahl

THE entire notion of ‘falling in love’ and ‘love lasting for ever’ is an illusion perpetrated by fairy tales, folklore and the mass media. Many blockbusters have taken this as their central theme. As such, most of us thrive on and yearn for the earth-shattering union of the one perfect man destined for the woman who may be living across the seven seas. Now, what happens when this union (for some reason) sours and the couple in question ‘fall out of love’? Romantics that they are, they are again quick to nurture their story book notions of love, consoling themselves by saying, "This wasn’t the real thing and he/she wasn’t the right person after all". Like Devdaas, they nurse a painfully broken heart. Some others promptly begin a fresh search for the ideal love-mate.

Most of us seek another with the painful desire of ‘completing ourselves’. There is the feeling that once we find the person with whom we can identify with, share the same wavelength and thought process, we would be anchored, and be at peace with ourselves and the world. This search, for some, may last a lifetime, taking them through a string of relationships. For others, it may mean nursing a broken, disillusioned, bitter heart. There are still a few for whom it may translate into a retaliation where they punish people around them for the hurt and pain that they feel has been wrongly inflicted on them. DH Lawrence said on more than one occasion, "The most delusional of all my delusions is that people don’t complete us, we complete ourselves."

  The search for love becomes a search for self-annihilation and we try to convince ourselves that self-annihilation is actually love. Erica Jong in her book Parachutes & Kisses surmised, "Endless love also always ends. Born alone, we die alone and whatever love and companionship we get in between these two events is pure luck but not necessarily our birthright. Aloneness is our only birthright. With any determination we can turn aloneness into independence." This may sound foolish to the absolutely-in-love-with-love die-hard romantic but to the realist it is a precious belief and one which takes him closer to his goal of finding love which nurtures, is meaningful, beautiful and worth cherishing for a lifetime.

According to Scot Peck, "The myth of romantic love is a dreadful lie. Perhaps it is a necessary lie, in that it ensures the survival of the species by its encouragement and seeming validation of the falling-in-love experience that traps two people into a relationship like marriage." As a psychiatrist and marriage counsellor, he gets distraught when he sees the confusion and suffering fostered by this myth. He finds millions of people wasting huge reservoirs of energy desperately and futiley trying to conform to the unreality of the ‘love forever’ myth. He talks of commonplace situations where the couple in therapy acknowledge the fact that their honeymoon is over. They know that the magic is gone and they are no longer romantically in love with each other but since they are still committed to their relationship they continue to cling to the myth trying hard to conform. They try to use will power and coercion, which amounts to almost arm-twisting tactics, pressure and emotional blackmail just to be able to ‘restore’ love back into their lives.

When these couples come into therapy they are possessive about their feeling of togetherness. They sit together, speak for each other, defend each other’s faults and seek to present to the rest of the group a united front. They believe this unity to be a sign of the relative health of their marriage and, therefore, a prerequisite for its improvement.

According to him, "These couples are too much married or too closely coupled. They need to establish some psychological distance from each other before they can begin to work constructively on their problems. Sometimes it is actually necessary to physically separate them, directing them to sit apart from each other in the group circle, requesting them to refrain from speaking for each other or defending each other against the group. They have to learn that a true acceptance of their own and each other’s individuality and separateness is the only foundation upon which a mature marriage can be based and real love can grow and last forever"

Novelist Toni Morrison in her novel The Bluest Eye says that the notion of romantic love is one of the most destructive ideas in the history of human thought. Its destructiveness resides in the belief that we come to love with no will and no capacity to choose. This illusion, perpetuated by the abundantly available romantic lore, stands in the way of our learning how to love truly and honestly. To sustain this perfect fantasy, we keep making the mistake of substituting romance, infatuation, lust, obsessive attachment and passion for love. The very expression ‘falling in love’ denotes the individual’s fear, awe, fascination, doubt and hesitation in the presence of something which is unavoidable yet not fully reliable. Erotic attraction may serve as the catalyst for an intimate connection between two people, but it is not a sign of love. For, shared sexual passion can be a sustaining and binding force in a troubled relationship but it cannot be the proving ground for love. True love does not always lead to happily ever after endings and even when it does, sustaining it takes a lot of work, effort and sensitivity.

There has to be mutual recognition where two individuals see each other as they really are. Often when the bubble bursts, it is because one has put one’s best foot forward or one has chosen to see only that which one wants to see. When living together reveals a side which is contrary to this belief, one gets shattered and heart-broken. The person nurses the grievance that this is not the person one had loved. He feels that it was a horrible mistake and he/she ended up getting a raw deal in life.

Finding true love can be ecstatic and also frightening. The very fact that one is ‘exposed’ and can be seen and analysed for what one is can create feelings of insecurity, rejection, hurt and trauma. This is why people try hard to hide their vulnerability under masks of haughtiness, brute force, arrogance and indifference. Unless honesty and openness become the foundation of a love-relationship, there can be no insightful communication. We have to take the risk of being ourselves, of standing exposed, of revealing our deepest feelings. We have to overcome the fear of opening ourselves out, to receiving the close intimate love most of us intensely long for.

To love fully and deeply puts us at risk. When we love we are completely changed and transformed. It is almost like a personal revolution where love takes one’s ideas, desires, dreams and actions binding them together into one wholesome cohesive experience. The abstract hazy illusions turns into a pulsating reality. By intensely connecting to another soul, we find ourselves becoming bold and courageous, doing/saying/feeling things even we didn’t know we were capable of. Using this fearless will to bond and connect as a catalyst for committing ourselves to what we call love, we succeed in giving and receiving a love that lasts, a love that defies all set norms, and a love that lives even after death.