What’s True Love Like In Isolation?
It must’ve been love. Or not.
The most poignant events of our lives still leave an impact that only lasts a couple of years at most. Adolescence, the first love, break-ups, jobs, deaths – all of these shake our foundations. But it is a testament to human resilience that we tend to learn to live despite this. Eventually the gaps that these incidents make in our lives are filled with other things and people. It is an oddly comforting thought. The pandemic has been rife with shattering, soul-destroying events. So, ‘This too, shall pass.’ What then do we make of the idea of true love which has a kind of endlessness, a perfection that is hard to imagine in anything human and alive? Can love be anything but human and alive? Maybe the question to ask is what truly is love?
In 2021, I found the depths of despair with a second lockdown after a whole year trapped by other people’s anxieties. For the first time I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel. I thought I was going to suffocate alone in the darkness. Then Clubhouse happened with its new friendships, more purpose in conversations, fresh ideas to explore – language, politics, poetry, feminism, urbanscapes, health, gender. And in this new lease on life, I thought I found love. I have since described it as delirium, grief, survivor’s guilt, desperation and relief. Till that time in my life, I’d relegated love to the unwelcome corners of my mind, the rituals I had to partake in for social sanction, the shortcut definitions fed to me by popular culture. I had never meditated on love even as I systematically categorised human interactions (The Mate Hunt). But in the great void of 2021, I let my mind go to places it had never gone before. I let myself taste and touch words that normally weren’t ‘for me’. I was exploring what it meant to love another person.(1)
Because the world was in the depths of a madness that I could not see my way out of, I also ceased to care about where this was headed. I allowed myself to drop the safety questions of compatibility, practicality. I might never see this person in my life. I might not live to see the next day so what did it matter? To quote Raj Aryan in Mohabbatein, when I loved, I did not worry about whether they loved me back. It felt like a revelation (albeit from a discount Karan Johar movie). What if I could love without worrying about ROI? (2)
Some tangible things did come from my loving. I read and wrote love poetry. But they were scraps tumbling from the rich evolution happening in me. Now, on the other side of survival, the pandemic seems like a fever dream. Ensconced back in my practical world, the object of my affection is a mere stranger. But that self that loved, feels like me the way a newly fit body eventually starts to feel like you. I’ve come some way from the imposter syndrome with terms like girlfriend, wife and even best friend. Love, what a revelation after all. (3)
I am back in the labcoat of my mind and I find myself objectively contrasting this experience with others in my journey. Some of it was undeniably the other person and their willingness to bear witness to my transformation, doing nothing to interrupt or channel it. I see that now because in the real world, it is impossible to walk a straight path without getting pulled into other people’s machinations & manipulations. Maybe I will never have that pure an experience of loving again. Was it actually love if it was in such an ideal setting? (3)
I’ve been reading romances more in the past year. My feminist exploration has me examining my own assumptions about gender qualifiers and all the places they reach. The romance genre has evolved, with its drunken stumble through chick-lit, a YA ramble through diversity, survived the industrialisation of story universes & characters and arrived here. We now have stories that feel more relatable, are written by people like us and which explore truths scarier than happily-ever-after while still staying fluffy & comforting in parts. That’s a considerable history and a lot for a story to carry. I just finished reading ‘Talk Bookish To Me‘. It made me have to face some difficult perspectives on cheating and the morality of loving (more on this in another post next).
Mid-way through that book, I restarted Bell Hooks’ ‘All About Love‘ that I’d discarded in 2018 after getting bullied in a feminist book club. Like people, our journeys with books may be interrupted & impacted by the circumstances of our connection. I couldn’t reconcile people’s knowledgeable analyses of love with their unbridled viciousness & cruelty. Given my personal history of abuse in relationships, love felt dangerous to even think about. It still is. But healing involves experimentation & courage so I set forth and I thought it would an interesting experiment to read these two books at the same time. I am also now a different person, having pandemic-loved.
Bell Hooks opens up an inquiry into how we love and what love truly means. She quotes Erich Fromm as he defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
It makes me believe that by actively choosing the path I did in 2021, I did love. Maybe it took the extremism of the pandemic for me to consider it. Even as the last gasp that I thought it was then, it was a more valid loving than the ROI-chasing, system-fitting exertions most of us take on and call love. Yes, I loved. And it was as transformative as the poets said it is.
• Adolescence, first love, break-ups, jobs, deaths-all of these shake our foundations
I think one could also say these are defining moments or moments of metamorphosis
I distinctly remember adolescence had been a tough time for me, with the sudden influx of hormones I didn't know what to do, its like someone had put me in the pilot's seat of a running aeroplane, and because of the lack of sex education in this God-forsaken country, I thought am the only one who is attracted to opposite sex and there is something seriously wrong with me. But thanks to internet, I was able to navigate well, years later
Still chewing on this line alone
@Harshaman: Indeed, they are the defining moments. I hope you will find your way through these turbulent years, picking up the lessons meant for you. Because there is serenity and wisdom waiting for you at the other end.