Despite huge advances in every facilitating department of our existence, meeting this basic need continues to challenge us, writes Kaushani Das
Tum na mano magar hakikat hai, ishq insaan ki zaroorat hai…’ As this marquee ghazal, popularised by Pankaj Udhas, nailed it years back – ‘You may not think so, but romantic love is a basic human need’. Originating in human biology and nurtured by all cultural traditions. Falling in love, and being in love remains one of humankind’s constant and most intense sources of joy – that rush of adrenaline in the blood at the thought of meeting one’s love, the desire to meet as soon as one has parted, the ache of waiting, the relief and thrill of those first moments of skin contact after a separation, the excitement of intimacy, the peace of touch and shared sleep! Who does not want love in their life? “Life without love is a long boredom,” writes Hanif Kureishi.
However, despite huge advances in every facilitating department of our existence, meeting this basic need continues to challenge us. The conventional solution still remains marriage. Though marriage first emerged as an institution in agrarian societies, out of a need to ensure the passage of landed property rights to a man’s own bloodline, and not to satisfy romantic longing of two partners for each other. While marriage is still the norm, finding a suitable partner has turned into a tricky, often long-drawn, part-funny and part-stressful game for most urbans, the rules of the game having been muddled by the entry of the ‘love’ factor.
For a long time in India, marriage meant matching a girl and a boy by two families, on the parameters of chiefly cultural and economic compatibility, and aimed primarily at start of a new family to keep the family name and society going. Love was incidental to the arrangement. No longer so. Says Meenal Bhatt, a well-placed corporate professional, “I am not ready to settle for just someone who earns well and has a house. He must have a good personality, make good conversations, someone like-minded, who excites me, in short I need to feel love first.” Well into her 30s, she is struggling to locate this man whom she can love and who will love her.
What makes finding romantic love so difficult is that romantic love is essentially a human response to beauty in another person, and ‘beauty’ is a complex, subjective concept. Beauty can be physical (looks) or intellectual (creative work) or moral (virtuous action) or spiritual (compassion, selflessness) that attracts one. When two people both find beauty in each other, of any kind, love or attraction ignites, the hormones start singing, and if worldly circumstances cooperate, love mutates into sex, and a relationship takes off. A relationship most secure legally through marriage. Does that mean an ‘arranged’ marriage is shorn of love? Not at all. The experience of people in arranged marriages (arranged with both boy and girl consenting and not under force) seems to support the premise that couples matched by families are as likely to experience deep love for their partners as those in ‘love’ marriages.
Recalls Rukmini now married for over three decades, “I could not marry the man I loved and told my father I would marry anyone he chose. I got married at 28 to a man my father found me. And I have not regretted it ever. He was so caring by nature, I fell in love with him easily. And we have nurtured the marriage to avoid monotony.” Today with expectations of an ideal partner increasing from both sides and financial dependence on partners waning, both men and women are finding it arduous to forge love-relationships of tenacity.
To complicate, there is no stopping one from loving more than one partner, romantic love being a reaction to beauty. Remember the debonair Dev Anand crooning the truth, Hai apna dil to awaara, na jaane kispe aayega. Senior marriage counsellor and counsellor in sexual medicine Dr Raj Brahmabhatt affirms, “Both men and women are by nature polygamous, but we are conditioned to have one relationship or at least were. Like I was given this one valuable watch by my father and I wore it all my life. But now we have become a world village, consumerist in approach to relationships also. Young people, who are observing things on the media say why not many relationships. Also if two people share some common passions, they feel they should have sex to complete that sense of sharing, and then go their separate ways. Marriage is not the only way they wish to relate.”
As marriage binds a couple in a whorl of relationships with each other’s families, enfolding many responsibilities, some people today prefer to be just “in a relationship,” live-in or otherwise, to meet their emotional/sexual needs, sans the social commitments of marriage. This tack has gained traction of late with the blossoming of dating sites and apps like Tinder. Admits 30-year-old corporate employee Chetan Choudhury, “I don’t feel cut out to play the typical husband and assume the responsibilities of marriage. But I do need the company of opposite sex, touch and I believe women need touch too.” Tinder-happy Chetan clarifies that he states his non-marital intentions upfront to his dates. Romantic relationships sans marriage tags generally run high on passion; the downside – they tend to wind up more easily and with at least one of the parties emotionally bruised. That said, men and women will continue to fall into intimacies, especially in their hormonally favourable years.
Does the need for love die as one ages? “No,” Dr Brahmabhatt is emphatic. “Sex can stop due to recession of hormones or other physical reasons, but love and the hunger for warmth remains. Looking deeply into each other’s eyes is also an act of love.” Of course, the need is sometimes channeled spiritually, into a reaching out for divine love. For both the sexual and spiritual urge stem from the essential human feeling of incompleteness and the consequent desire to unite with another entity, to attain completeness. “Sometimes the wife involves herself in prayers, while the husband, who is now a moneyed grandfather, is still craving romance,” reveals Dr Brahmabhatt, adding with a chuckle, “These days, he seeks it too through different avenues.” To conclude, as a good couplet goes, Kaun kehta hai budhe ishq nahin karte/Yeh kambakht zamana hai, ki un par shaq nahin karte? (Who says the old do not fall in love? It’s this mean world that does not suspect them.) And so the quest goes on.
(A few names have been changed in the interest of privacy)