From Detroit, With Love

If you asked me to talk about love, I’d probably talk about Frank O’ Hara, and this poem he wrote called “Having a coke with you” where he talks about a lazy day, sharing a drink with his loved one. The reason I’d talk about it, is because that’s how I see most other people seeing love – where the mundane and the ordinary become that much more charming, and fleeting, and interesting, when shared with the one person who matters most to you. I don’t think that’s what O’Hara meant to convey, but nevertheless, he paints a dainty picture like that. Like Sebastien Tellier says, in La Ritournelle, “Love is to share, mine is for you.”

For a large part of my life, the concept of love was like the hypothetical apple in Mary’s room. I knew all about it, I knew how it made people feel, I understood the yearnings and irrationality that came with it, I knew how the pain felt at its loss was, I knew all the adjectives people use to describe it and its emotions, the physicality of it, everything. I’d read and seen enough to reject a large swathe of romcoms and romance films simply because the effects of “being in love” were so well known to me (and presumably to others as well) that I could predict how characters would act in most situations involving their significant other. And yet, experiencing it myself was a whole other thing. Some intersection of Gestalt and Frank Jackson occured, where despite knowing the parts of the concept at question, the whole was more than the sum of its parts. More tangible, more painful, more potent, more controlling and commanding, and all the less forgiving for it. I wouldn’t wish that kind of a frustration on anyone, all the sleepless nights and agonizing days, uncontrollable tears every hour, and where everything in your environment betrayed you by reminding you of the one thing you wished you could forget. It wasn’t pleasant, but only because the love I thought I felt wasn’t reciprocated. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.

What stood out to me most is the way my objectives in life changed during the period in question. Yes, my ambitions stayed the same, I still had routines and work, studies to complete, endless tasks I set for myself, skills I was working on. But the long term sight I had became cloudy, and it seemed more and more like a mirage I’d conjured up for myself, knowingly, to distract myself from the pain of the desert I was stranded in. Tomorrow I shall finish this book, day after I shall complete my course, the week after I shall be proficient in this, the year after that I shall get hired, the decade after that I shall climb my way up a corporate ladder. Deep inside, I knew I wanted none of that, really. I knew I’d give it all up in a heartbeat if the person of interest was by me, to share my life with. I knew that I’d rather have a coke with them, talking about things, dreaming of yet other things, laughing around and living life through rose-colored lenses. I could imagine my mind at a stasis, in a simple world where I could be faithful to one person, and them to me. At least briefly laboring under love’s contingent that we were all we needed to get through another horrible day, knowing that there was some comfort to be had when they call you up and ask “How’d your day go?”, and you answer honestly. These were wildly different ambitions from the ones I was proud of having, before. I wasn’t proud of these new objectives, and so lived in denial for a long time. Regret flushed through my mind almost everyday, regret that I hadn’t said the rigth words at the right time, or ignored the someone when I shouldn’t have.

Keeping all this in mind, I have a different view of love and all its byproducts now. Not a happy one, but appreciative. Regardless of how society interprets it – as an evolutionary baby-making mechanism, as a force in the universe, as an intangible godlike presence, as a consequence of destiny and fate, as a way of bringing lost souls together, as something “meant to be”, as divine prayer, as faith and kindliness and selflessness, as a childlike dependence, etc etc – it became clear that it’s a thing that exists, that happens, and often touches lives. It’s not something easy to fake or corrupt, and when you do do that, it doesn’t affect you as much. And some love is genuinely greater than others, while some is more different as well. I don’t think it’s fair to paint today’s youth as being a loveless one, for it really depends where we look. I had a friend in high school who once forwarded to me all the emails she shared with her boyfriend, and you could see for yourself how genuinely close and dependent they were, the sweetness of their banter, the kind of interest they shared in each other and how much enjoyment they found in the other’s company. For a generation that relies on public and processed information, it is especially dangerous to come to conclusions based on our media observation, because that kind of love that we believe is fading away does exist, and where it exists in its purest form, it is rarely shared or exposed publicly. And that’s the way it should be.

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O’ Hara said:

“..and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank”

There’s millions of people out there, standing and watching sunsets together, and there’s millions more of sunsets still to come, with a loving couple for each one of them. Personally, I think that when you begin to appreciate the existence of such love and care people can share, things like chivalry, date rules, dictates, role divisions, marriage norms and the whole subset of old pillars of romance don’t bother you as much as they do for some sociologists and feminists. Because in a relationship you treasure, things aren’t about empowerment or power dynamics or politics anymore. It’s a private understanding, where all you want is for a long and healthy lifetime with someone else, and to make things efficient, people fall back on norms that tell them how to make such a relationship survive. It’s like grandma’s advice to you: you complement each other, one does housework, the other earns bread, one cares for the family, the other gives stern support. It sure does sound archaic, but a lot of people don’t contest it, not because they’ve experienced “internalized sexism” but simply because they feel like it works, and they appreciate some kind of a code that takes the burden of answering the questions off their own shoulders.

Of course, it’s upto every individual to interpret and change those unspoken rules, or even reject them entirely, based on their partner and the dynamic they share with them. I just don’t think it’s right to pass judgement on others for other, call it a fault in the way they’ve been socialized or brought up (implying that somehow we’ve been messiaonically brought up the absolute right way, and are enlightened), call it a problem, when people accept the old-school romance set-up, where you don’t split bills evenly, where you don’t split chores evenly, or even the burden of making decisions. It’s really a case-by-case kind of thing.

I think it’s sweet when guys chase a girl they’d like to be with – it’s an excercise of will, it indicates what a man would go through to get her. I’m not saying that the woman is obligated to accept him for his pains, but rather that she should maybe consider him more favorably and judge him by the actions he dedicates to her. And I’m also not condoning men taking it too far, but that goes without saying. Or when a guy holds a door open for his woman, saying “Ladies first”. It’s not a show of strength or dominance in the actual sense of the word, but rather a way of saying that you’re here to lessen your partner’s struggles. I’m a bit of a traditionalist that way, I like having societal structures and date norms, and I also like the concept of individuals skirting around those norms in their own way, to set their own personality. After all, despite how individualistic we all claim to be, it becomes imperative that we give up a part of our true freedom, to take part in society’s activities. We conform a bit so that we may get that which we don’t have in return. It’s a mutual exchange. And then, when you find the one you love, after a long cat-and-mouse chase, you open up to them, and accept each other for the weird things they do, and their truly individual selves, free from social dictates. Together, you then have an entire universe to split amongst yourselves, and an enitre lifetime to share.

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