“Have you been in love? Like in a swept-off-your-feet kind of way?” She asks.
I look at her face and see my friend is in earnest. “I know of no other kind,” I say.
“So you have experienced love like that?”
She looked disappointed. A silence descends between us like winter fog in Delhi. After a while, looking at the floor, she says, “I went to a theme park yesterday with some friends, and we went on a giant roller coaster. Thrice. After the ride was over, I felt more alive and eager than I have ever been in my life. Like life demanded nothing less than flight from me. Like the whole world was inviting me to explore it without fear, without doubts, without hesitation. Or that’s how it felt.”
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The love we hear about
She raised her head and looked at me. As if to make sure I was listening. “Then it occurred to me that I have never felt this alive in a relationship – in any relationship I have had so far,” she continued. “I have never felt so acutely aware of life – life, not as a race to the end, but as an enormous promise to oneself. None had made me feel this limitless and free. And it made me sad to know that if love – the highest of all human emotions, has not given me a feeling superior to that of a roller coaster ride, then all my past relationships have failed me. Or maybe, I have failed them. And since I don’t know what is wrong or why, I will never know how or where to look for love. I will never find the uplifting, soul-liberating, life-affirming love that I seek. Over 20 years of dating, living together, being in relationships… Today, all of them can be summed up as my life’s misadventures in naught.”
I wait in silence. Is there more? Is she afraid? Does her future hold only a loveless companionship? Or a withering away as a lonely spinster? If I was her, I would be afraid right this moment. I think of those who, like my friend, have found love wanting. Those who found it easier to settle for the next best thing. Sometimes consciously, but mostly subconsciously.
Breaking hearts everywhere
Oh, the many that seek the passion of love in substitutes. Like in art, gardening, parties, money, faith, power, fashion…? Are they happy? Or is it a compromised emotion in them? Do they, in rare moments of lucid self-awareness, find passing clouds of sadness over their hearts? A snowflake like feeling of loss and regret fluttering into their souls? Would they feel a bit unreal telling others that romantic love is a myth; a childish fantasy? In the substitutes do they find what infants do in their pacifiers – never the real deal but good enough to lull the user with a comforting false belief?
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Modern science says romantic love is a stronger craving than sex. People who don’t get sex don’t kill themselves. But a large percentage of star crossed lovers do. According to government’s latest suicide statistics, the No.1 cause of suicides in India is romantic love. And the No.1 cause of suicide is double that the No.2 cause of suicide – unemployment. Remember that the list contains “real” issues such as bankruptcy and indebtedness, dowry, failure in examinations, and poverty.
We can understand someone with no money, no food, no prospects and no hope killing themselves. But we cannot fathom why someone commits suidice over something that seems nothing more than ludicrously childish behavior. It is astonishing, in a perverse way, to see romantic love trump the most powerful human trait – our survival instinct. It tells us something about love. Something essential.
I wonder if I ever will find love? Experience the soul-shifting kind of love most of us believe it to be. Devoid of wishful thinking and rosy optimism, I find that question oddly disturbing. But I know I will keep the flag flying high. And I find myself feeling one with the thought Henry David Thoreau never expressed – Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.