The thrill of pursuit is over. We have what we had been chasing. Most of the firsts of romance are over—the first skip of the heartbeat, the first exchange of secret glances, the first holding of hands, the first declaration of love, the first kiss, the first lovemaking!
Now we have unfettered access to the other, both emotional and physical, our desires have been satiated, and since we have vowed commitment to each other, we are certain of the access in future too. The charm of opening our intimate space to the other, the privilege of being in another’s intimate space, has lost its novelty. We are no longer dying to know his favourite dish or song, no longer apprehensive about her likes and dislikes, or curious about what hurt her in the past or whom he was closest to. Our beloved reciprocates our un-frenzied state. The edge has waned, and with it, the anxiety and uncertainty and the chemical rush of being on that edge. We may call it maturity—or finding comfort and peace with each other—but in a very real sense we feel blasé about it. Besides, falling in love had meant merging, and now that merging has run its course.
Sometimes, the ‘unmerging’ that follows falling out of love, is ego-shattering and often traumatic.
But addicted to the stupor, to the charming state of feeling alive from our very core, we long for the feeling and unwillingly blame either the other or ourselves for the fizzed-out romance. What we had overlooked in the romance stage now bothers us; the very qualities that had appealed to us may now turn into irritants; what we had seen as the other’s simplicity may now seem boring; what we had earlier perceived as perfectionism may now seem nagging; the extrovert now seems aggressive; the quiet listener, closed and aloof. Exasperated, we ask, ‘Are you really the person I fell in love with?’
Just as they were not Prince Charming, to begin with, they do not really turn into frogs when the chemical cocktail’s effects subside.
Romantic love is notoriously precarious—obsessive, erratic, consuming, fleeting, exhilarating, depressing. Once requited, it can slip easily into boredom.
In all other relationships (where romantic love is not at play) emotions and intensity are allowed to wax and wane, and though never comfortable or pleasant for the one at the receiving end, is accepted without much fuss and chaos. But in romantic love, these phases are taken as aberrations and appear as chaos. A friend wrote, ‘Why does (love) have to be irrational and like a drug-induced high…all grand and emphasized through every action and thought…why can’t it be allowed to be a little passive…allowed to wane a bit at times…why can’t you just like someone you love sometimes without wanting to get into their heads…without expecting them to fire you up every time without fail.’
Attraction between couples typically wanes after two years, yet television, movies and magazines actively encourage the notion that fading romance and boredom is a sign of a failed relationship. Mass media brainwashes us with unrealistic portrayals of romantic love contributing to the construction of impossible expectations. The glorification of romance as never-ending, glamorous and fulfilling, is repeatedly reinforced via innumerable mediums. Many industries and businesses depend on it—the fashion industry, health and wellness, television shows, music, literature and of course Bollywood! A ubiquitous feature of Bollywood cinema is happy endings—concluding a film with the union of a romantic couple. Besides, they oversimplify the process of falling in love and revalidate it’s eternal ideal forcing us to think that it could and should be achieved. Deepak Kashyap, counselling psychologist and a certified life-skills trainer with a private practice in Mumbai said to me during an interview, ‘What ruins romance is when you try to convert it into a three-hour Bollywood movie. Any book, any movie, any webcast is time-bound, and real life is long and boring. When you pack life of three decades into a three-hour movie, you are expecting something different. And when your expectations are not fulfilled, you either attack yourself, others, or life.’
Social media—Facebook, Twitter, WhatsApp, Instagram, etc. —with their ubiquitous posts and exchanges have massively propagated the myth of romantic love. What does not get posted are the affairs, the ugly fights, the dinners without having exchanged any words, and other deeper and everyday issues. I have always felt that what we see on social media is mostly half-truths.
Dr Rajan Bhonsle says, ‘So-called happy marriages are not really that happy. They look good on FB. They appear happy in parties and you think they are happy. I stay in an elite area, Cuff Parade in Mumbai. Most of the couples in my area have come to me, socially, as neighbours or with their issues. On the outside, they appear great but all of them have serious issues. Well, we hide it because everyone need not know. Just like when you have an illness you do not go about telling it to others but consult a doctor. So they come to me. For a long time, I would think, “They seemed so good together”. I see a totally different side. But to others, they still seem perfect. I always tell my clients, “Don’t be fooled by other projections of their perfect married life. Everyone has issues, they are just good at hiding them!”
Another therapist, Salony Priya, based in Kolkata, specializing in marital therapy said, ‘I can say with some amount of experience that the happy-in-front-of-others couples form the majority in our society. On the face, you will not suspect a thing. They go to clubs, parties, lunches and dinners, host beautiful evenings, and have impeccable manners with the guests and each other. You would say, “What a nice happy couple.” But in reality, their husband-and-wife relationship has been over for years. Many even sleep in separate bedrooms.’
Yet there is real mettle to the relationship that has survived decades. It is in the small and big compromises that the couple makes a day in and day out. It is in the letting go and holding on. It is in standing strong when the other is enfeebled—and often switching places. And certainly, there is no cause for public display of marital issues! It is our own foolishness that we get swayed by the images people generally project.
This is an excerpt from the book Chaos: In Romance, Sexuality and Fidelity by Raksha Bharadia, published by Rupa Publications.