When my idea of what works in relationships contradicts yours

Richa Bhattarai

My cousin has just heard about a wedding, and upon learning about the age difference between the bride and the groom, she exclaims, “Eight years!?!” That is way too much.” I, for one, have always romanticised the idea of a Lolita-like relationship. “That’s all right, I think,” I say mildly.

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She vehemently argues that this is simply not done, that it is a recipe for disaster. I know it is futile to contradict her, for her husband is barely a couple of years older than her, but I am reminded of someone I’d recently met, who had proudly confessed to me that her boyfriend was fifteen years older than her. “I’m so lucky and so happy,” she’d dimpled, “It is so good to be with someone who takes complete care of you.”

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This tendency to put everything under one blanket, and assume that what worked for you will work for everyone else, surprises me no end. We seem to have the most deep-rooted opinions when it comes to love and relationships. Take the example of fights in a romantic relationship. While I have friends who swear that having arguments is a sign of a ‘healthy’ relation, there are those on the other side who would rather die than contradict a word their partner says. However, common sense seems to say that just as constant quarreling could destroy a relationship, so could complete silence. And yet, I’m always hearing how it must be one way or the other, no middle path.

Or the idea of gifts. You like people, you give them gifts. Sometimes they give you gifts too, sometimes they don’t. Simple, it seems to me. Apparently not. There is a complex thought process behind the giving and receiving. “I don’t think couples who are always giving each other gifts have a stable relationship,” hisses a friend, “They are just showing off, their feelings are not really deep. After all, it is not necessary to give out presents to display your affection!” I don’t agree, but keep quiet. I can detect a sliver of dissatisfaction just beneath the smug surface. Perhaps it is her suppressed wish for a more flamboyant ring, an extravagant date or a random bouquet of flowers that she has learnt to camouflage. Passing off her deep desires as disdain, she instead basks under her virtuous glow of love-without-consumerism as being ‘true’ love, which is above and beyond shallow showmanship. She tries to make me acknowledge this, except that I never do.

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Just as I will never accept that one must have a late marriage. Or an early one for that matter. As if there are some kinds of set rules for that. I will never forget how a friend, who had been married for just a month, said to me, “You better get married quickly, or else you are going to regret it later on. A couple needs to grow and evolve together!” I thought it was rather funny coming from this girl, who, not so long ago had been as happy-go-lucky as me and refused to even discuss the ‘M’ word. But at least she was not as bad as my other friend, who told me, “A woman must get married by twenty-four, and must have a child by the next year, else she will go mad.” She was, no doubt, referring to women who had, in the past, been driven to the point of hysteria by a cruel and unforgiving society. But to actually believe in this baseless fact, and to try to pass it on to me and so many others? – it appalls me no end.

What gives people, even those close to you, the right to assume that they can coax, cajole, frighten and threaten you into accepting their point of view? There must be as many types of loves, as many dimensions of relationships in this world as there are people. Who is anyone to say, with any certainty, that ‘A’ will work and ‘B’ won’t? Anyone daring to act on their own free will, is immediately labeled foolish and overconfident. “Haven’t we seen it all”, the elders say. “We are here to advice you”, the experienced ones say. Newspapers and magazines are full of agony aunts contradicting each other and giving confusing relationship advice. Voices gush out from the radio and TV, telling us what is wrong in our relationships and what we must do to make them right. Websites teach us the seven ways to snare men and fifteen tips to avoid being friend-zoned.

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What a circus! Tell me, in the end, does any of this work? All the perspectives, the experiences and ideas, might be fun to listen to and might even be relatable in some cases, but just as no two thumbprints are alike, similarly, the emotional radars of two different people are not the same either. While similarities might exist, no one is the exact replica of the other.

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It makes sense, then, to stop being so judgmental of one another and shooting down any idea that is contrary to ours. For, after all, love is similar to postmodernism: it carries with it no absolute truth or objective reality. We can have multiple interpretations about it, but then no interpretation is final, and none absolute.

I’m in a long distance relationship with an older married woman, but is it love?

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