One rarely remains human without indulging in thoughts about any one of those three. I have loved pondering over all of them since I was perhaps 8–9. Perhaps I was in love with pondering far more than the subjects themselves.
What is love? I had written about it a while ago & am still unclear. Yes, what I had focused on was deep spiritual Love which would be universally watertight, but I do not wish to focus on that here.
So, what is love? A recent article led me to Dr. Aron et al’s work on Generation of Interpersonal Closeness. It is unfortunate that the author (Mandy Len Catron) of the former misconstrues the import of the latter to imply Generation of Love. I recall my teenage claims that Love was a decision. In the article I quote in the 2nd paragraph above, I retract from that (in a way), but I still hold that interpersonal closeness is a decision. Dr. Aron & I are in agreement.
So, again, what is Love? Does it matter? Love, when not a transformation, is a perception, an unnoticeable dovetailing of pieces of conversation, events, need, security, comfort & a willingness to say “Yes” to include someone in one’s life — this intricate & rarely completely designed assembly of incidents & providence forming a perception of what we, often in the lack of finding suitable words & phrases, call Love.
What Dr. Aron’s research tackles is the assembling. By juxtaposing two individuals at a table & go through questions which make it difficult not to care or extend a soft arm, he & his team circumvented all time (& timeliness) dependent factors & cut straight to the marrow of what it might take to create Interpersonal Closeness. This would work even if the other person is not of sexual interest to you. It does help if sexual attraction/compatibility is woven in because then you have one more set of chemicals aiding the experiment.
Now that we think we have defined Love (IMO, unsatisfactorily), shall we move on to what I find interesting about its design? When I was 14–15 I had often stated that Love is a decision. My then love found me sweetly stupid & played with my hair as I passionately discussed it, all the while smiling & concluding that my interest in science was my cause for irrationality. Love, whatever you may define it as, is a decision in that you are able to distinctly state that you do not love X (for some X in the set of live human beings). It could be your bellboy, grocer, stewardess, neighbour, colleague… anyone who performs some act that might repel you. Perhaps it is that s/he smokes or gets drunk or is disrespectful to women or uses men to buy herself stuff or steals. If you can, on a piece of information, conclude that you do not love that X, you are essentially making a decision.
You might say “Perhaps not loving someone is a decision, conscious or otherwise, but loving someone is clearly not a decision” & I would urge you to ponder over that. You find someone cute or intelligent (an observation) & mingle more with them (decisions) & accept any invitations to parties etc. which also include the said person (influencers to decisions) & invite questions or advances from the said person which you wouldn’t from another (a choice/decision) till no conflicting piece of information arrives and all parameters seem to indicate “Yeah, worth a shot” & you suddenly realise you are in love! Of course, if you receive a piece of information that s/he was cheating on you, then that something which wasn’t a decision becomes a decision. Which is why I consider it to be a perception, changing depending on where you stand.
I recall putting together 18 (I have a fascination for this number & 108, which is basically nothing, 0, between 1 & 8) questions/tasks that would bring two people together. I had put them together as part of a long-ish article I had once written called “The Mating Dance”. Those sheets (yellow, ledger paper) were lost to a dear friend of mine who lost it to the world in turn. Dr. Aron et al’s paper (and I did not study the questions before recalling the ones I write below) nudged me into recollecting them. I assure you that they are most likely different from what I, as a 20 year old, had once written. But history, after all, is what one recollects.
- If you had all the money in the world, where would you build a house as your home? (E)
- If you woke up in a new (safe) city, what are 5 landmarks/sites/monuments/locales/establishments you would look out for & why? (E)
- Who are you most close to? Why/How? (E)
- If you lost your ability to speak (or gesticulate/communicate) what would you fear that your partner might never know about you that is vital? (E)
- If you could fashion a partner from clay but can only sow seeds in it which would manifest as intangible qualities (so, no cute derriere), what would you sow? (E)
- If you find the love of your life & are willing to give up nearly everything for that person, what would you still choose to retain? (E)
- What are 3 problems that you currently face & genuinely seek input on? (receive the input)(E)
- Spend some time shopping for groceries/household goods together for a new (albeit imagined) house. You can get to the checkout counter & then decide to buy none of it, and that’s ok. Or buy them all & return them immediately. (A)
- Either organise a common friend’s birthday party or a dinner for common friends — invitations, themes, timing, menu… all of it. (A)
- Plan for a dear friend’s honeymoon trip which will last 3 weeks. You get to decide everything, including how long they spend in bed. (A)
- What are 2 issues in society/world that gnaw at your insides but you are unable to decide what to do? (E)
- Which role in society do you care most about & why you do you think it is vital? (E)
- Hold hands throughout this exchange: Describe a week of living together & all the things/acts/aspects of the togetherness you hope to appreciate & value. (E)
- What are your fantasies about sex & what do you fear or are conscious about? (E)
- Who (celebrity, role, etc.) would you be most embarrassed to be? (E)
- Describe 3 amazing experiences (a tour, a book, a dinner, a stop at the park, anything) you have had in the past 3 months. (E)
- Spend at least a few hours volunteering for one cause each that is valuable to either of you. (A)
- For 30 minutes, write to the other a letter that the person will read when you are no more. Seal it & hand it to the other. (E)
I am certain that I had items 1, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10, 12, 13, 14 & 18 in my original list. The others feel like they were there, too, in some hue or echo. E implies exchange, which means each participant in the pair carries it out. A implies activities which are simply free-form & pan out the way the pair are made. So these 18, if performed in earnest between any pair of strangers who do not find each other repulsive is quite likely to generate interpersonal closeness.
So, now I did read the list that Dr. Aron had. I see what he did was not to assume any romantic interest in the “Interpersonal Closeness”. What I had written was part of the “Mating Game” & hence, 14 was included. Nevertheless, 14 does not demand that you indulge in it with the intention of the partner carrying it out for you. Just a sharing of fantasies & fears of the bedroom. But we share the premise — if 2 people were to indulge in these 18 items (sure, mine aren’t restricted to 90 min) then there is a great chance that they will develop a closeness that was otherwise less likely had they just let time & fate take their course. Will this lead to love? No clue. Will this lead to a comfort that can be perceived as love? Quite possible.
Which brings me to marriage — the Orient & the Occident (though portions of the Occident too indulged in arranging alliances) have been divided on how should a marriage be brought about. Should it be arranged taking into consideration social station, promises, alignment of the two families, etc. or should the pair decide depending on the love they feel? My point is, it might not matter because if the couple were to indulge in the aforementioned 18 items (or in Dr. Aron’s 36) then there is a higher likelihood of their being together happily & feeling close. Maybe that is what they need — conscious coming together in earnestness.
Being from the Orient, I have particularly loved the concept of the Yin-Yang symbol. It goes beyond decoration & the popular interpretation of “the dark & the bright form parts of the whole & there is a little dark in the bright & a little bright in the dark”. I feel that a marriage is essentially an instance of balancing Yin-Yang. One can arrive at that realisation via any alley or fashion. Perhaps the parents see it or the village priest sees it or your friends see it or you see it. Does it matter? The Occidental obsession with being the “decider of one’s own destiny” has caused greater harm as one’s destiny is always tied in with the universe’s destiny.
The marriage is of two energies that combine to being a greater source of energy that is vital to this universe. To consider a marriage purely for sex (procreation), comfort, convenience & some momentary whim is to ignore the throb within (leading to the chaos, tension & brittleness of a lot of marriages). The Indian perspective on Tantra & Kamasutra definitely go beyond the surface of carnal pleasure.
Of the body & mind, the body is more honest & candid. Hence, no union of two human beings can discard or ignore the strum of the body. But the body is not all about sex. It is a lot more. The body is a lexicon of caress & a gateway to the Earth. Whether you agree that the Earth is female energy or Yin, you cannot deny the eventual return to the Earth. A couple that is deeply connected through every tissue is married across lifetimes. They are what becomes the vital breath — inhaled & exhaled.
Marriage as a social sanction is a mockery of human goodness. Thus the Tao Te Ching says (verse 18) that when the Tao is lost, we eventually need laws & customs & rituals to retain the shadow of goodness. Seek not a marriage of identity but a marriage of lucidity. When the soul is used as a mirror, the skies of Love & Marriage take no shape & are hence, ageless. They bind together in ways which need no explanation.
Which brings me to shoelaces — tie them well without wondering if there is one true way to do so.