Is there happiness in quitting love?
In another time, people who were romantically inert were known to us as parents. Our own, perhaps, and the parents of peers. Just as they never spent their savings on the Alaskan cruise, they did not spend their time loving an adult. So dead was their love, they were too tired to even hate. The only time they came close to resembling lovers was when they spoke to each other in low decibels, as though they were accomplices, but if you overheard them, that illusion too would have dissolved. The generation before them, in the form of very old couples, seemed to be more entwined but that was merely a coalition of necessity. In fact, some of those old women, when they were widowed, grew healthier, a light returned to their eyes and their skin began to glow.
But all things considered, the abandonment of love in the people before us had some kind of peace in it, which was similar to the peace of defeat, the peace of giving up. Like what you see on the faces of the jovial chubby people who have quit dieting. Now a much younger generation has abandoned love, and at first glance it does not appear to be a tranquil forsaking. They are disappointed with the nature of modern love, which is the total chaos of freedom triumphing over the dictatorship of tradition. They are disappointed with lovers and what they themselves become as lovers. But when they speak of giving up love, they also speak of the relief of singlehood and how they are not frightened at all by the certainty of loneliness. They are suddenly not counting on anyone else to make them happy, which has to be the most assured path to happiness. And they have so many plans.
But what exactly do they mean when they say they are off love? Are they only rebuking their former lovers? The writer Chinki Sinha, who is 38, the life of any party, and nostalgic about anything as long as it happened at least 24 hours earlier, says that what she means by quitting love is abolishing the very hope that love can do her any good, that “love can help me get over my anxiety issues, or my fear of ghosts”.
Love is in a perpetual crisis because there is no such thing as equal love; as a result, someone is always distraught. The notion of equality itself, in all human matters, is a thought experiment, an ideal that never occurs. Sinha has been a perpetrator and victim of love’s inequalities, but on balance she has beautiful memories. Once she went to meet a man who was a stranger and a prospect, and on the bookshelf she found Pier Paolo Pasolini, the Italian poet and film-maker. On “Page 19” was the line, “Something has already begun.” She believed it was a cosmic message about her and the man whose bookshelf it was. “I go up to him and take his hand.” At its peak, on its best day, “Love made me believe in signs.”
Divya Guha, who is in her 30s too, once started a company that sold vintage goods, “nicely packaged, cool shit”. A writer then and now, she says the best moments of love have been when it has come in simple ways. “A coffee and a kiss in the morning.” Despite the affection she has for the very idea of love, she has decided to abandon it because “you pay a high price for the little luxuries. When the beautiful period is over, you feel like you’re being made to pay for something that you never bought.”
Both the women, like many in their position, are disenchanted with men. They are drawing closer to other women, into tighter circles of women like them. “I’ve noticed with this awful scar on my hand,” Guha says. “Not a single woman has missed it. And not a single guy has noticed it except one in a nightclub who had burnt his own hand badly. So I guess women love helplessly and with compassion and more readily.”
Did you learn anything at all from men about love?
“Not trying. As Yoda said, ‘There is no try.’”
They say they are not afraid of loneliness. But is it just the new battle cry of the young? Do people who are unaccustomed to loneliness even know what it does?
Sinha, actually, has been lonely for long. She stares at its face every evening. Mornings do not make her feel as lonely as evenings. There was a time when she thought the refutation of the idea of love would result in a fatal loneliness. Once, after a separation, when she was still in love, she stared from the window of a high-rise at the ground below and thought she would still be in love when she hit the ground. She was then scared of loneliness, but she is much stronger now.
“My aunt used to collect electric bulbs as she grew older because she thought, what if she ran out of bulbs on nights when she was alone? That’s what loneliness did to her. She lived alone and she died in her apartment one night and people found out only the next day. But I have been living on my own for years and I am no longer scared of loneliness. But I like my solitude.”
She believes that it is wrong to pursue love. That is not how you find love, she says. She has given away the wedding ensemble her parents had bought her after her engagement. Of the two garments, her father asked her to keep the more precious one, a golden lehnga. Her mother said she must give away what is more precious to her. Last year, she gave away the golden lehnga to a eunuch prostitute. That was “my final goodbye to love”.
Guha too will not pursue love because of its “emotional price” and her “loss of ego” as a lover. What will she do about sex? “I think I am almost asexual,” she says.
What will replace love? “Nature, strangers and literature.”
They are fleeing love, joining a new restive generation that is attempting a similar escape. But then love, like happiness, lurks down the bend. It has treacherous evolutionary motives. What chance do we have really?
Manu Joseph is a journalist and a novelist, most recently of Miss Laila, Armed And Dangerous.
He tweets at @manujosephsan