I grew up as a South Indian girl in North Florida. Needless to say, I was presented with a variety of ideas about the best conditions under which love could flourish.
My parents, cousins, everyone in the Indian community over the age of thirty, said that love came after the wedding. You chose a partner based on shared values and everyone was involved in the process from your parents to their best friends. Love was the bond that tied you to someone for life and grew like a well-tended garden between neighbors who became friends. You paired in order to create another stable family that would raise more productive members of society in one of several respectable professions. The community put forward an ironclad contract between the two parties. Even if one person (often the man) didn’t hold up parts of the bargain, a good wife always did hers.
My American friends, however, told a different story. Theirs was one of everyday occurrence leading to passion: chance meetings in bars, sideways glances at work, or fortuitous blind dates that sparked an emotion that could not be restrained. Somewhere along this journey there would be a burning need to bind this discovery to your side, for a lifetime, even though the tumultuous nature of this meeting often meant there were unseen ups and downs to come. In this version, just as suddenly as you fell in, you could also fall out. The capriciousness of fate was an acceptable risk because if nothing was ventured, the passionate heights of your soul mate would never be known.
I tumbled through high school and much of college, these warring philosophizes at play, both pointing to me towards a similar goal, the same one all the country songs, the romantic movies, and the books said was the culmination of a successful life: finding your love of a lifetime. Neither camp really mentioned what came after this fateful meeting, other than the assumption that of course you’d be wildly deliriously, happy.
I asked readers, friends, and Tweeple (people in Twitter) to share their thoughts or journeys toward love. Turns out you don’t have to be from two cultures to have conflicting ideas about love.
A friend I knew in college shared her unlikely path: “When I was 19 I met my soul mate. When I was 23 we fell in love. When I was 26 we got married. When I was 32 he came out. I thought it was too painful to continue loving him when I was 32. I later came to learn that you can’t really fall out of love with your soul mate. Love redefined is afterall, still love.”
She reminded me of a truth that my Indian-in-America heritage was trying to teach me but it would take many years to realize: there are several types of love. In order to be happy, healthy adults, we need some of all three. There’s agape or unconditional love (think God or mothers); phileo or brotherly love (think Philadelphia); eros or romantic love (think love as in making it). Yet the emphasis of modern (and much of Western society) is only on the last of these.
Another friend (who should really have a blog but prefers to send thoughts out via email) sent a Valentine’s Day message about the irony of looking for the perfect person — which apparently is all that’s needed for the spell to be cast –when we can also be found wanting: “In life, we all seem to expect perfection when it comes to our families, our friends, and the personal/work relationships, we tend to forget that we are so far from perfect ourselves.”
Five years into marriage, we have a joke, my true love and I, about his being the “King of Romance.” The same man who used to leave my favorite drink and chocolate on my desk before I got into the office, now says that bringing me lunch cramps his style. The thrill of the chase, clearly, has waned. And yes, we have started that community called family and when the pitter patter of junior’s feet come into the room, I am alternately seized by a fit of affection or irritation, depending on what time it is.
But enough about us. Let’s talk about Abdulla, Hind, and Sangita, three of the characters in my novel in progress Love Comes Later. They are at the center of my ongoing meditation on love: how we find it, who we chose, and what happens after the electricity of chemistry sparks.
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