Valentine’s Day will be celebrated this month. Like every year, one might see right-wing groups and ultra-nationalists who consider the day as a dire threat to traditional Indian values, staging protests. However, if you are single, you will probably find yourself assessing and reassessing your love life. Your social media feeds, flooded with photos of roses, couples and kisses will be a constant reminder of your relationship status. Meanwhile, an endless string of engagement and wedding announcements on Facebook might lead you to wonder where your significant other is. You might even find yourself vowing to find that person by the next year’s Valentine so that you can be the one tweeting about finding that special gift. But how?
Romance is one of those cutesy, old-fashioned words that no longer fit comfortably into our lexicon. It invokes images of couples holding hands in an age of innocence. We still search for ‘‘the one’’ but these days there is nothing gasp-worthy about having a friend (or two) with benefits, live-in relationship or falling in love with someone over the internet. Marriage is no longer the sacred coming of age ritual it once was. The process of choosing and finding a partner, whether for conceiving children, or for trying motel-room acrobatics, or merely for finding companionship in a cold and lonely world, is as significant as it can be irresolute.
Romantic ambiguity rules the day. Asked to define relationship status, one usually gets answers – “Well, it’s sort of up in the air …” and “It’s really complicated! How much time do you have?” and “I would define it as, hmm, dating? Dating-ish?” For modern lovers it is no more a black and white choice. People tend to test romantic waters, move in and out of possibilities, and use technology to explore the various aspects of their interaction before assigning labels or expectations to their relationship. At the same time, social changes, social networks, coupled with busy lifestyles, are changing the way people interact with each other.
The lost art of offline communication
These days romantic realm is increasingly constructed through social media and online communication. The conventional elements such as eye contact, smiling, basic conversation and body language are gradually taking a backseat. Today people have an easier time picking out an emoticon to display the emotion they are feeling rather than actually showing it on their face. Looks and personality stay on top of our checklist yet we limit our interaction with potential paramours to text messages rather than conversation skills. Unfortunately, in this digital age, people often find themselves comfortable behind their computer keyboard. In doing so, we are gradually killing our social skills by hiding behind a glowing screen of information that offers no chemistry.
We often overrate social media for being social. It definitely creates a network of people that are highly connected online but feel socially isolated. We are used to no more look people in the eyes to communicate–a keystroke has replaced that gesture. But at the end of the day, we are designed for human contact, not a digital screen.
Is it worth taking the risk?
Dating has lost some of its charm. They have become too “monotonous,” especially in restaurants and cafes. A table in between two people — staring at each other — becomes almost as banal as an interview. One should take dating out and move along, stopping at a few places that will create an experience, build memories and intimacy.
Shifting gender roles are also contributing to the confusion experienced on first dates. Men are almost afraid of being in the role of pursuing because they do not want to be perceived as creepy. And modern, independent women do not want to be led by.
Rejection, the kind that manifests itself in the awkward insecurities, remains the biggest hurdle in dating process. Unlike the seemingly harmless virtual options such as ‘like’, ‘follow’ and ‘favourite’, real life responses are varied. The possibility of pain, loss and denial is what makes it so tempting to avoid love and stay safely in the zone of liking. People think that being rejected is going to be the worst moment of their lives. However, attempting to be perfectly likeable is incompatible with any relationship. Sooner or later, we find ourselves in arguments, negotiations and yelling. It is only natural. This does not have to be the end of the world. Something realer than likeability is bound to surface and suddenly choices become real. There is no such thing as a person whom you like every bit of and therefore the zone of liking is ultimately a lie. However, there is such a thing as a person whom you love and that is why love is irreplaceable and beyond the world of techno-consumerism.
Easy way out
Men and women bemoan the challenges of love. They yearn for the straightforward clarity which is not easy in coming. The modern lover inevitably deals with the ambiguity of e-mails or the vague signals of text messages. One cannot help but analyse every word and interaction.
At the same time, going on actual dates is not devoid of pressure and uncertainty. Making choices seem difficult and just ‘hanging out’ appears easier. It is hard to tell anything and expectations make things more difficult.
Is there a safe and neutral way to know it all? No. And isn’t that the whole point?
Contemporary landscape of love is full of perplexity, doubts and a lack of guarantees regarding where any given interaction might lead. So consider it an opportunity to set aside your outdated expectations and grab a new mindset. Bonding comes slowly but surely by discovering things about someone you never knew until you venture into the process of exploring. Many of these small discoveries can be made only in person, so perhaps it is time to close the laptop and take a walk.