Loving and relating, in the present continuous, are what make Life beautiful!
A young man asked me and Vaani this question yesterday, in the context of a relationship between two people: “What is the meaning of love?” I told him loving is more relevant than love. If you are loving, then you are relating to the other person. Loving is present continuous, it is flowing. If you fall in love, chances are you will fall out of it. But if you are loving, if you are relating to someone, you will keep rising in love.
Vaani is often asked how she continues to stand with me, walk with me, through this crisis-ridden phase of our Life. (Read more about this phase here: Fall Like A Rose Petal.) And she always replies saying, “The circumstances in our Life have changed over the last 30 years that AVIS and I have known each other. We had no money when we met, we then made money and then we have had no money for over a decade now again. While the circumstances have changed, while how we look physically has changed, how we look at each other has not changed. AVIS as a person is the same. His values are intact – just the same as they were. I continue to relate to him, so, I walk with him.” That’s really what loving is all about. And I am grateful Vaani’s loving me this way.
Life is a journey. And companionship makes it very special, very beautiful. I am not necessarily meaning a spouse here when I say companion. I mean anyone who you can relate to, who is loving, who is a soulmate. Of course, if that companion is your spouse, it is truly a blessing. When there is loving between two people, then the relationship really does not matter. And when two people are not loving, no matter what their relationship is, it is dead – there is no relating between them, you see!
Another couple I can think of to celebrate this idea of loving are Shanta and V.P.Dhananjayan, the dancers. In their mid-to-late 70s now, their companionship, of over 65 years on stage and over 50 years as a couple, is inspiring. They have grown up together, they have faced Life’s upheavals together, they have offered their art to the Universe together, they have taken Indian culture and dance to global audiences together – and they continue to rise in love. Over this IPL season, both of them have featured in Ogilvy & Mather’s Vodafone TV commercial series doing together many things that not many folks their age will really venture doing. The series has been aptly themed #MakeTheMostOfNow and shows them on a second honeymoon in Goa, riding a two-wheeler (wearing helmets – and that’s a wow!), paragliding, doing Facebook Live, and holding videoconferences with their extended family on their smartphones. (Watch the commercials here.)
Vaani and I believe that Life must be experienced to the fullest, through its highs and lows, through its upheavals and through all its magic, mysticism and beauty. You can do that only when you are loving, in the present continuous, and only when you #MakeTheMostOfNow – together!
Is your marriage a beautiful friendship or is it just a “co-existential drama”?
A friend constantly keeps whining about his wife to us. He says she is dominating, she’s very conservative, she doesn’t want to get involved in his business and she does not want to learn to adapt with the times. He says he has stopped expecting anything other than physical intimacy from her. He wanted to know if there is a better way of handling their relationship.
I reminded him that the issue here was not about the gender. Men are known to be equally inflexible and dominating when dealing with their spouses. So, this isn’t about his wife. The moot point here is whether my friend can relate to his wife. And if she can relate to him. A marriage can be continuously exciting and romantic only if the couple in it are relating to each other than merely going through the daily motions of ‘maintaining’ the relationship.
I think many people don’t understand that it is not their marriage that keeps two people together. It is their friendship which acts as the bonding glue. When you strip away all the frills and the individual or societal expectations, what you are left with is the friendship of two people who come together and decide to live, learn and walk together through Life. True friendship is really about being yourself and allowing the other person to simply be too. Actually you don’t need the label of a marriage to certify or consummate a friendship. We don’t do it in the normal course, with other friendships we may have struck with people from either sex. So, why does it become so complicated, ever so often, in a marriage? The answer lies in the contractual nature of the relationship itself – as defined and practised by society today. While no scripture or tradition prescribes this contractual arrangement, society, over centuries and generations, has ended up, in the garb of pronouncing marriage to be a ‘sacred institution’, turning marriage into a business contract. You give me this. And I give you this in return. If you are this way, then I promise to be this way. Marriage, in a majority of cases, has ended up being nothing but a conditional acceptance of the ‘not-so-mutual’ affairs between two people. Great friendships, however, are never conditional – they thrive on mutual understanding, respect, brutal honesty and compassion. As long as two people can be this way, relating to each other, despite the circumstances, their friendship will survive, grow and thrive. Truly, in such cases, you don’t need a certificate, a label or any protection or safety net – legal or social. Of course, it is quite possible that sometimes, friendships grow through a marriage. So, it is not to be concluded that the institution is itself losing credibility.
I guess the question really is – how can two people continue to relate to each other without really worrying about the relationship?
This, from my own personal experience, and what I have learned observing couples over the years, is possible when the ‘relating’ is continuous. Life is a long journey. Couples live-in together for at least 35+ years in a normal lifespan. Now this togetherness can be a beautiful friendship or just a co-existential drama enacted for both self and society. That is they “legally live-in together” in a marriage but don’t connect, don’t relate at all. When relating is continuous – there are no terms, no conditions, no impositions. There’s an expectant air about everything. Pretty much like the early weeks of two people getting to know each other. Waiting for the appointed meeting hour. Letting go. Giving space to each other. Disagreeing at times. But agreeing to disagree. There’s nothing predictable or taken-for-granted. Then, when everything’s fresh, despite the years of being together, then, the relating is continuous. Conversely, when the relating is continuous, the romance is still new and fresh.
Of course, Life’s design will challenge the greatest friendships. But only those that are built on the foundations of mutual respect and compassion__what I call relating__survive these challenges. Whatever label we give this friendship, I for one believe that walking hand-in-hand with someone you can relate to is the greatest gift you can have in Life. If you have that gift, celebrate and be grateful. If you don’t then stop kidding yourself. Have the courage to accept that while you may be in a relationship called marriage, there’s no relating in it anymore. So stop grieving, stop wishing your Life were different and stop complaining about your spouse. You are as much responsible for the non-relating in your relationship as your spouse is. And remember, you still have an option to go find that friend who’s out there waiting for you, and who will walk with you into the sunset!
There is no lack of love in the world. You don’t find it because you are looking for it in the wrong places.
A friend feels that she has gone far beyond the “normal marriageable age” and is worried stiff that she is still single at 40. Her family adds to her sense of insecurity by painting dark scenarios of how lonely her Life will become in the next 20 years. Hearing her share her predicament, I wondered if she was actually sounding like Mahendra Kapoor in Kismat (1968, O.P.Nayyar, S.H.Bihari, Manmohan Desai)! On a more serious note, I believe if people say they can’t find love in Life they are probably looking for it in the wrong places.
First let us understand that being in love (as in the context of two people and their romantic liaison) need not necessarily entail marriage or living in together. True love is when you can relate to someone. And often you will find many, many, many people who you can relate to if you can drop conventional definitions of what your companion should be like.
A friend of ours has been in a bad marriage for 35 years – of which, in the last 20 at least, he has been living separately. He has still not got a divorce from his wife because they spar every time they discuss it. He is 60 now. 4 years ago he found someone, who is 20 years younger to him, who brought meaning and joy into his Life. She has a daughter in high school and our friend has a daughter who is married (she just had a baby girl making our friend a grandfather!) and a son who is 30. Our friend and his lady friend have come to an understanding that they enjoy each other’s presence in their lives. And at the end of the day, he says, he feels cared for and happy. “Sex is important. Physical intimacy is required. But I don’t need to live in with her for these. We are celebrating each other’s presence in our lives. Our companionship means the world to me,” he adds.
This maturity and pragmatism is required when you are looking for love. Just because, per our social framework, a marriage is deemed as “sacred” and “mandatory”, it doesn’t mean that those who can’t either get married or stay in a marriage are “unholy” and “anti-social”. It doesn’t also mean that people who are single are incapable of receiving love or of loving another.
Here’s a disclaimer: I will never know what it means not to have companionship in Life. If there is something that I feel blessed about in Life it is the friendship I have with Vaani and the beautiful journey we share. So, forgive me if my perspective here does not come from personally relating to the experience of those who are seeking love in Life. Even so, I feel, from just looking around me, there are so many, many people out there who are wanting and waiting to be loved. If you drop your fixed ideas of who will make a great companion, you may well find love and companionship in a nano-second!
Marrying off your children is not necessarily a parental responsibility. So you don’t actually need to obsess over it!
A couple who are related to us came home this morning to invite us for their son’s wedding. Soon, the conversation veered to why our nephew, who’s almost 30, was undecided about his marriage. I found the enquiry and analysis avoidable. Yes, parents and elders would love for children in the family to find companions and raise a family of their own. There is no problem with such an expectation. But obsessing over a person’s choice to delay or avoid marriage is, in my opinion, intrusion into the person’s privacy. I am quite sure my children too, who are in their 20s now, will come under such social scrutiny but at least they can celebrate that both Vaani and I are ‘chilled out’ and are the ‘non-obsessing’ type of parents!
I don’t think marriage as an institution is crumbling. But its relevance is beginning to be lost because of social and familial – read parental – attitudes towards it. When parents see the marriage of their children as a monumental responsibility they must discharge, when they see marriage as a vehicle for procreation than companionship, I think they are losing the plot. As parents we must only wish and pray for our children to find love in Life and for them to be happy. We must help our children realize the value in true companionship. And so we must not insist on marriage as a precondition for them to journey through Life.
When two people are attracted to each other, when they complement each other, when they want to live together, it is essentially their personal choice. If they want to have a wedding to commemorate their union, so be it. If they don’t want to marry, let it be so. A marriage cannot make two people happier than they are. It’s the being together that makes them happy; they are not happy because they are married! The label of marriage then is only an irrelevant social stamp of approval. Of course, people will argue that a marriage legitimizes ownership and sharing of material assets. But this is exactly what reduces a marriage to a business contract, a social arrangement of mutual and material convenience. This attitude must go.
I invite parents to seriously think this perspective over. Between love and companionship for your children and getting done with your duties and responsibilities, choose and champion the former. Your children, like you, are looking for happiness in relationships, they definitely don’t want to be stuck in a bad one trying to please you. Learn to appreciate and respect their choice.
Separate as a couple if you must, but stay together as parents.
I saw an interesting – and valid – observation made by Justice Kurian Joseph of the Supreme Court in today’s Hindu. He advises estranged couples to put their children first, ahead of even themselves, while working out divorce settlements. This way, he believes, the parents may be able to agree on all their differences and set up a workable, practical, compassionate, parental relationship with their children. I agree with this point of view completely.
Some years ago, this is what I advised a dear friend too. He has a drinking problem which had led him to being out of work. He was often fighting with his wife because she, naturally, hated him being drunk most of the time. One day the poor lady gave my friend an ultimatum that if he wanted to live with her, he must give up his habit. That very evening this friend invited me to a bar for a drink. Two pegs down, he said he was going to divorce his wife for “ruining his peace” and for “giving him an ultimatum”. I asked him if he had thought of his teenage daughter. And he replied he would fight for her custody in court. That’s when I held him a mirror and told him that if he loved his daughter, he must learn to respect his wife’s point of view too. Especially when she had a valid point. I dropped him home that night. To his credit, my friend sat down with his wife and worked out an arrangement where they started to live separately in the same apartment – but with no rancor between them, sharing parental responsibilities, splitting the bills and the chores between them. Their daughter has gone on to college now and the couple look forward to being more independent with their individual choices and outlooks in the years ahead.
I think this couple have implemented a very fair and workable arrangement. And this can be made to work in most cases if a couple can understand that a.) it is perfectly fine to fall out of love, just as they had once fallen in love (irrespective of whether it was before or after marriage!); or b.) it is okay to realize and concede that there was never any love lost between each other at all! The simplest way to clear up all the confusion over a soured or souring relationship is to ask yourself – would I want to (continue to) live with this person if there was so social stigma attached, if there were no financial claims involved and if there were no parental responsibilities towards the children? If you answer yes, then you are no longer relating to your partner in the relationship. Which means, the relationship is dead and you must separate. Now, when the decision to separate is made, think of the children and make them your first priority. Don’t think of social stigma or financial claims, they are surely less relevant that the children. And the way to look at your roles as parents is to be able to give your children the best of both parents and an environment of love and care. This can happen only when the parents are not fighting. So, stop fighting! Period.
Understandably the point when a couple come to separate is fraught with myriad differences. Of opinions, of attitudes, of claims and of just the way they are experiencing each other. It is also possible that while one partner may be willing to see the larger picture – involving the welfare of the children – the other may not. This is where a spiritual perspective comes in handy. If you consider the futility of any fight that saps all your energy and fills you with anger and negativity, you will want to clearly abandon it. A good fight, if at all, is when you don’t suffer while going through the process of fighting. There is a lot of endurance which is tested but you believe in the cause you are fighting for. Often most fights stop being worth it because they are not cause-led, they are ego-driven. Which is why they turn bitter. And divorce proceedings are no exception. However, when you bring in this understanding that you will first work for your children to get a compassionate environment, that allows both parental influences to thrive, you will see value in dropping all differences and moving on! Bottomline: it is totally unnecessary that divorcing couples fight with each other at the cost of their children. This is the way to go through a divorce without side-effects!