Journalism schools teach you to report facts; to be mostly objective, and not let our emotions overpower us. However, despite having no empirical evidence to support it, there’s one thing I believe – that love makes us cynical. If there’s anything Joy Division’s Magnum Opus Love Will Tear Us Apart tells us is that people have felt the same about love 288 million+ times. Who do we blame for things not working in our favour? For not finding the love of your life at 16 or by 40? For not finding someone to serenade us from below as we stand on the balcony? Someone, to celebrate five decades with?
I often hear my closest friends admit their exhaustion with dating apps; that hook-up culture is terrible and has stripped love of its primordial essence – the quality of love that makes it so innocent, so pristine, so true. I find them compare modern love and old-fashioned love. They speak of the good old days when love and not pollution was in the air. They speak of when people wrote letters expressing their admiration and affection. When men opened doors for us and pulled our chairs out, and offered to pay for dinners. When Anarkali found her Salim, Anjali her Rahul, the Beast his Beauty, and Bella her Edward (Yes, Edward).
These hopeless romantics flinch at the thought of sex on the first date because it is too immoral, too fleeting, and too cul-de-sac. They weep at the thought of a sexual relationship that is just that and nothing beyond. For them, modern dating is too surface-level because people don’t take their time to know one another or to wait years awaiting their return. While all this presumably seems utopian, it’s hard to ignore how times have changed – for the better. Sure, men picked you up from your house and dropped you back home. It’s because women mostly couldn’t learn driving or own cars. After all, women were too dainty to be travelling alone to meet a potential match that may or may not end in a marriage. Lovers could merely date for long before jumping into a legal commitment bound by social rules and familial obligations of bearing children soon after their wedding.
In India, a woman seldom could choose her husband, let alone like another man she has no intention of marrying. Had she consummated before marriage, she would bring disrepute to her family, making her unworthy of the holy matrimony. If she did remain a doting virgin, swearing to let only her husband touch her, she would devote her life to her ‘Pati Parameshwar’ (Your husband is your God), holding vrats and giving in to his sexual cravings whether or not she likes it. Bollywood movies from the 20th century have often implied a woman takes great pride in looking after family and staying at home because that’s where her heart is. If she successfully puts up with her husband for 50 years, she will be rewarded with being a romantic, a true upholder for love.
Going further down the line, I always point out the hypocrisy in my friends’ argument about how old-school romance was better when homosexuality was legalized less than 5 years ago. What of the members of the queer community who were in denial about their sexuality fearing ostracization? Would they prefer writing letters and meeting up in secret in today’s more-inclusive environment? What of the multiple interracial, inter-faith, inter-caste couples families would’ve shun for polluting their bloodline? What of the victims of abuse who thought their love for their abusers was the only escape? All the victims of grooming who thought their adult partners truly loved them; that they were free of any exploitation? All of this regression, of course, still exists to date. However, we hold open conversations about these topics today.
Wanda Pierce imparted wisdom with, ‘When you look at someone through rose-coloured glasses, all the red flags look like flags’. As a hopeless romantic myself, I can see how old-fashioned romance can appeal to another of my kind. However, you can still do all the things of the past – write letters, recite your poems, hold the door open for your lady or give your partner a bouquet. Today, you can glorify love of the past while enjoying your fundamental rights. You can detest hook-up culture while having open conversations about your sexuality and preferences. Women can complain about all the terrible romantics while being perceived as complex individuals with emotions worthy of respect. You can attest to love being less superficial than yesteryear because your appearance does not exempt you from being loved. Sure, discrimination still exists but now, you can finally shame people for imposing unrealistic physical expectations on love today.
After all, Salim lacked a spine and refused to abandon luxury when Anarkali selflessly put her head under the guillotine. Rahul only noticed Anjali after her “glow-up”. The Beast kidnapped his Beauty and kept her away from the world until she developed her Stockholm Syndrome. Edward, well, Edward is a vampire.