Everyone has had a crush, been in love, or been in a relationship before. Love happens to all of us. I find love intriguing because of its biological effect, different phases, and its change in meaning over time. In addition, it is the arena to look at beliefs about gender roles and the dynamics between a man and a woman (context = heterosexual relationship). The interview of the month is special because a friend is interviewing me. I prefer to be interviewed because it is personal. *Illustrations in this interview are by Swarnima Telang, ITSAHAPPYWORLD, check out her website if you like doodle art.
Alisha, the floor is yours.
A: Before we begin… Our Shakti is one year old. How has that year been to you?
Surprising! Before the website went live, I contemplated the consequences for months. I discuss sensitive topics that people have different opinions about. So I knew I had to stand my ground. After one year of Our Shakti, I have received some criticism, but the vast majority is positive. People think it’s cool, bold, and important. I am pleased to know that the interviews are conversation starters, that giving an interview is healing for some women, and that the interviewees receive positive reactions. I am pleasantly surprised!
What have you learned from your environment about love?
During my childhood, I learned that you fall in love, get into a relationship, get married and have children. The assumption is that you love your partner, do fun things together and support and trust each other, that is love. Most of us learn what love should look like from her/his parents. What struck me is that certain things become habits or rituals in a relationship. For example, my father said goodbye to my mother when he went to work in the morning, even though she was still asleep. Love can thus be found in repetition and everyday things.
Love is above all sweet. Recently I was on vacation and I sat on the beach. To my left lay an older couple. A man held his wife’s hand and continued to stroke her hand while they were sunbathing. Another time I was walking towards the exit on a birthday and saw a man waiting for his wife. He walked outside to welcome her, while his little daughter was playing inside. Love just makes you wanna say: aww.
What fascinates you about love?
1. That it happens to you. It’s unexpected. You have no control over your feelings and thoughts. 2. Love cannot be measured. 3. The process of falling in love and loving another. You can’t pinpoint one moment and say this is THE MOMENT I fell in love with or started to love. It just happens. 4. There are no names for some phases or feelings. Recently, concepts such as one-sided and unrequited love have emerged. 5. There is something sinister about love. It can turn into insanity. 6. I am convinced that couples cause accidents because they are so into each other, haha. The other day, I saw a couple showing their love while crossing the road and not paying attention to the honking car. They only have eyes for each other.
What has changed regarding love relationships in the last 100 years?
If we are to believe Esther Perel, a Belgian-American psychotherapist, a lot has changed. *The following is based on Western society. In a talk about love, she explains that a love relationship between two people has changed quickly in a short time. In the past, people lived in communities and villages. Everyone knew who they were, what their role and identity were. They knew where they belonged and what was expected of them. They had a lot of security and little freedom. Then people moved to the cities. They were given more freedom, but they also became lonely. And because they no longer had people from the community around them, the romantic relationship became the haven where people wanted to see their needs met. The needs that were once fulfilled by an entire community. This puts a lot of pressure on a romantic relationship. Today, people have a lot of freedom and choice, but also a lot more self-doubt and insecurity. Everything that was once clear: who is responsible for what, who takes care of the children, who takes care of the cows, who decides about the money, who can demand sex, is a big negotiation today. Although we have more freedom and choice, there is a lot of room for discussion. Discussions in which people think they are right while there is no right or wrong because for the first time people negotiate about the things that were fixed in the past.
Is self-love necessary before getting into a relationship?
No. I think self-acceptance and self-respect are necessary. Accept yourself as you are and have clarity on where the borders of your self-respect lie. Deal breakers are boundaries that no one else should cross. My deal breakers are forms of betrayal, physical, psychological, and sexual violence. You can have self-love, but in the end, you get to know yourself in relation to others. You need the other person to show you what your triggers are and what you can work on, also concerning self-love. I find self-esteem more important for women because women are more likely to become victims of physical and/or psychological violence. They stay with their partner out of love. If you respect yourself, you’ll be inclined to say to your partner, “You think it’s okay to treat me like trash, but that’s not okay.” This is regardless of how much you care about him.
Self-love is something that you can learn during a relationship not just prior to a relationship. Moreover, there will be parts of yourself that you dislike but that the other loves you for.
How is love in real life different from love in movies?
- A movie doesn’t cover everything. For example, Bollywood movies are usually about the stage before marriage. You don’t see anything about the phase after the marriage.
- In a movie everything moves at a fast pace, because it lasts 2 hours. So most things immediately go well, such as meeting each other randomly, eye contact, date, kiss and relationship. In real life, these things take months or even years to achieve. Moreover, it is also uncomfortable, because people are nervous.
- The prettiest boy of a group is in love with the prettiest girl and that is often not the case in real life.
- You don’t get to see monotonous days in movies because they are boring to watch. However, many days in life are monotonous.
Nowadays there are more movies and series that highlight different sides of a relationship and the norm that all love stories end happily, is gone. Something that also strikes me is that female characters discuss everything about a man with their friends. Well, I hardly do this. In fact, if I like someone, he will be the first one to know about it. I find that intimate and prefer to keep it to myself and him.
How are gender roles and a love relationship related?
This is mainly about the beliefs that we all have about what love should look like. Who does what? What did you get taught on how to behave? For example, some men hold the door open, drop a woman off, and pay the bill. A man takes the initiative. So as a woman, you wait for a man to tell you that he likes you. I remember someone once said: a man can be shy or maybe he has been rejected many times before and he doesn’t dare anymore. What I have noticed is that many women take it as a sign of seriousness when he takes the initiative. Love stories are full of unwritten rules, signs, and symbols. These affect how we behave. Take for example roses or a ring, these are given by men to women. This is how we all have beliefs on love and gender roles. They are inseparable. That is the reason why we are frowning when a woman proposes to a man.
How do you recognize when someone likes you?
I would list the cliché things like eye gazing, but I’ve learned not to rely on eye contact, feelings, or on what others say. You won’t know for sure until he says it. Then only does it become reality. I think love only gets a chance when one of the two states it. Before that, it remains vague, flirty and uncomfortable, because both do not know where they stand. If you don’t know where you stand, then it stays that way. Especially when you don’t see each other anymore. A bond does not develop further. I compare it to a dance in which you first turn around each other (exploration phase) until you stand right in front of each other and grab each other (confession). After, you learn to move to the beat and try to find the right rhythm together (relationship).
In the introduction you talk about the dynamics between a man and a woman, what do you mean by this?
The interaction with each other. The two of you enter an arena where everything comes together. How do you treat one another? Receive and give. Allow and refuse. Control and surrender. Expectations and needs. Beliefs and doubts. Being playful and serious.
What challenges are there in relationships?
- Influence of technology and social media. There is less attention for each other when you look at a screen. In addition, there is a variety of distractions on your phone, you can easily get in touch with other people, liking photos of men/women, etc., can cause quarrels.
- Having long-distance relationships is more common and that comes with challenges. Even though it is a bit easier with video calling these days. It is a difficult type of relationship, but certainly not impossible.
- Every long-term relationship reaches a point where things become normal. Some people find that boring. Other people feel trapped in a rat race of taking kids to school, work, picking up kids, cooking, eating, showering, putting kids to bed, watching Netflix, and falling asleep. The next morning the same thing starts. Some people tend to look for adventure to distract themselves.
- People have different values, dreams, desires and perceptions. At some point, differences can lead to major conflicts. These arise from unmet needs, wants and desires.
How do you express love?
DANCING! ♪ Ghar more pardesiya, aao padhaaro piyaaa, haha. ♪ Lookin’ at the way we’re blendin’ in, you get me. Dancing and writing feel the most natural to me, but that’s how I express myself regardless of the other. 😀 How do I express love? Ehm… giving time, attention, warmth, and gifts. Protection too. It shows that you care about the other person. It’s already in “drive safely” for example.
Love has different manifestations. The key is being able to read them well. I once experienced that I meant something well, but that it was experienced by the other as refusal. So even if you express love, the message does not always come across well. This has to do with the two different glasses with which you and the other look at each other and the world. Different perspectives are okay, but if you didn’t like the experience then you should indicate it. As far as I know, people still can’t read each other’s minds. Be open to the other’s explanation and learn about new types of love expression. Do not silently make assumptions, as they are based on your own thoughts and they may be untrue. Love is instructive in that respect because you learn from each other. “Oh, I hadn’t looked at it that way.”
How do you deal with disappointment in love?
Do what it takes to heal. Listen to music. That makes it worse, but you feel relieved after. Bollywood songs make you feel worse than you were already feeling, haha. ♪ Ve bada pachhtaiyaan ankkhaan naal tere jod ke. ♪ Kyoon bichhadna hai zaruri ye sawal aaye. Writing a throw-away letter. Being out of your environment for some time. Hitting a punching bag is also recommended. Talking to others helps. People say things like “you deserve better” or “good riddance.” That is their way of supporting you and it gives a good feeling. However, the pain does not go away so when you go home you have to process it yourself. Accept, let go, move on with life and be open to new love. It can become a new person or an old flame. Who knows? ♪ Mainu duji vaari pyar hoya sohneya…
What is an old flame to you? Why is it worth a try?
Someone you had a crush on. It could be someone who caught your attention but you didn’t get to know him well and your feelings also didn’t develop into romantic ones. It depends on the setting in which you meet. If you meet each other at university or work, there will always be other people surrounding you. The topics that you talk about are usually superficial in a group setting. So, it’s only when you meet one-on-one that you get to know each other on a deeper level. Also, the thing with old flames is that either they or you were unavailable. Maybe both of you were focused on other things, such as studying or career. Or one was in a relationship or coming out of a relationship. I guess it wasn’t the “right” time. Although I must say I don’t believe in the “right” or “wrong” time. I think it has more to do with whether you are open to love or not. If you are closed off to love or it’s not a priority to you then it is also something that passes you.
Why is it not worth a try? An old flame is someone who is still looked on fondly and with affection even when you have not seen each other for years. I would say it’s definitely worth a try if you have never taken the time to get to know each other deeply. I don’t like limitations. If you like someone, go for it! A new or old flame. Life is too short to worry about small things/what-ifs. Just say “hello, how are you?” Relax, enjoy each other’s presence, and have fun while it lasts. You have nothing to lose. It’s more painful to like someone and not say a thing than telling them and getting rejected. Just tell them!
What do you find important in a relationship?
What everyone finds important. The basis is trust and respect. I try to pay attention to how I feel when I’m with him. Do I feel comfortable, special, supported, and safe? Then I know it’s okay. Do I have to watch what I say or do or else he will keep his silence, get angry or flee? Then I don’t feel comfortable, supported, safe, and certainly not special. My feeling is my GPS.
Everyone should be able to be themselves in a relationship. Not feel ashamed. Be bloody honest. Not be criticized for who you are and how you look. Especially, because we live in a world where everyone has an opinion about you.
Of course, compatibility matters too. You need to be on more or less the same page when it comes down to finances, career, marriage, children, religion, etc.
What does love mean to you?
I return to love is sweet. Life can be beautiful, but also very hard. Everyone experiences the loss of family members, feelings of disappointment when you are rejected for a dream job, lose a job, or get ill. Some things you experience as an individual within a relationship and some things you experience as a couple, for example, when the offer for a dream house is rejected or when you have a miscarriage. Love makes that a little more bearable. It takes off the rough edges of such events. A partner is a physical, psychological, and financial safety net for the moments when you need support, but he/she is also there to celebrate and create the happy moments. So I see love mainly as something that makes life more pleasant.
In addition, I think the decision that two people make to be committed to the relationship every day is something to cherish. A person can decide overnight that he/she does not want to continue with the relationship/marriage for whatever reason. Over time, you get so used to being together that you forget that spending life together is a daily choice you make.
Do you recognize that exciting feeling at the beginning? For example, when he comes to pick you up for the first time to do something fun. You look out the window and yell OMG HE’S HERE! Then get into the car and turn left with twinkling eyes to greet him. That’s actually a feeling you have to hold on to despite the fact that at some point it becomes mundane that you go somewhere together and that suddenly a few mini versions of you are sitting in the back seat. That’s a moment to reflect on the decision you make every day to spend life together as an unshakable team. After, you ask “do we have all the bags, the yellow one, purple one?” Yes! Let’s drive!
Thank you for this interview, Shak!
Translation of the songs Shakila mentioned:
♪ Ve bada pachhtaiyaan ankkhaan naal tere jod ke – My eyes repent a lot, having fallen in love with your eyes.
♪ Kyoon bichhadna hai zaruri ye sawal aaye – Why is it necessary to separate, this question arises
♪ Mainu duji vaari pyar hoya sohneya, duji vaar vi hoye ae tere naal – I’ve fallen in love for the second time, and this time it’s also you
♪ Ghar more pardesiya, aao padhaaro piya – O foreigner, I welcome you into my home
Illustrations by ITSAHAPPYWORLD