Monday, February 14, 2011

Who needs Valentine’s Day?

If you’re single and attractive, every day can be Valentine’s Day. If you’re in a stable relationship, the day holds expectation but no real thrill

Are you single this Valentine’s Day? Do those red heart shaped toys everywhere look like they’ve been put up to mock you? Are you seeing only thorns in the roses being peddled? Dear friend, as the Border Roads Organisation says, fikar not. Don’t fret. You may be single but you are not alone. There are a few million of us with you, and a few million who would happily return to our ranks if only that was easier to do. This love day business is just a galumphing capitalist marketing thingamajig, and it’s worth many crores. Money can’t buy you love but it does buy the soft toy makers Mercs.

So don’t worry about V day. For starters, you need to realize that if you’re single, every day is Valentine’s Day. Just fill your heart with love and spend the day, and maybe the night, with whoever you’re feeling the love for. As long as you don’t end up hurting anyone, including yourself, doing this, it’s perfectly cool. If it’s likely to mess up your life, avoid. A mess is easy to make and hard to clear up, you know.

The pleasures of the single life are gradually being forgotten in today’s world. That’s a bit strange, given how relationships all around seem so fragile nowadays. Marriages collapse around us all the time. Relationships akin to marriage flounder before the vows. The world of those in relationships looks pretty from the outside, but is usually less cheery on the inside, teetering as it does between the extremes of stress and boredom.

Traditionally, the single life has been marked as the highest kind of life in many cultures and religions. The Buddha chose to leave his wife and child to seek enlightenment. Jesus Christ never married.

Even thinkers less divine have not been especially enamored of marriage and relationships. The great Greek philosopher Socrates was unhappily married. He had a good quip on the subject: “If you get a good wife, you’ll be happy. If you get a bad one, you’ll become a philosopher!” He became a philosopher.

His wife must have been quite a woman. Plato, Socrates’ most famous disciple, who is said to have had some kind of affair with her, turned gay. He then advocated the view that partners of opposite sex should mate without commitment or love in order to procreate. Do it only for the species was his motto.

Till the early years of the last century, the single life was seen as a most excellent one in many places. From London to Calcutta, life after work revolved around the club, which was usually a ‘gentleman’s club’. The other leisure activities for a gentleman were to play cricket, or go hunting or shooting. Marriage and relationships were concerns for women. Real men had better things to do even when they were not exploring unknown continents or killing hapless animals. On those occasions when they felt the need for female company, they would go to courtesans. That was the custom from Paris to Tokyo to Calcutta.

Now there’s thankfully much greater gender equality, and marriage and relationships have become equal concerns for men and women. That is a good thing but there are side effects. Men in general are more soppy and needy than they used to be, and women, having discovered the joys of freedom, are arguably less interested in marriage and stable relationships. As a result, the default relationship status message now for the modern woman and man is “it’s complicated”.

That’s because contemporary notions of relationships involve far too many expectations.

According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, “While the contemporary Western ideal of marriage involves a relationship of love, friendship, or companionship, marriage historically functioned primarily as an economic and political unit used to create kinship bonds, control inheritance, and share resources and labour.”

In the last 100 years, it’s gone from being a relationship with minimal expectations to one where even love, friendship and companionship are considered insufficient. The idea of a good romantic relationship, created by fiction, drama and poetry, is one where the lovers never cease to feel butterflies in their stomach when they are around one another. Small wonder then that these exciting relationships last the span of a butterfly’s life. Success is their death; the moment they achieve stability, the butterflies depart.

Down the ages, the lover and the husband, or wife, have always been different people.

Remember all those great love stories from around the world - Romeo and Juliet, Heer and Ranjha, Devdas and Paro? They were all tragedies. They ended very badly for the lovers.

All successful love stories end with “…and then they lived happily ever after”. No fairy tale except Shrek goes into the details of the “happily ever after”. Not much drama in, “they drank their tea, and ate their meals, and paid their bills, and remembered anniversaries, for the next 40 years”.

That’s why only new lovers in the first flush of love can be truly happy on Valentine’s Day. For those who have been in stable relationships for a long period of time, it’s another predictable – and hence unexciting - day. For those who’ve been married for a long time, it can be a bit of a bore and a bit of a chore. Both partners must play their appointed roles in the charade of expectations built by advertisements and card companies. They must buy the obligatory roses and gifts and dress up and do the usual ‘special’ things that have long ceased to be special. If the love is gone, the day can weigh heavily on the couple. If the love is still there, it’s probably not what it was initially. It’s more mature, deeper, companionable rather than incendiary.

That sort of love doesn’t need a special day.

Nor do singles who are at peace with themselves.

Samrat’s first novel, The Urban Jungle, was published by Penguin earlier this month