Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Love, or Something Like It

It must be that season, isn’t it? If we were in a magic realist story, maybe frogs will fall from the sky. Or leaves will turn a bright mandarin orange, and birds of paradise will suddenly start rising from the lakes. On Facebook or on LiveJournal, on Multiply and my RSS feeds, and even on the New York Times, there seems to be this quiet displeasure that love is not what it seems, or that we have been fooled, all of us, by movies and television, romance novels and social expectations. We are supposed to have that One True Love, that person who will be by our side forever and ever, who will hold our hand until we die, who will make us feel a little less alone.

For one, I think that the modern stance on love is largely a result of Western thought. Too many Hollywood romances, too many New York-based chick lit books, too much Sex & The City will make you start adhering to the idea that love is a many-splendoured thing. And while it does make the world go round, it also makes your heart stop, your breath catch in your throat, and your muscle reactions recede all the way to involuntary twitches. I mean, Asian societies functioned quite well, thanks very much, even without the intrusion of all these “You had me at ‘Hello’” moments. If you think about it, there’s something to be said about circumscribed courtship rituals to a certain degree. If not for anything else, at least our Spanish colonizers had a bit more modicum when it came to treating the fairer sex – well, at least the village women who weren’t raped.

But if you think about it, we’re totally caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, we are spoon-fed all these sorts of concepts about love – that it has to be this, it has to be that. There’s all this mumbo jumbo about finding your soul mate, about finding things that “click”, as if you were some sort key fitting into a lock, that you have to be compatible. Gah, that word. Compatible. It kills me.

And yet on the other hand, we are also expected by our society – Asian society, which is a world away from movies – to marry, to settle down, to have kids and have a family. Whether well-meaning or not without a dash of envy or greed or sense of misplaced propriety, our families will coerce us, will do everything else but drag us bound and gagged to the altar, to marry the woman/man of THEIR dreams. Choice and free will might land you into a respectable university or a good career path, but when it comes to your choice of partners, your families will have everything and nothing to say about it. As if yeah, they’re the ones whose going to have sex with these people at the end of the day.

Oh, and that’s another thing. Sex. People love it, hate it, refuse to acknowledge its very existence and yet find themselves irresistibly attracted to such a forbidden idea, like an itch desperately needing to be scratched. Yes, welcome to the 21st century and so forth indeed, but when it comes to doing the nasty, the entire world becomes a witch hunt looking for the destroyers of innocents. Dear world, let me tell you a story: without sex, you wouldn’t have happened. And guess what? It DOES feel fantastic.

But then again, we go to the opposite spectrum – sex without love, sex that becomes a routine, Ikea-like motion (insert Screw A into Plug B, twist counterclockwise thrice, and then release), sex that is done for sex itself. We are also the generation with probably the highest rate of pre-marital relations, of people who are married well before they’re prepared for it because of some misguided notion of “pananagutan” (trans. “taking responsibility for”) in the event of unwanted pregnancies. We are perhaps the generation who needs to answer for the HIV/AIDS pandemic, who has to deal with sexual diseases and who has to be aware, who has to be educated of the dangers of unmitigated and unprepared-for sexual activity. Sex has always been part of the human spectrum of experiences, but never, perhaps, in this far-reaching scale, insinuating itself into every corner of our lives.

But where is love in all of this?

I’ve known people who come from a culture where arranged marriages are the norm, and that marriage is a transaction, a kind of agreement between two families. This is done to preserve a certain status in society, an unblemished reputation, and perhaps some socio-religious function. Many, if not most people I know, disagree with this system. Love is supposed to be a choice. Love is supposed to be a marriage between two minds, quotes Shakespeare. Love is a feeling, an emotion, something that binds two people together stronger than a piece of paper, and yet perhaps more fragile than fine glass.

But then I know people who say that they love someone (by choice) and systematically destroy their lives in the name of love. There are people who think love is a right that they are meant to have, and go on a quest their entire lives searching for a figment of the imagination, a dream of a dream. There are people who will tear down the world just to find the mirror of love, a reflection of themselves made flesh. Love, as a maker, is also a destroyer.

But I also know why we love, why we throw ourselves (foolhardily) into the deep end of the pool. We want to feel accepted by someone else beyond the confines of our family and friends. We want to feel the warmth of someone else’s hand in ours, feel arms wrap around us tight, as if the hug encompassed the entire universe. We want to lower down the defenses that we’ve built up around us since our childhood, since the first betrayal of trust. We want to be safe and quiet and at peace, and believe that this can be found in someone else’s arms. We want to know that in the end, we will not be alone. And so we dive, unwittingly, into the dark blue waters, thrusting upwards, hoping that a hand will pull us up before the cold shadows do.

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