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Love in the Time of Internet

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Modern love is complex. Like the flowers they sell with chemicals infused to make them last longer, it is a heady mix of things
It ought to make us feel ashamed when we talk like we know what we're talking about when we talk about love.” ― Raymond Carver
And then, there were no lilies. Although when she stops by the florist sometimes, she tries to imagine what a thousand of them would look like. Then, she hurries to the grocery store, and never buys lilies. The promise of lilies remained suspended. In time, and in anticipation, and later in memory. 

Because love isn’t about flowers anymore. We have complicated it. As a generation obsessed with itself, we can’t let love remain a sweet thing. We must make it complex for it to be worthy of our time. Besides, the internet is killing it. And the girl who waits for the lilies is trying to switch off. There are too many updates, and too many interpretations. In the end, she will buy lilies herself. For herself. That’s how the plot should be.

Modern love is complex. Like the flowers they sell with chemicals infused to make them last longer, it is a heady mix of things. Roses have been disarranged. And everything else is being rearranged, too. We have become too visual. Too reliant on images on social media. We have forgotten or maybe never actually learned to feel, or understand. Because we live in the age of the internet, and we can google answers to an existential crisis. Like this one time when I googled ‘how to get over a heartbreak’ and ended up subscribing to some agony aunt’s webpage, and every morning I’d get an email telling me not to revisit places, to turn off memory triggers, and a long list. Except when the crucial point came, there was a Paywall, and I logged off. I had just been curious, and a friend rightly said “google is not god.”

Modern love, she feels, is like driving at 90 miles an hour on the Interstate in America in the wrong direction because there are no exits, and you can't stop, or slow down. There's punishment if you turn around. You are also mostly driving alone. And you are also trying to overcome boredom. Because everything is happening too fast. You can't think, you can only see, and respond. And you must be at it continuously. That's where it all goes wrong. There’s always the pressure to move on, and beyond. There are too many choices. You never linger. You are just driving at high speed, and in the wrong lane. 

We have stopped being silent. We insist too much on equality. We want to too much, and offer very little. We aren’t generous anymore. Because if we give in, aren’t we compromising on values we hold dear, and then of course love goes out of the window. Love isn't about revolutions or movements. It should also never be about rejections. The heart, as she says, was meant to be broken. We also tend to analyse too.

Modern love insists on too many things. It makes love polite, and politically correct. It is but a primal thing. It stems from loneliness, and the urge to confide. You'd wake up alone in bed at 3 am, and have this sinking feeling. What did you miss you out on? Did you make love too conditional, too conformist? Where did you go wrong? Why do we seek love?

Because loneliness abounds. At least in urban spaces where a friend spends hours every night checking out possible matches on Tinder, a dating app. It’s more for hooking up. Casual sex isn’t love, he insists. But why deny yourself the pleasure and necessity of getting laid.

But there’s a deeper urge that we ignore. Because there is loneliness, the desire to love is more. The question is how do we love today. Or do we know what love is, or that it must move beyond us. She, who never buys lilies, isn’t an expert on love. 

There are many kinds of love. Open relationships and 'friends with benefits' sorts. Perhaps they work, but there's no dismissing human nature. Convenience is good. But jealousy isn't easy to overcome. We aren't such natural hippies. We just can’t deal with our own company and therefore we seek the other. We get bored too easily. With people, with our own fixations. We dismiss ourselves too easily. We also intellectualize love. There is no need to. Love is mostly nostalgia and imagination mixed in unequal quantities depending on the person. It is also often illogical.

For those of us who have seen part of life when there was no internet, and no 24/7 connections with people, and we know we loved better then. There were letters, and they are relics. In our heads, at least the ones who crossed from that era into this like me, the museum of love houses notes written to you by lover. We also trusted more. There's something to the handwriting. Individual, and personal. The slant of the alphabets, the rhythm of the cursive writing. It's all poetry. But that's a nostalgist speaking. That love exists no more. We live in a virtual world of instant gratification. The havoc that 'last seen' on WhatsApp could wreak havoc on the mind. There's something universal about modern love. We have all begun to read too much into profile photos and captions, and status updates. We have become the centre of our own universe, and believe we are the focal point of others' cosmos. We have come to assume they are meant for us. The mind doesn't give the heart a chance to process anything. It is constantly interpreting, and annihilating. We are doomed if we try to be perfect lovers in the modern world. We are products of confusions, and theories. We get academic about love. 

What is modern love, they ask. Nothing actually. It is love in the age of the internet, and us. We are stupid to think love could be equal. Everything's unequal, my mother says. And in a film I watched once, there was a dialogue I can't quote verbatim but remember the essence of. Of course, I can look it up like everything else, but I am trying to return to my mother's time, and so I shall paraphrase. The film is Nowhere in Africa, and one of the characters says there will always be the one who will love more, and that will make them vulnerable. There's something to vulnerability. But we live in modern times. We can't admit to being fragile. We are all about cryptic messages thrown into the universe, but meant for the particular. And stupid enough to think everything else that we see on the screen is addressed to us. There's too much emphasis on reciprocating. Love, I have come to believe, can't be imposed. You love because you choose to. And so, you must be alone in that love. My mother was stronger than me. She loved without the trappings of modernity. There was much that worked against her. But she kept it simple. By this, of course, I don’t mean she made compromises, or adjusted. She just kept it simple.

In the intervals of things, there is great peace, and you must understand that people shouldn't be together because they must be. Your love is your own. 

Love is a beautiful distraction. You escape into its wondrous landscape. And it should not matter if those don't turn into reality. The charm is in the amorphous nature of it. Like snowflakes. You feel it, and you don't hold it. Because it dissolves, and slips out. It can’t be a contract. 

Love, when it starts to control and begins to seek answers, is corrupted. We have become control freaks. We control our image on social media. We have forgotten our real selves in the process. We control responses, and we have turned into narcissists.

You love because you want to. Why must it depend on the other person? It should just be. Like the love of a cup of tea in the morning, or of the sound of rain in the morning when you wake up. It is just there. You love a million people. Each love is different. Why must things be defined, and put in boxes, and labelled. Why must we get angry when the other doesn't get it. Love isn't an act of charity, or a gift that must be acknowledged because we think of ourselves as saviours, and believe we can pull out a person from their loneliness, and so they must be grateful.

Reciprocation is highly overrated. We insist too much on it.

Love is also about writing little notes, and maybe never meeting. Every love is precious. Because it is so rare. Love should make you smile. Like the flowers that just bloom suddenly while you were doing other things, and you take a moment and marvel at the colours. Or it is a song that someone sent. Like last night, someone sent me Ripple by the Grateful Dead. You play it, make tea, and smile. I haven’t met the person, or spoken to him ever. He wrote to me a story of a little prince, who had everything, and he got sick of it, and then decided to be alone. 

" … he secretly discovered a well closer to a beach & swam. Climbed a tree, swaying above shore waves in moonlit sky. Drowned, happily."

That's how it ends. How beautiful. You can see the prince dancing in the moonlit sky. 

It is also about conversations with strangers. Sometimes, you don't want to even know them. It is enough that there is someone who remembers you on a cold winter night, and takes time out to write to you. That's enough in this world on great loneliness.

“Still in believe in magic?” 

That Coldplay song. As sweet as that.

There's nostalgia of old family photos, and no way to tell if the people were crying before they went to the studio to get the mandatory wedding photo clicked. Then, there's a lot of imagination. Bollywood love is almost unattainable. Because you can't sing in the Swiss Alps in a chiffon sari. But you imagined when you were growing up on a staple diet of Bollywood love that there would the hero who could bring you flowers, and fight off evil, and cross seven seas to get a glimpse of you. And then, modern life happened. Feminism happened, and Bollywood changed. Sex was no longer a taboo. And the Internet eliminated the effort. It's kind of sad, but love, as a woman in her early thirties said, is rocket science. She said modern love is like a ball of entangled wool strands. You don't know where to start, or how to go about it. The effort's too great. And of course, modern love isn't really built on compromise. If anything, it is all about space. Although, the girl who never buys the lilies thinks the space concept is like a black hole. There's no knowing what that it. But you want it. Everyone wants it. They seem to think it is about personal freedom. She wants it, she thinks. But spaces have shrunk. You just can't recede, or be invisible to give the beloved a chance to miss you. You are lurking in some space in a parallel virtual world. Always available because you are lonely like the others.

There's too much you know, or assume. You can prowl, and you have access to history, or a sense of it. You tap into the other's world before they knew you, and investigate it, and from it, stems a truth that belongs to neither you nor the other, but is a creation of forces that we have learned to lean on to prove to ourselves we belong here. Nobody likes being the outcaste, but for love to work there needs to be a silence, and a distance. To wait is important. But we log into the matrix, and collectively we have taken the red pill and as Morpheus says "I'll show you how deep the rabbit hole goes".  

We won't let our mind work on the beloved, but let technology decide it for us. The availability is almost a condition. The green light is the reassurance. Of the beloved's existence. Here, you can monitor their activity, and follow them in this virtual world. We have turned exhibitionists. We declare, and proclaim. It is like we are trying to prove to ourselves we have found love, and others must know we are better off than them.

There was a time of love letters. In ink and on paper. While teaching a bunch of young men and women at a college in Himachal Pradesh, I asked them to write love letters, and move beyond hashtags, and WhatsApp, and other platforms. Writing exercises weren't working. I was there to teach fashion journalism, and the submissions mostly were Wikipedia stuff collated with not much effort. They were not involved. Everything was easy. They just had to search. Not within, or without. But on the internet.

They were amused. Those who write believe that we must also give ourselves away, and I told them about a time when we would write letters, and hope they reached the beloved, and wait for the response. It would arrive, and the period of waiting was full of possibilities. Here, imagination would work. Love is like creative non-fiction. Or maybe fiction. There is a conflict, and a story. The story must be allowed to unfold, and not rushed.

A girl cried in class because she wrote about her first crush in her diary, and her mother found it. She never wrote again. But she said she would try.

So they wrote. And I came back to my lonely hotel room with a bag full of letters. They had pasted little hearts, and painted stars and moons. They had written to their beloved. Most of them. Except a girl who wrote a letter to herself - an old version of herself. They wrote of unrequited love, and of lost love. Their language had improved. In that room overlooking the mountains in a lonely village, I smiled. Love is always anchored by nostalgia, and fuelled by loneliness. 

Such beautiful letters. And such beautiful love. Expressed in such individual ways. With shards of poetry, and brushstrokes of painting. Simple, and precious. Not one-liners but sentences that led to others. Composed, and calm, and yet brimming with anticipation, and love.

They wanted the letters back. I told them to fall in love with everything they would ever write about. Only love can make you write. I was only echoing what the great masters had said.

"If you can write love letters, you can write any damn thing. And stay away from emails. You will always want to go back and change things. Love should be frozen in time. On paper, and sealed with little hearts,” I said in class.

Not that we celebrated Valentine’s Day when we were young. If you got a rose and chocolate, you knew you were happy. The rose could just be stolen from someone’s garden. It wasn’t commercial. At least not the way it is now with everyone outdoing the other.

Now, there are theories about celebrating Valentine’s Day. Then, there are other days like chocolate day, and hugs day, or kisses day. This is how we approach love. Driving in the wrong lane.

For us, who grew up first reading Barbara Cartland’s fiction, and then switched to Mills & Boon, and then to more complex stuff like Sylvia Plath, and in my case, dark literature from Russia, we knew love was going to be a difficult thing. We read way too much. And then we found Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights and we celebrated his elemental love for Catherine. We were going backwards, and then to return to the empty space of modern city life seemed like a doomed task. It was just too boring to be here. We had been corrupted by literature. It had made love seem like a beautiful, intense thing. Dark, an unrelenting force that consumed you.

But Cartland herself said “As long as the plots keep arriving from outer space, I'll go on with my virgins … You can't lose if you give them handsome highwaymen, duels, 3-foot fountains and whacking great horses and dogs all over the place.”

We lived in other worlds than our own. Like now when we live in the world of clicks, and updates. But that was a better space. It let us imagine, and be in love with the idea of love. Not force it upon us as a kind of necessary evil.

I know I will have to deal with a million updates of how husbands or boyfriends or partners got them flowers on Valentine's Day. There will be those selfies of couples, and pictures of roses, and I will perhaps go buy myself a lily and read Alice Munro’s The Love of a Good Woman, and go for a walk. I have started to switch off the internet, and not intellectualize love anymore. Sometimes, you should love the fact that you can love, and buy yourself muffins, and a coffee, and play music, and dance.

Because there’s something to creative androgyny. We must forget how we are placed in society to be able to love. We must not love because we need to, but because we must understand other people's loneliness, and look deeper. Without the internet. We must write letters, and stop the noise of "isms".

And read what DH Lawrence wrote in Women in Love over and over again - 'I should feel the air move against me, and feel the things I touched, instead of having only to look at them. I'm sure life is all wrong because it has become much too visual - we can neither hear nor feel nor understand, we can only see. I'm sure that is entirely wrong.'

And listen to This Modern Love by Bloc Party that ends with 'Do you wanna come over and kill some time?
Tell me facts, tell me facts, tell me facts Tell me facts
' because at the end of it, it is all an escape from boredom and loneliness. Let love be the timepass. For now.