Love does some inexplicable things to people. Vegans start to eat steak tartare. Atheists chop off their hair at temple entrances. Rebels learn to roll perfectly symmetrical papads for their mum-in-laws. And aerophobics take a 22-hour flight from Delhi to Brazil just to meet their significant other and say, ‘Happy Birthday’. “It made him happy. It was worth it,” was her defense of the near-lethal combination of beta blockers, antidepressants and benzodiazepines that had been taken for the journey. “It’s what you do for love.”
Now I’ve been hearing that line since I was 6 and my mother told me to share my rock candy with a cousin because “You love her”. It’s-what-you-do-for-love is supposed to be the most obvious, accepted fact today, much like don’t-talk-to-strangers or brush-your-teeth-twice-a-day. Wanting to avoid it, question it, or even think about it, is like asking for a promotion when the economy is bust. Everybody just looks at you like you’ve gone mad. So for years I’ve been forcing myself to follow the rule of selfless dating; morphing my tastes, needs, goals and desires accordingly.
There was a sailor who loved to eat small sea birds that had been fermented in rotten sealskin (a Greenish delicacy), and those putrid shards of flesh became my go-to midnight snack for two years. Then came an investment banker who believed kissing to be the same as licking, and I convinced myself that sticky spurts of saliva was the precursor to excellent sex. An adrenalin junkie once asked me to sky dive onto the Swiss Alps, and I did it twice, never once informing him about my vertigo. And I’d become so accustomed to faking orgasms that there came a time when I started moaning even before our bodies had met.
All throughout, I never once considered the dangers of being pliable. But when, after years of your-favourite-colour-is-my-favourite-colour and surviving on diet coke and Snickers to save money for Armani-tagged birthday presents, I found him in bed with four prostitutes, I realised just how pointless selflessness really is. What has to happen will happen regardless of how many visa forms you fill for him, how far you drive to buy him dairy-free ice cream or how many times you pretend to ignore his philandering ways. And when it does happen, your sacrifices and your investments only amplify the pain and betrayal. You feel used. I did all that, how could you do this to me?
But the thing is, no one asked me to do all that. I did all that because I’d confused altruism with love. I thought that if I did all the things he wanted, he would love me forever. But love isn’t selfless, it’s selfish. To love someone is to let them in on your real self, the part of you that just wants to drive around aimlessly on a Friday night or can’t be bothered to wear clean panties every single day. When you recondition yourself to think like that, to experience and not fake pleasure, that’s when you start to increase your chances of meeting the ‘right person’—simply because you are allowing yourself to feel and demand and lust and deny and be honest. And most importantly, you’ll never have to nibble on another decayed baby bird for sex again.