Love is all kinds of complicated, even in a regular year. It is unpredictable, tumultuous and demanding. In the stress and isolation of the past couple of years, every intimate relationship has felt an additional strain. For single people, whose dating lives were stalled by the pandemic, working on self-love and acceptance became non-optional, while those in relationships had to learn to roll with the punches. All of us have changed during this time in ways we cannot yet fathom. As we walk into a future that is more uncertain than ever, we hold on to what has survived while daring to dream of more.
Here are glimpses into the love lives of five individuals who are going into the year with the lessons from the past and a heart full of hope.
Being still, attracting better
Beenu VV (36) is an author, animal rescuer and a tarot reader based in Chennai. “It was partly the way I was raised and partly family responsibilities, but I have never been in a real relationship,” she says. An overlong ‘situationship’—wherein she was involved with a man who never committed to her—ended in heartbreak in 2019, and she has been working on starting over since.
Like most people, Beenu went on dating apps to try and meet prospective partners but found out soon enough that her heart wasn’t in it. She then decided to focus on herself and not worry about finding love. “I have learnt the hard way that chasing something only makes it go further away. This year, I’m just going to do my thing and trust that the right people will find me,” she says.
Asked what she is seeking in a relationship, Beenu says, "I’m looking for someone who can accept me for who I am and understand what I do. I want a relationship where there is space for both partners to be their true selves. Displays of affection are also important to me. I want to know what it’s like to feel loved—I’ve never experienced that before.”
Putting down roots
Having a loving partner can help people see themselves in a whole new light. Sydney-based business development consultant Karishma Suresh (30) had been living on her own for three years before she met her partner Jen George Sunny. After a brief courtship, they moved in together just before the onset of the pandemic. “While the companionship brought me a lot of joy, laughter and beautiful memories, there were also some big fights,” she says.
Seeing conflict as an opportunity for self-reflection, the 30-year-old decided to start therapy. “It is easy to believe you are perfect when you’re on your own. Having an intimate partner mirrored back to me things about myself that needed work—like my anger and my body image issues,” Suresh says.
Emboldened by the safety they have found in each other, the couple have decided to tie the knot this year. “We are hoping to have kids at some point, so we intend to settle into a more grounded, stable life to prepare for that,” Suresh says. Even as they navigate the big life changes, the couple hopes to stay on track with their respective inner work.
Nurturing connections outside the relationship
The pandemic did crank up the heat in a lot of relationships, thanks to the stress of sudden changes. This was especially true in the case of Roshan* (25) and Sarika* (25). The couple had met at their first job in Bengaluru and started dating in 2018. After nearly two years of being around each other all the time, they were forced to return to their respective hometowns at the start of the pandemic.
“We couldn’t let our families find out about our relationship yet, as they’re quite old-fashioned and wouldn’t approve. So we could only talk on the phone really late at night after everyone went to sleep. We would frequently miss each other’s calls and end up not talking for several days,” Roshan recalls.
The couple survived the big fights and bitter silences that arose during this time by consciously taking space to self-reflect and learning to communicate better. This month, Roshan and Sarika are moving to Amsterdam to pursue their higher education at the same university and look forward to being together after nearly two years.
“While we are excited to be with each other once again, our goal is to adapt to the new environment without clinging to each other. We are intent on making new friends and having our own individual experiences,” Roshan shares. To bounce back after a low point and still have the courage to be open to life’s surprises is something a lot of us aspire to at this time.
Exploring casual relationships
Dating is extra complicated for Hyderabad-based Ashwini* (32), a KPO professional living with spina bifida—a congenital spinal disorder that has left her incapable of movement or sensation below the waist.
From fielding insensitive inquiries about her disability to coping with feelings of rejection when men unmatch upon hearing that she is permanently wheelchair-bound to sorting out a world of logistics to make a date happen, the challenges are many. “There is a lot I need to figure out before I can even consider heading out—like finding a cab driver willing to put my wheelchair in the boot and making sure the restroom at the cafe or pub is disabled-friendly,” she says.
And yet, Ashwini is planning to go all out this year, date and also learn about herself in the process. “Casual relationships are still a lot of work, especially for someone like me. But I want to do it, because I don’t want to be full of regret when I’m 50 years old. Even if I end up alone, I want to be able to look back at my life and say that I gave it a shot, that I was open to new experiences,” she says, adding, “Also, I want to try dating a disabled person.”
Being okay with being needy
Tanushree (25), a sexual health educator who identifies as queer and polyamorous, is looking forward to being bolder in their queerness this year. In the first year of the pandemic, they started a relationship with their primary partner [a prioritised partner among several] and last year, they met their nesting partner [someone one shares a home with] with whom they currently live in Hyderabad. “While I do think I might get married at some point and have a baby, I don’t have any urgent relationship goals at the moment,” they say.
Tanushree admits to having become more emotionally needy during the pandemic. “It is something I am learning to accept, with the help of my therapist. It is not easy, but polyamory allows me to draw comfort and strength from multiple partners instead of burdening one person with all my needs,” they share.
“This year, I simply want to be happy, kind and compassionate to myself as well as others in my relationships. I want to communicate clearly and not lead anyone on,” Tanushree adds.
(*some names changed to protect privacy)
Indumathy Sukanya is an artist and independent journalist based in Bengaluru