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All the work that goes into modern coupledom

So few of us feel confident that we know what the real work of a loving relationship entails

Today we are more free to follow our hearts and partner for love than ever before in human history. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO
Today we are more free to follow our hearts and partner for love than ever before in human history. Photo: iSTOCKPHOTO

Most of us have heard a story that goes something like this: One day, when you least expect it, you will meet a special someone. They will be your Soulmate, The One, your Other Half (or Better Half). They will complete you.

You will know that this is Your Person because of the butterflies in your stomach when you meet them for the first time. You spend some time together, then more time, then all of your time. They really get you. You tell each other everything. You’ve never felt so happy, so alive, so optimistic about the future. You’re so in tune you finish each other’s sentences. You have so much in common. You can’t stop thinking about them. When you feel like you can’t get enough, and you can’t take your hands off each other, you realize you are in love. If it’s reciprocated at some level then, after a period, you might move in together. If things continue to go well, you either propose or wait anxiously for a proposal. You get engaged, plan a lavish wedding to celebrate your love, and get married. You trust that your love, as powerful as it is, will endure for all the years that follow, through good times and bad. True love, when you find it, is eternal, and can overcome any obstacle.

I can almost hear some of you scoff or even laugh out loud. “Yeah, right,” you say. Nowadays, basic relationship literacy is such that most of us have at least some scepticism when it comes to this romantic ideal. We understand that Cinderella is a fairy tale, and we’re wise to the ways the media supports and encourages unrealistic expectations of relational bliss. We’ve come to accept that relationships take work, and we have legions of experts to offer advice for when, inevitably, the butterflies start to wane. There are books, articles, podcasts, reality programs—you name it!—that cover everything from rekindling passion to deciding whose turn it is to cook.

Also read: Why is spontaneous communication key to a romantic relationship?

Perhaps that’s because so few of us feel confident that we know what the real work of a loving relationship entails. Romantic partnership has become a job with no job description. We know we need to put in time and effort, but what exactly are we supposed to be doing? And what are we putting in to build what we want to build?

Committed coupledom has undergone dramatic changes in the past century, and an increasing number of people no longer see a marriage license as an absolute requirement for cohabitation, or starting a family, or emigrating together, or purchasing property—things that would have been well outside the norm even fifty years ago. Today we marry later or not at all, choosing to dispense with the legalities and express our commitment in other ways. We needn’t share the same religion, racial identity, ethnic or cultural background, education level, socioeconomic status, or heteronormative identity. The institution of marriage has expanded in many places to include same-sex and genderqueer couples who can increasingly expect all of the benefits of legally acknowledged partnership.

Committed coupledom has undergone dramatic changes in the past century
Committed coupledom has undergone dramatic changes in the past century

All these changes have something in common: They are inclusive and serve to expand the range of options for love-based commitment. Today we are more free to follow our hearts and partner for love than ever before in human history. We believe deeply in true love, and this belief is reflected and reinforced in everything from our legal system to the fairy tales we read to kids. And let’s face it: Most of us, deep down, still long for that perfect other who will complete our lives. We delight in the feeling of falling in love, and we want it in our lives. But does it serve us to believe that love conquers all? That it offers us the best possible foundation for a lifelong partnership?

Also read: The love story as resistance

I want to engage you in a critical examination of romantic love. If being in love is non-negotiable for committed relationships, it’s probably a good idea to explore this slippery concept… The way we think about love and partnership is deeply embedded in our social and historical context. Understanding what we mean by love, the language we attach to it, and where those ideas came from is a necessary beginning [to understand] the state of coupledom today.

Excerpted with permission from Love by Design by Sara Nasserzadeh, Harper Collins India, 352 pages, Rs.599

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