How Do We Learn To Love?: On Social Expectations And The Experience Of Love

Editor’s Note: FII’s #MoodOfTheMonth for February, 2022 is Redefining Love. We invite submissions on the many layers of love, throughout the month. If you’d like to contribute, kindly email your articles to sukanya@feminisminindia.com


Love’ is an emotion that is subjective and different for all. One can make it sound like the most awful feeling in the world, and someone else can add dazzles and lights to it. In popular culture, it is presented as the most gracious feeling out there, mostly with a happy ending. Usually, it is associated with something that brings joy and completes one’s life. Irrespective of the definitions given to it, or the innumerable kinds of songs, stories and dramas written on it, we seem to need different kinds of love at all stages of our life. 

How should love be given? Are there any measures of action which show how much people love each other? Who drafted these guidelines? What are the possible outcomes that might occur if someone is not provided with love, in the way others are expected to? Do we love the way we wish to or the way the society expects us to?

No era has remained untouched by the concept and ideas of love. Love has and still does act as the central component of people’s lives. Let us therefore look through a magnifying lens on how the society expects us to ‘love’. Whenever shown, be it on matrimonial websites, ads, movies, and even in the mere realm of our thoughts, love is almost always conceptualised as a romantic exchange between a ‘man’ and a ‘woman’.

Love, by its nature and name, brings an image of heterosexual individuals to our minds. The society has filtered it down to something that must be contained within exclusive, heteronormative binaries. Even epic love stories that are repeatedly recreated and pedestalised showcase heterosexual intimacies -, Laila-Majnu, Romeo-Juliet, Heer-Ranjha.

The narrative is all about how children become the receivers of traumatic experiences due to the arrival of a new member who is ‘always’ cruel and bestows all the possible hatred towards them. Talking of children, they have their quota of love to prove as well. Choosing to set boundaries and to live life in one’s way doesn’t harm anyone except for the rigid guidelines of society. If one chooses to speak against their parents or marry someone they love or doesn’t involve with people they cannot agree with, these are all signs of ‘less/no love

Additionally, even in this scenario, love is never perceived as an end in itself. It is just the start of the journey to reach the destination of social expectations. It is almost a given that love can only be romantic, and it is bound to turn into a ceremonial union, reinforcing the patriarchal idea that love must culminate in marriage which is the ‘purest proof of love’.

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The emphasis on marriage, rituals and traditions to prove love also furthers sexist practices that treat women as objects to be possessed, and encourages the subjugation of women and queer individuals by marginalising them within the problematic social validation and gender power structure associated with marriage. If one ventures to question these structures, their love itself is brought under scrutiny.

Also read: From Abuse To Self-Love: The Journey Of A Queer Individual

Another kind of love that is homogenised and pedestalised is that of mothers. Mothers are supposed to act as selfless love idols who are expected to prioritise everyone else before them. Usually conceptualised as a heterosexual female, she is expected to be there with everyone at every point of discomfort, from tending to wounds that are to be cleaned with Dettol to cooking the offspring’s favourite meal. Fathers are expected to show love in a financially fulfilling manner.

Marriage, kids, loving within heterosexual binaries, or sticking to traditional ideas of wo can and cannot be family are not indicators of a happy and loving future. We must change the lens through which we view several things around us and ask ourselves the right questions when it comes to how and what we would want to prioritise so as to love and feel loved

We seem to be unwilling to even conceive any other kind of love as plausible or valid. The way step-motherly love is shown in popular culture is a good example of this. Right from Cindrella to any other Bollywood movie, the step mother is almost always evil, malicious and not capable of loving their step-child.

The narrative is all about how children become the receivers of traumatic experiences due to the arrival of a new member who is ‘always’ cruel and bestows all the possible hatred towards them. Talking of children, they have their quota of love to prove as well. Choosing to set boundaries and to live life in one’s way doesn’t harm anyone except for the rigid guidelines of society. If one chooses to speak against their parents or marry someone they love or doesn’t involve with people they cannot agree with, these are all signs of ‘less/no love’. 

There can be an endless discussion over the various social roles that are set so as to perform ideal kinds of love that are validated by our popular morality. What we need to understand is that there is no one singular way to show or experience love. We have to start accepting the different ways of loving, beginning with ourselves first, in order to understand the love languages of others.

Marriage, kids, loving within heterosexual binaries, or sticking to traditional ideas of wo can and cannot be family are not indicators of a happy and loving future. We must change the lens through which we view several things around us and ask ourselves the right questions when it comes to how and what we would want to prioritise so as to love and feel loved.

Also read: Loving Mrs Bennet: What Teaching Jane Austen Taught Me About Feminism


Featured Image Source: The New York Times

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