What is a couple that’s really in love? I recently met one of the more well-known ‘good’ couples of social Mumbai. They had been childhood sweethearts, married young, had children and, now, were settling into this period of their lives with apparent ease. On the face of it, they were very sweet to and about each other, never roaming far from reach, attentive to the other’s needs and desires. Until the wife happily delved into the subject of gemstone therapy. Her husband turned to her and said, “Don’t start that [mild expletive], he doesn’t want to know.” She stopped, nodding with embarrassment. The carefully-schooled blankness of her face, however, expressed more terrifying murder and fury than if she had actually retorted. Two seconds later, they were back to lovey-dovey business as usual.
That particular interaction stayed with me because this couple had been presented to me as an example of the height of true love. And, yet, they couldn’t go 15 minutes without showing a very substantial conflict and hate. One of the functional, practical motors of true love is acceptance, accepting the entirety of your loved one’s personality. That includes the tics, the unfamiliar habits, the odd interests and whims, etc. The wife clearly had an interest in gemstone therapy, and her husband clearly hated that part of her. He didn’t even have enough love for her to choose to behave lovingly. He chose instead to humiliate her in public, perhaps hoping to shame her into dropping a hobby he found despicable and pathetic.
When it comes to true love, children come into the world pre-programmed for it, with no preconceived notions. They run around thinking their parents’ personalities are so amazing and wonderful. They love completely, and that’s why parents can love them back completely. It’s something that even this supposedly great couple weren’t able to do.
The most astounding part of it all is that the husband fell in love with his wife for her kooky new-age interests. She was into tarot, and he went to her for a tarot reading, and romance was in the cards. Perhaps, he lied to himself in the beginning in order to be with a girl he was attracted to. Perhaps, he changed. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that in that interaction he rejected her, and she rejected him back. Then, habit kicked in, and they fell back into reassuring ways, ignoring that small moment that had given up the lie to their entire relationship.
It’s a fairly common thing. The quirks and turns of phrase and body language that were once so endearing often become the quickest source of irritation and hate. What else could the husband and wife do, however? Split up, divorce, fight over the kids? There’s a very big mistake with this line of thinking. We overestimate the danger of expressing our problems with our partner, and underestimate their capacity to understand and empathise with us. Instead, we let the irritation and frustration and anger build and find it harder and harder not to hate them. The actual problems, in fact, have a single ideological source: freedom and free will.
What was the husband’s problem with his wife? That he didn’t accept her interest in gemstone therapy. That is to say, he didn’t give her the freedom to be herself. Her reaction is far more understandable. Everyone knows what it is like to feel their freedom stifled and to hate the person oppressing them. He did cause the problem, practically speaking, but she’s also at fault for not asserting her freedom. Bringing up the subject may seem huge in terms of consequence. I understand that people may be terrified to bring it up because the sequence of consequences leads to a breakup. The alternative, however, is to be oppressed and remain in a festering relationship. And, a breakup is always only a consequence of there not being enough love in the first place.
So, no, husband and wife were not a good couple, far from it. They had just created a well-oiled PR machine, and seemed to get along better than most couples. The bottom line is this: a million “I love you”s are meaningless in the face of a single heartfelt “shut up”.
Olivier Lafont is an actor and scriptwriter.