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Playing With Love

Two women dancing in a strip club. Their clothes shine in green neon light in the dark background.

I’m a sucker for love. And I don’t want to be a party pooper either. There is lots I have been wanting to say about love, and here’s my chance.

A scene flashes through my head. The Delhi High Court. A (Section) 377 hearing in the summer of 2009. As we sat at the back, on the left hand side of the court room were the lawyers of the Home Ministry. I marvelled at their words. They spoke of holes – which hole was designed for what, and how wrong it was for this hole to be used for this and not that. And I listened to our words – dignity, rights, love… How unable we were to speak of holes. And, beyond a point, what does 377 have to do with love? It was bad enough that our lawyers told us to use ‘LGBT’ instead of ‘Queer’ because the judges would not understand Queer. And then to have to evoke the trope of love. Uff.

Not that love does not have radical potential. Ironically, it can have radical potential when love translates into marriage (or at least reproduction). Ambedkar was probably right when he said, “The real remedy for breaking Caste is inter-marriage. Nothing else will serve as the solvent of Caste.” But we know that love is also the glue that holds heteronormativity together. Love, in the context of modernity, helps hold together that same caste, same religion, manly man and womanly woman couple which produces heirs to inherit private property. And let those of us radical types who are against marriage, including same-sex marriage, not forget, that it is not just about marriage. Love is also the glue that holds together coupledom.

Love humbles, sometimes even humiliates, those of us who sincerely believe and loudly proclaim the criticality of friends in our lives and decry the hierarchy between ‘love’ and ‘friendship’. Oh, hang on. Here in lie many points to ponder. In the words.  I just wrote, “the hierarchy between ‘love’ and ‘friendship’”. Imbedded in the words is the equation of love with romantic sexual love and not with the love between friends. Such is the power of romantic sexual love, that we say love and it is very likely to mean romantic sexual love. A bit like how when one hears ‘education’, one assumes higher education or at best school, and not adult education (in particular, non-formal educational opportunities for those from marginalized sections who did not have a chance to go to school when they were kids). I have also disallowed in my words the now mercifully popular term ‘fuck buddy’. I’m sure some deep and clever critique needs to be made of the term ‘fuck buddy’, but it’s not coming to me now. Maybe because although I have heard the term being used for a while, it is only now that I am feeling some openness towards it. Perhaps because in this phase of my life I can only have an erotic connect with those who I have some sort of emotional connect with, after years of ‘playing’ (a BDSM term for a range of erotic activities) with random strangers.

But back to the hierarchy. So we know, and let me reword here, that coupledom creates a hierarchy between romantic sexual love and love between friends so much so that it is the lover, however crappy, who will come to pick us up at the train station when the train rolls in late at 2 a.m. and not one of the many close friends we have. It is of course not just in the realm of the personal. We can’t apply for leave saying that our friend is sick and needs looking after by us. If we happen to work at a progressive NGO, an unwell romantic sexual partner who is not a spouse, even a same sex partner, might not be a problem. But a sick friend… hmmm.

Believe me, I’m not being holier than thou here. I can’t be. Friends who read this will in any case jump at me and say that I am hugely guilty of ‘doing’ the hierarchy between lovers and friends (let me be politically incorrect and use these words). But may I please remind these friends of how much of my time they take up in agonising and angsting (let’s create an important word here) about their love lives, so much of which is about sex. Sexual insecurity, sexual mismatch, she wants more, I want more, if she can do it with others why not with me, if I can do it with others why can’t I do it with him, etc. etc. I could have planned a three-day workshop on BDSM in the average time I spend in a day counselling friends in love or wanting to be back in love or wanting to get out of love.

Hmm… BDSM (why do all Dominants say “hmm…”?) Anyway, I was once playing online with a random person and for some random reason it got rather intense, not emotionally, but in terms of the Domination/Submission dynamic. In the middle of it all, he suddenly said, “I love you”. I was completely taken aback, but only for a second. I actually understood, perfectly. He was playing with the idea of love. The way that others in BDSM play with the idea of ‘age’, ‘gender’, ‘race’ or ‘caste’ (although no one in the Indian community I know dares to touch caste), he was playing with the idea of love. And it was not difficult to do. The energy that can flow in BDSM is so intense that it can feel similar to love, and as in this context, even with a perfect stranger, and not in a way that is emotional.

Today, some years down the line, this resonates with me because of my growing understanding about love as it might relate to the unconscious as opposed to the rational world in which we can so easily name what we are thinking and how we are feeling. I do believe that love is really one person’s fantasy trying to meet another person’s fantasy. And it is no wonder then that we are so tormented by love. Fantasy is fantasy. We think the object of our love to be who we want them to be. And while that might happen to some extent, some of the time, the rest is a recipe for emotional tandav (the divine dance that is the source of the cycle of creation, preservation and dissolution, performed by Shiva Nataraja) on the love object or on ourselves.

I believe so much of love has to do with infancy and childhood. It is hardly surprising that no amount of advice giving, of others to us, and us to others, and even us to ourselves, seems to work. Of course, it won’t work. Because love has little to do with the logic of the mind or even the heart. By this I don’t mean that love is the irrational, impossible to resist, magical force of energy that sweeps us away. But perhaps it is the unconscious, which has its own, different, kind of logic, which is at play.

There is the business of coming out of the safe, dark womb (and I’m not joking here, I feel more and more my own ‘urge to merge’ with the other is actually the need to go back into that womb). There is also the process of separation from the primary care taker, unfortunately most often the mother, and becoming another individual, a boundaried self. To add to this, there is the incest taboo. Poor us. It’s no wonder our love lives are so messed up. The things we expect from our lovers are of course totally ridiculous. And yet, in a way, they make complete sense: Our need, demand actually, that the other make us feel safe, held, whole, complete, and to love only us, and no other. And the incessant wanting, needing, trying, not getting, getting but it slipping away, the insecurity, the jealousy, the rage… it all makes perfect sense. But it is so unfair on ourselves. Because, we really do deserve to be happy. Everyone does. Including the lovers whom we burden, attack rather, with all these ‘expectations’ (what a mild term for the kind of emotional violence we wreak on each other).

I personally believe a couple of things can help. Or rather, I would like to share what I think is helping me battle the monsters. The first tip is about sluttery. I think prising apart love and sex, even just a bit is very important. I don’t mean everyone should go out and get tons of lovers. We can, of course, if that’s what we want, but what I mean is it’s not about quantity. There is potential in any experience of sluttery to help us see that love and sex are not as desperately and hopelessly intertwined as they might seem to be. This might help a bit, for example, with the sexual insecurities we feel with our partners. Although, this is not enough. I can say from personal (traumatic) experience that even if I am having sex with several people who I’m not in love with, jealousy vis-à-vis the person I am in love with can do its tandav rather independently.

The second tip is psychoanalysis. I am undergoing psychoanalysis and am also interested in it for political reasons and would highly, highly recommend it for everyone.

It’s difficult to describe what psychoanalysis has meant for me but I’ll try. I think it made me realize that being very articulate about my issues was a big waste of time and money. Words got in the way. Sensations in my body and sexual fantasies gave much better clues. Even though the process is slow, my behaviour started to change. Not because I was trying to be good and not because I was trying to reason myself out of harmful patterns. I’m not sure why the changes happened, but I think an important part of it was that the story line started falling apart. I could no longer take seriously what seemed to be going on vis-à-vis others, especially with respect to love. I was getting more and more in touch with, however difficult it was, what my own issues were, which had precious little to do with others. In fact it made me feel rather guilty. Not about lashing out at and suffocating others but because I was almost ‘using’ them to fulfill my psychic needs. It was also stunning to me to see how addictive certain impulses were. It’s really hard work, and work in progress, but it has been fun when pieces of the jigsaw fall into place, and of course such a relief when the hold that patterns have over me weaken. I don’t think certain feelings and associations will ever go away. It’s okay. They can hang around, as long as they don’t torment me as much or drive me to act in ways I don’t like.

The downside is that psychoanalysis is super expensive and takes a long time. Fortunately there are a few counsellors, at least in Delhi at the Ambedkar University, who are psychoanalytically oriented and don’t charge the earth.

And the last tip is to do anything that really draws us in, which doesn’t significantly involve another person/persons. (They may be needed to help us learn or facilitate, but they must not be central to the experience). For me it’s singing and meditation retreats.

What’s your poison?

For more on BDSM: The Kinky Collective

Image: Beo Beyond (CC-BY-NC-ND 2.0)