To love is to be vulnerable
Poets, performers, and best friends Phil Kaye and Sarah Kay launch into a synchronized monologue of sorts. They are both speaking to no one in particular, but they are both talking about how and when “love arrives.” For all we know, love arrives rather inconveniently.
Love can be irksome business, especially when the one you feel for is up there, way out of your league. But what is it that happens when you are in love with someone in a position of power?
Being fond of someone unreachable is like the first sari that catches your eye at the shop. That expensive sari you inquire about, but the very mention of its price makes you choke on your food. Beyond your means and exceeding your budget, you ask the eager shop-keeper to stow it away.
Nevertheless, the fact that you even picked such a sari out of a myriad of mediocre ones shows good taste. The shop-keeper approves. Indeed, when you are in love with someone up there in a position of power, everyone agrees that you have the best possible taste. Everyone also knows of the sheer impossibility of anything ever happening.
One might argue as to what this “position of power” we often talk about is, and if it has a place in the realm of romance. Some argue that it is the same every time we feel something for someone special. Our heart is rendered vulnerable, whether or not she is your teacher, department head, or your project coordinator.
Yet, there is a world of difference between feeling something for the aforementioned people as opposed to say, for a classmate. There are usually no consequences in loving your equals, the very worst it does is bring an end to the friendship you once had. Feeling for an important personage, however, is risky. It can make or break your life.
In those excruciating initial stages, somehow, your instincts are confused. Do I listen to the instructions of the boss, or do I look at her perfect teeth? Do I take notes, or do I just listen to that soft, husky voice? You know, however, that you don’t own the rights to the voice or the smile. You have known since day one that they are way over your league. You restrain yourself, sometimes excessively, and you find your performance diminishing.
Realizing the divide, the next resort is almost always an attempt at self-improvement. Matters become worse if you happen to be in the same sector. If he is an acclaimed artist and you are a clueless rookie, you’ll probably have a bin full of crumpled paper every night, full of “art” inspired by him. Perfection doesn’t come, rather, a voice inside goes “stupid stupid stupid” and you’re back to square one.
To elevate yourself, you try to move on to more refined pursuits. You are suddenly ashamed of your playlist full of Ed Sheeran, and would like to switch to Sufjan Stevens altogether. These efforts go down the drain, because your love listens to god-knows-what music; the kind of stuff you’ll never find by yourself unless someone recommends it.
You put away your silly copy of Eleanor & Park because you can do better, and bring home some Camus to read. You realize that Sisyphus’s problem isn’t your problem, or perhaps it is, and you’re just confused. Are you dumb or something, you wonder. More importantly, why were you dumb enough to even catch these feelings?
Rejection comes in the form of rejected friend requests, “seen” messages, general indifference, or simply the realization that this person does not treat you any differently than others. This becomes one of those situations that will never change, and it suffocates you. Nirmalendu Goon would want you to profess your love to this person, he would want you to say, “straight-cut bole debo bhalobashi,” come what may.
Even if you gather the courage to tell them, it creates more discomfort, more awkwardness. Most of us, for this reason, would prefer to keep that position of safety, the cover that keeps us behind the curtains. We like to think that it’s better not to anger the boss by professing our “unprofessional” and “irresponsible” love for her. We decide that, like most decisions in our lives, it is for the best.
On the other hand, we find all those social media influencers and motivational speakers go, “nothing is impossible” or “carpe diem.” These are the situations when we realize that we are indeed helpless. That there really is a limit to what we can do and achieve.
It brings to the forefront some major questions in our lives. It questions human nature, stares at the very core of our behavioural patterns. As humans, are we natural risk takers, or would we rather remain on the safe side? What happened to the conquerer, the naturally inquisitive, the indomitable you? Is everything really fair in love, or war for that matter?
When we finally decide to let go, we decide to relegate those feelings to the “cute” folder. We can easily forgive the quirkiness, the cuteness, the little idiosyncrasies in our nature, but we can never forgive sheer stupidity. We cheat ourselves through placebo.
It was “puppy love” after all, and we desperately want to laugh at our craziness a few years down the road, when we will magically become somewhat better versions of ourselves. We tell ourselves that those crazy, stupid feelings never amounted to anything after all. We sincerely hope that if we tell ourselves the same thing enough times, it would soon sound as authentic as the truth.
If you have truly accepted it, the next stage of it all is self-love. Cherishing the self becomes important and we, with our heads held high, go back to good old Ed Sheeran for much-needed comfort. The unrefined, nothing-too-fancy hobbies and interests are no longer embarrassing. At this point, we know for sure, that what we have shown is maturity.
From somewhere in the realm of the dead, CS Lewis chuckles and sighs to himself: “To love at all is to be vulnerable.”
Qazi Mustabeen Noor works at Arts & Letters, Dhaka Tribune.