Hamlet: Doubt truth to be a liar, But never doubt I love.

Globe Theatre

Doubt thou the stars are fire,
Doubt that the sun doth move,
Doubt truth to be a liar,
But never doubt I love.
(Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2)

This short poem sent by Hamlet to Ophelia is taken as part of the laundry list of evidence of his romantic feelings for her. However, I remember when I re-read the play in my third year of college, my professor introduced me to a vagueness that I never had previously considered. He says “I love” and of course, “love” and “move” are homographs, but Hamlet does not say whom he loves. Is it Ophelia, his father? Something else? As someone with a literary background, I had to share another intriguing explanation of Hamlet that I came across, which is very much relevant to this blog.

In Stay Illusion!, scholars Simon Critchley and Jamieson Webster argue that Hamlet “discloses the modern paradox of our lives: how thought and action seem to pull against each other, the one annulling the possibility of the other. As a counterweight to Hamlet’s melancholy paralysis, Ophelia emerges as the play’s true hero. In her madness, she lives the love of which Hamlet is incapable.” Now, I will fully admit, I did not read the book. I read Joshua Rothman’s review in the New Yorker: Hamlet: A Love Story.

Critchley and Jamieson argue that while for Freud, Hamlet’s guilt throughout the play has to do with his Oedipal desires, they believe guilt stems from his shame of needing to love, the shame about the emptiness that, they hold, is at the center of the experience of love. Rothman paraphrases their argument as:

We’re inclined to think of love as the opposite of emptiness—we see it as “a system of mutual favors” that acts as a kind of bonus to life, a surplus. Instead, we love because we lack. Inside each of us there’s an emptiness, and that emptiness can never be filled. None of us can ever be loved enough—by our parents, by our children, by our husbands or wives. The bottomlessness of our need for love means that, even in our most stable, permanent, and healthy relationships, love “can only be renewed and invented anew, again and again. I love you. I love you. I love you.” Each time you declare your love, you admit that there’s a lack in yourself. And when two people are in love with one another, they’re offering up their equivalent emptinesses. When love works, it makes something out of nothing.

If the essence of love is wanting, it’s no wonder that shame and narcissism are so often part of love. It’s intrinsically shameful to need and need and need, and the bottomlessness of this need breeds anger and resentment. Your love is genuine, but so are your perpetual feelings of emptiness and of powerlessness. What’s most galling, perhaps, is the realization that the people whom you love are similarly empty. If this is love, then you can come to resent the people you love simply because you love them.

So in another words, you love another because you are empty, but the person you love feels just as empty, and so your love for each other brings something into creation that is based on this emptiness, this nothing.

I do agree with this to a certain extent and agree that love is not a “system of mutual favors.” I think that love does grow from a lack and we cannot be loved enough. And this is not referring to the love that creates extraordinary psychoses or neuroses or the love that is about possessing, although both are probably also a result of our insatiable desires for love. No, I just mean that for more of us who function on a psychologically “normal” spectrum, we cannot be loved enough. My boyfriend cannot tell me he loves me enough, and perhaps it is just me, but my insatiability comes from my lack of love for myself. This emptiness isn’t depression or despondency, but rather, it come from a sense of aloneness and even loneliness which cannot be avoided. We all live our lives, and although we are joined by others along that journey, ultimately that journey is ours alone, which makes for a very isolated experience. Love then maybe is a way to share that communal sense of aloneness? Hmmm…..

Dating with autism

For most of us, spontaneity is a necessary component of romance and being in love. Not that you need it all the time, nor is it really feasible to be spontaneous constantly but we do love that giddy feeling when we lose our inhibitions and forget for a brief bit about making fools of ourselves. When we are consumed with overwhelming emotion which cause us to act in ways we would not normally. But what if love didn’t include any spontaneity? We would think that it meant it was passionless, or at least I would have, and then I read an article on “Dating on the Autism Spectrum” in The Atlantic.

While I hope that a majority of people already know that autism, as a spectrum disorder, comes in all forms, there is a generally assumed belief that those with autism tend to be practical and methodical without any of the emotional ups and downs that the rest of us have. However, recent studies show that they may actually have greater emotional capacities. “Studies have shown that people with autism can have feelings that are stronger and deeper than those without autism,” said John Elder Robison, an autism advocate. “Yet those feelings may be invisible to outsiders because we don’t show them. Because we don’t show them or the expected response, people make the wrong assumption about our depth of feeling about other people.”

Dating and romance tend to be particularly difficult for those with autism because they cannot read the social and gender cues that consitute so much of the dating game. They don’t understand the subtle undertones of flirting nor do they enjoy the chase.

I found the article intriguing because I think even those of us without autism often grapple with what our relationship should look like and what our roles should be. We all have this in common. Everyone, regardless of gender, religion, disability, has to at some point put up a wall between what that “normal” relationship is and what relationship they would like and what relationship they are in. There is no ideal partner. After 31 years of age, Paulette Penzvalto found freedom in her diagnosis not just because she now understood herself better but also because she was liberated from the pressures of having a “normal” relationship:

“The number one freedom I found in the diagnosis is I don’t need to really give into a partner’s idea of what a relationship should or needs to look like,” she said. “It’s really liberating to know I’ve been living my life a certain way, and it turns out that that’s okay”

Is love a crime?

I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned this yet, but my family comes from India. We moved to the US in the 90s when I was quite young, so I consider myself American rather than Indian. That being said, growing up in an Indian household means that you can’t escape social, cultural and religious influences and pressures to conform to the traditions of “being Indian”. One of these pressures is to marry someone that your family has approved of. Of course, Indian traditions are not alone in this regard. I think that that most cultures and families do pressure individuals in some way about their marriage partner. And it’s natural for parents to have some expectations of who their son/daughter being into their family. However, there’s a line when parental preference become parental rejection, and I think that this is a line that Indian families in particular cross.

My friend introduced me to Satyamev Jayate, meaning “Truth alone triumphs”. The show, hosted by Bollywood actor  and filmmaker Aamir Khan,  highlights sensitive issues that are pervasive throughout India, such as female foeticide, child sexual abuse, domestic violence, the dowry system, and the caste system. As a side note, everyone should watch this, especially all Indians, because it does a great job of reminding us that the traditions  that bind us as a community and which we are holding onto so steadfastly are hampering and disenfranchising so many members of our community. Then how can we remain so loyal to these traditions?

Episode 5 asks the question “Is love a crime?” Often in India and for Indians living abroad, love is essentially a crime that is punishable by family rejection, pressure for the couples to break up, and at worst, honor killings. Indian law gives all individuals past a certain age the right to marry the person of their choice, so long as they are not related. However, as you will seen in the episode below, due to differences in religion, caste or social standing, individuals are persecuted for marrying.

While India is a democracy in name, I don’t think it can fully claim to be a democratic country until it succeeds in changing the mindset of the majority. How can its citizens still allow honor killings to occur? Maybe someone can educate me on what honor there is in killing someone simply because they’ve fallen in love with the “wrong” person.

What did you think about the show?

Cautiously in love

I just wanted to say thank you very much to everyone who has taken the time to stop by and read my blog. A much bigger thank you to those who have liked, commented, followed, etc. I appreciate the support and am thrilled that you find this subject and the content as appealing as I do.

For today’s post, I received a question from a reader that I want to share and respond to. (If anyone else has any questions they want me to tackle, please feel free to send them in!)

Can you address how getting close to someone can create a feeling of vulnerability to the point where you fear getting too close to the person?
– Cautiously in love

Dear Cautiously in love,

My very first post mentioned a New York Times article discussing how Alain Badiou thought it was absurd that tourists were chaining love locks on Parisian bridges:

The idea that you can lock two people’s love once and for all, and toss the key, is a puerile fantasy. For Mr. Badiou, love is inherently hazardous, always on the brink of failure and above all vulnerable.

We are taught from a young age in the Western world to plan and to go for what we want. We have a difficult time acknowledging that not everything is in our control and that we aren’t as independent and as self-reliant as we try to convince ourselves we are. And love is one of those things that profoundly shakes up our sense of independence. It lays bare all of our vulnerabilities and weaknesses, exposing them not just to others, but also to ourselves.

A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon introduces the idea of open-loop limbic resonance, meaning our brain functions are created and physically changed by those we care for.

“Because loving is a reciprocal physiologic influence, it entails a deeper and more literal connection than most realize. Limbic regulation affords lovers the ability to modulate each other’s emotions, neurophysiology, hormone status, immune function, sleep, rhythms, and stability…. Lovers hold the key to each other’s identities, and they write neostructural alterations into each other’s networks.”

So remember all those times when you can’t sleep at night because your significant other is away? Yes, those aren’t just because you’re pining for them and madly in love. It’s also because your brain misses the regulation that he or she provides by being close.

I think that the vulnerability you’re feeling is because both your heart and your head are slowly becoming more and more dependent on someone else and you are trying to think your way out of it. That fear you feel comes from the logical, socially-conditioned place that is resisting the direction your body is going in. And that’s fine. There’s a lot to be said for being cautious and not completely giving in to your emotions. You need to have some sense of self-awareness to be able to protect yourself in the event that your head and heart have misjudged.

But for now…guess what? The fact that you feel vulnerable means that you are already in too deep, so stop trying to think yourself out of it. Give your brain and your heart a chance! 🙂

loop of dependence

Dating advice from the 1950s

Capture

Apologies for the long sabbatical, life got in the way! Terrible excuse, I know, but please accept this post as an apology!

The Atlantic posted a short video inspired from a series of films based on the book Marriage for Moderns by Henry A. Bowman. “Choosing for Happiness” is a dating how-to guide for young women in 1950. Mary, the narrator, is relatively unfamiliar with the social scene on her college campus and looks to her friend Eve for advice on dating and men.

The video’s a bit long, and of course, girls were married at 19 then, but here are the lessons I’ve learned that be applied to 21st Century dating:

  1. Don’t try to change a guy.
  2. Spend long afternoons with a man, not long nights.
  3. You can’t trust a guy that’s all eyes and smiles.
  4. When a man says he doesn’t think of you as a woman, leave….now!
  5. A guy saying that someone should take you across his knee and give you a spanking does not mean the fun sort of spanking.

What do you think? Anything in the video that’s still useful?

Love, Real Love is an Ingredient so Absolutely Necessary

William Cobbett (1763 – 1835) was an English pamphleteer, farmer and journalist, who was born in Farnham, Surrey. He was also a man of many words, and his rather rags-to-riches-to-rags-to-riches story gave him enough life experiences for him to write down all his life learnings into an advice manual: Advice to Young Men and (Incidentally) to Young Women in the Middle and Higher Ranks of Life. In a Series of Letters Addressed to a Youth, a Bachelor, … Husband, a Father, a Citizen, or a Subject. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can also download it for free courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

According to Cobbett, the choice of a partner is the most important decision of your life:

When we consider in how great a degree the happiness of all the remainder of a man’s life depends, and always must depend, on his taste and judgement in the character of a lover, this many well be considered as the most important period of the whole term of his existence.

So what should you look for in a wife:

But to have the [numerous delights of marriage], as well as the cares, the choice of the partner must be fortunate. I say fortunate; for, after all, love, real love, impassioned affection, is an ingredient so absolutely necessary, that no perfect reliance can be placed on the judgement. Yet, the judgement may do something; reason may have some influence; and, therefore, I here offer you my advice with regard to the exercise of that reason.

The things which you ought to desire in a wife are, 1. chastity; 2. sobriety; 3. industry; 4. frugality; 5. cleanliness; 6. knowledge of domestic affairs; 7. good temper; 8. beauty.

So Cobbett wants a personality-less woman who, in his own words, can maintain a house so well that he can come and go without a single worry.

And because this book is supposed to be advice for young women as well:

Young women may take my word for it, that a constantly clean board, well cooked victuals, a house in order, and a cheerful fire, will do more in preserving a husband’s heart, than all the ‘accomplishments,’ taught in all the ‘establishments‘ in the world.

Now, I would love to be a modern feminist and say that Cobbett is wrong, but you know, I think he’s completely right in his advice to women. I think every guy wants to come home to a good meal, kick his feet up and relax.

What do you think?

What Makes a Happy Marriage? Lust, Laughter and Loyalty

I came across an article on the BBC by Adam Gopnik called “Is there a secret to a happy marriage?” and naturally I was curious. Now, I’m not married, but I think you can substitute “marriage” with “relationship” and the advice would still hold.

Gopnik starts off by saying that “Anyone who tells you their rules for a happy marriage doesn’t have one. There’s a truth universally acknowledged, or one that ought to be anyway.” But while reading Charles Darwin’s list of pros and cons on the idea of marriage, Gopnick thought about his own years of married life and came to a formula for a happy marriage.

You can find an excellent summary of Darwin’s thought process on Brain Pickings, but some of his reasons against marriage were:

  1. Limited Means. Feel duty to work for money.
  2. Freedom to go where one liked.
  3. Travel. Europe, yes? America????
  4. Not forced to visit relatives, & to bend in every trifle.
  5. Anxiety & responsibility.

His reasons for marriage included:

  1. Children.
  2. Constant companion, (& friend in old age) who will feel interested in one.
  3. Charms of music & female chit-chat.
  4. Object to be beloved & played with.
  5. Better than a dog anyhow.
  6. Home & someone to take care of house.

Clearly Darwin was clear on his priorities, particularly on how a wife is better than a dog. In the end, he decided to indeed marry his cousin Emma Wedgewood, and as Gopnik writes, they had a great marriage. “As he lay dying in 1882, the distinguished scientist, who had irrevocably altered the consciousness of the world, and knew it, said simply: ‘My love, my precious love.'”

After considering marriage, Gopnick says:

Marriages are made of lust, laughter and loyalty – but the three have to be kept in constant passage, transitively, back and forth, so that as one subsides for a time, the others rise….The trick is that marriage is played upon a tilted field, and everything flows downhill towards loyalty.

Sweethearts

Lust and laughter need no explanation. You have to physically want your partner, be attracted to them. And you should enjoy your time with them. They need to be someone you can laugh with, even during the bad moments.

Loyalty is the interesting element. Gopnik says, “Marriages from which lust fled decades ago, and laughter became hollow back in the 1990s, but which continue to run on loyalty alone….Loyalty alone can sustain a marriage, but not happily, and not for long.” Loyalty is the absolute necessity that no marriage can do with out, but it is not sufficient for a happy marriage.

Several people commented on this article, and one noted the absence of love in Gopnik’s happy marriage formula. However, I think that romantic love is strongly implied. What differentiate my feelings for my significant other from friends, family, acquaintances and strangers are that all three elements are present: lust, laughter and loyalty. I am loyal to my friends and family and have a lot of good times, but clearly there is the absence of lust (as there very well should be where family is concerned!). I can have a lot of laughs with, and possibly even lust for, acquaintances and strangers I just met, but I would be lying if I said I felt any loyalty to them. My boyfriend is the only person I can say I have lust for, laugh with and am loyal to, and coincidentally, I’d also say I love him.

So…while Gopnick doesn’t specifically mention love as the secret to a happy marriage, I think it has a strong presence in his equation. What do you think?

African Pygmy Hedgehog(LOVE this! And I want! )