Thursday, August 20, 2009
Practically in Love
Suddenly the long-distance relationship (with relationship being loosely defined) is everywhere I turn. More than one Friend is anticipating entering into them – reluctantly. At least one has happily jumped into a long distance ‘flying-for-dates-but-not-dating’ romantic situation (see previous parenthetic caveat). Others have negotiated the sometimes treacherous terrain of an LDR to reach a happy destination – just with someone different from who they started with…or alone. Still others, including certain occasional bloggers that shall remain unnamed, are in long-distance limbo. Like I said, the long distance relationship is everywhere.
Even the Hindi film industry – not famous for its deft handling of nuance in relationships of any kind – is insisting on talking intelligently about them in the context of modern relationships (or the subset of LDRs that involve the globalized South Asian). I’m talking, of course, of You’ve got SMS with a Punjabi Ringtone or as the film-makers insisted on calling it, Love Aaj Kal. (At least half a percent point in the unemployment rate, by the way, is because of hundreds of love-note-carrying carrier pigeons being laid off from that vital job in Bollywood in LAK’s aftermath). LAK proved that when it comes to romancing on screen, texting is just as dull and tiresome as sending emails…especially when compared to the cinematic potential of the avian alternative. You can after all show – to great effect –brave pigeons flying a gauntlet of predatory hawks and eagles. Viruses attacking an email as it makes its way through an undersea router or AT&T’s patchy network failing to deliver a critical SMS simply doesn’t have the same sense of drama.
But if you can get past the LAK’s dismaying break from cinema’s hallowed tradition of exploiting fauna, the film captures really well, the impact modern social and economic trends may be having on long-distance relationships: Increasing the number of such relationships while at the same time decreasing the rate at which they succeed.
Two inexorable and related trends, I believe, are driving the increasing number of LDRs. The magnitude of inter-continental distances in everywoman’s perception is shrinking while global opportunities available to the 20/30 something college-educated (South Asians included) expand. The first throws people together (virtually or physically) while the latter can move them physically apart (or if they’re already virtual and very lucky; together). More and more people are finding themselves in situations where the calling of their mind takes them in a different direction from the passion of their heart – ergo the ubiquity of LDRs.
Then there’s the creeping, seeping sense that can come with age – that even if there is only one true soul-mate for each person; there are potentially multiple people who can come pretty close. That even if you give a potential soul-mate a go-bye because of relationship teething troubles, there’s still a pretty good chance of ending up happy. That there’s not just one Mr. Right out there but a potential horde of Almost Mr. Rights you can fall almost in love with, in case Mr. Right gets transferred to Billings, Montana. Accessing this group is hardly an issue any more in the age of Facebook and 24/7 chat engines. In a simpler, less globalized, less connected world, even if the number of Almost Mr. Rights was similarly high, one didn’t really have easy access to them. With fewer options, people would, I think try extra hard to make even an arduous LDR work.
But, the number of Almost Mr./Ms. Rights per capita have also increased – mainly because a soul-mate’s job description is less demanding than ever before. The Walmart model of looking to fulfill one’s physical, emotional, mental, and any and all other types of needs from just one person is in rapid decline. As a New York Times’ article reported, city-dwelling 30-somethings have embraced the Crate-and-Barrel model instead – they surround themselves with multiple friends, each of who satisfy one critical need. There’s the Economist and NYT reading All-Things-Politics Pal; there’s Sailing Sarah with her handy boat whenever you need to indulge your adventure loving self and of course the Bar-Hopping Buddy for a weekend’s night out. So pretty much all that a (almost) soul-mate needs to do is whisper the right kind of sweet-nothings in your ear, make love well and take out the trash regularly. In any decent sized city full of lovely singletons of all ages, races and sexual orientations, there are probably dozens of people who could make the cut for any person. Every night of the week – instead of 4 times a year. Hence fewer and fewer people feel the drive to make, or live up to the “Ain’t No Mountain High Enough” kind of promises.
I recently met this attractive, interesting guy who moved into the city a few months back and who seems to have some kind of LDR karma. He told me, with tears in his eyes, of a guy he’d met just before he moved here; dated for a bit and fallen for really, really hard. And how, recently, another guy visiting from India, had taken his breath away. A third guy he’d met even before the other two and fallen also happened to live across the country from him. However in each case he was quite clear that it made no sense to start or continue the relationship long distance. It wasn’t practical for him – he wanted someone to hold and cuddle every night. And he was sure by November he’d find someone else just as nice as any of the other three.
Someone that he could love - practically - in more ways than one.