“The art of losing isn’t hard to master;Elizabeth Bishop
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.
These lines from one of my favourite poems bring to my mind the failing relationships and the bonds I have lost over the years. These are losses that have left a profound impact on my emotional constitution and can never be reversed. We, as a species, have evolved to survive in tribes. We need a sense of belonging to an extent that social isolation causes in us a similar primal pain like the one that arises from hunger, thirst and physical harm (Loneliness: Human Nature and the Need for Social Connection, John Cacioppo)
While we are constantly connected to a number of people through virtual networks in the present times, the feeling of isolation and loneliness has only heightened. We are facing an epidemic of failing relationships. There’s no secret formula to make a relationship work but it has become increasingly difficult to maintain them. My parents recently celebrated their 40th marriage anniversary while my longest relationship hasn’t even crossed four years, which made me dig deeper into the factors that are causing relationships to die a premature death.
My parents’ generation didn’t have cell-phones and the internet. They were denied gratification or received delayed gratification at best. There were special occasions to buy new clothes; toys and chocolates were reserved for the achievements; and they had to earn their play time after completing homework and lending a helping hand with the chores. My parents were married when they were young. They grew up together, messed up their lives and figured it out together. Or maybe they never figured it out. But dissolving their relationship was never an option for them. They worked on solidifying it. They didn’t give up when they saw each other’s worst sides.
They stuck together through the darkest of times. Life and relationships to them was never a multiple choice examination – either they had the answer or they didn’t.
Au contraire, we are a generation of instant gratification. We have the world at our fingertips. We get it all easy – jobs, money, love, sex, freedom. We aren’t as closely bound like the previous generations. We have less or negligible social constraints and we form relationships easily as well as move out of them seamlessly. We have Tinder, Happn, eHarmony and a multitude of other platforms where we can instantly find opportunities. We don’t have the time and patience to invest in something as fragile as a bond of love. In fact, we are averse to the word love. If we tell someone we love them ‘too soon’, we are clingy. If we say we want love, we are needy. We are ambitious. We millennials take pride in casual sex and non-committed relationships. We want relationships to be ‘casual’. Casual involvement is a mere transaction, not a relationship. A relationship is a bond that is nurtured and strengthened over years with love, patience, trust and acceptance.
The difference in the previous and modern day rate of failing relationships is that people earlier sought satisfaction in their relationships, not outside them; and they were significantly invested in the relationship. We are now over-stimulated and engaged in multiple pursuits at the same time. We are never satisfied with what we have and we are relentlessly searching for something or someone else. When we don’t slow down to forge a deeper connection with our own reality and selves, how can we do that with another human being? We don’t like to be vulnerable, and to love is to be vulnerable. So, we hop on from one excitement to next in order to escape ourselves. We like to swim on the surface, for we are afraid of diving in. What we are truly afraid of is us. We don’t want to look within.
We don’t know what we may discover when we turn inwards. We feel the other isn’t good enough – he is overly ambitious or she is too demanding. But do we truly know what we seek? To know what we want or seek, we have to know ourselves. We have to take that difficult inner journey. I spent almost a decade in escaping my own reality. I buried my demons so deep that I never had to face them. But after the sad demise of a long-term relationship, I wasn’t left with any other option than to search for the answers on my own. I looked for them all around – in other people, in meaningless associations and in solo travels. I couldn’t find any, until the day I embarked on a journey within. I peeled away the layers of conditioning, I faced my demons and I began searching my own truth. While my search still continues, I do know myself better. I do not indulge in mindless casual encounters and meaningless pursuits anymore. Because I now know what I seek.
We have immense freedom at our disposal as compared to the previous generations. But we don’t know what to do with it. We misunderstand our lack of discipline and integrity for freedom. We abuse it because we have it in abundance. We need to realize that forging deeper connections doesn’t mean losing out on freedom or on other better options. We ought to learn to unplug from the noise surrounding us and listen to the little voice in us. If we can enhance the degree of our consciousness by being more aware of our being, we will be able to improve the quality of our lives. When two self-aware individuals invest in each other and de-prioritize alternatives, they complement each other and build a fulfilling relationship. Satisfying relationships further enable us to lead productive and purpose-driven lives.