I can feel my heart steadily palpitating and my breath shortening when I see the paper calendar plastered on my desk showing how little time I have left before Rara leaves me for Wellington to continue her studies, a city that I once called home for 2 years and still actually do. Knowing that I’ll be apart from Rara for at least ten excruciating months is damning. There is somewhat of a heightened degree of fear and nervousness compared to the feelings I felt when I myself left her for Wellington a couple of years ago. Even if at that time, I just had recently lost my father.
Why does it seem, as I age, I have more fear of the world? Have I realised, how nefarious the world can be? And to face it by one self is unfavourable? Does it simply go back to the idea of “safety in numbers”?
And will I, acknowledging all this, while I wait to see Rara again, be strangled by separation and perhaps loneliness? “Death to you torn by loneliness” Chairil Anwar once wrote in a poem titled Sia-sia or Useless.
I wonder if this is love? Or at least a part of love, the other face of love. This fear and longing.
If it is indeed so, how painful love actually is, even if to give a clear definition of love is far from easy, yet the significance of this emotion called love on the mind and heart is then a curse for many. And yet it is an issue that is not new to me or any of us.
When I look back at 2015, perhaps the one matter that I have truly struggled to understand, thought of the most and written the most in my black little diary is the matter of love and everything that follows with it.
There is no other issue that continually pervades and harasses my mind on a daily basis other than this thing called love. It’s not merely a question of what love is and try to define the intricacies and perhaps the limitations of love, if any, but it has more so to do with how do you love? Blindly? Intelligently? With fervor and passion? With calmness and silence?
How do you love in a world that pushes you to heighten your ego? Where the self is constantly seen as the center of the universe? That everything else outside the self is often of less importance than the desires of one self? Where do I go from here?
Should love be particular? Or universal? How do you love and maintain what little love you have in yourself when everything & everyone around you constantly tugs on the hateful part of our minds? From our scornful, self-centered lovers to our sometimes anachronistic, irrational parents to our bigoted society and to be a bit political, to our often paranoid fear-mongering government that will every now and then take the irrational steps to please the uneducated many.
How then, not only knowing all this but also understanding all this, how do we love?
Or is this a question of unimportance in a society where the only thing that we have left as a society is the value of usefulness towards each other? A very practical utilitarian view. People that are deemed useless for a society is seen as an unnecessary burdening individual. People are insisted to be upgraded or self-upgrade to the specifications and expectations of society or forever be relegated to the far marginalized end of the social caste spectrum.
Surely there is something more to love than the ideas instilled by lovey dovey Hollywood movies and relationship magazines.
Is our desire to love, to be loved, to have love, nothing more than an instinctual response to fearing that we can at any day, anytime, become nothing? Evoking an existential fear in a world where not only to become something is important but to become something great is the pinnacle of our personal achievements.
I have tried to personally educate myself on love especially the months before my wedding back in September of 2015. Where this issue of love and relationships became a constant issue that me and Rara conversed deliberately on. We are supposedly in love with one another and to talk about our love for one another from a more logical viewpoint rather than just simply emotional seems reasonable.
Both of us have become close witnesses of broken homes and distraught marriages yet ‘forced’ to be with each other for the sake of their children or any other justifiable means. And although we have learned much from them we can never be sure that we will not repeat what we have seen, heard and felt. I understand that I write this during our honeymoon phase, where our ‘love hormones’ are supposedly still high. Thus happiness between us is still easily attainable and workable.
We, however, understand that as it dwindles we must find a way or a reason to be together, hopefully more so than mere unconscious, unrelenting attachment towards each other. This is one of the reasons why I personally pushed to talk more on love with Rara as well as how we define our relationship with each other. Has it worked to help us diminish any quarrels? Perhaps, but what seems to be more important is the fact that we have learned more about each other especially our fears, angers, and sadness. Emotions that can be quite confusing for the person suffering it and the person witnessing it. Is it not the neglected and suppressed fears, angers, sadness which is what destroys relationships?
I have friends whom naively think that marriage will solve their relationship issues that they have. Further more, if it is not solved by marriage then perhaps having a child will solve whatever quarrels among them. My experience in seeing those who just recently got married and those who have been married for many years shows that marriage doesn’t guarantee anything beautiful and joyful. We would only like to think so. It does nonetheless guarantee a culturally appropriate reason to maintain something unhealthy and broken. Understanding this, my marriage with Rara has not become the pinnacle of our relationship and thus the epitome of a happy, healthy relationship. Shouldn’t the happiness of a relationship go beyond the label of marriage? If a relationship is deeply superficial, is marriage then a beginning or an end of ourselves?
People don’t seem to understand we can denounce our commitment to each other even if we have 18 carats of solid gold wrapped beautifully around our little brown fingers. The legality of our marriage doesn’t make it harder for any of us to be deceitful towards each other. Not even the possible shame and angered family mobs that we may experience even if we were to be liars towards one another.
I wonder if me and Rara have changed after our wedding? I don’t think much have changed, other than we are it seems more considerate (at least I would like to hope so) of our individual plans so that it will intertwine with one another and not have it grow apart. The dynamics of the relationship has altered little, the power relations between us have remained neutral and stable. Basically she has her own stuff going on and I have my own stuff going on.
I guess when it comes to change it is the people around us that have changed their attitudes towards us. Especially when we mention that due to legality, cultural and religious issues we got married in Singapore, as inter-religious marriage is technically forbidden by Indonesia and to choose to not have a religion it seems is forbidden as well. This of course is another issue that I can write at length on.
And I wonder why marriages fail? Of course due to a variety of reasons. Yet what’s lost during the course of marriage that was present in the beginning? Romantic love of course is lost without doubt, but to hold on to mere love is reckless as like any other emotion love is impermanent. It oscillates wildly dependent on a variety of factors sometimes external sometimes internal, including trust, sometimes it comes and goes, sometimes it just goes and never comes back.
I’m still new with this marriage thing but I guess from what I have experienced so far in me and Rara’s ever-evolving relationship is understood by one thing. And that is, whatever is said and done in our relationship, how we define our relationship, how we understand it, is very much dependent on our very own relationship with ourselves.
Our relationship with each other is but a manifestation of how we understand ourselves. An inquiry to ‘us’ needs as much of an inquiry into ‘me’. Can we be understood when we cannot understand what we want to be understood?
It seems from what I have experienced through out almost my 30 years of living, is the more broken we are and the more unwilling we are to fix ourselves will eventually spill over to how we relate to one another. A broken relationship seems to indicate (while of course avoiding generalizations) a broken self. The amount of toxicity that we have towards each other depends on how toxic we are towards ourselves.
And jumping to the Indonesian culture a bit on this, the many outrageously ostentatious Indonesian weddings are quite toxic to begin with does not help us understand how much we or society has poisoned our views on relationships. Especially in regards to the issue of simplicity, an idea in an age of constant instagram comparison paired with familial duties and the desire to maintain our cultural heritage can have middle-income families spend in excess of Rp. 350.000.000 ($30.000) and invite at least 1000 people. Surely the money can be spent on something much more useful for the new couple. It infuriates me to even think about this so I’ll just quote Rara on this, “That what is simple and intimate is what gives meaning.”
Yet I guess it makes sense in a very communal society such as Indonesia. Where the need to maintain our connection with the community, in hopes of achieving some kind of return of investment (to use a business term) in any form, there needs to be of course an investment at first. The money spent at weddings is more of a social investment in order to maintain connections in a very tight social fabric.
But aside from this I’m still curious on what infatuates us Indonesians the most with marriage? What compels many Indonesians to marry even when monetary and psychological readiness is far from our minds? Is it truly love that we want? Are we so easily blinded by the temporary romanticism of love that we brave ourselves to gamble in marriage for the sake of quenching our desire for lasting love with our lives at stake? But then what brings about this seemingly unshakable confidence for marriage?
Is it perhaps the inevitable ticking clock that presents us with the possibility of forever being alone?
Not only is it our desire to marry as soon as we have the legal and biological chance that I question but I find it extremely nauseating when I look back and see that even my own wedding has been hijacked by needless grandeur. The simplicity of love (or what I have been led to believe what love is suppose to be like) has been diminished from the beginning. It has in many ways, albeit its cultural justifications, become a celebration of superficiality at its finest.
People seem to not only shy away from the simple but to condemn it as well. Marriage has become a transactional socio-economic endeavor. The pinnacle of actualizing a commitment towards one another has exploded into a manifestation of our desire to increase our economic capital and heighten of our social capital, i.e. our social standing or social decorum. Perhaps it is this that I truthfully and deeply dislike, how many Indonesian weddings are painstakingly tailored to exhibit the extent of our economic and social capital. It is far from the romantic allure that supposedly governs people to get married in the first place.
The purpose of our wedding or perhaps even many Indonesian wedding is to show others of our successes and excesses hence crystallizing our place in the social hierarchy and to maintain a tradition that is blatantly pandering itself to ostentatious beginnings. Have we become, due to our highly capitalistic society, too complex in our desires?
But is the desire for marriage merely seen as the prerequisite to fulfill the desire for a family? I don’t have a prime personal example of what being a good family means. Not my personal family or perhaps even extended. I have examples of particular human beings that have beautiful personal traits but oddly they were unable to translate it within a familial relationship.
It is because of this reason I question much on starting my own family. I fear that a beautiful beginning would end in a nightmarish disaster or even worst, staying together bound by nothing more than tolerance of each other and the fear of the possibility of destroying the happiness of their offspring. Surely there is another way of pursuing a relationship, pursuing life.
Truth be told I am unhappy of how many of my older and younger friends have maintained or even started their family. Even the very definition of family is troubling as it can only start with a trio, the couple and a baby. Anything less than that seems unfit to be called a family, as if they are limping their way to happiness.
You know even after all this questioning I can wholeheartedly say I still don’t know exactly know what love is. Once you start questioning the imposed definitions, be it visual or literal, it easily crumbles into nothingness. It reminds me of a quote given to me through an email of good friend “A thing can only be explained by something subtler than itself and the most subtle is love. So tell me, how do you explain love?” -Summun, a 9th century Sufi wandering around Baghdad.
I do know though love needs hard daily work. Not only when those special yearly beautiful anniversaries come dropping by and we choose to celebrate it in the most romantic way but are still at each others throats the following morning. The everydayness of love is what counts, that is what needs to be maintained. From spending time together as to engage in similar experiences, to the willingness to be open to one another much like a good friend, to just simply talking while watching a thousand stars lit up like Christmas lights. So I guess love is about friendship? Friendship but with benefits?
Friends with raunchy and of course caring benefits?
Although come to think of it, just going back a bit on nothingness before, perhaps maybe love is nothing. I understand that ‘nothing’ seems to indicate negativity but when perceived from a more objective angle is actually quite liberating. To love and be loved because of nothing dissolves expectations.
And is it not expectations that often lead us to disappointments?
One of my favourite Indonesian writer Pramoedya Ananta Toer lamented on love in his lovely book ‘Child of All Nations’. Seeing through love’s romantic ideals and grapples on the wickedness that hides beneath love he writes, “And also love, much like everything else, has a shadow. And the shadow of love is called suffering. Nothing is devoid of a shadow except light itself…”
To love is to suffer yes we all understand this but surely there is a much healthier, intelligent way to love than what we have now, as suffering is also a choice. A hard choice to let go for many, including me, but nonetheless it is a choice.
Now that’s something I can attest to.