Romeo and Juliet, Laila-Majnu, Heer-Ranjha, and their latter day counterparts have tended to meet with great societal opposition. The cliché of two lovers walking hand-in-hand into the sunset seems appropriate, for it is frequently darkness thereafter. While the common belief is that “all the world loves a lover”, in practice, they are, more often than not, ‘hated.’
The strong romantic bond between two lovers appears to weaken the relationship the couple has with others. This is perhaps because lovers are far too absorbed in their own selves, and so appear to be indifferent to those around them. Psychologist Eric Fromm, the author of The Art of Loving, calls this symbiotic narcissism — an egoisme a deux — after the 18th century Swiss-French writer, Madame de Staël who said, “Love is a selfishness of two.” A couple engrossed romantically in each other may truly feel no love for anybody else, seeing others as obstacles in their mutual self-absorption. Little wonder, then, that the world reciprocates their feelings and ‘hates’ them.
In India, romance as a basis for marriage was more the exception than the rule. Even today, it is the choice of a minority, as convention still largely prevails. Indian smriti describes eight types of marriage. The quality of offspring and their mental makeup is predicted to be a direct reflection of the nature of their parents’ union. Gandharva Vivaha, or romantic marriage based on desire, is just third from the bottom of the list, just below Asura Vivaha where the bride is purchased from her parents, and yet, is above Rakshasa and Pisacha Vivaha, that involve kidnapping the bride or stupefying her into cohabitation with intoxicants or narcotics.
In her book, Love will Follow: Why Marriage is Burning in Urban India, psychologist and marriage counsellor Shaifali Sandhya indicates that the structure of the traditional Indian family has tended to discourage romantic intimacy and bonding between lovers, subordinating their ‘lesser’ relationship to the more important, overarching relationship between the groom and his larger family, particularly his mother. Thus, romance and intimacy that developed between the couple remained an intensely private experience, even as they externally conformed to the compulsions of society and family.
Undoubtedly, symbiotic narcissism is a developmental advance over the narcissism of one. But it cannot be the evolutionary culmination of the endeavour to unlock the core of natural love that is the essence of our being. In its purest essence, love is a universal emotion that is indiscriminate and all-encompassing. If it is authentic, love for an individual must necessarily awaken love for all, even as its immoderate expression is constrained by social norms and its implication for the existing long-term committed relationships
In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna states that He is erotic love that is within the confines of religious principle or Dharma. On Valentine’s Day, ignoring the commercial hype, it could be instructive to reflect on the point that the martyr, St Valentine, was renowned not for encouraging romantic or frivolous liaisons, but for risking his life to unite couples in dharmic marriages.