“All you need is love, love, love…Love is all you need.”
“In all things, we learn only from those we love.”
~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“Love is friendship set to music.”
Western society focuses a wealth of attention on finding and keeping romantic love as illustrated in songs, movies and media. But is this narrow perspective creating a culture of emotional anorexia?
Creating a loving partnership with another person is a vital part of our existence. According to The Kama Sutra, erotic desire is an ambition in life along with virtuous living and attaining material wealth, and it can be a pathway to the goal of liberation or moksha – with the right technique.
But with rampant divorce rates and scores of unhappy couples, the search for love doesn’t necessarily end with finding a significant other. When we fixate on our romantic partners, we can ignore vital sources of affection and bonding. Relying on anyone else for our happiness dooms us to misery. But it’s also important to realize that tasking our significant others with being our sole source of emotional support strains the relationship and cannot be sustained.
Indians have at least 10 words for love in the Hindi and Urdu languages, and some are reserved for love of a child (sneh) and a mother’s love (mamta). But there are so many forms of this powerful force beyond even our children to encompass brothers and sisters of the heart, mentors, role models, and Higher Power.
Why is it then that our platonic relationships take a back seat? As the age-old question of whether men and women can be just friends shows, society is uncomfortable with these connections. Have you ever experienced a close platonic relationship with a member of the opposite sex only to have it be ridiculed or misunderstood? Freud believed that we are driven unconsciously by our sex drive and the need for pleasure. But thankfully modern psychologists have expanded upon this view to offer a more holistic view of human sexuality as the capacity to love. What makes us truly uncomfortable is being emotionally vulnerable to another, to show our genuine selves without protective barriers.
We can hide more easily in a sexual union than we can in a platonic relationship. Sex can become a mask from behind which we can avoid actual intimacy. The reason nearly all modern Bollywood movies still don’t show the hero and heroine kissing is to depict the sensuous development of love. The building of the bond rather than the physical coupling is more important.
Even the physical closeness of living with someone or sharing the day-to-day details of life can give the illusion of a bond. Peppering someone with information doesn’t mean you’re sharing how you feel or what you really think. Nor does spending time with friends in activity without discussion or genuine sharing.
Developing cherished, nonsexual relationships can teach us how to love without the façade so that sex becomes a sacred part of the intimate bond between a couple. Without romance or sex as a possibility, it could be easier to be vulnerable and let our true selves out to connect with someone. And that also enables us to construct a dynamic we’re in dire need of building. We’re a society of broken families and we need a variety of loving relationships to be fully nourished.
When we do not address the unspoken needs of our hearts for parental and sibling affection, this yearning can get merged with our search for the ultimate romance.
The most sacred relationship in the Hindu pantheon is that of Radha and Krisna, the two often misunderstood beloveds. Krisna, whose birthday we celebrated last week, is the Love God of Hinduism whose expression of joy eradicates pain. This avatar of Vishnu lures gopis away from their husbands with the sweet sounds of his flute. Radha is the most radiant of all the cowherd girls and becomes devoted to Krisna above all else in life. She is the purest Bhakta or devotee, willing to sacrifice everything to worship God.
Krisna is so moved by Radha’s devotion that he becomes entranced by her. Yet he still communes with other gopis and Radha becomes jealous. She does not believe he loves her because of his relationship with other devotees, and her pain at being separated from him is palpable. She is even jealous of his flute, though she is immediately willing to drink scalding hot milk on Krisna’s alleged request. She does not suffer, however, because Krisna has taken the heat sores into his own mouth to save her. Krisna is rarely worshipped without Radha by his side, and she has become a Goddess herself.
But both Krisna and Radha are married to others until their reunion at the end. Hinduism is not advocating adultery! Rather than our understanding of a couple, the actual relationship between Radha and Krisna is the personification of our need to be singularly beloved by God without formal reverence. Radha is the soul yearning to reunite with the Source, and Krisna is the Creator embracing the embodiment of his true power, his shakti. Their illicit love affair is an illustration of the most intimate relationship that can exist because there is no barrier between ourselves and the Divine. It is impossible to be hidden by masks in the light of unconditional love.
We feel most connected to the Divine through our relationships with other human beings. The story of Radha and Krisna has become a romance in our attempt to understand this kind of love. By building a family of choice that includes a romantic partner, we give ourselves the emotional sustenance we need to live an enriching life.