How Can You Look For Love When You Don’t Know What It Looks Like?


“It’s okay though, because he didn’t love me.” My friend had just gone through a breakup. It was Epic Female Bonding Time.

“He didn’t love me,” she repeated. “Like, when it’s right, we’ll just know. We just need to find a guy that makes us happy in all the ways that matter, so that even if to someone else it appears imperfect, we know that deep down this is the right person for us. Being with them will feel like home. You’ll feel safe, relaxed, and you’ll never get sick of them. You’ll fight, but know that it’s out of love and that you’ll resolve it and be stronger.”

I sat there and wondered about where he was, this elusive person who would be my home. It was then that I started sighing in resignation. I didn’t dare to disagree with her then, fearing that I’d come across as (God forbid) a cynic — dark, hopeless, a destroyer of dreams. The truth is that I don’t know actually what love is, let alone whether or not it’ll feel like home. I don’t know if anyone can ever permanently make us feel happy in all the ways that matter, because half the time we don’t even know what makes ourselves happy (we think we do, but human beings are notoriously bad at predicting this sort of thing). I don’t know if there’s even such a thing as a soul mate, or if, in all of our lives, there can only be one. I don’t know if all fights will result in love being stronger, though I am positive that one day I’ll fight with him for the singular reason that we are sick of each other.

Looking back I admit that I, too, have once been a believer of the notion of “extraordinary love”. Nobody describes this better than the beloved Carrie Bradshaw, who like all of us, was “looking for love.” And not just any kind of love, mind you. REAL LOVE. “Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love.”

When I was 18, this quote epitomized my life and all erratic decisions about men (boys?) that followed. I was not going to settle, not for the mundane conversations nor average looks nor lack of drama. I was young, unscarred, and able. The most improbable was also the most romantic, and therefore deemed the most worthwhile. I loved carelessly, and thought I knew the truth about it all.

Now that I’m older, I realize just how insane it had been to put myself through that kind of torture. What Carrie described wasn’t the love that stays strong through time, but romantic love. Some see it as a social construct that only came into existence in recent history of the Western civilization. Others think it’s just like a mental disease, which isn’t too far from the truth — the feeling of “falling in love” releases dopamine, to activate only a tiny portion of your brain that also responds to ingestion of cocaine. We’ve all been there — the sweaty palms, the beating heart, and the general nervousness are all a result of your brain being stimulated by chemicals associated with reward and pleasure.

Nobody can stay high on romantic love all the time. If you’re lucky, the passionate relationship would eventually shift gear, and be cultivated into something more. Some call this “martial love”, alternatively known as the romance of the mundane. Unlike romantic love, this kind of love is based off of respect, acceptance, compromised, and managed expectations.

For me, the latter is now all I want with someone. Time spent together, shared experiences, deeper bonds. When people start labeling things as “love”, we tread into a dangerous zone where we let our emotions dictate a fundamentally rational decision-making process (i.e. assessing whether or not someone has the potential to share with us the romance of the mundane). Even if we don’t intend to “fall in love”, when we get sentimental about it too fast, we overthink the situation and do it anyway, but unfortunately only with the notion of it and perhaps even parts of ourselves — very rarely do we fall in love this way with the with the person we’re actually with. Along the way we inadvertently miss important signs, red flags indicating that our relationships had been, in fact, doomed from the start.

So I’m not looking for love anymore, because I don’t know what it looks like. I’m convinced that if I do actively look for love, I’ll mistaken a lot of things for love because I desperate want all of it to be love. I’m certain that love has such depth and elusiveness that it would still take me time to recognize it even if it’s been in front of me all along. Instead, give me the opportunity to know you, to accept you, to respect you, because at the end of the day, it’s all that I can ask of myself.

image – Bhumika Bhatia