Nothing is traditional about love anymore. Here’s the ‘new’ book of love

Updated on Feb 14, 2016 04:23 PM IST

From singles’ clubs and sapiosexuals to gender fluidity and memorable proposals, there’s nothing traditional about love anymore.

(Illustration: Shutterstock)
(Illustration: Shutterstock)

Still think Valentine’s Day is about hearts, red dresses, and candlelight dinners? Time for a little catching up. In the age of Internet, smartphones, hook-up apps, long-distance relationships and sexual experimentation, love has spawned an extended range of interpretations. Here’s our look at 14 modern additions to the book of love. It’s not just about teddy bears and togetherness. Today, it’s about Tinder and threesomes as well.

1. Swipe right for love:

Imagine if the protagonists in Sooraj Barjatya’s films decided to hook up through a dating app instead of meeting in the presence of maaji, babuji and buaji. Even a decade ago, the idea of going on a date with someone you hadn’t met before was frowned upon, considered taboo even.

((Illustration: Shutterstock))
((Illustration: Shutterstock))

Today, it’s totally legitimate. The smartphone revolution brought in dating apps, offering instant hope for weary singles. When Tinder was launched three years ago, we discovered the empowering ability to find like-minded matches by simply swiping right. Linked to the user’s Facebook, Tinder helps us choose partners around our location, based on bios, mutual friends and the most popular make-or-break factor – the profile picture. Lately though, Tinder’s reputation as a hook-up (rather than dating) app precedes it.

A slew of other similar apps have followed suit and Indians seem to be hooked. A study revealed that most users are aged between 18 and 34. While TrulyMadly’s enhanced safety settings ensure that a user’s profile becomes visible only if they’re talking to the person they choose, Woo lets you pick people based on shared interests. The choices and possibilities are greater than ever.

2. Friends with benefits

A few years ago, a TV spot for a watch brand featured a young girl, clad in a white bedsheet, waking up with a start and sneaking out of a boys’ hostel, with an impish grin. The ad went viral, resonating with young Indians, who didn’t find the idea of casual encounters too outlandish. Indians are no longer averse to sharing their beds, but not their hearts, with someone. You get to fulfil a basic need, even be great friends with the person, and avoid labels.

Internationally, films like No Strings Attached (2011) and Friends with Benefits (2011) explored the concept. Closer home, Homi Adajania’s Cocktail (2012) featured Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone getting together because of their sexual chemistry. While most films end with the protagonists falling for each other, in real life it doesn’t have to. As Karl Lagerfeld famously said, “I don’t like sleeping with people I really love.”

3. New sexual preferences

Back in the day, men grunted, provided and drank away their feelings. Women bred, cried and looked pretty. Then things changed. The ’90s gave us a new term: metrosexual, to describe men who embraced pink, visited salons and generally believed in being well-groomed. Then came the idea of the lumbersexual, in an attempt to reclaim masculinity. Lumbersexuals wore boots, flannel shirts, sported bushy beards, rough hands and unkempt hair and looked like they’d just returned from the mountains – so what if they’d never swung an axe in their lives?

Over the past couple of years, we’ve identified newer, popular terms, like the sapiosexual, one who finds intelligence sexually attractive. A sapiosexual doesn’t care much for physical appearance but wants his/her mind to be ‘seduced’. The Internet is full of interpretations of the term and, these days, when it comes to Benedict Cumberbatch, everyone’s a sapiosexual. Then there’s the demisexual, a person who only feels sexually attracted to a person they have an emotional bond with, which could very well be what traditional notions of arranged marriages in India have been about.

4. Rollin with the singles

For many professionally successful, well-read and well-travelled Indians, wary of online dating and whose social circles have become saturated, meeting someone interesting at a wine tasting or a sailing session is a winning idea. And it is something that singles’ clubs facilitate with marked ease.

Over the last few years, networks like Floh, and Footloose No More have sprouted across the country. Vastly different from how traditional matrimonial meetings are set up, these clubs get singles together at interactive events like book discussions, salsa classes and barbecue cook-outs to help members find like-minded partners. There’s an elaborate screening process to weed out the ones who are not serious about love. Floh, for instance, handpicks the users who register by conducting an in-depth telephonic screening. Footloose No More is specific about their intent and clarify that they’re not “a hobby group” for singles.

A World Alike, another singles’ network, sees elites bonding at sundowner parties, beer pong tournaments and even road trips to cantonment areas for tank rides. If you’re free this Friday night, your match might be just a fancy party away.

5. Loving differently

Love now looks beyond hetero, homo and bi. Gender fluidity came into popular imagination last year, and is used to refer to a gender that fluctuates over time. A person may feel like a boy on some days, a girl on others, or even a combination of both. A gender-fluid person can love a man, woman or other genders at different points in their life and is not considered to be ‘experimenting’.

Internationally, Cara Delevigne has championed the movement. Even Facebook has expanded its list of gender terms, while dating site OKCupid’s list of options includes agender, androgynous, bigender, genderfluid, genderqueer and more.

The music world is filled with artists who reject compartmentalised ideas of gender. In June, Miley Cyrus declared that she doesn’t “relate to what people would say defines a girl or a boy” and set up a foundation in aid of people who don’t ascribe to defined gender norms. Will Smith’s 17-year-old son, Jaden Smith, who wore a dress to his high-school prom, frequently makes appearances in skirts and advocates gender fluidity.

Deadpool, which released in the US this week, features a superhero who is pansexual, a person attracted to another regardless of sex or gender. “He can be gay one minute, hetero the next, etc. ALL ARE VALID,” explains series co-creator, Fabian Nicieza on Twitter. Gender fluidity stands up for love, in all its forms.

6. Love’s new lingo

In an episode introducing audiences to hip terms that are popular with the youth, host Ellen Degeneres defined as “Webster’s dictionary if Webster was a drunk girl”. Last year’s big term was ‘Netflix & Chill’, a euphemism for hooking up under the guise of watching your favourite TV show.

((Illustration: Shutterstock))
((Illustration: Shutterstock))

Then there’s bae, originally an acronym for Before Anyone Else, but which also refers to baby. Anyone special in your life is your bae, including that slice of pizza. And if you’re active on Instagram, it would be hard to get past all those comments with #relationshipgoals. The hashtag is mostly used by teenage girls to refer to something perfect or the relationships they aspire to, like Calvin Harris and Taylor Swift or Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively.

7. Sext appeal

First, there was phone sex. Now, there’s sexting, a combination of sex plus texting. With smartphones and the convenience of instant chat platforms, sending sexually suggestive messages and pictures to your partners is no longer confined to horny teenagers.

A study revealed that nearly 33 per cent people between the ages of 18 and 29 have sexted at some point. Hollywood teems with scandals on the subject and recent films prove that art has imitated life. Addicted To Sexting (2015), a film by Jospeh Tosconi, delves into the rise and spread of the social phenomenon, while Sexting in Suburbia (2012) depicts the mayhem that ensues when a high-school girl’s video diary goes viral.

Sexting is fraught with risks of over-sharing, as digital footprints last forever. In 2014, the iCloud accounts of celebrities like Jennifer Lawrence were hacked, and the private pictures circulated on social media. In many countries, sexting is also a criminal offence.

8. What’s your story?

When it comes to proposals, going down on one knee and wooing with wine and flowers don’t cut it anymore. Having a ‘proposal to remember’ is the new ‘how we met’. Open your Facebook during wedding season and you’ll see scores of pictures and videos of the moment it all happened – flying the lover to another city, proposing at the Taj Mahal or the Eiffel Tower, planning an elaborate treasure hunt, performing in a flash mob, (one more video with Bruno Mars playing in the background and we’ll gag!), or even roping in your friends to help with popping the question.

Last year, an Arizona-based man made a proposal video for his girlfriend over 365 days, holding a whiteboard on each day asking her to marry him, while he did routine activities like brushing his teeth and doing laundry. Top that.

9. Festival escapades

Music festivals are no longer reserved for enthusiasts or hipsters seeking an audience. Today, many of them stretch over several days, providing the perfect setting to find love or to just hook up. There’s plenty of alcohol, your favourite bands, tents and a general sense of loss of time. At an edition of NH7 Weekender a few years ago, the former vocalist of a metal band proposed to his girlfriend in the midst of her favourite band’s set, going down on one knee.

((Illustration: Shutterstock))
((Illustration: Shutterstock))

For the sapiosexuals, there are also literary festivals, quickly growing as potential meeting places, where love is often found while sipping wine and exchanging glances during your favourite author’s session.

10. Bridging the gap

The term ‘long distance’ once spelled doom for relationships. Today, distance is all in the mind. FaceTime, Snapchat, Skype and a host of other apps keep you in touch with your lover wherever you are. Snapchat allows you to send pictures (even risqué ones) that promptly get deleted, which works in favour of both the users. In addition, you can caption your selfies so they know how much you miss them. While FaceTime is a free video-chat service, there are other ways to keep the spark alive. The Avocado app is like a relationship calendar, through which you can send pictures, hugs, and reminders of Skype dates.

((Illustration: Shutterstock))
((Illustration: Shutterstock))

If you’re missing them too much, there are apps that create playful shared experiences. The ThumbKiss feature in the Couple app allows partners to place their thumb on the same part of their phone screens, which then vibrate when a connection is made. And if that was not enough, the Apple Watch enables you to send your heartbeat to your lover. Talk about a heart-to-heart connection! In the 2014 Spanish-American film 10,000 Km, the protagonists make use of modern technology (Skype) to keep the spark alive.

11. Tweet and meet

In the last two decades, there’s been a revolution in the way we find love and where. With so many social media platforms, all you need to employ is brevity, wit and a sense of humour to get someone’s attention. Last month, Anuj Patel and Sumita Dalmia, an Indian-origin couple in the US, who met on Twitter, sealed their relationship when Patel popped the question after organising a Twitter treasure hunt. When Dalmia arrived at the final location, he was waiting with a printed version of the final tweet: “Will You Marry Me?” Falling in love over 140 characters never seemed more romantic.

Facebook kickstarted cricketer Shikhar Dhawan’s love story, when he impulsively sent Ayesha Mukherjee a friend request after spotting her on Harbhajan Singh’s friend list. They were engaged and married soon after. More recently, an Indian girl eloped to Pakistan to wed a boy she met on Facebook. If you can’t find love in real life, social media’s got your back.

12. Bedtime stories

In India, a person’s sexual history used to be seen as scandalous. Today, for many, having no history is worse. We’re ready to challenge social convention, experiment and choose their bedside preferences. Sex before marriage is no longer taboo, and in fact, a major deciding factor in most modern relationships. Promiscuity comes with its consequences (especially medically), so there’s no shame in asking for tests to ensure that your lover is free from disease.

((Illustration: Shutterstock))
((Illustration: Shutterstock))

The phenomenon has slowly made its way to Bollywood too, with films like Shuddh Desi Romance (2013) exploring subjects like live-in relationships and pre-marital sex in smaller cities. In 2009, before UTV released their critically-acclaimed film, Udaan, the producers conducted a nationwide survey to gauge what urban teens were thinking. Ninety per cent revealed that they were okay with pre-marital sex. If you’re a Chetan Bhagat fan, you’d know that the theme makes an appearance in almost all of his work.

13. The wedding deadline

This one is straight out of rom-coms and sitcoms, where friends promise each other that they will get together if none of them is married by a certain age. Rachel and Phoebe made one with Ross and Joey respectively in Friends as did Julia Roberts and Dermot Mulroney in My Best Friend’s Wedding (1997) even though they didn’t eventually get married.

After the famous How I Met Your Mother episode, where Ted asks Robin to be his ‘back-up wife’ and the duo get together in the series finale, Urban Dictionary actually defined the arrangement as ‘The Ted & Robin Pact’. So if you’re terrified of ending up alone by the time you’re 40, making The Ted & Robin Pact with the best friend isn’t so unreasonable.

14. After the knot

Who says the excitement has to dry up after the honeymoon is over? First, there’s the babymoon, a vacation that the couple takes before the baby is born so mummy and daddy can spend some quality time together. Shilpa Shetty and Raj Kundra took off for Switzerland when she was expecting their son, Vivaan. Even royals need a breather. Prince William took Kate Middelton for a babymoon to the Caribbean island of Mustique before George was born.

And when the baby comes, celebrate with a ‘push present’. That’s the term used to describe the gifts given to new mums by their partners in appreciation for the process of childbirth. Diamond jewellery, spa vouchers, and exotic vacations are popular push presents. Ajay Devgn gifted Kajol a Mercedes after their daughter, Nysa, was born. Sanjay Dutt reciprocated the birth of his twins by presenting Manyata with a Rolls Royce.

All the terminology, technology and loveology won’t help if the spark is gone. And if it doesn’t, there’s a new way to cope. Divorce parties are the new way to usher the beginning of a new chapter in the lives of each of the spouses. Singer Robin Thicke threw one after his wife Paula Patton filed for divorce. Filmmakers are incorporating it too, as Imtiaz Ali did in Love Aaj Kal (2009), when Saif Ali Khan and Deepika Padukone decide to go their separate ways after a relationship.

Follow @TheCommanist on Twitter

From HT Brunch, February 14, 2016

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    Shikha Kumar is a features writer, whose primary interests include books, feminism, gender studies, and pop culture. She’s always up for discussions on Urban Dictionary, Lena Dunham’s brand of feminism and the potato wedges-french fries conflict.

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