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The anatomy of a lover’s sulk: Life Hacks by Charles Assisi

Sulking is thought of as a silly but the truth is, it should be celebrated. We only sulk with those that we trust will neither abandon nor stop loving us.

ht weekend Updated: Jun 15, 2019 18:21 IST
Charles Assisi
Charles Assisi
Hindustan Times
A statue by the Norwegian sculptor Gustav Vigeland (1869 – 1943).

In popular imagination, the brief act of courtship is misunderstood as the act of being in love. It is actually the precursor to love. The real act of being in love is when one human chooses to stay invested in another human, over time, even when their hidden flaws show up, after having gone through rituals such as marriage and the traumas of child-rearing.

This ideal love is a romantic notion and is difficult to stay invested in. That is why sulking has an important role to play, even if that does not make itself immediately evident.

The sulk is a very odd emotion that possesses some unique traits. It is a feeling that emerges out of intense anger on the one hand. But on the other, this anger insists it must not be articulated. Above all else, the sulk is an act we humans engage in only with someone we trust will neither abandon nor stop loving us.

This peculiar nature of the sulk lends itself to much philosophical inquiry. In contemporary literature, Alain de Botton, the Swiss-British author and philosopher, has spent much time examining the sulk, most notably in his meditations titled The Course of Love, where he makes a very compelling case for celebrating a lover’s sulk.

Upon close inspection, de Botton explains, the sulker makes no attempt to communicate why or what it is they are angry about. Silence is the sulker’s way of stating that an unspoken grievance must be addressed. The easiest thing for the recipient of a sulk to do is dismiss the silence as petulant behaviour. But that would be a mistake. Because what the sulker really needs is attention and they are asking for it at great risk by staying silent.

de Botton’s meditations on the theme suggest that the only other time we humans were comforted when in silent discomfort was when we were in the womb. That was a time when, even in our silence, we were heard, and efforts were made to alleviate the source of our discomfort. This may have also been the only time we felt completely loved.

When thought of from that perspective, the recipient of any sulk is a very privileged and much-loved creature. The most honorable thing for the recipient to do then is engage with the sulker and do all that is humanly possible to ameliorate the anger, whether it be real or imagined.

It is afternoon now. I have sulked since morning after a minor tiff and have been indulged much since then. Time now to re-engage with the acts of living and loving.

(The writer is co-founder at Founding Fuel & co-author of The Aadhaar Effect)

First Published: Jun 15, 2019 18:21 IST