Relationships Spotlight

How Our Cultural Backgrounds Shape Our Perception of Love

Two women - one dressed in traditional Indian clothing, second one posing in a checked dress - neither smiles
Photos by Dollar Gill and Mahrael Boutros on Unsplash

Written by Niladri Singh Rajput

Graphic* by Maja Metera

If there is a common thread that holds most living beings together, then that thread is this feeling we call love. It has for generations governed the world, our believes and all of the people. The ways in which we show love is different for each one of us. We are great lovers, all of us, each one for somebody and (hopefully) always for ourselves.

The ways in which we perceive things are greatly affected by the people and things that surround us. In India, love is an exceptionally apparent part of society. So much so that most people don’t even find it necessary to discuss things related to love and relationships. As a country that holds a history that spans over millenniums, India has sheltered a plethora of different people, ones that believe different things, follow different religions, speak different languages and through the centuries, it has retained most of the memories of its past through culture, art and films.

Romanticism as a literary theory has inspired and continues to inspire generations of writers both in India and around the world. But the notions of love held by romantics are up for contention, at least by the woke children of the twenty-first century – us. A romantic is someone who gives their all to the one they love; their love is the end-all and be-all of their beings. They feed off each other and they adorn this love with intimate sexual encounters, a very important aspect for romantics. When two bodies physically combine, their union is the testimony of the love they hold or so they believed.

In a similar vein, the increase in the sale of romantic novels like Mills and Boons in the West during the 1930s and the increasing rate of porn in the East in the last few years are both stark and clear cues for the want and desire for escapism and if we take that a notch higher, for love, both of which can sometimes be mistaken as the same things.

Family and love have been the very foundations of Indian society. Most things we do, we do for one another or so we’d like to think. But over the centuries we have moved from joint families to nuclear ones, with fluent English but an unsteady mother-tongue, what a shame. Indian films with their increasing popularity each year, have inspired what love should feel, look and sound like for generations. While films seem to be changing, breaking away from stereotypical displays of the ‘good’ wife and girlfriend, bringing about women-centric films that quite literally attack traditional Indian society (trying to cover for all these millennia), it is still the first of a 100 steps that India has to take just to be able to love freely.

The idea of same-sex marriage is one that is still a very difficult concept to grasp for most of the older generations of Indians. Just like polygamy, abortion or marital rape is something they cannot wrap their heads around. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise, not only because most Indian myths are made up of multiple powerful joint families that fight each other but because everything from films through books to music, before Gen-Z could start typing, only pushed that generation of Indians towards the ‘ideal’ of a happy, domestic life. A closer look into this is almost like opening a can of worms.

Since the belief of an ideal married life, a husband and children, a woman that has an undying love for her family is what our mothers and grandmothers were taught, that is what they passed on to us. With millennials and Gen-Z coming of age and the exponential growth of media and communication around the world, Western ideas of love and life began to mingle with the East in ways we have never known before. It is these virtues of Western romanticism that align very closely to the views of the ‘traditional Indian wife,’ her everlasting love and loyalty, alongside her obvious ability to make perfectly round rotis.

To students of Literature, Media and Communications these ideas may sound familiar but to an Indian woman that has never stepped out of her village, a village that doesn’t necessarily receive water and electricity 24/7, these are foreign notions that don’t exist. Yet, this Indian woman will comply, stand by her husband through all adversity because that is what she saw her mother do, that is what she was taught and so, she will stand by him, through the good, the bad and the ugly. Love, an undying, unflinching, unquestionable amount of love for the man she stands ‘behind’, gets married to. Similar notions also govern wedding vows in the West ‘through sickness and in health’, they say, ‘till death do us apart’.

Yet 50% of all marriages in America end up in divorces and only 1% of Indian marriages fall out. Why is that? It probably is because even though there is this invisible thread that holds us, the East and the West and all the world together, the love we have, the love we share and the perceptions that help us sustain it are all carved by the individual experiences and surroundings that we are part of.

Wise to mention, that a higher number of successful marriages isn’t an indication of a happy married life just like a higher number of divorces doesn’t mean there are a whole lot of unhappy, unloved Americans. Frankly, it’s love and there’s no rulebook to it, writers have tried for ages to grasp the true meaning of love (and mortality). As difficult as it may be to fully explain the concept in words, it isn’t a foreigner in the spectrum of human feelings. We’re hardwired for it and obviously, figuring it out is difficult, most things in this realm are but hold on to your experiences and let them guide you through rose-tinted glasses when you find yourself falling in love (again).

*graphic made with use of the photos which do not belong to Quench Magazine or any parties involved. Photos of the persons on the graphic come from the following:

Photo by Mahrael Boutros on Unsplash

Photo by Dollar Gill on Unsplash