The Everlasting Beauty of a Brief Romance

Love and Sex

The Everlasting Beauty of a Brief Romance

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Pop culture has many of us believe in the dreamlike design of an accidental meet. The template is like a linear equation with two variables: Stranger-meets-stranger + Stranger-likes-stranger = Strangers-live-happily-ever-after. Poetically speaking, the dreamlike design takes shape when two strangers meet in some faraway, breathtaking cultural landscape through some dazzling stroke of luck. There is schmoozing and gambolling in a bar over cheap alcohol, and some highly revelatory talks that expand to a magical soul-baring of the individuals. There are sly smiles, minor flirtations, conversational oddities that melt into a collective sense of camaraderie, a strong mutual attraction which hurtles from the whimsical to solemn.

It helps if the strangers are hot and attractive, but mostly, if they have words – just words at their disposal to seduce each other – what follows next is a car crash of romantic delusions about the freshly formed relationship. And with it, the moral dilemma of commitment. Can you forge a new relationship when you are already in one? Can a new love be presented before you that is greater than the one you have? Can the strangers give each other, and in the process, themselves, a new beginning?

But most importantly, can the “connection” survive the brutal test of time?

Jesse and Celine grow on each other as they stroll through the streets of Vienna in Before Sunrise. They stop by at a museum, a church, a park, a club  – talking about their childhood, their parents, feminism, sex, spirituality  –  and discover they understand each other. The initial spark of their connection is all-consuming. They ponder over the purpose of love and their existence in this superficial and transient universe. Yet, they hope their connection will help them cling to the ultimate shipwreck of life. Similarly, in Before We Go, Nick and Brooke develop a mutually intriguing connection over a night of scrounging, playing the trumpet, exploring travel options, and just, well, walking and talking. Both the films are a testament to the rarity of a “true connection”.

With that, the rare “connection” we had developed over the short time, deserted me too.

But seriously, as beautiful as this “true connection” thing is, what is the possibility, in the real world, of two exceptionally ordinary people stumbling upon each other and realising that they are what the other needs? What are the odds of people bumping into each other and “clicking” after uttering some philosophical mumbo jumbo, moving forward with their relationship, and then living a happily ever after?

A lot – and then none at all.

At my previous workplace, I met a person who turned out to be like an oasis in time I will probably remember for the rest of my life. He was almost three years younger to me, was intelligent, curious, and believed in publicly voicing his outrage toward people, which would ultimately compel them to boycott him. He would talk of things that would blow a ruthless jab in the gut, and he clearly wasn’t very likable. But we got along.

We never ate or drank together, nor did we talk for long hours over the phone after work. Our conversations would mostly happen in between work breaks  –  and would be an effort in making sense of things that left us baffled and annoyed, in seeking answers to questions our parents and friends had made no efforts to address. In the process, I not only ended up discovering him, but myself too. And for the first time, I felt like I could put my ideas to test, and most importantly, give voice and words to them.

But then, I deserted the organisation, and moved to a different environment, to a different bunch of people. With that, the rare “connection” we had developed over the short time, deserted me too.

I mulled over the ephemerality of the relationship on several occasions, before I realised it was okay that I did not put any romantic projections on it. I realised that had we kept our conversations going, we would have only failed, miserably, in pulling them off under two different realities that we were now a part of. It was better that way, you know. We would have eventually started hating each other’s mannerisms; I would have started hating the way he spoke about sex and God every time while drubbing the pretentiousness of pseudo-intellectuals. He would have begun to hate the cold shoulder I gave to his overzealousness. Because eventually, our connection was doomed to go the same way as all other relationships – romantic or non-romantic – do: It would be relegated to a sideshow of our mutual displeasure reeking of monotony and estrangement.

So even when we did promise each other that we would keep in touch, we didn’t. Maybe I was better off keeping what little I had of him in its most unblemished form, than corrupting my conception of him through the smokescreen of the alternate reality which I had to suck up at the other end.

There is a beauty in letting short engagements remain short.

An essay titled “The Underrated Beauty of the Micro-Romance”, quotes Rachel Sussman, author of The Breakup Bible, “There’s something really nice about weekend romances or travel romances. It’s forcing you to stay in the moment.” I too had stayed in the moment with my young colleague.

Sometimes we form these inexplicable relationships that last for only a speck in time and then they dissolve. It happened again seven months ago, when I was on a four-day official trip to Vadodara in Gujarat. I fell for exactly three people  –  a man 10 years older to me, a woman probably twice my age, and another woman who felt like the elder sister I never had –  in a variety of ways. There was a similar parade of natural intimacy, 1 am walks and talks, coffee, silly pranks and games, and spiritual whataboutery through the waft of cigarette smoke.

Toward the end of the trip, we made the usual promise that we would meet each other real soon. I was so smitten by them, that I felt it would be grossly unjust to not catch up again, real soon. But real soon never came, and we never met.

However, I haven’t really regretted not meeting them again. Even now I realise I can make the time and space to meet with them in a different city, under totally different circumstances and preoccupations, but I probably won’t. It will remain one of those beautiful accidental connections that don’t seep into our sordid real lives.

I used to think of accidental connections as a deceptively simple concept in the guise of a grand scheme of life-changing events. But I soon realised that they aren’t. They are, at best, idealistic dreams that cannot be a party to the realities of life. After all, Brooke knew that she could not leave her husband hanging precariously on the edge of abandonment while she happily sang and danced with Nick in a frozen tableau of wonder. Celine and Jesse, in 1995, perfectly knew that they would eventually disappoint each other if they continued, as they did 18 years later, in 2013, in Before Midnight.

That is probably why Celine and Jesse’s conversations incessantly, and inevitably, swung back to the things and feelings that were destined to disintegrate and collapse. Love, connection, the kindred spirit – or whatever you want to call it  –  were among them too. In one of their conversations, the two twenty-somethings dangle in between the possibility of a future together, only to decide against it.

“It’s not bad it is our only night, right? People exchange numbers, addresses. They end up writing once, calling each other twice.”

“Right. Fizzles out… Yeah, I don’t want that. I hate that.”

“I hate that too.”

I have always hated that too.