I thought I knew what love was. I had been disappointed by it, enthralled by it, willing to risk and change and give my life for it.
I arrived in Nepal as a heartbroken twenty-nine year old. I was convinced love had slipped through my hands, that if I had behaved better or dressed better or spoke better, my heart wouldn’t have splintered and I could have salvaged whatever connection remained. I lost myself to that relationship. I lost myself to men before him and lost myself to men after him.
I was so, so wrong.
Love isn’t an all-consuming fire. It is a slow burn, a match that can be lit and lit again.
The strongest bonds I have seen in Nepal — love marriages, arranged marriages—are enveloped by an interconnected network. Family, friends, even the community at large, participate. A relationship is not the isolated partnership I was familiar with; co-habituation in a fifth story apartment with calendared date nights and testy conversations before subway rides in opposite directions. In Nepal, a larger circle is involved, a community consulted during times of disagreement and considerable life choices.
Love is neither insular nor dependent.
A woman will leave her house and move into her husband’s home to join his family. Often, her spouse will accept work in a different city or another country altogether. His absence does not mark the end-all to the relationship. These women show up. They are active and participate in their communities and befriend neighbors and make time to enjoy tea. Their husbands phone to ask if they have eaten, but the mobile is placed down and life is resumed once the call ends.
Love is not understanding someone else but understanding yourself. It is the realization that there are situations beyond your control, that life seldom goes according to plan and it is your responsibility to remain committed day in and day out, to do your best and help people around you. Trying to change anything — injustice, society, communities, other people— is worthless if you have your own shadows to confront.
With trust comes freedom. Freedom to say no, to be separate from your partner, to live your life and set your own goals.
Love holds secrets.
Love is silent about the affair because you know it will cause harm and what good will it do? You love him; he loves you, forget the past and build your future. She will tell him him how handsome he looks, he will call her butterfly. Smiles will be exchanged in crowded markets. Messages will be typed late into the night.
It is for us, not for them.
Love doesn’t require public affection or grandiose gesture; recognition is present, a deep knowing that you are mine and I am yours and we are the most important ones in this arrangement. You are good enough, you will not lose yourself, you can walk your own path and do not have to be afraid to fail.
Love denies itself because it is forbidden. There will be another man, another woman. You will set aside your own desires for the reputation of your family and good standing within the community.
Love is the pause before the rebuke, the thoughtful answer, laughter illuminated by candlelight when there is no electricity.
Love carries pain.
Watching your lover leave to earn and send money home. Waking at 4:00AM to till fields and prepare food before your children’s schooling. The parents who uproot and start a new life and leave their daughter behind because the chances of getting a permanent visa are higher and she can follow later, when she is older, when her future is guaranteed.
Lacerating words will be spoken. Actions (or inactions) will disappoint. You will be betrayed. But love shines light into forests of hardship and perseveres through earthquakes and strikes, petrol shortages and money crises. Love accepts that some days are full throttle, one-hundred-and-ten percent while other days the tank sits empty and it takes everything in you to sweep the floor. That after an argument over water bills and tuition fees and whether to buy land or build a house, you sit together and share rice because that is what you do, eat meals together every night by the fire.
During festival season, swings are built from pieces of bamboo. Several people work together to set up these temporary playgrounds. Stalks are placed carefully and matched in perfect arches so that rope can be tied to hold the weight of children and adults of all ages. If one branch bends more than the other, the swing is a disaster —the contraption doesn’t stand, or worse yet, someone is injured.
It takes two people to bend, to fold towards each other while remaining fixed on the ground. They are tied in the sky so they do not fall.
They are never alone.