As someone who steers clear of romantic love, I seldom write love stories to avoid sounding like a fraud. Writing this series has therefore been a learning experience, both in the art of collaborations and writing love stories. The process was easy because Timi called the shots, setting the premise and plot points, while I simply reacted to the elements of the story she threw up from the conversations. This also freed me to focus more on the personality of the characters than the plot points, because if left to my whims, all love stories would end as tragedies.
In writing the series, I tried to pose questions to myself and find answers in the conversations of the characters. What hope does a guy who isn’t assertive have in a relationship? How do men talk about the things they are accused of avoiding in conversation? Readers’ responses to the characters’ conversations were illuminating, showing how we gauge romantic relationships we observe close-up. No question was as instructive for me as this: at what point, and because of what traits, do we declare someone unworthy of another’s love?
Love, like a drug high, pushes people to act in ways that appear insane to outside observers, but carry a fierce internal logic to the people in love—the ones shooting up. So, when we proclaim that an observed trait in someone renders them unlovable, it sometimes turns out that that very trait is the reason their lover has chosen them. The more we criticize their lover, the less sense we make, and the more they are disposed to ignoring us.
In spite of the insulation by romance that the above suggests, couples rarely escape the influence of the times they live in, including their cultures and upbringing. We are products of our interaction with other humans, whether we acknowledge their influence or not.
Without discounting personal responsibility, you and I are more culpable in the actions of people we berate than we think. In the series, a twenty-nine-year-old man contemplates dating a thirty-five-year-old woman and confides in his friend, his worries about her fertility. What would have happened if his friend responded by telling the story of his aunt who married at forty and now agonizes over not having a child or having a baby with down syndrome, which made her husband marry a second wife?
In the past year, I’ve fielded more questions from friends and family about my romantic life than the two decades before it. Why are you not in a relationship? Is something wrong? Ife, are you keeping her way from us? I often tell people I don’t have time to think about these questions, but whom am I kidding? I cannibalized some of my experiences from answering questions like these in drafting the dialogues.
We should stop blaming fairy tales and Hollywood for love fantasies being absent of reason, or people doing stupid things in the name of love. That is how all lovers look to people like me who are too scared to be enchanted by it. It is not reasonable for the Beauty to love the Beast, but she does, and we root for them. Jack should have stayed away from Rose, but he didn’t and the Titanic sank.
A character from the movie Hellboy said, “You like people for their qualities, but love them for their defects.” And while I think this is the loophole that serial killers exploit to find lovers, it’s also the premise of our greatest love stories: Tristan and Isolde, Romeo and Juliet, Ifemelu and Obinze, and so on.
Stories, when done right, should make us more empathetic, more open to possibilities in the human experience that are outside our imagination. So, perhaps we should reassess the conditions we set for finding people desirable and worthy of love. Not just when the potential lovers are ours, but when they are of people close to us, too. This isn’t a call to remove all relationship standards, but only that these standards—be they age, class, or temperament—be filtered through lenses coloured with kindness. After all, a wise man once said, the law was made for man, and not man for the law.
I still believe fairy-tale endings are an exception in this fly-catching business, but I’m all for lives suffused with kindness that give way to love.
©Ife Nihinlola 2016 @ IfeOluwa’s Rambles
©Timi Yeseibo 2016
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