Thiruvananthapuram: ‘26, Female, Thiruvananthapuram’ – that profile came as a surprise for Jai. When he opened the dating site that day, US-based Jai had not expected to see a woman from his hometown there. “What’s the story here?” he asked her. “The usual, I am looking to date someone,” she said. Jai thought she might have lived outside Kerala, because this was so unusual. “Even now, dating online is 10,000 men to one woman,” Jai says, three years after that first date in Kerala. Wikipedia would tell you Valentine’s Day first became associated with romantic love in the 14th century and several stories of its origins in connection with St Valentine came to exist.
It came to the colleges of Kerala much later, somewhere in the 1990s when Archies shops opened at special corners of cities and greeting cards full of red hearts came with long mushy words of love. Men bought the cards and red roses bound in plastic to propose. But that was not to ask a girl out, it was to tell her he loved her, and possibly spend the rest of their lives together. Nearly three decades later, love is still the first step in a relationship, not the last. “In my time, we’d buy an Amul chocolate to give it to a girl we liked. There was the Woodlands hotel and the Caravan ice cream parlour to take a girl. But we never used the terms dating or seeing someone,” says filmmaker Rajeev Ravi who has come out with some strong love stories through his films like Annayum Rasoolum and Njan Steve Lopez.
“It’s when I spent time with the kids in Njan Steve Lopez I have seen their ways and I understood they are more open. They are so exposed to everything that they’d know all that their parents wouldn’t want them to. I think there is nothing wrong in boys and girls going out, getting to know each other. One just needs to be careful about it.” He remembers the days he was a student of the Maharaja’s College when girls and boys talked to each other freely. Something like the recent incident of the principal allegedly moral policing girls who talked to the boys in their class would not have happened back then. His hope for change, he says, is in the women. “In that way, it is getting worse,” says writer Jaishree Misra who lives by the Veli Beach and would sometimes see young couples coming to spend some time by the sea. And then sadly watch them being shooed away by local people or the police.
“It is a difficult time for young couples in Kerala. I have been to a park in Delhi the other day and saw so many couples together, sitting freely, and I was thinking, we don’t have a space like that in Kerala,” she says. There are spaces – like a beach or a café or a park or a museum. What is not there is freedom. Not even with each other, if you go beyond the moral policing episodes and look at the horrible incidents of spurned lovers turning violent towards the women they had professed to love. “You need life skills to be in a relationship – to be able to give space, to be empathetic, to respect and trust and mutually encourage each other to grow. When that is missing, you become dependent in an unhealthy way, and this is what leads to all the violent reactions we have seen,” says psychologist Dr C.J. John. Another problem the doctor suggests is the misinterpretation of signals, when a girl may appear friendly and caring and the boy assumes too soon it’s love. “It is a feeling of insecurity that leads them to such conclusions. And when the girl clears the air, says it is just friendship, he feels hurt.”
This is exactly the kind of scenario that could be avoided with a concept like dating. As opposed to many misconceptions, it is simply an act of getting to know someone you like. If it works, it grows, it becomes love and perhaps much later, marriage. Love is the final stage and not the first. The fancy filmy love-at-first-sight and then a happy marriage falls on your lap as a fantasy that ended too soon when real life begins. Knowing the one you took a fancy to, knowing that what you have for them is love takes time. So, give it time.