It took me way too long to realise that I, too, was allowed to love. That I, too, was worthy of it.
By Srishti Pandey
Illustrations by Jyotsna Ramesh
I remember lunch break one day in grade eight, when my friends and I were randomly discussing the latest rom-coms. One of them suddenly confessed her feelings for a guy, and we got all excited and giggly. And that led to talking about crushes and love by everyone in the group. Turn by turn, they talked about their type, their expectations, and even shared their experiences. It got me thinking about my recent and first-ever crush! I felt shy but couldn’t wait to let them know about him! However, when it came to my turn, they didn’t even consider me. When I urged my friends to listen to my story and my thoughts on love, they simply laughed it off. And I distinctly remember one of my supposedly close friends even saying, “Tu kya karegi pyaar-vyaar karke?” Not one friend that day stood up for me. Perhaps they assumed either I wasn’t capable of loving someone or wasn’t capable of getting loved by others. It made me feel so small and unimportant.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised by what my friends did that day. As someone with a disability, I was conditioned to believe for a very, very long time that love and disability could never go together. I was told from the beginning that love and/or marriage would never be an option for me, that finding someone who’d actually love me was a distant dream.
Every time I would dare to dream about love, there would always be someone who’d crush my dream just like that. Random aunties would come to my mom and ask her “Aage jaa kar iski shaadi me toh kitni dikkat ayegi na aap logo ko?” (“Getting her married would be so difficult for you people, right?”) The funny thing is, they would never show concern for real issues like educational institutions not being accessible or the high chance that I would not be able to continue school or get a job. Because marriage, of course, is the only important thing in a woman’s life!
My friends in eighth grade were so focused on my disability that they forgot I also had crushes just like any other teenager – that I also daydreamed about my crush talking to me, and even asking me out on a date, just like it happens in the movies. Whenever my friends would start talking about their love lives – their first date, first relationship, first kiss – I would get excited. I would sit and listen to them with so much enthusiasm, with the hope of going on a date, having a real relationship, having my own first kiss! When my friends got into relationships, everyone else would congratulate them, everyone would be so happy for them! They would celebrate. On the other hand, when I would just mention the name of my crush (leave alone dating or falling in love!) everyone would start telling me things like how “unsafe” it was for me to be in a relationship or how someone would only be with me out of “pity”.
Pity. A lack of safety. Exploitation. This is how society introduced love to me. And so I learned and accepted it as well, not realising that none of it was true.
“What if someone actually dates me just out of pity?”
“What if they use me and then throw me away?”
“Will I be able to handle heartbreak?
“What if they are right? Maybe they are right.”
These thoughts would take over my mind every time I would think of going on a date, and I would drop the idea of dating immediately.
People would share quotes, poems and stories about how love can happen anywhere, anytime with anyone. But the same people would tell me how there were a few “exceptions”. I didn’t know who and what to believe. I didn’t know what the correct definition of love was. I didn’t know who “deserved” love and who didn’t. How could I know all this? After all, love wasn’t made for me – that was the conclusion I had internalised.
I often listen to music while travelling and recently, I came across this song: “In dino, dil mera, mujhse hai keh raha, tu khwaab sajaa, tu jee le zara. Hai tujhe bhi ijazat, karle tu bhi mohabbat…” (My heart these days tells me to dream and to live more. It tells me that I, too, have the right to love) And, it got me thinking because it reminded me of the struggle of breaking out of the shell of stereotypes that society had built around me. It took me way too long to realise that I, too, was allowed to love. That I, too, was worthy of it.
Love. They say it’s the most beautiful feeling in the world. That there’s nothing like your first crush, first touch, first kiss, falling in love, falling out of it and falling in again. Isn’t getting a text back from your crush the sweetest feeling ever? And getting to know that they like you back is, well, magical! Oh and your friends calling you by your crush’s name is the cutest tease ever, no? This is what I wanted for myself, no matter what other people said.
I wanted to break away from this confusion and I realised the only way to do that was to unlearn whatever I had learned. It took a lot of time and effort to do that, but it wasn’t impossible. I had to break the shell, layer by layer. So I kept dreaming and hoping and I started the practice of questioning this received wisdom each time. People would tell me that love is uncertain, but I’d think to myself, isn’t it the same for everyone else, regardless of disability? They’d tell me that there would be heartbreak and chaos, but does love bring only joy, to everyone, always? I introspected more often and interacted more with people with and without disabilities and came to the realisation that there has never been any standard definition of love, and there never will be one. There isn’t any specific group of people worthy of love, everyone is. Everyone has their fair chance to fall in love and fall out of it. I am pretty bad at math but, if I can understand that you and I both have an equal probability of falling in love, you can too.
Of course, having disabilities comes with a few extra considerations. But every relationship comes with certain expectations and adjustments, no?
We have been conditioned for ages to believe that people with disabilities are incapable in almost all aspects of their life. Breaking this conditioning is difficult. It gets worse when you’re a woman with a disability, because you are targeted with double prejudice. How can you fall in love? Who will fall in love with you? You are a woman and you are disabled. You are not supposed to love.
When love doesn’t mind, who are we to care? Let’s stop defining and redefining love. Let’s stop making exceptions and targeting certain groups. Let’s stop making rules for falling in and out of love. Love is love. Let love be love.
Srishti Pandey is 20, female, and studying psychology from LSR. She loves exploring so much that one can find her rolling around the city almost any day, any time.