Like any intense experience, when love goes wrong, it can be profoundly disturbing.

Paeans have been sung to it. Epics have been written about it. Classic cinema is replete with it. Most people feel it, in some form or the other, at some time or the other, for someone or the other. The emotion of love, which is better experienced than described (unless you're a poet or an artist), is something that most of us have or have had a more than nodding acquaintance with. It is an emotion that is not only much longed for, but also much feared, because many of us feel it may swallow us up completely and make us do strange things, that in our rational moments we might never even consider doing. We don't wholly understand this whole business of love despite the said paeans, epic books and classic cinema.

The good news is that even though we may do strange things when we are in ‘romantic' love with somebody and experience as much pain as exaltation, over a period of time, this ‘insane' love turns into a more abiding and enduring, nurturing love. Which is why love has stood the test of time and, even today, most of us do feel the need to love and be loved romantically. For, love, aside of being just emotionally uplifting, can also be a transcendental experience. But, since it's a very intense emotion, sadly, it also has the potential to sometimes go awry. Fortunately this is rare, but when it does happen, it can range from being a dissatisfying encounter to a nightmarish one.

Essential element

Although love is a selfish emotion in that people fall in love to experience the joy and rapture of being in love, reciprocity is an important part of the love experience. It's not enough being crazy about somebody. You want that somebody to be as crazy about you. So, what happens when the object of your love doesn't feel the same way about you? You could feel rejected, go through a period of dejection and bounce back after a few months, ready to fall in love with someone else again. This is what happens to most of us. Some of us, unfortunately, slip into a deepish sort of depression, from which recovery is much more prolonged. A small proportion of us may experience a phenomenon called ‘limerence' that may or may not lead to obsessive love.

Described in 1977 by psychologist Dorothy Tenov, limerence refers to an overwhelming and even obsessive need to have one's romantic feelings reciprocated by the person whom we have developed such strong feelings for. It can happen to both single and married people. When we get into a state of limerence, we are needy, desperate, insecure, and do crazy things to attract the attention of the ones we are in love with. We may obsess about them and even end up stalking them, call them constantly, hack into their email accounts and so forth, just to get an idea of what the person feels for us, even if the person has demonstrated that our love for them is reciprocated. And inevitably when the object of our obsessive love feels smothered by our intensity, our obsessive behaviour and our clinginess and pushes us away, we are devastated, angry, enraged and even vengeful. Some rejected obsessive lovers may post nasty messages or compromising pictures on the Internet and ensure that any potential marital alliances are called off and so forth. And in the worst case scenario, assault, grievous or fatal, may also take place.

Obsessive love should not be confused with possessiveness (which is usually in evidence in the initial stage of falling in love but disappears soon after) or the Othello syndrome (where one has a delusion that the one we love is being unfaithful to us even though there is no reasonable basis for this). The latter is a clinical condition requiring medical intervention. But to ensure that we don't fall a victim to obsessive love, we must work hard on modulating the feeling of possessiveness we feel for the one we love and be alert to signs of the same in our partner. It's not a bad idea to escalate matters to others in the social network if the possessiveness quotient is becoming difficult to manage, rather than wait for matters to get out of hand.

Not an immediate problem

Fortunately, full-blown obsessive love is still not a major problem in our country, but given the fact that we are emerging from emotional suppression to social liberalisation, and we are still learning the rules of love, some prudence may be advisable. Many Indian parents are terrified that their children will fall ‘in love' one day or another, which is why they assiduously guard their single children from responding to any undue attention paid to them by one of their peers. More often than not, their children fall in love anyway. But their love doesn't have to go awry, if they can, after the first flush of love, step back a bit and not allow the emotion to carry them into dangerous spaces. ‘Loving wisely, but not too well' may not make a Shakespearean epic but may actually increase the likelihood of sustained happiness.

Email the writer: vijay.nagaswami@gmail.com

Keywords: love lifeloveemotions