The other day, I got on Grindr. Yes, Grindr, not Tinder. No, I’m not a gay man. Yes, I know Grindr is for gay men. But, I really wanted to know what happens in a romantic space reserved for men and just as expected, I found that the way romance unfolds in the gay community is very different from how it happens in the straight community. For starters, you aren’t required to match with anyone. Everyone is fair game.

In apps that cater to people looking for heterosexual relationships, the design is meant to protect the interests of women, who are reported to use such apps lesser than men. But men, in a digital place that isn’t meant for women, relate very differently to each other. Profile pictures are mostly graphic, making the environment very sexually charged. A gay friend had once explained to me how, in homosexual relationships, it’s customary to hook up on the first date and then explore other facets of the equation to see where it could go. Basically, when women are excluded from an equation, so is the need for chastity.

This was reiterated when another friend explained how, in lesbian relationships, sex is the last stop, following lots of conversations and compatibility tests. When segmented by sexuality and gender, it sure does seem like everyone does a different dance with romance.

Love is complicated. No one can refute that. But our gender, our learned gender roles, social expectations of our gender identities, our emotional complexities, our sexualities and everything that comes in-between makes romance that much more difficult to understand. While in heterosexual relationships, we are able to articulate this difficulty by just saying we don’t understand the other gender, the same isn’t possible in same-sex relationships.

Love is love no matter how different one love feels from another. It could be kind and patient, heady and intoxicating, long and turbulent, sudden and unexpected, or… I don’t know. I haven’t seen love in all its avatars, and I don’t think I will in one life time, so it isn’t possible for me to figure out love for all it can be through my lived reality.

But, I’ve understood that often times, to love another demands effort, and to love oneself when the other leaves, even more so. Because through relationships, what we truly seek is not just the glow of romance, but the residual emotional support, a sense of belonging and social companionship.

My greatest understanding of love and longing came from my interactions with the transgender community, when while investigating the high incidence of suicide amongst transwomen (men who transition to women), I was given many first-hand accounts of their problematic romantic relationships with men, which cause them great mental strain. B’s narrative was particularly revealing. Her intoxicating and cloying relationship, which spanned over 11years, was instrumental in her decision to physically transition, as she believed this would please her man. But B’s lover eventually left her to marry a woman — to please his family and to bear him children.

When I met a transwoman who had refrained from romance her whole life, I was curious to know her reasons. Her response was poignant. She said, “As a community, we grow up yearning for love and acceptance. We run away from family and friends who know us as men, so that we can live and be accepted as women. So when a man validates us and gives us affection, we don’t know how to limit ourselves. Which is why when we fall in love, the fall is usually fatal.”

Her response made me realise that to love another without limits or conditions is not necessarily virtuous. It is pretty reckless. Because, no matter how and who we love, every relationship we nurture involves parts of ourselves, which we change, mould and lose to please another. But we are all we truly have.

Sometimes, in our pursuit of others, we forget that we are our longest relationship, our truest companion, our most epic love story. Sometimes, we forget to love ourselves while we love another. In those times, we feel the greatest pain, because there is no greater loss than the loss of self love.

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