Forever vs Little Things: A psychological perspective on two contrasting depictions of love and relationships

Hansika Kapoor and Anirudh Tagat

Nov 25, 2018 10:22:56 IST

WARNING: Spoilers ahead

Recently, there were two relationship-oriented web television series that were released. Forever dealt with the idiosyncrasies of a peacefully settled, routinised, American couple (June and Oscar), who after 13 odd years of being together on Earth, find themselves together even in the afterlife. Little Things chronicles the lives of two urban Indian millennials (Kavya and Dhruv) in a relationship of about three years, navigating the hows and whys of adult commitments. The dramatic contrast of how love and relationships were depicted in the two series warranted an article from, of course, a psychological perspective on love.

Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen in Forever. Amazon Prime

Maya Rudolph and Fred Armisen in Forever. Amazon Prime

The Triangular Theory of Love is used to elucidate the highs and lows of romantic relationships across the two series. The theory suggests that the three pillars of love (passion, intimacy, and commitment) combine in various dyads to form types of love. The “ideal couple” exemplifies consummate love, a combination of all three pillars. Romantic love is when passion and intimacy merge, in the absence of any commitment (think: a one-night stand). Fatuous love involves passion and commitment, exemplified in “love at first sight” equations, and companionate love combines intimacy and commitment, characteristic of long-term marriages.

Forever reflects a setting where American baby boomers have grown into middle age and found their happiness and contentment in a stable life together. June and Oscar engage in mundane routines, and in the absence of children, all they have is each other as they grow older. However, they try to find ways to keep things interesting even when most of life’s adventures seem to have passed them by, something that does not sit well with June but doesn’t bother Oscar very much. Many scenes are sprinkled with long silences, surreal non-sequiturs, with a downtempo score or lively jazz substituting for dialogues. There is a clear depiction of long comfortable silences even after they land up in the afterlife, featuring knowing glances and a common understanding. They find comfort in each other’s company and seem to enjoy the silence.

Their time on Earth is considered to be a long period of stability followed by tumultuous changes and periods of intense learning in the afterlife. Yet, their intimacy and commitment for each other do not waver. Oscar’s patient and (sometimes) frustrating fixations make their relationship seem mature and accommodating — even as June desperately seeks a change in the afterlife. This move, however, is a massive change for both of them and is depicted as an opportunity to seek and understand one another’s point of view.

Oscar initially avoids June and assumes that she will return, but later realises that he must speak with her and seeks her out in a mystical, adventurous land known as Oceanside. This clearly reflects that in the case of companionate love, effort is required to sustain and maintain a relationship. Also, during times of change, new patterns are meant to be embraced and worked through, rather than approached with an ad-hoc stance of blaming another or finding fault for the sake of finding faults. Towards the end of the series, a reconciliation is arrived at when they mutually recognise their different approaches to life and find value in each other rather than poke holes for having those differences in the first place.

Mithila Palkar and Dhruv Sehgal in Little Things. Netflix

Mithila Palkar and Dhruv Sehgal in Little Things. Netflix

In contrast, Little Things reflects an urban, Indian, millennial relationship, which is finding its place in the midst of changing gender and societal norms. Kavya and Dhruv try to make most of what they have while making sense of rapid changes in their professional and personal lives. The “little things” that they seemingly fight (mildly argue) over are often pertinent issues in relationships: communication, time commitments, and respecting personal space and decisions. Although the series has some throwaway moments that capture real-life relationships well, the overall narrative is broken and unstructured, which seems to suggest that relationships are largely just made up of these “moments” and the emphasis on them is often characteristic of what fatuous love is.

There are also numerous instances of microaggressions throughout the series, where arguments are started but digressions prevent them from reaching a resolution. The characters’ moods are typically volatile, and the big fight is buried beneath the plot until the end of Season 2. Emotions are discounted by both partners (more so by Kavya, who may feel a sense of entitlement being the breadwinner), and emotional expression is even disallowed at times. There is an undue emphasis on little things in the behavioural realm (sending over food, buying a tie), which culminates into some pretty big things that are left unsaid in the emotional space.

For instance, Kavya and Dhruv’s value systems appear to be vastly different, but this is never integrated into the story. Only towards the end of Season 2 do we realise that these are the reasons underlying the big fight (not a “little thing,” by any measure). Fatuous love, therefore, never necessitates the two persons to engage in meaningful conversations about overarching values (and the series does not, therefore, bother to depict this earlier on). Ultimately, differences in value systems emerge, which are shown to underlie difficulties and differences between them. However, the lack of intimacy (where one is able to share things with another and be appreciated for it) precludes this mutual understanding, therefore leading to an uncertain close to the season.

The two series are vastly different, but evidently, depict certain kinds of love. While the makers of Forever did justice to their depiction of companionate love, it is unclear whether Little Things was a self-aware attempt to consciously depict the nuances of fatuous love. While their settings also differ vastly, they are common in that they portray two individuals in a struggle to perhaps find a balance between the three pillars of love. There was the common pillar of commitment across both series, and there were two features shared by both relationships: communication (regardless of whether it was functional or dysfunctional) and a mutual level of trust. Maybe that’s all that really matters.

Hansika Kapoor and Anirudh Tagat are Research Authors at the Departments of Psychology and Economics, respectively, at Monk Prayogshala.

Updated Date: Nov 25, 2018 10:30:49 IST