Live-in relationship or marriage?
I don’t even know how to begin the debate over marriage as opposed to live-in relationships. It’s so personal a choice, depending on the couple, their situation, the baggage of their previous relationships, the kind of jobs they have, where they live, what their families are like, what they want from life, what they don’t want from life – it’s quite impossible to write generally about it. Each case is different. It doesn’t even depend only on the person – but on the couple, on their relationship, on their stage in life – I can’t take one side over the other because I firmly believe that both have their place.
The more relevant question would be – Is India ready for live-in relationships?
We aren’t only talking about the metros here. Take into account all of India, yes, even that dusty little town you drove through on your way to Jaipur – do you think that the question of live-in relationships ever arises there? Even marriage is restricted to people of your own caste and spouses are chosen by parents. Where marriage itself is more a conjoining of two families – the bride and groom being quite incidental, how does the question of a live in relationship even arise?
Please read this article where the Delhi High Court ruled that rapes are on the increase because of the failure of live-in relationships!
“One of the major reasons contributing to increase in the rape cases is a failure of live-in relationship or any immature decision on the part of such young adults which more often end up in a broken relationship but sometimes after indulging into physical relationship,” the court said. I’m not sure whether the reporter understood correctly because the same judge observed that ‘attractions of two individual leading to relationship is above the barriers of caste, creed, religion and status, the court said: “Parents are also expected to behave with more sensitivity and maturity as such issues need to be resolved with patience, understanding and tolerance and instead of indifference or with a bent of mind of alienating the two.”’ Clearly the reporter jumped on to the salacious ‘live in relationship’ and the Times of India printed it because the judge is pleading for understanding.
When you read this aren’t you a bit befuddled? Do you understand now that live-in relationships are not a ‘thing’ in India and that even newspapers write about them because they are titillated by the idea.
I do know couples, in Delhi and Mumbai, who have a ‘live-in’ relationship but they pretend to the neigbours that they’re married! Of course, it’s nobody’s business, but in India everything is everybody’s business. Every single person has an opinion! Younger couples on the other hand don’t care. They prefer not to tell. And if asked directly whether they’re married, will say a strong and unapologetic “No”.
People I know, who’ve had a live-in relationship, bringing their boyfriend to live with them in the parental home (although that’s pushing it a little but financial constraints and the ailing health of a family member lead to this arrangement) have had to deal with the fall out of weeping parents wringing their hands about their loss of face and reputation. Marriage on the other hand, wouldn’t have evoked such reactions.
Although I doubt that live in relationships are really an option in a country like India where women are property – to be handed over from the father to the husband, I do think that ‘live-in’ relationships have their place. Live-in relationships require agency – the woman has decided for herself – she hasn’t been ‘permitted’ by her father or brothers to be in a relationship with a man.
A live-in relationship requires an apartment, furniture and money to pay for it all. A marriage requires a lot more. Marriage is a huge step, and if things don’t work out divorce so difficult to come by. Why not try the half way house that is a live-in relationship?
Making a commitment gives some people a huge sense of panic – but they would love to be with someone, enjoy the banter of a partner, the time spent together, the sharing of chores, the closeness and romance. A live in relationship can provide all that without the burden of marriage.
Ruma, 24, from Mumbai, says, “My boyfriend and I have lived together for five years now. My best friend Richa, whose family brooks no discussion about marriage, found her a ‘good boy’ three years ago, often compares notes with me. We feel that a live-in relationship focuses more on the couple itself whereas a marriage is about families. My boyfriend/partner does his share of the chores, but Richa’s husband’s contribution is only monetary. He expects to be waited on; Richa’s interior decoration business is only run in the time available to her between housework. My boyfriend on the other hand knows I can leave the relationship at any time so he’s on his best behavior – which has now become his everyday behavior.”
I ask Ruma whether she doesn’t want to be married. Is the live-in relationship merely the first step?
She isn’t taken by surprise by this question, evidently having thought it through. Her answer is in the negative. She is quite happy with the arrangement and has no illusions that marriage brings greater ‘security’.
“How many married men do you know that cheat on their wives? The marriage is over for them but they don’t have the courage to leave so they remain, living a lie, not getting divorced. The wife may or may not be aware of the affair – either way she’s getting a raw deal.” Richa elaborates that in a live-in relationship there’s really no question of ‘cheating’. If the relationship is over it’s easier to tell your partner – because it’s just your partner you have to be honest with. Not her entire family, your entire family and all the people who know you, even vaguely.”
“Doesn’t this make you insecure?”
“No – it makes me breathe easy. I know that my boyfriend is with me because he wants to be – not because he’s afraid of his in-laws.”
“What if you want kids?”
“Of course I want kids – there’s no law that says children can only be born in holy matrimony,” she points out with exquisite sarcasm. “If that were the case, the universe/ God/ whatever you call the powers-that-be, would have ensured that nobody got pregnant from sex alone, but only from sex after marriage. Anyway, even patriarchal Indian laws have changed. The Supreme Court has said that children born of live-in relationships aren’t illegitimate and that they can inherit their father’s property. Not ancestral property though. But that’s ok – we’ll cross that bridge if and when we come to it.”
I also spoke with Shilpa who has a more traditional view although she’s a journalist in Delhi. “Marriage brings much more security. I want to be in an institution sanctioned by society. I get society’s support if my husband doesn’t behave as he should, providing for my children, behaving nicely instead of running off with other women. If he DOES find someone else, at least my in-laws (and my own family) will support me emotionally and even financially. Divorce isn’t an option for me. I think marriage is wonderful and I don’t have any unreal romantic expectations of us doing everything together. We have clearly defined roles – I take care of the house…”
“Despite your full-time job?”
She shrugs, “Yes yes. I’m not the only woman who does so. We manage and in return we get a semblance of good husbandly behavior. Indian women have lived like this for centuries. And I’m better off than most others. He doesn’t beat me. He contributes to the household and that’s all that I want. If I dreamt of other things I would be unhappy. In my family and under these circumstances, this is fine.”
“Live in relationship? Never. I don’t believe the bond between a man and a woman is so important that I should give up my reputation for him. Marriage is the societal norm. It is for having children. How does a live-in relationship provide that? I have other fights to fight – all these ‘ feminist issues’ don’t concern me. I live within the box society has defined for me and I’m happy. My family is very middle class and doesn’t understand these westernized notions.”
Is a live-in relationship merely a rebellion against social norms? What do you think? Is it a ‘feminist’ phenomenon or are people who are more likely to be feminists also more likely to be open to the idea of co-habiting?
There’s a lot more to be said on this. Wait for my next post. Feel free to argue with me, agree or state your opinion in the comments section.