You can read the Gujarati translation of this piece by Aarohi Vaidya here.
The author details her three year long live-in relationship with her boyfriend while reflecting on her learnings and feelings during the pandemic. Her piece is a revolt against getting married.
One rainy evening, the curious cat in me asked my boyfriend, “what have you learnt from these three years of our live-in relationship?” He was as usual busy playing on his Xbox as I kept poking him for a response. He turned towards me with an impatient face and said “What is there to learn? We should start promoting live-in relationships in India.” A part of me agreed with this idea as we have been breaking stereotypes of Indian society long before we met each other. He is a college dropout and I have a Master’s degree but we both teach something that we love – scuba diving. He is probably the first north Indian guy who left the bosoms of mountains to enjoy the depths of the sea and I traded the lifestyle of a modern Indian woman who worked at a reputed firm, partied every weekend, and had matching accessories to every piece of clothing in her wardrobe to witness the surreality of the oceans.
In India, your values and upbringing matter apart from the daily issues of caste and color. We are two individuals with different personalities, brought up in very distinct ways. He has a typical north Indian vibe whereas I was born and brought up in a metropolitan city. We were acquaintances before we started dating. Ours was never a boy-meets-girl-and-falls-in-love kind of love story. Our perceptions towards life matched when we started dating and that was the foundation of our relationship. We had similar jobs, worked at the same place and thus empathized with each other. It took us a couple of months to realize that what we had was serious and it was time to move in with each other. His apartment was bigger than my shack and hence, we spent most of our time together in his apartment. I didn’t give up my shack though. I retained it initially – the thought that ‘I’ can sometimes come before ‘us’ was a comforting one. It reminded both of us that the door was always open and that we had to put in a little extra effort into this relationship since we were both new to sharing and co-living with a stranger.
Eventually, things started moving out from my shack as I spent most of my nights at his place. The first thing to move out was my toothbrush followed by my pajamas and the rest is history. The pandemic ravaged our plans. Our lives came to a standstill. Since our livelihood was dependent on tourism that was almost closed for nine months in the islands, we found ourselves out of pay and options. I had to give up my shack as we could no longer bear the expense of having two places to live in. We learned a lot about each other and this relationship while we were stuck on an island together for nine months with nothing to do but monotonous things.
As cliche as it sounds, the first lesson we learned was ‘Communication is key’. Due to our exhausting work schedules, we would be barely left with the energy to talk about our feelings at the end of the day. The initial days of the pandemic passed off happily as everything was new, from cooking food to cleaning the house. Playing on Xbox, watching series together, everything felt like a piece of cake but as soon as monotony kicked in, we realized that all these things had started irritating us. I am punctual and systematic, so I began throwing tantrums if things would not go my way. He is a laid-back person who started loathing the idea of work. It caused a lot of friction between the two of us for a few days. That was when I realized that I had forgone the basics of a relationship and he wouldn’t understand what I was trying to say unless I told him how this change made me feel. When I expressed myself, we realized that our aversion towards the change was mutual. Indian men are not communicative creatures so I typically had to take charge every time it came to expressing our feelings. The tension subsided eventually only for me to learn lesson number two ‘Words have power, things once said cannot be unsaid’. In a fit of rage, we said many things that we shouldn’t have said and all we could do was apologize for it since we couldn’t take it back.
The next lesson is very specific to Indian couples whether married or live-in: ‘No amount of YouTubing and cooking classes can match your respective mummy ke haath ka khana’ . Of course, cooking was a new territory for both of us but everything we tried to make based on our respective mother’s recipes, even came close to their actual cooking. We craved even more for their homely comfort food. But the upside to all this cooking was that we introduced each other to the food from two different cultures. He enjoyed dal dhokli as much as I enjoyed assorted parathas.
As our savings were diminished day by day, we learned our next lesson ‘Beyond emotional support lies financial support’. We started budgeting our expenses, we combined our savings and made a list of priorities which meant giving up on things that each one of us considered priority. Since my savings were more than his savings, there came a time when I had to support him financially. It became difficult for my boyfriend to initially ask me for monetary help as most Indian men’s brains (or shall I say egos?) are conditioned to be the sole earners of their family who women will look upto. As we eased into talking about our emotions, we also eased out the monetary support by opening a new joint savings account for future rainy days and our combined travels. We made sure that we deposit some of our income into this account every month. I started teaching Business English to pay for small expenses monthly. This is when we learned our most important lesson ‘Support and Encouragement is the backbone of every relationship’. He could have been bitter about me working but to my surprise, he was quite supportive. I was hesitant to take up the teaching job but he convinced me that out of the two of us, I was more capable of landing a part-time job and to show me his extent of support, he even went to the BSNL office to get a new Wifi connection for me.
By now our parents were well aware of our live-in relationship and began forcing us to get married like all normal Indian parents who are more worried about society than the happiness of their children. The most important thing we learned while living together was that we both don’t believe in the institution of marriage but companionship. It is easy to say that if we have learned so much while living together, marriage is just a piece of paper. But is it? Being in a live-in relationship is not much sought after in India. In India, when a woman gets married, she isn’t just responsible for the man she married but his entire family. My mother is a working individual but when my grandparents were alive she would feel as if she wasn’t able to give enough time and attention to her family and responsibilities. She considered the happiness and togetherness of the family as her responsibility. Instead of understanding her dreams and aspirations, society blamed her for not taking out enough time to spend with her in-laws because as far as her children and husband were concerned, we never perceived her working as a problem. My problem is not with marriage but what comes along with it. I am a woman who knows what is my cup of tea and what isn’t. I don’t believe that the responsibility of a man’s family lies completely with the woman and if it is the man’s family, then why aren’t men held responsible for the well-being of their parents? Why does society equate a happy family with how well the woman keeps up with the man’s family?
What if the woman is not looking for such responsibilities in her life? What if a man doesn’t consider getting married and having a child? What if they both have their own individual goals but the path to their destination is the same and all they want is a companion without the burden of society or responsibilities? Who is selfish now, the couple who is reluctant to get married or the family who fails to see beyond societal pressure?
This probably isn’t just our story but the story of many couples who are in a live-in relationship and are constantly asked when they will get married. We constantly battle such questions from family, friends, and even the people who see us destroy other couples in team games. To conclude, I have written a few lines about how I perceive this live-in relationship “Somedays waking up comes with lovemaking, somedays, we wake up loveless. Somedays, I am a sucker for him, somedays I will elude him. Somedays, I want to explore the world, somedays he means the world to me. Somedays we are incompatible, somedays we are incomplete without each other.”
Sayali Ranadive (29 years) is a scuba diving instructor residing in Andaman and Nicobar Islands. With a Master’s degrees in IT, she is also an amateur writer. She quit her comfortable job at a leading FMCG company five years ago to become a scuba instructor and move in with her boyfriend. She has been called a nomad and all sorts of things for her unconventional life choices. She believes in free will and equality. She has been a Blahcksheep all her life. Asking the right questions at the wrong times has landed her in trouble a million times. People tell her that her beliefs are not cut out for living in India but she believes it is upto young Indians like herself to bring about change.