What It’s Like To Be In A Live-In Relationship In India

What It’s Like To Be In A Live-In Relationship In India
Mahi Singh Warsi

I remember when I first came across the concept of a live-in relationship from an American novel I was reading back in school, I felt as though I had discovered the magic formulae to all my romantic anxiety. The fairytale wedding fantasies my fourteen-year-old self entertained in her head always took a nightmarish turn when I thought of the possibility that the man of my dreams wouldn’t fancy a shower twice a day like I do, secretly snored, or worse, would leave the kitchen sink dirty. Though these vices might seem minuscule in the larger framework of love, I had seen them ruin perfectly good days at home when they became a bone of contention between my parents. So to my teenage mind a live-in-relationship was the best of both worlds; testing my compatibility of inhabiting the same space with my love before I vowed to spend the rest of my life with him. While of course age has proved this logic can hardly always stand true in the face of the inconsistencies of human nature, not to mention the beauty of compromise that must develop for long-term relationships to sustain, the question is still pertinent–why do people choose to be in a live-in relationship?

While compiling this article the couples we spoke to had different reasons for their choice. From it being a form of compatibility milestone, the only option for spatial togetherness for LGBTQ+ couples, a pragmatic choice for those who work late hours, a stop-over before favourable circumstances to get married or a disbelief in the institution itself, amongst other reasons, few origins overlapped. Still, at the heart of it all lay a universal sentiment, that is best described in the words of Chet Baker-

“Time after time

I tell myself that I’m

So lucky to be loving you

So lucky to be

The one you run to see

In the evening when the day is through.”

Of course, in India, the decision tends to be microscopically examined by various layers of society. A decision between two people, most often deemed scandalous. This is despite live-in relationships being a long standing tradition in many indigenous tribes, though perhaps that’s an unfair analogy for those who have been conditioned by generations of traditions. The popular opinion of those who oppose it consider live-in relationships a frivolous experiment between young people as its apparent “casualness” allows one to walk out of it anytime while the bonds of marriage push the individuals to try harder when adversity comes knocking at the door. This attitude prevails even after the the progressive 2015 judgement by the Supreme Court Of India that recognises the status of a man and woman, who have “lived like husband and wife” for a long period of time to be that of a married couple, where the woman is eligible to inherit the property after the death of her partner. This strong prejudice against live-in relationships persists even after receiving legal acceptance because marriage in Indian society allows family and society to scrutinise a couple’s life and more often than not, also stay involved in it. Whereas the privacy of a couple in a live-in relationship topped with the taboo of premarital sex threatens the authority of Indian society.

While live-in relationships are hardly a new phenomenon in India, very few couples were willing to share their stories publicly, convincing us of the strong social stigma still attached to it. However, here are the perspectives of five couples who between the challenges of self-doubt, pesky landlords and few disapproving parents still chose to defy the social convention of romantic togetherness so they could come home to the person they love the most. For those considering the possibility of entering a live-in relationship of their own, an education awaits.

Image Credit: Anjul Dandekar

I. Unnati and Aditya

“We felt incomplete without each other and at complete peace when together.”

33-year-old Unnati who is a practicing surgeon met 28-year-old Aditya, a business advisor, in Goa in 2012, where they spent a day together only to meet two years later in Mumbai. Early in their dating phase they knew they wanted to be life partners and have been in a live-in relationship for the past three years. The couple currently live in Mumbai.

Unnati shares her journey of living with her partner...

The Significance Of Moving In Together

“We were spending too much money on resorts and hotels just to get some personal space and time together. Moreover, it was just becoming increasingly vital for us to see each other everyday and we realised when we went back home we were just restless to see each other again. My partner was also only just establishing his career and so we knew marriage would not come soon for us. We could’nt wait until then to live together so we moved in with each other instead!”

The Importance Of Marriage?

“I think when you get married, it’s for society. Your union is legally validated and at least in India you become socially responsible towards each other’s family as well as opposed to a live-in relationship where such obligations do not exist. Also a married woman is respectable whereas in a live-in relationship, she is just considered a slut. But having said that, marriage has still always been a priority for me. Moving in together with Aditya was not an experiment of any sorts, just a transitional period before marriage.”

Life After The Big Move

“It’s like putting two kids in a house of their own with no supervision and no rules; it’s a blast! Living with Aditya, I realised he needs somebody around him most of the time and if that person is me he is quite happy to be at home. As for me, I was happy to discover that I was capable of running a house smoothly; a feat I wasn’t particularly confident about.”

The Struggles And The Support

“My mother was my biggest supporter; she believed in me having the right to my own lifestyle choices. No other family member including my father was told about my decision because they would disapprove. Even finding accommodation as an unmarried couple was not difficult for us as I am a doctor and in India, that comes with an immense amount of respect. But I am sure if I had another profession unfortunately many landlords and societies would have refused an unmarried couple as their tenants. My friends who belong to the media industry have faced this problem.”

Advice To Couples Who Want To Live-In Together

“You have to be financially stable to run a house together and you must have the support of at least one family member as being completely alone can make things difficult. Lastly I believe one should move in together only if you see a definite future with your partner, just ‘trying it out’ isn’t the best way to go.”

On Indian Society’s Skepticism

“A live-in relationship means promiscuity for Indian society and Indian parents don’t want their children, especially their daughters to be seen in that light.”

Steps Towards The Changing The Mindset?

“Parents need to trust their children for their independent choices and regard their happiness over society’s judgement.”

Image Credit: Unnati

II. Rohan and Avil

“When I am with you, we stay up all night. When you’re not here, I can’t go to sleep.”- Rumi

Baroda based 28-year-old Rohan, a fashion designer and passionate baker, met 35-year-old Avil, a senior manager at a global media company, on a dating website while he was in Mumbai for an internship. During their first rendezvous itself they “got along like a house on fire!” After 52 weekends of a long-distance relationship, Rohan moved in with Avil. They have been living together for four years and are currently based in Mumbai.

Rohan shares their experience of living with each other...

The Significance Of Moving In Together

“It was a milestone for our relationship after a year of being in a long-distance relationship with each other because the odds of falling in love, having an uncomplicated life, and then moving in with your partner are pretty low for a gay Indian man.”

Where Does Marriage Stand?

“I don’t need a government certificate to validate my relationship with the man I love. But I would want a marriage certificate to buy property with my better half, to make him a nominee in my LIC policy and other basic rights that married couples have.”

Life After The Big Move

“We now fight like siblings and not lovers, much to our embarrassment! But more importantly, we’ve rubbed off on each other in a way that has made us more like the other yet fundamentally still retaining our individuality.”

The Struggles And The Support

“We were financially independent before we decided to move in and our families and friends were supportive and honestly, we couldn’t give two shits about anyone else even if someone was opposed to us living together. Getting an apartment to live in together was easy as landlords or housing societies always assumed we were business partners or bachelors.”

Advice To Couples Who Want To Live-In Together

“Good communication between your partner and you is all that matters and the rest will follow.”

On Indian Society’s Skepticism

We do not really identify with the cross-section of society that’s skeptical about live-in relationships. Our best guesses are -

1) Why try it before you buy it?

2) We haven’t done it so how dare you?

3) It is against our culture, no?

Steps Towards The Changing The Mindset

“We have to initiate conversation around the topic and hope that freedom from all kinds of norms will one day be possible. Articles like this also help in bringing about such a change.”

Image Credit: Rohan

III. Mallika and Ollwyn

“I stay transparent about my live-in relationship so others around me can see how my choice has kept me both happy and stable.”

Malika is a costume-stylist and her partner Ollwyn is a line producer; they both work in the film industry and met each other while working on the Bollywood film Happy New Year while they were in Dubai. They have been living together for four years and are currently based in Mumbai.

Mallika shares her experience of living with her partner….

The Significance Of Moving In Together

“We moved in after five days of knowing each other and though this may seem impulsive, we did so because our jobs are too time-consuming with long periods of travel involved, so living together was the only way for us to spend time with each other. We could unwind together instead of getting dressed for a fancy date to see each other!”

The Importance Of Marriage

“Marriage involves other people; the government, religion, family and society. So it holds little importance to me personally. A live-in relationship on the other hand is a private, intimate decision made between partners who have a great degree of trust in their relationship.”

Life After The Big Move

“From an exhausted couple in a restaurant after work we became an exhausted couple falling asleep next to each other after we moved in together. In retrospect, I can’t imagine how our relationship would have progressed and evolved if we had continued only to date each other.”

The Struggles And The Support

“I can’t say we had any big supporters, but neither of our families or friends objected to our decision. We had some difficulty in renting a home in a decent housing society as an unmarried couple living together makes people uncomfortable, and I was looked upon as a ‘loose’ woman.”

Advice To Couples Who Want To Live-In Together

“Talk to people who are or have been in a live-in relationship to know exactly what you are getting into.”

Steps Towards The Changing The Mindset

“I try to make a personal change by being transparent about my own live-in relationship so others around me can see how happy and stable my partner and I are as a couple and how this form of togetherness works best for us.”

Image Credit: Mallika

IV. Siddharth and Ankita

“You need a deep sense of self-respect for your partner if you want to move in together.”

(The names of the contributors have been changed to protect their identity.)

Now in their mid-twenties, Siddharth and Ankita met each other during a training programme for a job. They parted ways after almost two years of living together.”

Siddharth shares his experience of living with his partner….

The Significance Of Moving In Together

“When I was transferred to another city for work, Ankita moved there so we could be together but our workspaces were at two different ends of the city and having quality time together was still difficult. So to solve the problem and with faith in a future together, we moved in with each other.”

The Importance Of Marriage

“Marriage is a proof of love because it means a long-term commitment to your partner. Having said that a live-in relationship for me is an integral step towards marriage; if a couple can survive a live-in relationship, where one is bound to be exposed to the most vulnerable and ugly side of your partner, then that means that ultimately you are ready to take each other for the better and for the worse.”

A Retrospection Of The Life After The Big Move

“Greater proximity and perpetual access to private space proved adverse for our relationship. Sex out of convenience became a routinely chore and we lost out on moments of showing affection to each other. We had no time away from each other to let off steam when our arguments reached boiling point and neither of us was in a position to reconcile with the other’s differences and I trespassed my partner’s privacy that caused irreversible damage to our relationship. Though to be fair, as the relationship ended on a bitter note, I am unable to recall the lighter moments of our time together.”

Advice To Couples Who Want To Live-In Together

“You need a deep sense of self-respect for your partner if you want to move in together. Set ground rules for privacy, at times be the bigger person when in an argument and put it behind you, be true to your partner about who you are and most importantly give your relationship time before you move in together because this could break or make you as a couple.”

On Indian Society’s Skepticism

“Most Indian parents don’t think any romantic relationship has a sense of commitment without the sanctity of marriage.”

V. Mahi and Belal

“I am making at home while I am living with my partner.”

Mahi who is originally from Lucknow met her partner Belal who hails from Bihar when they both were pursuing their post-graduation degree in mass communication at Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi. Mahi works as a content curator for Discovery Channel Asia Pacific and Belal works for Dharma Productions. They currently live in Mumbai and have been in a live-in relationship for five months.

Mahi shares her experience of living with her partner..

The Significance Of Moving In Together

“We both have high-pressure jobs that demand late hours of work. After being in a long-distance relationship for two and a half years, I moved to Mumbai to live with Belal because we wanted the comfort of knowing that at the end of the day we would be coming home to each other.”

The Importance Of Marriage

“I value marriage and one day, I want it to be very much a part of my life too.”

Life After The Big Move

“We discovered that even under exhaustion, pressure and economic challenges there was nothing that could take away from the excitement of being with each other and being apart even now, is as tough as it was before we moved in together.”

The Struggles And The Support

“My biggest supporters were my parents and because they accompanied us while we house-hunted the process became a whole lot easier. At times, I am judged by my colleagues for living with my partner. While I care little for their opinion, at times their attitude does put me off.”

Steps Towards Changing The Mindset About Live-In Relationships

“I am making a home while I am living with my partner, that’s my first step.”

Image Credit: Mahi

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