"Life is short. Have an affair” is the tagline for what is today, perhaps, one of the most famous extra marital dating websites in the world. It all started when AshleyMadison.com, a website that calls itself a “dating destination for casual encounters, married dating, discreet encounters and extramarital affairs”, was hacked recently.
Data from the website — including residential addresses, email ids, phone numbers, sexual preferences, and even credit card details of close to 37million users — was dumped on the dark web for public scrutiny.
What followed was a worldwide debate about infidelity, its causes, versions and repercussions. While some questioned and criticised the school of marriage in modern times, there were a few others who propagated the concept of open marriages to avoid any heartache altogether.
Surprisingly, the latter, as it turns out, seems to be slowly gaining popularity in Mumbai. “I have seen a surge in the number of such cases these days,” says Mary George Varghese, relationship counsellor.
Out in the open
As per the Oxford Dictionary, an open marriage or relationship is defined as “a marriage or relationship in which both partners agree that each may have sexual relations with others.”
Broadly speaking, there are two main reasons people opt for such a settlement — one, when a marriage or relationship gives you ample emotional satisfaction, but lacks physical intimacy; and second, when, for whatever reason, a couple is unable to end a marriage (due to societal pressures), and must somehow continue living as husband and wife.
Kanti Aggarwal (45), abusinessman, and his wife, Manisha Aggarwal (39), a homemaker, have been in an open marriage for two years. He says he started cheating on his wife after he got bored of their sex life. But it didn’t start off smoothly. “Initially, she didn’t know I was having affairs with other women. Then, one day, she found out and confronted me. I told her the reason outright, and explained my point to her. In fact, I even gave her thepermission to get intimate with other men if she wanted to,” says Kanti. Although it took some time, Manisha eventually came to terms with the arrangement. They have two children, both of whom are unaware of their polyamorous relationship.
From Jodhpur to Aizawl, Leh to Nagercoil, thousands of Indians have registered on the controversial infidelity website.
Open relationships aren’t limited to an age group either. Naman Kanparia (20) and Ayushi Dalal (19) have known each other since they were in school. Once they started dating in college, they soon realised that they were not physically compatible. However, they didn’t want to think of parting ways as they really enjoyed each other’s company. So, they decided to satisfy their sexual urges elsewhere. “We love each other too much. We can share our problems, and be there for each other in times of need. This is why we don’t want to separate. The physical aspect is not reason enough,” says Naman. All of their friends know that they are in an open relationship, and, over time, have come to understand their settlement.
Gay and unhappy
Another reason for an open relationship, according to many, revolves around amarriage between a gay person and a heterosexual person. “This is a different kind of open marriage that is prevalent in India. Societal pressures often lead to such relationships. Sometimes, women even bear children by having sex outside of their marriages in such cases,” says Varghese.
But experts warn that maintaining an open relationship is far more complicated. “Sometimes a person in an open marriage may get possessive and start thinking that his or her partner may get emotionally attached to the person he or she is having sex with. This can lead to insecurity issues. These worries can be avoided. There should be complete trust,” says Shyam Mithiya, relationship expert, adding, “There could also be worries about excessive money being spent on the other partner. These situations have to be handled with great maturity.”
According to Varghese, open marriages “are not sustainable in the long run”. While open marriages are known to be first reported in the west several years ago, experts believe that they will not become common in India anytime soon.
(Names of all individuals have been changed on request)