Rahul Patnaik*, a 25-year-old Delhi resident, compares his live-in relationship to the beta version of a website. It is a trial period, he laughs, during which you can check whether the website has any bugs. “You see what living with someone feels like, before getting the [marriage] tag,” he adds. A musician, Patnaik has been sharing an apartment with his girlfriend for two years now. “My mother was always cool, but my father had issues. I didn’t tell him about it for the first six months,” he says. Finally, when he did inform his father, Patnaik says he wasn’t “scared”. “I am living on my own. I’m not asking them for money. And I’m not doing anything wrong,” he states.
A few kilometres away, somewhere in central Delhi, 25-year-old graphic designer Tahira Baheti* has been living with her partner, Aavan Singh*, for over five years. Peculiarly, she also lives with her boyfriend’s parents. What began as unplanned sleepovers at Singh’s house gradually “spilled onto other aspects” of her life. Baheti says, “I started teaching his sister, shopping with his mother, and helping his dad out with his work. After college ended, his parents told me to not look for another apartment, and get all my stuff over to theirs.” The parents’ intention, though, was not to get the couple married. It was to let them spend time with each other.
Today, several unmarried Indian couples live together in metropolitan cities, with the consent of their parents. Living in together has become a tried and tested formula. Last year, even the Supreme Court ruled that live-in relationships have become “an acceptable norm”. “It is like getting married,” affirms Patnaik.
But societal pressures often force many in such relationships to refrain from talking about it openly. That is the reason why all the people we spoke to for this story preferred not to reveal their names. Some people, however, feel that a live-in relationship is a decision against marriage. But, is it?
A healthy trend
A new study by Arielle Kuperberg that appeared in the US-based Journal of Marriage and Family this April, has found the opposite to be true. These days, most people who move in together, do so to test the longevity of a relationship. In other words, they view a live-in relationship as a step towards marriage, rather than a “rebellion” against it.
The study, which analysed over 7,000 people in the US, states that “cohabitation” has grown by 900% in the past five decades. The study also found out that two-thirds of the couples who got married in 2012, had lived together before marrying. This phenomenon, in turn, has reduced the divorce rate in the US.
Is a live-in relationship being looked at as a prerequisite for marriage in India? City-based psychiatrist and sexologist Shyam Mithiya disagrees. “But it is definitely a step towards marriage. I have seven to 10 patients who live together. Their intention, while moving in together, was to get to know each other better. Eventually, they got married,” he says, adding, “Moving in with someone is not easy. Only people who are serious [about their relationship] and are thinking long-term do it. It is also more common among couples who don’t live with their families.”
Kavya Seth* (31) and Shobhit Chandra* (32), who live in Hyderabad, are one such couple. They are getting married in a few months, after having lived together since 2013. “We knew we were serious about our relationship, and the arrangement of living together wasn’t so much of a ‘test drive’ as it was about wanting to be together all the time. But I did approach the [live-in] relationship with marriage as the end goal,” says Kavya, who is a digital marketing executive.
Natural next step Meanwhile, in Mumbai, Kanishk Sharma* (26), a consultant, has just moved in with his girlfriend of several years. “It’s been three months. But we’ve been dating for a long time, so moving in was a natural progression of sorts,” he tells us. He hasn’t thought about a wedding yet, but he affirms his intention is a “long-term cohabitation”.
“It is an experiment; a demo before signing a document that legally binds you to another,” he says, adding that his life has become “more adult than it was before” and that while he and his partner had a “rocky start”, “things are getting ironed out now”. “I do feel like I know what I want out of a life partner now,” he adds.
Baheti, too, hasn’t thought about marriage yet. “But I believe that being in a live-in relationship is an absolute prerequisite [for any kind of long-term cohabitation].
I have seen my mother struggle through two terrible marriages — one arranged and one love marriage — and I can pinpoint the same root cause for both the disasters; she simply did not know the men well enough,” she says, adding, “I would advise everyone to live with their partners for a while [before getting married]. It’s a different world.”
*names changed on request