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Cohabitation diaries

She lived with two men in succession. One was a friend she called Sharktooth. The next, a boyfriend. Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan shares her experience.

india Updated: Nov 04, 2010 14:11 IST
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan
Hindustan Times

Let it be said at the outset: I like boys. I'm used to boys-I spent almost every summer vacation with six boy cousins, almost like brothers, two of them close to my own age, and my constant playmates. While growing up, I gravitated towards boys. My parents had very few friends with kids, and the ones that did, had boys. He Man and GI Joe were my staples, burping on command was something I aspired to, and in pissing contests, I tried very hard to win. Later, as I entered adolescence, I was introduced to the concept of a girl friend, when boys became creatures of Mystery and Wonder, and we giggled about them and tossed our hair yearningly in their direction.

Even now, when my social circle contains more female friends than men, I find myself different around the opposite sex, a little more comfortable, perhaps, and usually, one of the lads. It's not unusual to find me in a group of all men, with me in the middle, all of us holding forth on subjects that most of us don't know very much about. And, to bring us to the point of this: I've lived with men. One as a flatmate and friend, the other as a lover.

Now, while it's all very well to like boys, living with them is another matter entirely. The first boy I cohabited with was a friend with whom I shared a flat in Bandra. We moved in, blissfully unaware of the consequences. As someone who had only lived with other women before, the idea of "modesty" didn't even strike me. I strode around in short-shorts and tank tops, only pausing half way to the television set to realise there was a man in the room. As someone who had never had to explain her relationships, here was I, claiming to be married for the sake of my landlord, all the while trying to figure out the best excuse for why we were sleeping in different bedrooms.

As someone not overly domestic, I found the gender roles we were trying to automatically slide into, the most difficult. I cannot cook. I am a sloppy housewife. My flatmate on the other hand was a man who liked a clean house, homecooked meals and dusted bookshelves and who was prepared to go the distance to make sure that happened. Previously, the girls and I stuck to our own bedrooms. Now, with a shared living space, it was clear I would have to suck it up and handle half of the household responsibilities. We were friends, are friends, and in the end, our friendship stood the test of my shoddy household abilities, but I wouldn't be so lucky in the future.

Cue: the boyfriend. Not Indian, and someone who had lived on his own enough to be able to cook and clean and all that jazz. And who, once again, wanted me to help. This is not unreasonable, but as a neo feminist, the child of neo feminists, I hadn't really been raised with any domestic skills (which, yes, I suppose is mostly my fault.) The most I could do was sew, thanks to school, and that's not very useful these days. This created a rather large bone of contention. You see, I discovered, that while girls are a little more live-and-let-live about things like that, most men have this highly developed sense of fairness. "If I'm doing it," they say, "Then you should do it. It's only fair." What can be brushed under the carpet with a male flatmate leads to loud arguments with your boyfriend.

There were other things too: living together, much like a marriage, is a lot less glamorous than it looks and a lot more about compromise. That big 'c' word. You have what movie you're going to watch, what dinner you're going to order and worse: whose friends you're going to see. When everything is such a huge deal, your relationship itself is kind of fragile. The great thing about marriage is the legalities of it all —visas, leases, bank accounts — the world loves you if you're married. There is no such thing as a 'live in partner' visa. I know, because I looked. Also, if you break up (like I did), all you have to do is pack a suitcase and leave. There's nothing holding you there except for the echoes of what once used to be.

So I say: yes. Give the live-in relationship the stamp of legitimacy. Give it legal protection. A broken home is a broken home, whether it's your real husband moving out or your fake one.

Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan is the author of You Are Here and Confessions Of A Listmaniac.

First Published: Oct 30, 2010 20:23 IST