Recently, news reports about live-in relationships in India going awry have raised a pertinent question regarding the utility, stability and feasibility of such bonds. The Aftab-Shraddha case in Delhi, the Manoj Sane-Saraswati Vaidya episode in Mumbai, a young live-in couple in Bengaluru facing the same fate and many more such cases with a violent end of one of the partners — often the woman — may not be isolated cases.
So, it's imperative to analyse live-ins in the context of our societal ethos, needs and aspirations. First of all, a live-in relationship is not something drastically different. It's just a rough version of marriage sans certain nuptial commitments. In other words, it's a kind of an opportunistic, stop-gap arrangement which vindicates the English adage of eating the cake and having it too.
This casual and often lack of serious approach in all live-in relationships may snowball into quick differences that may lead to indifference and not-so-happy separation. Agreed, a separation is never happy. It's an oxymoron like happily married because you're either happy or married! Both cannot go together. But a separation can always happen on a decent and courteous note. Unfortunately, this seldom happens, when either of the partners wants to get out of a live-in arrangement. We've seen this happen in all the aforementioned cases.
Sociologists, psychologists and marriage counsellors are of the view that a live-in relationship is often euphoric. The bubble bursts soon. It's like starting with a bang, but ending with a whimper. Lack of commitment is often seen as lack of seriousness and also as lack of (intense) love. That may create insecurity because live-in couples are often footloose and fancy-free, albeit in the beginning. Men as well as women long for lasting emotional stability, security and anchorage. A woman is always more in need of emotional stability. It has been found that though man and woman may have decided to stay together without tying the knot, a point came in their lives when one of them wanted to give the stamp of social sanctity and security to their relationship. But if the other one/partner is not willing, it may create troubles and turn outright nasty.
In a live-in relationship, you get to know your partner's “other” side. Maybe all this time you were convinced your partner was a sweet, dimpled darling who can do no wrong. Then you move in with them and see them as the living, breathing, alarmingly human mess we all are. Living with a person teaches you a lot about them. Dating a person and sharing the same space with them are very different things and the latter comes with its own unique set of challenges. He always leaves the toilet seat up. She puts so much spice in the food he can’t eat it. He finds out her eyelashes are fake. Mind you, all of this happens in a marriage too, of course, but hey, there you have to go to an actual courthouse to get out of it. But what can you do in a live-in relationship? There's no legal angle to it.
Then come trust issues. You love your partner and crave something more than conventional dating. You want to see them every day and don’t mind sharing space with them. You don’t want to spend a moment without your s/o but at the same time, you’re not ready for marriage. It’s even possible that you believe in love without labels but don’t want that to hold you back. There are countless scenarios in which live-in relationships can work wonders! Many couples swear by it, and why wouldn’t they? Living with the love of your life does come with challenges, yes. But, it is also the greatest feeling ever. But another problem with live-in relationships is, it comes with its set of insecurities. Since you are not married, you could constantly doubt if the relationship will go to the next level. You tend to become clingy, and often in live-in relationships people end up spying on their partners. The best manifestation of Othello Complex is visible in all live-in relationships.
Live-ins are for highly evolved and cerebrally superior people like the great French existentialist Jean Paul Sartre and his equally genius muse Simone de Beauvoir. Both were non-interfering and believed in giving sufficient space to each other. But then a question arises — if two individuals are so evolved and so non-interfering to the extent of being indifferent to each other, why should they live together under one roof even for a night? Simone asked this question before gracefully walking out on Sartre.
A live-in relationship may be in vogue nowadays, but it's still a fad. Young couples are not au fait with its repercussions and ramifications. A fad is a fancy which can go out of fashion before you can say Jack Robinson. It's therefore a must to know all the aspects and facets of such an arrangement so that one shouldn't get disillusioned after some time. The couples must be discerning enough to recognise that psychological moment in their association when things are just not working any longer and it's time to bid adieu to each other graciously. Sahir's proverbial “Woh afsana jise takmeel tak laana na ho mumkin, use ik khoobsoorat mod dekar chhodna acchha” (An affair that cannot be brought to a T, should be left with a beautiful turn) is quite difficult for the ordinary and often quarrelsome live-in couples to follow. They go bloody violent.
Lastly, live-ins often fail in India because our social ethos is different. A live-in is still a taboo in Indian society. It's a sociai anomaly and an aberration in a “conventional” man-woman relationship. So, those who're into it are often looked down upon by society, parents, relatives, neighbours and friends. Lack of parental and relational support may also take a toll on young live-in couples in India. Ergo, think twice, even thrice before deciding upon a live-in arrangement with the person you love. Things from a distance always look rosy but you get to know the reality when you come to it. Don't they say in Persian, “Aawaaz-e-duhul az door khush mee numayad” (English equivalent: Blue are the hills that are far from us)?
Sumit Paul is a regular contributor to the world’s premier publications and portals in several languages