The Allahabad High Court recently made the somewhat alarming observation that “live-in relationships are timepass, temporary and fragile,” while rejecting a plea for protection by an interfaith couple who were being threatened by their families. “At the tender age of 20-22 years, it is more about infatuation without any sincerity,” observed the judges, clearly sceptical about this youthful dalliance going by their next (cynical) reflection on the matter.
“Life is not a bed of roses. Unless and until the couple decides to marry and give the relationship a name, the court shuns and avoids expressing an opinion,” the Bench added, as quoted on http://www.barandbench.com.
While this cannot be considered a judgment (or endorsement) of the couple’s love journey, it’s broadly indicative that romantic partnerships outside of marriage continue to carry a negative perception across Indian society. (Though, various Supreme Court judgments over the years have ruled that live-in relationships are valid under Article 21 of the Constitution.)
Indeed, making life decisions or marrying at the ripe old age of 22 is a fraught prospect, and in these fast-paced times, doomed to fail.
However, if two consenting adults want the freedom to test the waters without the stress a permanent arrangement brings — in India, specifically, family interference is a huge cause of break ups — time together before marriage can only help in making an informed choice. It is worth noting that in the West, among people with college degrees, pre marital cohabitation is associated with a lower rate of divorce.
In India, unfortunately, those willing to transgress prevalent social norms to cohabit are more likely to be viewed as wildly frivolous, rather than a thoughtful precursor to taking a really big step. In fact, in many Mumbai housing societies, live-ins have a hard time finding apartments to rent.
In our heads, we dreamily imagine love as that mysterious and all-consuming force that drives our most important decisions. The contradictions at the centre of love, that depressingly enough emerge instantly when combined with marriage, are distasteful to acknowledge. Perhaps, that’s why 90 per cent of romance films determinedly favour the happy ending and the cultural expectation is forever-after (despite much evidence to the contrary).
The thinking goes, is a love story a love story, if a couple isn’t willing to go all in with a wedding, after plodding through the many challenges of courtship? It’s not very inspiring, rather, it’s downright deflating if they warily chose an alternative route because they’re unsure of their ability to endure a lifetime. Or, scared to make the honorable declaration of “till death do us part”. Alas, mainstream conventions play a part in our imaginations, luring us into believing in some final and lasting happiness. The result being, the discourse around love and marriage tends to be out of touch with reality.
The total number of petitions filed for divorce by mutual consent have been rising steadily across Indian metros. The data suggests most of these separations occur within three years of marriage. Clearly, the sequence of love-dating-marriage is very much the default mode, except in the modern world, commutes, work and daily tensions do their bit to sideline intimacy. Domesticity requires frustrating levels of compromise, so far better then for people to gingerly try out coupled life before pledging themselves for eternity. If this approach lacks the mad passion we associate with undying love, it’s important to remember all those sociology studies that say when it comes to mate selection, we automatically gravitate towards people with similar interests, economic background and education, anyway. Whether we know it or not, rationality is inbuilt in romance; after that, all we can do is hope for the best.
The writer is director, Hutkay Films