Whose life is it, anyway?

Whose life is it, anyway?

Evolving Relationships

Whose life is it, anyway?

CHANGE OF MIND Young couples living together believe that marriage is an institution that conforms to societal pressure.

It’s 8 in the evening and Janavi (29) and Ritesh (33) have just come home after a hectic day at work. As Janavi loads the washing machine, Ritesh gets busy in the kitchen, fixing up some dinner and washing vessels. For these IT professionals from Mumbai, it’s the same routine everyday and the couple is pretty content with life. They regularly invite friends over, are open and honest about the status of their relationship with their parents, friends and colleagues. “It’s like we are married sans the responsibilities that come with marriage,” says Janavi. The couple has been living in for the past four years and they believe that marriage is an institution that conforms to societal pressure. “It’s not that we aren’t committed to each other. We just don’t want to be married because people expect us to be,” adds Ritesh. And it’s not just Ritesh and Janavi, the attitude towards relationships, dating or even marriage is drastically changing among many young women and men in urban India. Relationships seem to have evolved.

Live-in relationships, casual dating or casual sex, one-night stands and multiple dating partners aren’t considered taboo, particularly among youngsters. No more is it talked about in hushed tones. For Ramraaj Raghunathan, 28, an advertising professional, there needn’t be any boundaries in relationships. However he isn’t judgemental about couples who do create them. “Although I believe in commitment, until you find ‘the one’, what’s wrong in meeting and dating other people? Why have such strong or fanatic views about infidelity or casual sex? Emancipation should not be wrongly perceived as decadence,” he remarks. Agrees Ravi, a creative writer from Bangalore. He says, “I am all for dating with no strings attached. It is great if it works for both the parties involved. Exclusive dating gives a right to your partner to have some sort of control over your life and I don’t think I will ever be comfortable in such a relationship. I can’t cancel a boy’s night out or be barraged with questions like ‘where are you’, ‘when are you coming home’.”

Ram and Ravi accept that if a relationship isn’t working out, they wouldn’t go that extra mile to make it work. However, if it is their career, they would leave no stone unturned to get what they want. This very thought process underlines the youth psyche today and they aren’t apologetic about it.

Meera Haran Alva, a psychologist and psychotherapist from Bangalore believes that there has been a huge shift in people’s investment in relationships. “Career is a priority and culturally, we have taken the value of relationships for granted. Moreover, we now live in a world where we are connected to each other 24x7; there is no concept of boundaries anymore. Therefore, it eats into your family time or the time you spend with your partner; and the alarming fact is that people aren’t complaining.”

Like Alok, a banquet manager from Mumbai who, for days, camps in office, hardly gets to spend time with his girlfriend, and when he does, he is constantly hooked to his Blackberry. “And it is affecting my relationship. But I don’t have the time to worry about it. I have spent an immense amount of time and energy in building my career; I need to be financially sound before I settle down in life and I cannot afford to compromise on work just because my girlfriend wants us to watch movies and go on romantic dinners.” It indicates men and women today have different sensibilities.

According to G K Karanth, professor, Institute of Social and Economic Change, Bangalore, “Public orientation for the younger lot is different. They have been constantly instructed since childhood that a flourishing and secure career is the only indicator of success in life, which is why they choose to live for themselves than for others. As a result, interpersonal relationships have become dispensable and young people end up dedicating their time and energy only to themselves and their careers.”

Reason enough why we are aware of our social and financial confidence and potential, which induces us to take decisions irrespective of what society believes in. This, in turn, alters the dynamics of relationships and eventually our social fabric. For instance, more and more couples are choosing to get married late, say in their late 30s or 40s while some prefer not to have kids too. Priyanka Shah, a software engineer from Bangalore is one such individual. In her late 30s, she and her husband have been married for more than three years and she believes they aren’t cut out to be parents. “Who says a family can be complete only when you have children? My husband and I have our respective careers to concentrate on, we want to travel the world and we feel that having a child will tie us down. They say every woman has maternal instincts but I don’t. Motherhood is overrated,” she shares.

Increasingly, relationships are being judged by new-age parameters like work, sex and money. And in some cases, there is no room for compromise. Nihira is a writer based in Bangalore while her husband moved to Hyderabad a year back. They are happily married with two kids but the couple live in two different cities as they can’t give up on their work commitments. Says Nihira, “It took me four to five years to develop contacts in the city and build my career. I didn’t want to do that all over again in a new city. Also, I didn’t want to uproot my kids as they are studying here. As a family, we try to meet on weekends. Neither my husband and I like this situation but we have no other choice.” What needs to be understood is that these belief systems need not be considered as a representation of the youth’s frivolous mindset or as a rebellious streak towards societal norms. To add to it, blaming financial independence as a reason for failed marriages or other relationships is an extremely myopic view of the whole problem; it’s a simplistic argument argues Alva. “Young men and women feel that it is empowering to be open about their relationship status or beliefs and that choosing a career over love or marriage is liberating. I do feel that this whole movement of questioning and expecting a fulfilling kinship and marriage is positive. People no longer need to be in a bad marriage or  survive it. However, breaking away when a crisis in a kinship can clearly be worked upon is something that is not healthy. The Indian family value system is beautiful which needs to preserved,” says Alva.

Pooja K (27), a marketing manager from Bangalore, shares similar views and maintains that issues like being answerable to your spouse, marriage, or having kids, especially today, are often misunderstood as acts of compliance. She was in a live-in relationship with her husband before they got married a few months back. “With marriage came family obligations but that’s the beauty of it. It has taught me to be more tolerant and calm,” she remarks. Karanth adds, “The youth is all for veneration of liberation. It’s not about mutual respect anymore; it’s about being equal and people are not ready to compromise anymore. The ‘Why should I do it’ syndrome is causing rifts between couples. Call it the ‘I’ revolution. Youngsters are pre-occupied with themselves today, which isn’t necessarily a bad sign but when you want everything else to be accommodative of your desires, then there is a problem. This whole trend of choosing partners on the basis of how their career will be compatible to yours, or the fact that a minute deviant or departure from what you expect your spouse to do leading to a break up is dangerous.”

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