"Our living together experience was very different from our marriage."
Living together or ‘living in’ (as it is known in India) is the relationship status where both people move in together.
Now living as a couple together in a non-marital relationship for most non-South Asians is a pretty normal affair. But for Desi society it is not exactly the norm.
In a society where marriage plays a huge moral role, is the notion of two people moving in together prior to marriage not acceptable at all? Or are times changing?
India’s Supreme Court ruled that living together is not illegal even if it is immoral in the eyes of conservative Indian society.
Therefore, despite it not being illegal, doing it is not an easy practice. People in cities like Bangalore, Mumbai and New Delhi are more akin to living in this manner compared to rural areas.
In many cases, it is still a hidden activity which is not overly publicised by Indian couples habitating in this way. Especially, when it comes to landlords and extended family.
Living together in the UK is much more openly practised but among Desi communities, it is not so common as it is with the native population.
We explore the pros and cons of living together in a society where the idea of it is still taboo for many.
Accomodation and Landlords
Finding a place to ‘live in’ is not easy in a country like India. Where it is not openly acceptable for a couple to be living together.
Meena, who lives with her boyfriend recalls:
“When he got his first studio apartment, we moved in together. I naturally moved my belongings in as well. The landlord then decided to make a surprise visit to ‘check’ on things. He was so shocked with the idea of a girl and boy staying together that he warned my boyfriend saying ‘No girls allowed’. It got so bad that we had to move out quickly within a week.”
Sonakshi reveals how she and her boyfriend had to pretend to be husband and wife:
“We told the landlord we were married. We had to act it out in order to live in the place. People in the apartment knew us as a married couple. We lived there as a married couple, and I am not sure, if anybody suspected or not, at least the issue never came to us.”
Many hotels in India also do not allow couples to stay together with signs such as for “married couples only”. Despite there being no law to discourage these kind of stays.
Being honest about a live-in relationship with landlords and locals in India could be beneficial to stop them trying to ‘report’ you to your parents or relatives. But it all depends on your circumstances.
In the UK, the story is not the same at all when it comes to landlords but it still difficult to be open about it.
Deepak Patel, an optician, who lives with his girlfriend says:
“We moved in together after Uni. Because we were both looking for jobs in London. The landlord knew we are not married and had no issue with it. No one really cares around where we live, because we are like any other couple living together. But it is not something you can openly admit to your family or relatives being from a South Asian background.”
Sameena Noor, a student who’s been living with her boyfriend for over two years says:
“I’ve been living with my boyfriend since being away from home for studies. We split the costs with everything so it works out cheaper in the long run.”
Sex and Relationships
Many people think that living in is the dream scenario where couples have carefree sex and the relationships get easier.
In reality, this is not always the case. As many have found out.
Sheena Chopra, who lives with her boyfriend, says:
“Yes, the opportunities to have sex are much greater and do increase in a live in relationship. But the point is, you don’t just do it all the time! In fact, sleeping together allows you to explore what both people are like in bed, and helps you appreciate that good sex is not dictated by quantity but quality.”
Dalwinder Bhamra, a banker living in London with her boyfriend says:
“At first the novelty of sex was huge for us but it soon wore off. Because as we got more use to living like a couple, we realised that sex was a natural part of the relationship.”
“It’s not something that mattered more than say just cuddling up in front of the TV.”
Statistics say that cohabiting couples tend to be more unfaithful than married ones.
Harish Anand, who lived with his girlfriend for five years says:
“Our relationship worked well when we decided to cohabit. But after about three years, things began to change. Small things became huge issues. Then by the fifth year, she told me she was seeing someone else. So, it ended.”
When living together as a Desi couple, the idea of telling parents is going to be a big ‘no no’ apart from very rare cases, where parents might be understanding.
Most parents tend to view this kind of living as irresponsible and unacceptable.
In an Indian survey conducted across 40 cities, 80% of parents believe that those entering a live-in relationship is of ‘loose character’.
Protective parents of the daughter will not trust the man, thinking he will leave their girl someday when it does not work and which man will accept her then marriage?
But for those who are serious about this living plan and a future together, should consider telling parent.
Dhiraj Kumar, an analyst, who is soon to marry his live-in partner says:
“Couples in live-in relationships should definitely look at ways of letting parents, friends or anyone close know. Because the longer it is left, the harder it becomes.”
In most cases, the couple will not tell parents and have to work hard to keep it a secret if either of their family decided to visit.
Geeta Chauhan, a UK pharmacist, who lives with her boyfriend says:
“There is no way we will tell our parents. It means more trouble than we need. So, if any of them decide to visit, we have to clean up the place as if one of us lives in the place and the other has to stay with friends, while they visit.”
Ranvir Kaushik, an engineer who lives with his girlfriend says:
“We’ve lived together in our apartment in Mumbai for over two years but both of us know no one can know. So, we tell family we live with a same sex friend.”
“We are lucky because our parents do not visit as they live in different Indian states, far away.”
Salim Khan, a 28 year-old banker in London, says:
“Living with my non-Asian girlfriend is without doubt the best thing I ever did. But I cannot tell my parents about either, living with her or that she is not Asian. They simply won’t accept it.”
Helps a Marriage?
Whilst many may think moving in and living together can give a couple a good start to get to know each other, statistics say that it can actually harm a future marriage.
Couple who lived together who marry after are 49% more likely to divorce than those that never lived together.
But the statistics do vary depending on circumstances and cultural background. With the notion of living in for Desi society being a newer activity, the reality of it is now starting to surface.
Geeta Bhatia, a software engineer, says:
“I live with my boyfriend who I met in Bangalore after moving here. For us, we both agree that if one of us does not feel comfortable with the other, then we will not let our relationship suffer. So, one of us will move out.”
Sandeep Sandhu, a graphic artist, who lived with his girlfriend and then married her says:
“Our living together experience was very different from our marriage. Living together still felt one of us could walk out. But being married for us is the next secure step. How it goes, we don’t know. But we do know each other pretty well now.”
Kam Sahota, a fashion designer, says:
“When I lived with my husband before marriage it was a much happier time. It felt more care free. Being married has made our relationship more serious due to financial pressures, work and family expecting us to have children soon.”
The Law and Protection
Laws do protect couples and especially, the women in such an arrangement where the couple live together.
Even in India, the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act 2005 law is extended to protect women financially.
A committee of the Indian Supreme Court observed that “if man and woman are living together as husband and wife for a reasonable long period, the man shall be deemed to have married the woman”.
Fatima Baig, a journalist, says:
“For me marriage was not something that would work well with my job. So, I had a live-in relationship with my boyfriend. We both put our finances in.”
“But it got bad with rows and arguments due to his insecurities. So, we split and I did claim my half from him on legal grounds.”
A civil partnership in the UK, is very common and is respected by law and the government with very similar rights to a marriage. Therefore, a couple living together in this way, have complete support of the law when it comes to a breakup or financial issues.
Nitin Patel, a teacher, says:
“I moved in with my girlfriend after seeing her for a few years. We both didn’t want to marry. We were happy until she had an affair. This resulted us in literally having a ‘divorce’ when it came to the legal side of things when I wanted to move out.”
The idea of having children outside of marriage in Desi society, is likely a step too far for most people. But it is happening.
In India, the Supreme Court has rules that a child that is born to a live-in couple is not illegitimate and may be allowed to inherit the property of the parents, but cannot make a claim on Hindu ancestral coparcenary property belonging to the family.
In the UK, the laws again do not inhibit anyone cohabiting in a civil partnership to have children.
There are many couples who are having children outside wedlock in the West. However, for those with South Asian roots, the numbers are not on par. Will this change? Only time will tell.
Most living together, are marrying before they have children in order to follow traditional protocol and protect themselves from a judgmental Desi society.
Hemant and Devina lived together for 2 years and then married. Devina says:
“Living together was the first stage of us deciding if we had a future. Then we decided to marry. Mainly, because we wanted to have a family and could not do it without marriage due to family backlash.”
British Asian couples living together, who do not marry and have children are not so common. But are a reality.
Kamal lives with his girlfriend Rani. He says:
“When I began to live with Rani, her parents were not happy about it. She is headstrong and rebellious. A couple of years later she was pregnant with our child. Both of us decided to have our son despite not being married.”
Another change in Desi society is that of more and more divorced individuals, who are starting new relationships by moving in with new partners, usually women who already have children living with them.
This can sometimes result in the woman having a child with the new partner but not marrying, especially, if she is no longer close to family due to being shunned due to her divorce.
Selina, a divorced mother, says:
“I divorced my husband and began my life with my two children, away from family. Some years later, I met my new partner, he was great with my children and moved in. I then, fell pregnant and had his child. We are happy. I did not want to marry due my past.”
Live-in relationships, cohabiting and residing in a civil partnership are all ways that couples are enjoying life together without the stamp of marriage on the relationship.
The acceptance of this in Desi society as life changes will most likely have to evolve. But the conservative and patriarchal aspect of Desi society will not readily allow this to happen. As they see it as a wrong way of life and against the grain of tradition and culture.
However, with newer Desi generations having different outlooks and acceptance, is there a chance that these kind of relationships have a place in our society?
As with any kind of a major societal change, only people and time can make it happen, or not.