By Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for Youth Ki Awaaz:
Hello, my lovelies! It’s almost the long weekend, so I hope you have special plans, even if they involve nothing more than binge-watching television and eating a lot of junk food. Here’s some feminism for the road.R asked:
What is your opinion about living together and dating… and marrying the same person if you like him based on the experience with him in those days?
This question is almost prescient, because I was pondering this just the other day. How many people I know of who move straight from their family home into their in-laws’ homes. In most cases, it works out, because y’know, we’re Indian, we’re used to large families, we “adjust” as they say. Sometimes, you graduate to calling your in-laws “mom” and “dad” like your spouse does, oftener, especially in very new marriages, you’ve been so used to saying, “aunty” and “uncle” that that’s what you say, until you feel less shy.
But the thing is, no matter how much you call them “mom” and “dad”, the adjusting period is a difficult one, because, let’s face it: these are not your parents. Your parents are used to you, your sometimes slobbishness, your favourite foods, your need for absolute silence when you first wake up in the morning. Your parents don’t feel bad if you tell them you won’t join them for dinner, because hey, that’s what you do sometimes. You’d rather sit in your room with a tray in front of the TV. But you’ve spent so long being nice to your partner’s parents, it’s hard to suddenly turn them into “family”, take them a little bit for granted like you do your own, just chill in shorts in the living room without feeling guilty about it. On their side, they might be a bit nervous about you too—does she expect us to be “on” all the time? Does she not like us because she’s not eating with us? Does she not realise that by cancelling on this family event she’s making us feel bad? (I’m using “she” because usually the wife moves in with the husband, but feel free to substitute gender if you live the other way.)
Then there are people who date for a long time, get married and then suddenly have to share a house. It gets harder as you get older. You get more set in your ways. Even if it’s just the two of you in your very own flat, you feel a little… shy, sometimes. Maybe a little let down. Is that all there is? Maybe you have your own rules, built up by years of living alone and they have theirs. It’s always a bit of a shock to the system, and yet, if you can make it past the first few months of tip-toeing around each other (or having one massive fight and then letting that relax the charged atmosphere), then you have a relationship that will endure.
Here’s my belief about living alone: everyone should do it. Especially if you live in a country like ours, where it’s okay, even encouraged to stay with your parents forever. Because if your whole life is your one bedroom with a big house you share with people who unconditionally love you and will do their best to make life smooth for you, then you’re not learning anything. “But I don’t want to learn,” you might say, “I’m perfectly happy with the way things are.” You probably are, too. I don’t blame you, but believe me when I say that you are missing out on a great opportunity to grow as a person. And that’s something you should constantly be doing, whether you’re twenty something or in your seventies. “But my parents will feel bad if I move out,” you’re arguing next. They might, it’s true. But the only way to improve your relationship with your parents is to have honest conversations with them. Let them know that your move has nothing to do with how much you love them, or how grateful you are to them, and everything to do with you learning a whole new skill set. Parents are all about learning new things, they’ll probably even encourage you to do it after you reason it like that.
Once you start living alone, I’m not going to lie, your sex life will change forever. You may not have all the sex in the world, but suddenly, waiting till everyone’s gone to bed, or going out of town whenever you can and so on and so forth will no longer be a factor. This is your house, and you get to have sex whenever and wherever you like. Your partner, if you have one, will become suddenly more intimate, because you get to see what he or she is like in the mornings, you get to spend whole weeks with them instead of a few snatched hours, you have arguments, you make up, you sleep next to them, all this adds up.
My suggestion is live alone-alone for a bit and then move in with your Person. Because that’s when you’ll have already figured out what you need and can look for a partner who matches you. Maybe you like cats and s/he’s a dog person. Maybe you love to eat out and s/he prefers to cook at home. All that stuff that’s important to figure out before a marriage and not after the deed is already done.
Once you’re past that, you can get past anything. By all means get married, if it’s important to you. But remember, you don’t have to. I never did, and I’ve been living with my partner for a good long while.