When I was fifteen, I thought all of life’s big decisions were easy to figure out if you did the right amount of research. So when I read an article linking the statistic of couples who lived together before getting married to the growing divorce rate, my mind was made up.
Either way, it helped me justify to my non-desi friends why I wouldn’t be taking part in this seemingly glamorous right of passage we were all eager to fast-forward towards. Of course, knowing that everything I read in my grandfather’s weathered issues of Readers Digest was reportage at its loftiest, I took this as perfect justification for why I made up my mind about a decision I was years away from coming in contact with.
Of course, this was not the whole truth. In fact, it was just the tip of the truth iceberg. The real thought was what would my parents think? Being from a relatively traditional‑ though generally liberal- Indian family, I knew that there was absolutely no way that my parents would consent to me ‘living in’, as is the term commonly applied to this sort of relationship in India.
It was never seen as a legitimate choice by parents, and as a corollary, it wasn’t going to be an option for me- a fact I could neatly hide behind a random statistic. Along with this, there was the sense that living with a partner was simply marriage without the paper (or the party!) and what was the point in getting all that grief?
This was something I only shared with other South Asian kids I got to know. They echoed my sentiments, which roughly ran along the same track of ‘What would our parents think?/ Naani would have a heart attack/ Annamma would faint/If Soni aunty finds out, everyone in South Bombay will too’. Added to this, we all wondered, if many of us are not even comfortable holding our boyfriend/girlfriends hand in front of our parents, living together would let an altogether larger, more intimidating elephant into the room. It will count as a tacit acknowledgment of the fact that yes, we have sex with each other.
The thought of that conversation alone was frightening enough to most of us. Of course, there were the brave souls- Neha, a girl I went to college with, lived with her boyfriend in an apartment unbeknownst to either set of parents. This seemed wholly illogical to me, as whenever any family came to visit, Neha or her boyfriend would have to vacate the premises with all their worldly possessions and make themselves scarce for weeks at a time. How very inconvenient, I remember thinking.
Another friend maintained a studio (and rent) in Midtown Manhattan in order to play into the charade that she didn’t spend 359 days out of the year at her boyfriend’s downtown pad. She said her parents never questioned her about why she was still using the same bottle of dishwashing liquid they bought her in 2005, and why the gajar ka halwa they sent in July had turned black enough to be confused for Christmas pudding.
This sort of scheme was something I could never pull off. I imagined it all falling apart like the end of an awful romantic comedy, but without any magical happenstance to save the day.
As I grew older, I saw couples around me moving in with each other, enjoying the casual domesticity of weekend grocery runs, dog walks and dinner parties. A part of me was jealous, but for the most part I hadn’t reached a point in any relationship where moving beyond being girlfriend and boyfriend was viable. Remarks about moving in with each other were always met with a smirk, and a yeah, sure, whatever. The next logical step always seemed to be the biggest one of all- marriage, which seemed more like a conclusion than step at all.
The other day, my boyfriend, who my parents have met (and liked), asked me whether it would be prudent for us to live together. After all, we had been dating for a while, and because we both work busy jobs and commute, barely get a chance to spend much quality time. Our time spent with each other always seemed to be on a ticker, with minutes whizzing by. Of course my initial gut reaction was a no way, what would my parents think? But for once, thinking about it felt like an actual process, rather than a foregone conclusion.
A large part of this is that we rarely get a chance to spend more than a few hours with each other, and even more infrequently the night. Neither of us is comfortable sneaking around (we’re also too old for it). But imagining the look on my parents face if my boyfriend walks out of my bedroom while they are eating their dosas and reading the paper is completely unpalatable to me.
So here I am, locked in some sort of conundrum. The arguments I previously used don’t seem to hold the same weight against the situation at hand. I’m not ready to get married, our relationship is in a different place right now, and it seems so exciting to get to test out a life together when and if we do decide to take that plunge. I see friends who have chosen routes as diverse as a straight-up old school arranged marriage to long term domestic partnership with no intent to wed. I’m still somewhere in the middle.
I’m tempted to dig up that old Readers Digest, see whether I still subscribe to its facts or whether my experiences have changed my outlook. But in the end, it still isn’t about the statistic. I’m mostly torn because, as much as I would enjoy seeing my boyfriend every day, I still have the same reservations, the same fears and the same thought running through my mind- what would my parents think?
Kari ‘Bad’ Shah is a single Indian woman in her late 20’s who has lived in many cities around the world. She hopes her experiences and thoughts will help bridge the generational gap between South Asian parents and children worldwide. ‘No Sex in the City’ is inspired by the popular TV show ‘Sex and the City’ which captured the attention of diverse viewers across the globe.