My father, had he been alive would have wagged a finger at me and said, “I told you so,” after reading “Living apart together: the cautious approach” by Audrey Gillan in The Guardian a few weeks ago. Dad, even in the late 90s was fond of remarking that marriage as a social institution and order, had outlived its time, and had become redundant. His belief had been brought on by the many marriages around him, both in the family and outside of it that were headed “for the rocks”. Even though I belong to a later generation I had dismissed him as a cynical human each time he propounded his pet theory on marriage.

It seems he was more perceptive than me about emerging trends. As it turns out, even if not redundant, as increasingly seen, marriage as an institution seems to be viewed as a last option to formalise relationships, rather than the only one. Only, even he would have been completely flummoxed by the many alternatives to marriage that have emerged. The permutations and combinations are many, and none of them necessarily points to marriage as a conclusion. There’s the relationship called living apart together (LAT), where couples live in separate homes even while being in a relationship. Caution, rather than a lack of commitment is touted as the reason for this kind of relationship.

If the reader is not already cross-eyed trying to understand the nuances of the various combinations, he will notice that marriage is either not a possibility, or a very far one, in these relationships. A sign of times to come? While this might be a portrayal of the situation in a country we think is far removed from ours, are we really so insulated from the trend? Here’s what some youths between the age of 20 and 30, I talked to, had to say about their views on marriage.

Leena (name changed), 25, an upwardly mobile young professional who works and lives independently far from her hometown says, “I personally find that marriage has no relevance today. There is so much uncertainty in a marriage. I don’t know whether I can live happily ever after like my mother or grandmother before her did. Even though I would like to be in a live-in relationship with my partner till I am absolutely sure he is the one I want to spend the rest of my life with, for fear of offending or causing unhappiness to my parents, I will probably get married.”

Deb, 30, says, “There’s so much more to marriage than just tying the knot. Living with a person for life entails a maturity that I might not have just now. That does not take away my need to enjoy the comforts that a close relationship with a woman can give. I would not want to blindly enter into a marriage. Yes, I would consider a live-in relationship for a few months or even years to be sure I am making the right decision.”

There are many more similar views among our youngsters when asked about marriage. What however is very clear is the tendency between humans to want to enter into sexual relationships, to enjoy the closeness that such relationships can give. It’s the finality of marriage that scares them.

And yet, it was probably to give it that very finality that relationships in the past had to be conducted within the framework of a marriage. An institution that has, as my father liked to say, become redundant down the ages. Well, any institution can become redundant, so why not marriage? But then, give me an old-fashioned marriage any day, give me the fights, and give me the problems that living 24/7 with another human brings. Marriage, whether it is bound by love, held together by affection and fondness, or only survives because of children is an infinitely more stable way of life, for individuals as well as society. Even if someone says, “But you don’t want your cheese moved!

Bharathi Ghanashyam

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