Writer’s note: Everything in this article has been written based on my lived experience as an upper-caste, cis, straight, educated woman. My lived experience of living with my male partner in a rural area in the middle of MP is steeped in privilege, yet it was in no way typical. You may not find every statement relatable, but I hope it makes for entertaining reading.
In India, live-ins have become more visible, as women form their identities regardless of marriage. Gone are the days when women needed marriage for financial security. We all stan a boss-lady.
I chose to live with my boyfriend at 22 when we moved to a village in MP to work in the same NGO. At the age of 22, my mother had just got married. The commitment to live together felt as big, as we embarked on our first jobs, away from the only lives we knew - in Mumbai and Delhi. Are live-ins an act of rebellion, or a feminist adventure? Here’s what I learnt: In a live-in relationship, you need to get your ABCDs in order. Let me explain.
A is for acceptance. I knew that my partner was accepting of me - physically and emotionally. I have anxiety, and until I was ready to get help, he was instrumental in keeping me going. When you live together, you can’t escape your partner. Our languages of love and how we dealt with conflict were different, and addressing this was crucial to our relationship. We had to meet each other halfway.
B is for Balance. Our relationship was our first experience living independently. Soon into the relationship I learned how subconsciously women take the mental load of domestic labour. The mental load is, simply put, the invisible labour taken upon by the woman based on the assumption that she is responsible for the domestic front. My partner had to learn how to contribute equally, and I had to learn how to let go of internalised responsibility. Unlearning patriarchal notions in our relationship made us closer. It took discourse, arguments, and a couple of nights apart until we mutually agreed upon the division of labour. Live-ins aren’t marriage; they are an opportunity to be equal partners inside the house and outside.
C is for Comprehensive Sex Education. Science has got your back. Always talk about STI testing, and establish early on what method of contraception works best for you both. Long-term methods like birth control, IUDs, vasectomies, and an understanding gynaecologist can help you both focus on the relationship, and not the scary stories often told in Indian society about live-ins and pre-marital sex. (Why is default sex assumed to be post-marriage anyway?)
D is for difficult conversations. Making your own rules is scary, but it’s also incredibly freeing. Your partner is your chosen family, and practicing feminism means engaging with the uncomfortable. Make sure you both are on the same page of why you’re moving in - is it convenient, or is it because both of you feel ready to elevate a relationship to the next stage? So before moving in, talk about things: period sex, breaking mental health trauma cycles, your finances, things you dislike in a living arrangement, and the dreams you’re too scared to share. These conversations can be tough to do face-to-face sometimes, and writing things down for your partner is a tear-proof method to make your point.
Some of the ABCDs are like ripping off band aids, and some things will just work themselves out perfectly. While others will feel like taking care of a plant for the first time – lots of trial and error, but so much more rewarding. But it’s always better to have these conversations than slide things under a rug. In a post-pandemic world, who you surround yourself with is more important than ever.
So, who do you want to be on a marooned island (apartment) with?
(Raashi Raghunath is doing a Master's in Public Health and tries to make women's lives healthier and calmer. You can find her at @raashigram on Instagram. You can also reply to her by hitting Reply to this email.)