In our society, the institution of marriage has enjoyed the highest pedestal of commitment and love; however, it is in retreat worldwide. With Gen Y being replaced by millennials and Gen-Z, the idea of relationships and that of marriage is evolving. The growing ‘me-ethic’, according to The Wall Street Journal, could be responsible for the crumbling institution of marriage. Does the yearning for personal freedom, self-actualization and self-sufficiency in modern Indians make them see marriage as, perhaps, outdated and limiting?
“Why? We do not need a piece of paper to tell us that we love each other” said Mohana, 29, when asked about her plans of getting married. She has been in a relationship with Sameer, 30, a fellow journalist, for over seven years. Marriage, to them, does not seem like anything more than a social obligation. According to Sameer, they would rather travel to South America, than spend all that money on a wedding.
Anukriti, 24, is an aspiring investment banker and dreams of getting married at Lake Como, Italy, like Deepika and Ranveer. However, she does not see marriage in the immediate future, she has her career to focus on and the world to travel before she settles down.
“The notion today is that marriage is about love and love is about personal fulfillment.”
The concept of marriage in urban India has changed significantly in the last decade. Gone are the days when the purpose of marriage was to find someone to play checkers or Ludo with during one’s old age. With more young people seeking independence and seeking a partnership-marriage, the archaic conventions of marriage are being challenged.
“Twenty years ago, people got married, in part, because society expected them to,” said Chris Sherwood, chief executive at the relationship support charity, Relate.
“These same societal pressures don’t exist today and it’s to be celebrated that people now have far greater choices in how they form, structure, and manage their relationships.”
“It’s also possible that many people are now prioritizing other things over getting married, such as education, starting a family, buying a house, and travelling.”
This simply means that remarks like, “The clock is ticking, better get married now,” while might still be fashionable during the Indian wedding season, they are losing their relevance.
Millennials no longer give into the societal pressure of getting married. The urban Indian does not succumb to the constructed norms of being married in the mid-twenties and starting a family soon after. Being equipped with financial independence, they no longer need to follow predefined timelines and can go at their own pace.
This also indicates a dear departure from the idea of “marrying for the sake of marriage”. While marriage can be the most beautiful bond, uniting two people who love each other, it can also wreak havoc in the lives of those who marry thinking that it is the right time, as per societal diktats. The lack of purpose in that marriage becomes quite gnawing as the honeymoon period starts to fade. To avoid the mistakes of their forefathers and to liberate themselves from societal taboos, modern urban Indians are weighing their options and deciding for themselves.
With newer generations seeking personal fulfillment in terms of travel, education and financial independence, marriage has been moved to the back burner.
The expense of a wedding does not only mean the cost of the wedding. It comes with the added responsibilities of providing for the family and investing both time and money, leaving little to no time for the self. The lack of personal identity causes anxiety and is one of the major reasons among Indian millennials to avoid marriage. The time that should have been spent in gaining self-awareness and acceptance, is now spent supporting your partner and taking on their responsibilities. It easily delineates one from their own thoughts and identity. The lack of personal space is another marriage killer, taking out the charm and adventure from marriage for the young.
The need for freedom guided by the desire to travel:
Travelling has seen a sharp rise in modern India as the new generation values experiences over things, and chooses to spend time exploring new lands and cultures. But the prospects of travelling are greatly handicapped when one feels encumbered with family. It is not exactly easier to deal with the expenses, neither does one exactly have the time to indulge in ‘self-exploratory journeys’, once bound in the contract of marriage. ‘Till death do us part’ may sound romantic, but it actually becomes a burden for those who wish to commit as it feels like relinquishing personal freedom; and freedom to travel is certainly a part of it.
Career is a major stakeholder which prompts a retreat from marriage for many. The urban Indian is thinking beyond the conventional rat race to secure a job, but instead is signing up for the never-ending race of outshining her peers while building a thriving career based on her passions. Work often takes precedence over marriage because the youth wish to be financially independent with a stable career, before jumping onto the marriage bandwagon. It is perhaps a more practical approach to marriage, to know your financial stability before getting into a legal commitment.
‘Why should boys have all the fun?’
Compatibility over chemistry.
The rise of feminism has led to women entering the workforce and carving their own identities by competing with their male counterparts. It has also stemmed the demands for an equal say in the matters of marriage. The idea of spinsterhood has transmuted into the idea of a strong, independent woman who will marry on her own terms, and not when subjected to societal pressures. The TVS advertisement rightly embodies the free-spirited and strong-willed women who are breaking away from the patriarchal moulds of Indian society.
As more women are gaining financial independence, they are seeking freedom from the clutches of conventional Indian marriages. Unfortunately, most Indian marriages are set within rigid gender roles where the chosen career path for women is being a housewife. They are expected to carry out all their household duties, even if they are working. Unless it is a choice, being a housewife is not only a pay-less job but also a thankless one. It is not surprising then that the educated urban Indian woman would move away from the narrowing career path of being a family facilitator, with no financial independence, and instead choose a career which empowers her.
Indian values in jeopardy?
The breezy attitude of millennials towards relationships can be a cause of paranoia towards crumbling Indian values, or sanskaras. Today, when Cupid is easily available in the form of many dating apps like Tinder, it is not surprising that many choose romantic fulfillment in the form of flings, rather than commitment.
However, the notion of ‘fast sex, slow love’ is catching up in favor of modern Indians. Casual liaisons, aided by dating apps have opened up a Pandora’s Box for young people searching for their one true love. They do not need to sit through awkward tea-tasting parties (rishta ceremonies) surrounded by their families anymore. The advent of virtual dating apps has enabled millennials the flexibility to date at their own pace, spend time with the other person, get to know them and eventually fall in love. After all, love is an emotion with its own risks, and if one decides to fall in love, then the least they can do is calculate it.
While most Indian families are still conservative and do not acknowledge the concept of dating, the urban millennials are the first of their generation to widen the mind-sets of their predecessors when it comes to dating. The freedom to choose their own partners is a growing need among urban Indians and dating apps or matchmaking websites come in handy while doing so. Then there is no need to pay heed to the hullabaloo about sanskaras, especially when making life-changing decisions such as choosing your partner or getting married.
When it comes to long, committed relationships, research suggests that urban Indian millennials proceed with caution. Sociologists, psychologists and other experts who study relationships say that this practical, no-nonsense attitude towards marriage has become more the norm, as millennials are increasingly not considering marriage as a task on a to-do list, and rather are thinking more seriously about it before committing.
‘Around 80 per cent women in India support live-in relationships, according to the Inshorts Pulse of the Nation Poll. Seeking people’s opinion on live-in relationships, the poll received responses of 1.4 lakh Indians from urban and rural areas. While over 80 per cent respondents think live-in relationships are still considered a taboo in India, over 26 per cent said they would prefer lifelong live-ins over marriage.’
While marriage might be a problem for some, the idea behind spending your life with someone is not. Like Mohana, many still have flourishing relationships and supportive partners, even without the stamp of marriage. Hindi films like LukkaChuppi have not only helped address the elephant in the room but also reasoned with the previous generation why live-in relationships might be the future of relationships. Marriage is no longer a necessary evil that has to exist in a society. The taboo of a live-in relationship or sex before marriage is losing its grip on urban millennials.
“With this long pre-commitment stage in the live-in relationship, you have time to learn a lot about yourself and how you deal with other partners. So that by the time you walk down the aisle, you know what you’ve got, and you think you can keep what you’ve got,” says Dr Helen Fisher, sociologist and relationship consultant.
Marriage used to be the first step in adulthood, now it is the last.
Does this mean that the urban Indian marriage is getting outdated?
Marriage does not always equate with a happy life. If urban Indians are assessing risks involved in marriage before committing, it means that they are taking marriage seriously. The concept of marriage might not have become redundant in modern India; however, it has certainly evolved. The burdening aspects of marriage such as wearing the stereotypical gender roles, and sacrificing your personal freedom and identity, are slowly receding to pave way for a more stable relationship structure.
The growing breed of urban Indian millennials exists outside of marriage – as single parents, as partners in cohabitating relationships, or as singles.
Having kids out of wedlock is no longer seen as a taboo, as it once was. More and more couples are opting for adoption or raising children together without tying the knot. It has become more acceptable as they do not concern themselves with ‘what will people say?’ This solves the problem of the loss of inheritance. The idea behind carrying forward the legacy remains untainted in this new and evolving structure of the relationship.
The prevalent paranoia about the loss of Indian values, and the crumbling of marriage might overshadow the actual reality, which is a better functioning society. Within the Indian society, the acceptance of relationships without a legal contract entails a healthier approach for individuals where they can seek personal fulfillment without the plaguing aspects of marriage.
The urban Indian’s desire for self-actualization, personal freedom, identity and love, without being encumbered with the pressure of drafting a lifetime contract with another individual might just help evolve the urban Indian marriage.
With an exponential increase in urbanization and education in the last few decades, there has been a sharp rise in migration from a clustered rural society to a more modern and urban society. The newfound freedom experienced by the urban youth has translated into more choices when it comes to partners. However, the great move entails a more secluded lifestyle, which comes with its own set of imperatives. The loneliness encircling the new lifestyle and the availability of choices through dating apps, have made urban Indians seek out relationships that are often short lived and casual in nature.
Despite the hullaballoo about the decline in Indian marriages and that of, Indian values, 90 per cent of Indian youth still prefer to have arranged marriages. As the expectations of urban Indian youth towards marriage are increasing, traditional marriages with archaic gender roles are being replaced with a more evolved concept of marriage.
Urban Indian Millennials desire more equitable marriages or flexible relationships that accommodates their interests and lifestyle. This eventually means leaving behind the daunting aspects of marriage to pave way for a more suitable partnership.
By Anam Siddiqui