What's love got to do with it?

Once, young people left their families and homes for love. Now they are leaving their loves for a better home and family. For the young today are casual and calculating when it comes to relationships, say Prasun Chaudhuri  and Kavitha Shanmugam

  • Published 11.10.15

Yash Chopra, the king of romance, would be turning in his grave. Chennai-based Pratap G., 26, is planning to jilt the love of his life and fly off to London to marry a woman his parents have chosen for him. Pratap had pledged to marry his college sweetheart. But he changed his mind when his parents started dangling a tantalising carrot in front of him - in the shape of a comfortable life in London. Frankly, it was a tempting offer - love be damned.

Vanita Jain, 22, is on cloud nine. The Calcutta girl had a big fat wedding in Goa, then half a dozen receptions across three cities. The party didn't stop there. She went to the Bahamas, via Florida in the US, in a Royal Caribbean Cruise for a honeymoon with her 31-year-old husband.

She is not likely to miss her boyfriend, Sunil Agrawal. They dated for seven years and had occasional sex in a friend's flat. Their families knew the two were serious about each other. Then suddenly she bumped into this "prince charming" - the son of a film distributor and real estate magnate - at a cousin's wedding. Within a month, they were dating. In six months, their wedding was finalised.

Sometimes, just sometimes, she feels sad for her ex. "I am in touch with him and will say hello after we return from another cruise tour - this one to Majorca in Spain," she says.

There was a time, not so long ago, when loving couples got married in the face of stiff opposition from families. The trend was reflected in popular culture, with a host of Bollywood movies -such as Raja Hindustani (1996), Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham (2001) and Jab We Met (2007) - celebrating rich boy-poor girl or poor boy-rich girl romantic sagas.

But those were the times when young people left their families and homes for love. Now they are leaving their loves for a better home and family.

A snap poll of 60 urban youngsters, conducted by The Telegraph YOU team, demonstrates that only 12 - or 20 per cent - wish to marry the person they are in a relationship with. Of the 30 who are in a relationship but keeping their options open, 18 say they "won't necessarily marry their current partners" and 12 say "it depends" or they are "not sure". Five have recently broken up and are "moving ahead in life".

Fourteen of the youngsters in a relationship - almost 50 per cent - are ready to go for an arranged suit if things go wrong in the current relationship. Surprising, almost all of them are ready to stay in touch with their exes "as close friends" even if they ditch them.

Take Howrah girl Sunaina Nahata, 22. She too found a ticket to high life soon after she broke up with her boyfriend. She had met Ajay Kumar, 24, in her tuition class four years ago when they started preparing for the chartered accountancy (CA) entrance exams. When they failed to crack the test on three occasions, she decided to give in to her parents' quest for an arranged suit and married a 30-year-old man running a CA firm in New Delhi earlier this year.

"It was a dream marriage and the honeymoon on a private beach in Mauritius was even better," says Nahata, adding that she has no regrets about dumping Ajay. "You have to be practical. I gave him enough time, but he failed to deliver ( uska kuch ho hi nahi raha thaa). His family is also middle class," she says.

Teachers, parents, counsellors and psychiatrists have been noticing this changing trend for some time now. "These days, urban young people are impetuous to begin with - they fall in love and quickly get into an intimate relationship," says Amrit Sen, professor, department of English, Visva-Bharati University, Santiniketan. "But when it comes to marriage, they think rationally. More often than not, because of economic reasons, they bow to social pressures and think of family status," he adds.

Anmol Baid, a third-year student at South Calcutta Girls' College, says she finds that many among her peers are "casual and calculating" when it comes to relationships, ditching their boyfriends the moment their parents find a wealthy partner for them. "For them, it's all about aspirations - who cares about commitments?"

Indeed, practical considerations seemingly outweigh romance when youngsters look at wedlock. Dr Sunita Mukherjee's two sons have both chosen their would-be brides from rich families. "Since they are medical students and have dreams to own hospitals, they decided on these lines," says Dr Mukherjee, a hospital administrator in Calcutta.

The Mukherjee brothers had their flings, but did not contemplate marriage, keeping their future goals in mind. Dr Mukherjee believes that this is a common phenomenon among today's youth. "This is an aspirational generation. They are so calculating that they consider creating a bucket list for everything," she says.

Clearly, romance and marriage no longer go hand in hand. The young have their share of romance - even "trying out different partners before settling on one", notes Parmod Kumar, a psychiatrist based in Chandigarh. Kumar recently met a 15-year-old girl in his clinic who was into her fourth boyfriend and had sex with all of them.

"It turned out that most of her friends have multiple partners. For them love or sex are casual things. Commitments have lost their value," he says. "Relationships are disposable and even one out of 10 of these youngsters won't marry the person they are going out with."

One reason relationships don't lead to long-term ties is the fact that the dating threshold for the young is on the decrease, thanks to Internet-linked technology that gives them multiple social platforms for interaction. A 15-year-old boy or girl in a relationship is clearly still a child. By the time he or she is 21, their outlooks and attitudes change. And obviously so do their partners.

Most youngsters are getting into relationships out of convenience, from compulsion to stave off peer pressure and to satisfy hormonal urges, says Shefali Batra, a Mumbai-based psychiatrist and author of Teenage Matters. "I recently counselled a 17-year-old who's been having 'relationships' since she was 12," she adds.

This, the experts point out, is also an "instant gratification" generation, used to clicking buttons for immediate results. "We live in a consumerist society which pushes you towards getting immediate gratification," stresses Rajani Konantambigi, psychologist at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS), Mumbai. "There is no scope for emotions to grow, for empathy and listening to each other. GenY has not learnt to delay gratification. So if something goes wrong in their relationship they are ready to throw in the towel."

Not surprisingly, relationships are taken lightly, says Brinda Jayaraman, a Chennai-based counsellor. "Tolerance levels are so low that if one lover doesn't comply, they don't mind shifting to another. We are talking about the majority here," she stresses." Adds Vaishali Wankhede, assistant professor of sociology, SNDT Women's University in Mumbai: "They don't want to hang on to dead relationships and prefer to move on, redefining the concept of marriage, relationship and love."

To top it, getting into a new relationship is much easier these days than it was for earlier generations when social circles were limited, and social censure was high. There are so many options today, as you have to just go online, Konantambigi points out.

Some decades ago, a woman sought to "save" her virginity for the man in her life, whom she'd marry and have children with. Increasingly, virginity is not an issue for women - and it never was for men. Men separated sex and love a long time ago, Konantambigi says. Women are now trying to do that.

The times are changing in many other ways. Families are shrinking and old norms are eroding, the experts point out. "Since parents live in nuclear families, there is a lack of supervision of the children and they are a pampered lot," Jayaraman adds. She mentions the case of a girl who had a room in her house with a separate entrance. "At night, her boyfriend used to visit her and one day she got caught," she adds.

But this seemingly consumerist generation will change with time, Dr Parmod Kumar expects. "All this will 'settle down' soon, like it did in the US," he says. Konantambigi recalls how in the US a movement called the Straight Edge Movement started as a sharp reaction to the consumerist, free sex, instant gratification culture rampant there at one time.

It will be a while before the yet-to-born GenZ rebels against their parents' way of life. Till then, romance will take a tumble.

( Some names have been changed on request to protect identities)

Additional reporting by Sharmistha Ghosal and Moumita Chaudhuri