Shackled to unhappy marriages or insipid sex life, many educated women in India are opting to explore new relationships with help of dating Apps. Ritusmita Biswas reports on the trend of women shedding inhibition and swiping right on Tinder, Bumble et al.
She wanted equal status in marriage. A successful professional herself, she stayed with him despite his anger issues, not because she needed him for financial support but because she loved him. Consequently she even accepted his infidelity and had never questioned or judged him. Now she wants equal acceptance of her own sexuality and so she set out to explore the possibilities.
Caught between a husband who was least bothered about her own likes and dislikes and a fault finding mother- in- law, she was exhausted. She tried her best but there was never any appreciation of her efforts and slowly she was sinking to depths of despair. When she met him what enticed her was his constant appreciation – for once she felt alive and desirable and wanted to live again.
This high flying IT executive had enough of the tremendous work pressure and domestic commitments. Life was monotonous and everyday was drudgery. The husband, though nice, was cooped up in his own world; there was no sex life at all, forget romance or attraction. She decided to join a dating App and meet people just to get back that spark in life.
Whatever be the reason, a lot of urban Indian women are stepping beyond the traditional societal expectations to explore themselves both emotionally and sexually and most importantly, not feeling guilty about it.
A recent study by a popular dating platform shows that while it had been a rising trend in the last few years, post- April, 2020, there was around a 12 per cent spike in women users on their platform; the graph has been on a steady rise ever since. Statistics on that platform further reveal that not only login times but also chatting times by women were usually double that of men in the App.
Besides the increasing presence of women on Tinder, the women-friendly dating app Bumble now has over 4 million users in India and it has been found that the women are making the first moves.
The participation of women on other popular dating Apps in the country that include Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge are on the rise too. What is interesting, this not only includes the separated, single or divorced women but married women as well- keen to live their own life, especially in post-Covid scenarios.
When asked whether this phenomenon indicates a change in the notion of marriage in urban India, sociologist Debjani Saha (Das), an alumnus of Delhi School of Economics says: “The traditional definition of marriage has been a socially sanctioned sex relationship involving two people of the opposite sex. However, in urban India today the concept of ‘socially sanctioned sex relationship’ is no longer so applicable. Most think it unnecessary and if society interferes in their choice of mates or their sexual lives they take it as a breach in their own personal space. Couples are often ready to opt for an open relationship.”
Defining marriage to be a “the legally or formally recognised union of two people as partners in a personal relationship,” Lapita Banerjee, barrister and advocate of Calcutta High Court, says that women or men transgressing the exclusivity of marriage by having multiple sexual partners definitely amounts to infidelity and is a ground for divorce but legally, sex between two consenting adults is not a crime.
Senior advocate Soumyajit Raha refers to the Joseph Shine vs Union of India case where the Supreme Court of India observes that a sexual relationship by one of the spouses outside of the marriage may lead to the breakdown of marriage, but often such a relationship may not be the cause but the consequence of a pre-existing disruption of the marital life.
The Apex court opined that ‘adultery’ does not fit into the concept of crime and it was better to be left as a ground of divorce and it can be a ground for any kind of civil wrong including dissolution of marriage.
Shubhika Singh, consultant psychologist, New Leaf – Mental health & Well-being, says, “The reasons for infidelity are complex and unique to each relationship but some of the most common are– not feeling loved, not getting attention from the spouse, the lack of intimacy or sexual fulfilment, loneliness, monotony of being together for 15 to 20 years where the relationship becomes more functional about chores, and less about keeping the spark alive and doing special things for one-another.
“For a lot of women, it’s also a way to deal with the betrayal by their spouse. Like a tit-for-tat game- if you can do it, so can I.”
Singh further adds, “Societally women’s sexual needs are not given any importance in India. It’s stereotypically looked at as a ‘duty of the wife’ or for the sole purpose of procreation. So many women feel a huge sense of shame and confusion when they discover their own sexual urges.
"But today more and more women are becoming vocal about their sexual desires not being fulfilled in their marital relationship. Hence they are using dating Apps. These Apps are really convenient to use, you get to choose who you are attracted to and would want to chat and date.”
Speaking about the repercussions Singh admits, “Infidelity in a relationship can rock the happiest and most solid marriages. A lot of women are able to keep it as no-strings attached with a focus on just sex and keeping it casual. However, the ones who were emotionally vulnerable to begin with end up getting stuck with another relationship that creates more upheaval in their lives.”
Saha adds, “Sociologically, we should not go in for any kind of value judgement; yet the dilemma remains. Allowing a person to make his/her sexual choice is to honour his/her liberty and individuality, but if it intervenes with the ‘popularly accepted’ image of Indian society, it may not be favourable for the smooth functioning of the society in the long run.”
Highlighting the positive aspect, advocate Banerjee says that being a predominantly patriarchal society in India, a woman’s need was often overlooked. The new age women do not give in to frustration; they know what they want in life and are willing to go for it.”
Moreover, Singh says, “I have seen women gaining a new found confidence during and after their affairs. They feel emotionally fulfilled realising how desirable they are still. It even helped them to become more open and assertive with their spouses, making them view their marriages with a fresh perspective. For some, it made their sexual experience better with their spouses as they were open to try out newer things in the bedroom.”
She also finds couples opting for Open marriages, where they enjoy each other’s companionship, have kids together but would want more variety in their sex life. “These are all new age urban Indian phenomena and there is nothing wrong about it.”
Change is the only constant and it seems, in these changing times the traditional Indian marriage concept is all set for a revamp in attitude somewhat.
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