The State Of Love
VOGUE India|February 2021
What is love? It’s hard to pinpoint a defi nition to a feeling that encapsulates emotions of all kinds and brings together two souls. Yet, we attempted to ask you—2,801 of you—about what it means to find the one, or be the one, today
Snigdha Kulkarni

It’s hard, we get it, especially in a world where the present precedes predictions and where circumstance sometimes overpowers choice. But you answered and, from what we gather, you believe. You believe that even though there will be missing pieces to the puzzle, grey clouds on a perfectly sunny day or a rom-com that’s way more com than from, there is still a state of togetherness, as imperfect as it might be, that makes it worth the disagreements and disappointments.

Our survey gives you a peek into modern love. From independence being a priority and marriage not necessarily being the end goal of a healthy relationship to finding love again and online, the era of matchmaking is seeing an exciting shift where companionship is gradually being redefined by an increasingly progressive outlook. So go ahead and enjoy the real love stories that aren’t filtered into Instaperfect momentary #couplegoals, but instead reveal a raw, complex, and beautiful reality.

Age group

31% 18-24 years

51% 25-34 years

18% 35+ years

Gender

25% Male

74% Female

0.4% Non-binary

Is marriage the end goal of a healthy relationship?

21% Yes

79% Not necessarily

FIRST TIME LUCKY

Is there such a thing as ‘the one’? Sure, says bestselling author, Anuja Chauhan, as she rips off the rose-tinted filter for an IRL check on being married to her college sweetheart for 27 years and counting

The best part about being young and ‘falling in love’ is that you have no freaking idea what you’re signing up for. Oh, you think you do and that you’ll end up like Carl and Ellie from Up, but really, you have no idea what’s coming. Niret [Alva, noted TV presenter and producer] and I met when I was 19 and he was 24. We thought we loved each other and got married in the Arya Samaj-i way as well as the Roman Catholic way. 27 years later, I have a slightly better understanding of what we were signing up for. Years and years of sleepless nights, Hindi homework, maths homework, craft projects, mega financial upheavals, children’s illnesses (this one’s a real doozy), the fact that Night's faith meant much more for him than I (or even he) had ever realized, countless arguments about feminism and male chauvinism, horrid rows in front of the children in the car, slammed doors, pooping dogs, pissing cats, failed vacations, children’s love lives and every kind of ugliness. Ugh! But there’s also been warm, unconditional bear hugs, big, bright, proud smiles (in our family we call it “smiling like a ch#*iya”), back rubs, foot massages, home truths, shared sweaters, easy forgiveness, and lack of grudge-holding (that’s his strength) and lots of introspection (that’s mine). I think marriage works when people are honest with each other. Yash Chopra did get one thing right: love is friendship. It really is. This person needs to be your confidant-in-chief, your drinking buddy, your 4 am pal, your trusted secret-keeper. Prioritize this person over everybody else. This person comes first. It’s the two of you against the world. Partners in the long grind. Bunty and Babli. Timon and Pumba. Tom and Jerry.

Do you believe in the idea of one true love?

32% Yes

9% No

59% I believe in love and it can happen more than once

Vogue verdict: The idea of ‘one true love’ seems to be dwindling. You believe that love doesn’t happen only once

SECOND TIME AROUND

Designer Pavitra Rajaram shatters the ‘sole’ mate myth as she shares what it means to be middle-aged, divorced and in love again

Like many others of my generation, I grew up believing in the idea of a single love that lasts a lifetime. So when my first marriage ended I felt something beyond grief and despair and the inevitable loneliness. I felt like a failure. To be 38 and single again required a major recalibration. So, I raised my children, built my business, read books, watched films till 3 am, drank wine, and traveled the world. I invested in the process of getting to know myself. I did everything I should have done when I was 25. And as clichéd as it may sound, the first love affair I embarked on after my separation was the one with myself.

After seven years of being single, I met Paul [Abraham, president of the Hinduja Foundation]. I was working on a restoration project that involved setting up a museum of personal memorabilia, something I had never done. A friend sent me a link to a similar project. I emailed the link and we set up a call for a Sunday morning. I remember hanging up after that first conversation and wondering if I’d bared my soul to a complete stranger. As we got to know each other, it occurred to me that I had no clue how dating worked at 50. The last time I had been here was a quarter of a century ago and things were different. We were both more open, more honest, and less likely to play games. We were both vulnerable; he had lost a beloved partner of 30 years to cancer and I to divorce. And we were both single parents, raising our boys and juggling work and home.

In your twenties, you worry about what your parents will say and if they will give you their blessing. In your forties and fifties, you worry about what your children will say and if they will give you their blessing. But the biggest thing we had in common was our overwhelming desire to make sure our kids were okay with what was happening. There is no one-size-fits-all for any relationship. For us, the dream was always that of a world that embraced our individual journeys and our four children. And we worked at that.

We fight. Of course, we fight. But when it comes to the big things— a parent’s illness, a child’s unhappiness, a health scare—we huddle together. Despite my reluctance, when I fell in love with Paul, I fell in love with someone who shared my desire for a life rich in experiences. I fell in love with loving, demanding children and crazy opinionated relatives. I fell in love with a crotchety dog, daily drives on JJ flyover, a walk in the hills. I fell in love with hard work, shared causes, constant learning, and patient parenting. I fell in love with wonder itself and all the possibilities that tomorrow could bring. And cynical and bruised as I was, I fell deeply, madly, hopelessly, inextinguishable-y in love. A middle-aged love that doesn’t feel middle-aged at all.

It’s possible to find love after a long-term relationship

90% Agree

9% Can’t say

1.5% Disagree

Vogue verdict: Most of you believe that the end of a significant relationship doesn’t mean you won’t find love again

LOVE AT FIRST BYTE

Journalist Rujuta Vaidya and writer Sandip Roy met their respective partners online. Here, they recount their diverse experiences with fi nding their digitally-driven happily ever after

RUJUTA VAIDYA

SWIPE FOR SOMETHING NEW

In the early months of our engagement, when attacked by the “How did you guys meet?” question, Arjun and I gave vague answers. “On the internet” kept Boomers at bay, but no one close to our age group bought that for a minute.

But here I was at a fashion magazine and he in the financial district, both working long hours and nary a common friend insight. How else would we have met if not for taking matters into our own hands and swiping right? Finding a special connection virtually is not that futuristic. It’s positively feminist to make a choice over waiting for some fairy-tale romance to happen as you daydream in your Uber.

I always fell for the brooding, suffering artist kinds until I met a clairvoyant who said something that stayed with me forever: “If you keep seeking the same mistakes again, you’ll never learn.” So despite my initial hesitation to consider sharing a life with someone who isn’t in a creative field, I took a chance. I never thought I would believe in love at first sight, but there was something about Arjun that felt instantly right. I am always telling impatient friends that when you meet ‘the one’, you won’t need to consult anyone. Trust me, you will know. After our first date, I asked him to get off the app. He was surprised by my forthrightness but obliged. I wasn’t in a rush to find a husband, but I am also generally low on patience. This isn’t the Middle Ages, you don’t need to wait three days to call or text.

Love is around the corner if you want it and if you’re ready to accept it as much as you’re willing to give to it. Not everything will be as you imagined. Handwritten letters and a ring picked after consulting your friends? That happens once. Don’t buy the love stories you see on Instagram. Real love wakes up in the middle of the night to remind you to take your allergy medication and calmly helps you put together the pieces of your life when all hell breaks loose. Sometimes it snores, but mostly, in a roomful of people, you’re glad that’s the one you picked.

Are you comfortable finding love online?

56% Yes

44% No

Vogue verdict: While more than half of you are happy to put your faith in algorithms, there are still some who prefer old-school approaches to dating

SANDIP ROY

ACROSS OCEANS

One of us is a writer and the other a book publisher and editor, but we met in the India chat room of Gay.com in 2006. I lived in San Francisco, while Bishan lived in Kolkata. There were probably half a dozen chat rooms for San Francisco alone on Gay.com and just one for all of India. Being able to switch between Bangla and English on the site felt oddly special. But given that we were oceans apart, there was no question of date. However, the ritual of logging in and chatting (his day and my night) created its rhythm. Other relationships move from coffee dates to movie dates to night stays. We moved from Gay.com to G-chat to Facebook.

We finally met in Kolkata at a Barista, had a weekend together during the Nigah queer arts festival in Delhi, and then I flew back to San Francisco, unsure about where it was all headed. People think of online dating as finding a partner on Tinder or PlanetRomeo [a popular site for gay and bisexual men] and then dating in the real world, but our relationship itself was online. We played Scrabble online. One of us would wake up in the morning and see what move the other one had made. We had arguments via WhatsApp and changed our relationship status on Facebook. (But I never got into Farmville, Bishan was on his own there.)

In 2011 I moved back to Kolkata to be closer to family and spend more time writing. It was the first time we would be in the same time zone instead of stealing precious vacations in Thailand or Luang Prabang. We had to switch from being exotic vacation boyfriends to the humdrum 24x7 reality of Kolkata. I learned that when Bishan is sleepy he doesn’t care if the world is on fire. He complained about the clutter I made in the kitchen. For all the newfound LGBTQ+ cool post-377, social support for a gay relationship remains tenuous. But we both dote on a small plushie Chewbacca whose Instagram account (@this_is_little_chewie) has become our joint project. “What’s Chewie going to post today?” we wonder at the end of the day. Some days, that’s enough to keep the force with us.

Where did you meet your partner?

16% Dating apps

7% Matrimonial websites

16% Social media

4% Matchmaking agency

56% None of the above

Vogue verdict: The majority is still meeting partners organically, even as 32% of you are meeting potential partners online

NOT JUST PILLOW TALK

Why do some couples stop having sex? How integral is sex to a happy relationship? Is there a way to fix a sex-starved marriage? Intimacy coach and sex educator Pallavi Barnwal on everything you need to know about being in a sexless marriage

I am living in a sexless marriage, where my husband has no sexual urges. The last time we had sex was three years ago. I don’t want to leave my husband, but the urge for intimacy is killing my connection with him,” says a 33-year-old female educator. This case is just one of several hundred that I see in my line of work. More than just the lack of sex there is an absence of intimacy. Sex is an integral part of most marriages (unless one or both partners are asexual, or couples who have an understanding in place). But sometimes the sex fades, here’s why it happens and what can be done about it.

THE CAUSE

Busy lives, stress, and exhaustion draw some couples apart. For others, it could be resentment, decreasing sex drives, communication problems, or sexual dysfunction. While the reasons are different for different couples, the underlying ramifications of sexless marriages are loneliness, rejection, resentment, frustration, and negative feelings towards each other. It can often lead to infidelity and can end some marriages.

Sometimes it’s the basics that aren’t in place. A 38-year-old homemaker shares, “For my husband, sex is ejaculating at the end of eight minutes. I have never orgasmed with him. I only orgasm through self-pleasure.” Just penetration is not sex. Intimate acts like mutual masturbation, caressing, showering together, cuddling are all sex equivalents. Without foreplay, boredom sneaks easily into the bedroom and soon the sex slows to a stop. A historian in his late thirties in an arranged marriage attributes the lack of privacy after having two kids, his wife’s notion about sex being only for procreation, and quarrels with the in-laws to his sexless marriage. In this case, the relationship issues fizzled out the sexual spark.

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