#NoBarForPyaar: Millennials and Their Love Woes
“I am not really the relationship kind.” Been there, heard that.
This one sentence has, over the past year, dominated my conversations with friends, colleagues, and even my mother. The latter, after some reflection, asked me one day, “Why are you kids so afraid of commitment?”
By ‘you kids’, my mother was referring to a generation of young people — generally characterised by their familiarity with the digital world, heightened social awareness, and strong political views, among other things — who are referred to as ‘millennials’.
Sounds a little filmy, doesn’t it? Well, it is and it isn’t.
Being ‘Qarib Qarib Singlle’
In India, Bollywood constitutes a significant part of entertainment consumption for the young. You only have to turn to the latest movies to understand what the industry thinks of our generation.
A movie like Qarib Qarib Singlle (2017), for instance, highlights the ‘problem’ of love in its very title: how are millennials ‘almost almost single’? The couple in the movie may not be from the millennial generation but the movie presents a charming cohesion of all things millennial and non-millennial.
To make things easier, here’s a brief run-down of how Bollywood (often) imagines millennial love stories pan out: Girl meets boy, they feel attracted to each other but are reluctant to commit, they have lots of sex, things get complicated and they are torn apart, they slowly but surely fall in love, and finally, agree to commit to each other.
Consider movies like Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani (2013), Befikre (2016), and Ok Jaanu (2017) where the basic framework of the script remains the same, with minor variation.
In Befikre, for example, the couple follows a “never say I love you” rule, as they roam ‘befikre’ (carefree) in the city of love – Paris. They are torn apart by circumstances but realise their love for each other as the movie approaches a happily-ever-after.
‘Detached’ is the New ‘Cool’
These are only a few examples among many that shows that millennials are, time and again, represented in movies as commitment-phobic people who are game for being friends-with-benefits but do not wish to be tied down, especially by marriage.
In the words of Kabir ‘Bunny’ Thapar (Ranbir Kapoor) from Yeh Jawaani Hai Deewani, “Shaadi is dal chawal for pachaas saal till you die... Arre life mein thoda bahut keema pav, tangdi kabab, hakka noodle bhi hona chahiye na?”, implying that variety is the spice of life.
Despite the turn towards commitment, mainstream Bollywood significantly contributes to the idea that millennials, as a generation, are either afraid to or reluctant to commit. ‘Detached’ has increasingly become the new ‘cool’.
No Time For Love?
Bollywood is a big influence in our lives but let’s not assume that it makes our choices for us. Beyond peer pressure and the desire to be considered ‘cool’, there are a number of reasons why millennials shy away from commitment.
“I have no time for love. Career is my priority,” says one friend. Another friend, however, questions the binary between love and career.
Yet another friend offers a possible explanation for prioritising career over love. Each successive generation, explains friend number three, wishes to correct the ‘mistakes’ of the previous generation. “My parents, especially my mother, was forced to pick marriage over her career. I don't want the same for myself,” says friend number three.
A fourth friend has qualms about feminism applauding those women who choose career over love but dismissing, and sometimes even ridiculing, women who choose the opposite. “Pehle auraton ka bahar jaana mushkil tha, ab ghar rehna mushkil ho gaya hai!” (In the past, it was difficult for women to go out of the house, now it has become difficult for them to stay at home) says friend number four.
One Shoe Fits All?
So, are millennials afraid of love or are they merely skeptical of the prescriptive social rules that come with the idea of commitment?
A colleague argues that people are afraid to invest in relationships, which have increasingly become commodified. “You will get what you want from your partner, only if you are ready to give,” says the colleague. Relationships, the colleague believes, depend upon ‘exchange value’ nowadays.
Another colleague raises a question: can love — which is considered by many to be fundamentally human — be understood as one-shoe-fits-all? Discussing their past relationships, colleague number two says that modern relationships are all about making your own rules as you go.
However, love doesn’t come with a script, as in the movies. So, while we watch, on the big screens, the scripted versions of how each of our love stories are supposed to pan out, we must ask: Is this who we are as a generation?
Similarly, the next time we say that we are not the ‘relationship kind’, we must think: Are we averse to love or are we simply up in arms against the social expectations associated with the idea of love?
(This story was first published on 14 November 2017 and has been reposted from The Quint's archives.)