Living In Without Sin

Modern Family

Living In Without Sin

Illustration: Akshita Monga

Sitting on my favourite bench that doubles up as a couch, I marvel at the view outside my window. The leafy green trees, some dotted with fiery red flowers, mark the onset of summer. Adorned by playful, bushy-tailed squirrels merrily chasing each other, they always fill me with a sense of hope. As a member of the 40-something singleton brigade, hope is my best friend, my all-weather companion, my drug of choice.

Singledom is all around me like a modern malaise that we have yet to fully comprehend. For some, singledom is not a choice. For others, however, it is. It is not a decision they have arrived upon lightly. In your 40s, singledom is not all pyjama parties and sisterhood summits. Singledom can make you lonely.

Singledom often strikes during soppy happily-ever-after movies. It strikes when sick in bed all alone. It strikes when married friends are off on holidays or away on weekends because it’s family time with the kids and pets. Singledom is hours debating between filling long weekends binge-watching TV shows, trooping to the closest bar to drown one’s solitude, or getting some tepid, meaningless action.

Some people bracing singledom hope to couple up at some point in the not-too-distant future with a not-too-flawed partner. They hope that the euphoria of their new-found love in the not-too-distant future will last longer than the first flush of romance. But it’s not always that simple.

When I was still part of a couple, I asked one of my single friends (she had recently been through a bitter, heartbreaking divorce) to join me and a few close friends for Christmas. She seemed excited by the idea and promised to show up. She didn’t. The next morning, she sent me an apologetic text: She didn’t think she could be in the presence of happy couples just yet. I was saddened but also a bit disappointed – even mad – since I had secretly hoped that she would hit it off with one of my single friends and they would live happily ever after (eye roll). I realise now just how foolish I’d been.

Not only is it painfully difficult to come to terms with a failed relationship – especially one that involved a cheating spouse, as in her case – but it’s also cripplingly hard to put faith in someone new when you are hitting your 40s. And for this lot of singletons, one of their biggest, scariest worries is that they may never be quite ready for another relationship. That they may never be able to trust anyone enough to allow themselves to even try. That if they were to try, they may fail all over again, at yet another relationship. That they will end up spending the rest of their lives alone.

But does it have to be alone? Singledom may be the opposite of coupledom, but it may not necessarily mean to be alone.

The rules of engagement and space are clearly defined. Nina works from home, Nakul’s out most of the day. They spend several evenings a week hanging out separately with their own set of friends.

As urban adults, we are finding meaning in other relationships beyond “the one”. We’ve learnt to put our faith in friends as family, in cousins as best friends, in colleagues as support systems, in aunts as conspirators. Whether we realise it or not, there is a nurturing network invariably woven in, that provides comfort, solace and love. If we allow for these relationships, why do we stop them from being translated into shared spaces?

Shared spaces or cohabs may be an idea whose time has come. Remember how, when we were younger, we promised to marry our best friend of the opposite sex, if we were still single at 40? Well, that time is here! Only, the pact would now involve moving in with said friend. It need not halt our hunt for love but while we chase the object(s) of our affection, it could provide just the kind of support we need to face the ravages of romance in our 40s.

Nina and Nakul are exes who have joined hands – and resources – to share an apartment. They realise that this is an unusual arrangement, but being best of friends they feel that it makes absolute sense for them to use that friendship to their advantage. So while sleepy-head Nina is still bleary eyed, early-riser Nakul has taken the trash out, cracked the sudoku, been for his morning walk, downed multiple cups of tea, and instructed the cook for the day, allowing Nina to do as she pleases with her morning. And when the cook doesn’t show up, Nina knows just where to order Nakul’s favourite dum biryani and fish fillet from. When Nakul is having problems with his family, it is Nina who is his sounding board. And thanks to Nakul’s gentle exhortations and stricter admonitions, Nina – clearly the lazier of the two – can now be seen walking in the neighbourhood park in her bright neon running shoes.

The rules of engagement and space are clearly defined. Nina works from home, Nakul’s out most of the day. They spend several evenings a week hanging out separately with their own set of friends. Nina often attends lit fests and plays on her own. Nakul goes off to watch a game of football with his friends. There are no set rules. One thing’s for sure though, sex is off the table (hugs are allowed; sex with other people is also allowed).

It’s an arrangement that is different from a regular family set up, but it is an arrangement that works for them. Not to say that there are no downsides. Like when things magically move from one shelf to another shelf – or mysteriously disappear altogether – leading to two very confused people in the apartment. Or when, in moments of vulnerability, one wants to lean in to the other for a kiss but has to hold back. Life still gets them down sometimes, but this pair of singletons knows that the other will help lift their spirit, brush off their blues, face their insecurities, inject some hope and save yet another day – and yet another singleton.

Nina and Nakul may not have worked as a conventional “couple”, but they are a fully functional family. As we redraw the borders of what constitutes a familial unit these days, maybe this is what the future will look like.