Alone, together

In 2013, I decided to get married to my partner, now husband, Srijan Sengupta. There was only one catch. Both of us were doing our PhDs from different institutes and neither of us intended to relocate post marriage. Hence, Srijan and I decided to enter into a new arrangement: we get married and live in different cities, finish our PhDs and then look for jobs in the same city. Today, we are on our way to completing 10 years of married life and we also have a child together. However, we continue to live in different cities, pursuing our own career choices.

When we decided on this arrangement, I did not know it had a name and definition. But after meeting several couples in similar unions, I decided to conduct a study on this new type of family structure. That is when I began reading academic articles and realised that this living arrangement is common in countries such as Sweden, the UK, Australia, Canada and the US, where it is known as “living apart together” (LAT).

One unit: Jagriti Gangopadhyay with husband and son. One unit: Jagriti Gangopadhyay with husband and son.

Technically, LAT as a concept implies that couples are in an intimate relationship, but do not cohabit with each other to preserve their independence. However, I interviewed only married couples who were in this arrangement, as non-married couples living in different cities or married couples where the husband is in the Army or Navy or in another country are defined as “long-distance relationships” or “long-distance marriages”.

Through my study, I found that all the couples were equally qualified and that both partners wanted to stay on in their jobs. My study participants were doctors, corporate professionals, public sector employees and faculty members in different academic institutes across India. On a personal note, work autonomy and individual development as an academic were the main reasons for not relocating with my husband. Quality child-care in the form of crèche and daycare facilities at Manipal (where I am currently located) were added factors for not relocating. My study participants also highlighted that flexible timings, creative freedom in workspaces, high salaries and personal growth were the main reasons for not quitting their current job and looking for a convenient gig in their spouse’s city of residence.

The challenges of this kind of coupling, however, cannot be ignored. For instance, my biggest difficulty is living alone with a child and relying on paid childcare for everyday support. Consequently, when my child falls ill, I have to take leave to care for him. My study participants with children also expressed similar concerns. On the other hand, other couples chose to remain child-free as they believed that living apart together would be difficult with a child.

As per the International Labor Organization’s (2019-2020) data, workers in India work 48 hours a week—the longest across Asia. This increase in work pressure and the constant need to perform at one’s organisation is creating a culture of “work ethics”, wherein individuals are prioritising their careers over families and marital lives. Owing to this, India is witnessing a change in its popular family structures that we know as joint and nuclear. Single parents, child-free couples, live-in couples and single individuals are gradually rising in urban India. It is important to acknowledge these family structures both in policy and academic scholarship to understand the future of living arrangements in India.

Gangopadhyay is assistant professor at the Manipal Centre for Humanities.