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For Sindhu Sharma, Shweta Melwani and B. Sri Krishna, complete honesty, convenience and flexibility take precedence in all relationships (Photo: S. Kumar/Mint)
For Sindhu Sharma, Shweta Melwani and B. Sri Krishna, complete honesty, convenience and flexibility take precedence in all relationships (Photo: S. Kumar/Mint)

When it comes to love, no compromise please

They’re very clear that just because they are having sex, it doesn’t mean that the relationship is tangible in the ‘committed, romantic sense’

HYDERABAD : As a Gen X-er, what strikes me as remarkable about millennials is their wearable lightness of being. Not self-conscious. Not apologetic. Not possessing of an inbuilt defence mechanism that hems and haws, because there is an overriding need to justify decisions and seek validation.

They say it like it is.

Even—and especially—when it comes to love, relationships and sex in a world of tech-enabled interconnectivity and Hollywood-coded urban dictionaries.

Hyderabad’s cosmopolitanism, where traditional dum biryanis are slow-cooked alongside a fast-paced IT hub lifestyle, is a badge of honour for its younger population. They are proud of their hometown’s coming of age over the past decade. And they are proud of it being a city that’s good-hearted and largely non-judgemental. I am in a car with Shweta Melwani, who works for a food and dining app, we are being driven down Mehdipatnam Road to dinner. Born and raised in different parts of Africa, she moved to Hyderabad 10 years ago as a teenager, and now considers it home. “But only for as long as it suits me," she laughs. No “forever" tags.

She’s sitting in front, next to Ali Bhai, her driver and our chauffeur for the evening, who hails from the older part of the city, and she starts telling me about how popular the trend of “friends with benefits" has become in her “very large social circle".

“I’d say about 80% of people my age would be absolutely okay going along with it. They look for something casual, and are very upfront about it," she says.

They’re also clear that just because you are having sex, it doesn’t mean it has to be in a “committed, romantic sense". Melwani explains: “Having sex without commitment does not mean you are having sex without respect and emotions." At times, a one-night stand with a friend can lead to a lasting relationship, and that’s cool too.

I’m impressed how comfortable she is not pulling her punches as she speaks animatedly in front of the middle-aged Ali Bhai. Ali Bhai appears mostly unperturbed and at times enjoying our chatter (Melwani tells me the next day he had complimented her with “You talk so well!" when he drove her home after dinner). The next day, sitting across me at a hotel coffee shop, Alex Jo, who works for a California-based startup, displays a similar swag. He doesn’t let his voice dip a few notches for the benefit of occupants of neighbouring tables — like I do when I’m asking him how soon into a relationship does the sex part come into play (in case you were wondering, his response is: “Ideally, on the third date").

Jo tells me about his life’s big story: a relationship with a Pakistani girl who was studying and then working in Hyderabad. She went home on a vacation six months ago, sometime after the Pulwama attack, and couldn’t return. “So, it’s most probably over, though we did meet in Dubai a few weeks ago."

Friends with benefits

Again, he has the millennial clarity that if something practical works out (“it’s going to be a miracle if it does!"), he will pursue her. But not if it isn’t a workable option. “I dated someone else briefly while on this break. I realized I couldn’t bring myself to feel for her the way I did for my girlfriend, so we called it off." No problems if I write about this, I ask. He shrugs. “None whatsoever, there’s nothing to hide."

He met his big love at the house of a Tinder contact. Jo uses Tinder for networking. “I have a blog, and contacts evince interest in it. We meet for work, we become friends." With benefits? “There’s always that option, but I prefer not to tread that path," he grins.

At 30, he considers himself a “veteran millennial". “By the time you are in your late-20s, you’ve had a spate of relationships, so at my age I should be ‘settling’—that’s what people tell me—but I’m in no hurry, lots to explore."

Are there young people who decide to stick to one person for life? “Really, really few," says B. Sri Krishna, an aspiring entrepreneur and an organizer of Hyderabad TEDx.

He’s one of them, clear in his head and heart that he wants to be with his girlfriend of seven years for the rest of his life. “My friends rib me: ‘How can you say you want to be with one person for the rest of your life?’" He agrees things can take a different complexion 10 years on, but for now, he’s sticking to his guns. “I’m upfront about my choices. If I need to, I tell others I don’t want to hang out with them because my girlfriend is possessive about the time she spends with me."

Like Krishna, Sindhu Sharma has also been actively involved with the city’s TEDx community. A classical dancer and singer, she’s on her way to becoming a civil servant, very focused on her life trajectory. “One needs to be sure about what one wants from hook-ups: only when you have factored in the extreme scenarios that could unfold should you venture into it—that’s when it becomes fun."

I ask all four of them to sum up their point of view on dating apps. This is what they say:

Melwani: “Dating apps bore me, people asking random questions to find out if I live alone, can they come over… I would rather go to a club and hook up. He has to be cute, of course. There was a time when a woman who hit on a guy would be considered loose… not anymore. Not in Hyderabad at least."

Jo: “Not crazy about dating apps. I have about 60 to 70 contacts on Tinder, but not for dating. I chat with only six or seven about common interests and work."

Krishna: “My friends play PUBG, and find dates. It’s a survival saga, but you can interact with team members in real-time. A lot of young people believe if you’re battling to stay alive together virtually, you can click in real life. Many people I know date players from PUBG. It’s random, but it works, even for a hook-up."

Sharma: “We are a generation driven by casual relationships, so if I’m feeling lonely, it’s convenient to use dating apps. Some people go overboard, and date a bunch of people at a time… that really messes with your mind."

At the end of it, I’m fascinated by the objective clarity of this generation. Melwani explains how uncompromising her generation is about “convenience" in relationships. “I would not compromise on the country I want to live in or my career because of a relationship. To a certain level, yes, every relationship needs effort, but compromise cannot go all the way… that’s a deal-breaker."

Jo rephrases it. As a generation, “we will flex ourselves a bit, but not a lot—because we need to adjust to practical concerns".

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