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Why does Gen Z feel the need to hide its relationships?

With growing caste and religious intolerance in families, Gen-Zs find it difficult to be open with their parents about their relationships

The struggle extends beyond dating outside one’s community and intensifies when love doesn’t conform to the heteronormative framework. Photo: Unsplash

By Nona Uppal

LAST PUBLISHED 08.09.2023  |  01:00 PM IST

You’d think star-kids would have a different—perhaps, a more liberal—brush with romance. But then, Janhvi Kapoor, in an interview with Kusha Kapila on her show Swipe Ride, said something, which most Gen-Zs have gone through: How her “first ever serious boyfriend was that same 'chup-chup ke milenge' (we’ll meet in hiding), 'jhooth bol bol ke' (we will lie)" kind of thing, until “the relationship ended because I had to lie so much." This kind of a commentary feels better placed in my parents’ youth. After all, with disappearing messages from Snapchat and Instagram to locked-chat features on WhatsApp—on paper, we are the generation afforded the most privacy. Why would we need to hide anything?

And still, it’s a rite of passage for every other Gen Z, as has been the case for generations before us—this hiding of a romantic relationship from one’s parents.

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The early intervention in our dating lives boils down to ensuring our commitment to education. This was also the case for S, a 23-year-old student from New Delhi, who continued her relationship with her then-boyfriend in the ninth-grade despite parental disapproval. “I resented them for not allowing me to do what I wanted for the sake of my academics, especially because I was doing really good at the latter," she says.

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For Dushyant Yadav, a 22-year-old software engineer from Bengaluru, his parents' disdain for romantic relationships as he prepared for the JEE echoes that of many young Indians who face academic pressure to the exclusion of other joys. “My father caught me lying about who I was talking to after a three-hour conversation with my girlfriend. He was livid because I could have slept earlier to study better the next day. Lying to my parents, became a habit which made me feel like a worthless person who just keeps hurting his parents."

While an eventual candid conversation with his parents smoothed out things for Yadav, that isn’t how it always goes. To this day, even in seemingly cosmopolitan Indian cities, dating outside one’s community, caste, or religion is not approached lightly. M, a 24-year-old journalist from Kolkata, knew that the odds were stacked against her relationship from day one. “We didn’t want unsolicited advice on how an inter-caste relationship won’t work. My partner and I are in the early stages of our careers, so we find ourselves prioritising that more than having a discussion with our parents. And so, I hide it for my own sanity."

The struggle extends beyond dating outside one’s community and intensifies when love doesn’t conform to the heteronormative framework. N, a 25-year-old development sector professional from New Delhi who identifies as bisexual, tells me how the problem is dual-edged. “If I’m dating a man, talking on the phone, video calling, or meeting is tough. But when I’m dating a woman, all this is easy because we’re just ‘gal pals’." In either of the scenarios, N struggles to tap into her true, authentic self without risking disclosure.

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Ultimately, all this sneaking around is not without its consequences—for any of the parties involved. Take, for instance, the all-consuming shame of lying. “There used to be times when I used to sit next to my parents and text my boyfriend. I would end up feeling so guilty when I would look at my father," P, a 22-year-old student from Hyderabad who was dating someone outside her community tells me.

Shaurya Gahlawat, a psychologist, psychotherapist and relationship expert, explains why this guilt is so crippling. “It comes from feeling torn between honouring parents' wishes and following one’s heart. There is also an uncertainty of what can happen if they go against their parents," she elaborates.

Perhaps the most obvious, lasting consequence is borne by the relationship that is kept under wraps. For S, the burgeoning anxiety of lying made the fun parts of dating intolerable. “My boyfriend planned a surprise for me at a coffee shop, and while I appreciated the sentiment, it was such an anxious couple of hours. Every car that passed, every person that entered, I thought it was my parents. All of this triggered a great deal of anxiety."

Eventually, there is no possible without clear communication, as has been the case in Gahlawat’s dealings with a 29-year-old client, who struggled with anxiety and panic attacks due to his parents’ disapproval of his relationship. “With respectful and empathetic communication, he could make his parents understand the reasons behind his decisions. Through therapy, he gathered the courage to marry his partner. This helped him set boundaries in other areas of his life too."

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Who knows, maybe when Gen Z are parents, they may find that interfering in young romance is an intergenerational curse. And while parents will always be a little overprotective and kids a little too rebellious, the hope remains that with time a middle ground arrives. That we will raise kids unafraid of falling in love beyond caste, religious, or opposite-gender-based lines, and space will be made for honest communication.