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The sad reality of many bearded relationships

Individuals in such relationships often find themselves in emotionally complicated and inevitably hurtful situations

A beard is someone who marries, or dates, a homosexual person to help provide cover for their sexuality. Some do it knowingly, some unwittingly.
A beard is someone who marries, or dates, a homosexual person to help provide cover for their sexuality. Some do it knowingly, some unwittingly. (Pexels)

Season 2 of Made in Heaven, created by Zoya Akhtar and Reema Kagti, addresses relevant romantic relationship issues faced in our society in each of its 7 episodes. In episode 2 there is a brief, yet not-so-subtle reference to an issue that exists but is not spoken about enough in society. 

Karan (played by Arjun Mathur), one of the main characters, is gay. His mother is on her death bed and blames Karan’s sexual orientation as the reason for her reaching there. In this episode Karan is asked by his Masi (aunt) to marry a girl to appease his estranged mother and fulfill her wish to see him married before she loses her battle to cancer. 

When he responds by saying that he can’t get married to a girl because he is gay, she counters it by saying that she is his “type”, and that and he should adjust for the sake of his dying mother, so that she can rest in peace. 

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I am glad Karan refused. But many succumb to this pressure. In popular parlance, such a relationship or marriage would be called a bearded one. A beard is someone who marries (or dates) a homosexual person to help provide cover for their sexuality. Some do it knowingly, some unwittingly. 

One such person was my client N’s ex-wife. It was an arranged match preceded by a short engagement. Post the ceremony, on their ‘first night’ as N puts it, his ex-wife confessed to being lesbian. She begged N to continue the charade of being married for at least one year and to then get the marriage annulled. She had it all worked out. Even if N wanted to continue being in this marriage and discreetly seek a relationship outside of it, she was ready. 

N says he was so shocked that it took him days to have any kind of reaction. N is an ally, but he did not like being duped into marriage. Yet he complied with his ex-wife’s request. The emotions he felt in that year ranged from feeling sorry for himself, humiliation, frustration of not being able to tell anyone about his situation, anger, and the crashing of his hope to have a loving partner and perhaps even starting a family. 

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A year later, his marriage did get annulled. N’s parents started the search for a partner for him immediately, after all he was already 29 years old. N resisted as he was eventually diagnosed with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and has been in therapy for the last year and half. Now he is finally ready to consider getting into a relationship again. 

The situations these two young individuals found themselves in can be blamed, without a doubt, on how society is structured. I can’t even imagine the mental torture N’s ex-wife would have been through: not being able to state her sexual preference, then being pressurised into getting married to a cis-het man. It is indeed a very difficult situation. 

However, is getting married to an unsuspecting individual the right approach? What if N was not as understanding of his ex-wife’s situation? What if he forced himself sexually on her? I shudder to think what such couples might, or do, go through. 

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Another 42-year-old client of mine, V, got married to a gay man. Thi was twenty years ago. Her ex-husband had sex with her—not regularly but enough to get her pregnant twice. Any physical contact stopped after their second child was born. For the first six years of their marriage, V had no idea that her husband was gay. It’s only after she talked about her physical needs that he came out about his sexual preference. V was shocked and deeply heartbroken as she was in love with her husband. They remained married till their children went to college. They also came to an agreement to have partners outside of the marriage, discreetly. V says everything was cordial. But she can’t help but feel that the situation was unfair to her. 

The fact is that the situation is extremely unfair to both individuals. Despite awareness being created by the LGBTQ community, the dial hasn’t moved too much for individuals to be able to be honest and come out especially to their parents. 

A 47-year-old family friend of ours, M, has not told his parents that he is gay. I am one among the four people in his circle of influence, with whom he has shared this fact. M’s been putting off the pressure from his parents to settle down for over 18 years now. I asked him how he does that, M said he keeps their hope alive that he will get married one day. He keeps putting it off by stating milestones: he’d marry after his income becomes X; or when he changes his job, that he can’t possibly think of getting married till he settles in his new role. He has even used fitness as an excuse to keep them at bay. It’s a pain but he says that telling the truth and the consequence of them not understanding and supporting him will be more painful for all of them. 

There are no easy solutions to this problem. Yet, a gay person marrying a straight person to pacify parents and society is not the right approach. Every time the pressure to get married from parents gets too much to handle, I highly recommend that you seek help from LGBTQ support groups or a counsellor on finding the best way forward. 

Tough Love is a limited series by Simran Mangharam, a dating and relationship coach, who can be reached on

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