From the moment she announced that she was going to marry herself, to the quick wedding on 9 June, Kshama Bindu has been in the news. The 24-year-old had a few hiccups—the priest who was supposed to marry her in a traditional Hindu ceremony backed out and she had to move the nuptials from the temple to her apartment—but she was determined to go ahead with what is probably India’s first instance of sologamy.
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“Self-marriage is a commitment to be there for yourself; it’s also an act of self-acceptance. People marry someone they love. I love myself and hence this wedding,” Bindu, who identifies as bisexual, told The Times Of India. Some have described Bindu as attention-seeking, others are intrigued and a few, just baffled. But she isn’t the only one looking beyond the traditional ideas of marriage and long-term monogamous relationships. There are other Indians willing to go the extra mile to cement a primary relationship with themselves.
As a cisgender male, Avinash Tripathi, 40, who runs a logistics business, says he prefers meeting women of different nationalities and keeping options open for romantic or sexual relationships. “Although I am in relationships with three people right now, I consider myself single,” he says. He is in an ethically non-monogamous relationship that promotes a single lifestyle, or solo polyamory.
All the people involved are aware that they are not “exclusive”. Solo polyamorists consider themselves the life partner they always needed. For them, the usual symbols of committed partnerships—sharing a home and finances, raising children, making joint investments, whether in assets or a future—hold no allure.
“I was in my early 20s when I realised that I appreciate fluidity in relationships.... What if my perspective changes after a few years but my partner’s doesn’t? ... At the end of the day, you can only rely on yourself,” says Tripathi.
Solo polyamory is different from polyamory, where people have ethical romantic and sexual relationships with multiple partners. It’s about having a strong relationship with yourself. It’s different from being single, where there is always the hope or dream of meeting The One. Nor can it be equated with the “free love” of the 1960s and 1970s. “There is no relationship escalator in solo polyamorous relationships,” says Rachna K. Singh, head of the department of holistic medicine and mental wellness at Artemis Hospital in Gurugram, Haryana, and director of the Delhi-based Mind and Wellness Studio. Yet “a polyamorous person at a given point in time can be monogamous”, notes Singh. The term “relationship escalator” was first used in 2012 by journalist and author Amy Gahran, who blogged about “the default set of societal customs for the proper conduct of intimate relationships”.
For Kolkata-based educationist Anisha Damani, 34, who came out as bisexual a few years ago, solo polyamory offered freedom from the “shackles of heteronormative life”. “Monogamy was stifling me,” she explains.
The new era of dating and romance is marked by “a spirit of unapologetic self-realisation and self-assertion”, says Paromita Vohra, founder and creative director of Agents of Ishq, an online collective focused on sexuality and gender. “We may use different words but relationship styles in India are far more fluid, even within less metropolitan contexts,” says Vohra. “A number of young people are talking about all this because they are entering a complex dating landscape. With a swipe, you are validated or invalidated. While there are many options to explore your sexual and romantic nature, it is also difficult,” she says, adding that the growth of the queer movement has been a critical contributor to spreading social awareness about the reality of other kinds of relationships.
“Being solo poly helped me set higher standards and stand up for myself, which I didn’t do when I was in monogamous relationships,” says Sakshi Budhwani, 42, a Delhi-based corporate lawyer and solo polyamorist. “Today, I am free, happy, in a relationship and yet single, and that’s all I want.”
Geetika Sachdev is a writer and journalist.