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On Love: Learning to be ethically non-monogamous

"A younger me didn’t get it – I placed love on lofty, over-romanticised pedestals"


Tej Munuganti is a writer and comedian based in Naarm/Melbourne. He regularly performs with the improv troupe The Big Hoo Haa and around the Melbourne stand-up comedy circuit. For this week’s ‘On Love’, I spoke with them about their journey of unlearning the deep conditioning of an “arranged marriage” and exploring ethical non-monogamy.

 

How does that work growing up in a conservative brown family?


I’m the product of an arranged marriage. I grew up in a conservative South Indian community, and many of the people I grew up with were arranged, even in Melbourne. “But where does love fit into all of that?” I’d ask. My parents would respond: “Over time, Tej. Through commitment and intimacy, we learn to love each other.”


A younger me didn’t get it – I placed love on lofty, over-romanticised pedestals. I also look at my parents, who are complete opposites; how the hell did they get hitched? My mum oozes charisma. My dad is an incredibly intelligent man with the charm of Mr. Bean. But they made it work; they’re still together after the first meeting on their wedding day. This always messed me up as I find the line between “love” and “cultural expectations” to be so blurred.


Growing up watching Bollywood was a trip: watching two strangers find each other amidst violence and songs, tackling crises with the disapproving family of the lead actress. But the garland always went on the neck at the end, yet the carnage wreaked by the street fighting lead actor was never addressed. Even more confusing, my parents grew up watching stories of love marriages as an indulgence, not an aspiration.


My grandma once said, “to only get married to another person for love is selfish. You must think of the family legacy you bring with you.” That’s a core tenet of “love” in an arranged marriage: to honour your family’s legacy. But my mum never expected this from me. The aunties would say, but what if he starts dating a white girl? She wasn’t worried.


And here I’ve arrived: a signed permission slip to explore a frontier untouched by my parents. I’m comforted by their blind support though they’re useless as dating advisors. Their paved path is very different to mine.

 

I grew up performing poojas and singing bhajans on the weekends (think “attending a mass” and “singing hymns”). Mum truly loves and identifies with many philosophies around Hinduism. I have been learning about ethically non-monogamous lifestyles, and my discussions with my mum have led to some profound insights.


The framework around building a relationship with another, the lodestones we use to navigate compromise, and the scintillating discussion around setting boundaries relate to the critical topics of honesty, communication, and consent in the ethically non-monogamous community.


Like I said, I’m still figuring it all out.


Liked reading 'On Love'? I will be speaking with a South Asian person about what it means to them regularly for this column. If you have a story you'd like to share with me, DM me! You'll find my handle in the bio below.

 

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About the author

Sashi Perera is a Sri Lankan Australian comedian, writer and recovering lawyer. She was featured on the UK's 2021 Funny Women Awards 'Ones to Watch’ List and was part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2021 and 2022. She's constantly inspired by love in all its forms and writes a regular column for South Asian Today, ‘On Love’. Instagram | @sashbomb


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