Dear Straight Up,
A year ago I met the most amazing person and we’ve been inseparable since. We’re both in our late 20s so we’ve discussed marriage and our future together. He’s my best friend and I can’t imagine life without him.
But he’s Tamil… and I’m American. He did his master’s in the US and has been here several years now so he’s quite Americanized. I’ve been to India 6 times and even lived in Kerala for a few months so I’m a bit Indianized. This blending has really solidified our bond because we’re both familiar with each other’s background.
He’s met my entire family and my mother honestly likes him more than she likes me. His mother doesn’t know about me and is looking fruitlessly for girls for him. He wants to tell her and he says he will fight for me, but he won’t leave her for me. I would never in a thousand years ask that of him – it’s his family after all.
But I don’t understand how your family can love you so much yet be so selfish? I’ve tried to research this and he gets upset if I imply this about his family. I don’t mean it personally, I just want to know. I don’t understand how the preference of the person actually living the life is the least important in the decision making process? I don’t mean to offend or upset anyone, I just want to understand and obtain any advice that you may have for us.
First of all, your boyfriend living in the US for a few years doesn’t make him “Americanized.” Similarly, your visits to India a handful of times don’t make you “Indianized.” It’s like saying just because you ate butter chicken a few times, you suddenly know all about South Asian cuisine. Your question is a clear indication of your lack of awareness of the culture.
Having said that, I can understand your frustration and I’m sorry you’re feeling that way. South Asian culture is still very conservative when it comes to the whole dating and relationship topic. Our culture still practices arranged marriages and if we were to publicly put it out there that we have dated several people and not settled down with anyone yet, our credibility, when it comes to finding a life partner within the community, becomes severely tainted. We are a culture of many secret and taboo practices sometimes ingrained in acts of hypocrisy. We date in secret or at least amongst the knowledge of our friends, but will rarely openly admit that to our parents or other elders.
It is the collectivist mentality of the South Asian society, unlike the individualistic mindset of North Americans, which makes it difficult for your boyfriend to open up to his parents about you right now. It is not being ‘selfish’ as you pointed out, but rather a consideration of how your actions will affect the people around you. We view our relationships with others as a community, which is why the guidance and advice of others, especially elders and parents, are always meshed within our own lives. In your case, how a public relationship, especially with a non-Tamil person, will impact the honour and respect of his entire family.
We live our lives under the fear that our actions might bring criticism from the public and somehow dishonour our family. That is what your partner is probably worried about. As much as interracial relationships may be accepted in North American society, it is still problematic in South Asian countries. In North American culture, it is easily accepted by the family if members have different partners’ throughout their dating life. However, that is not the case for us. When we bring our partner home, it is to make a statement that this is the person I’m going to marry. For his family, bringing in an outsider creates a lot of fear about the potential future of the couple. North America, stereotyped as flakey and lacking commitment due to its perceived high divorce rate, is a reason for concern for many Tamil families when their children plan on marrying outside of the culture. The fear that the marriage might not work out and the shame and stigma of being labelled a divorcee is one of the reasons why South Asian parents make a big deal about who their children end up with. Remember that you are not marrying only him, you are also marrying his family and that can end up being very frustrating if your values are not aligned.
Having said that, please don’t think that this only happens because he is dating a non-South Asian person. We face those kinds of restrictions when dating within our own community for various factors such as caste, education, skin colour, religion etc.
If your partner hasn’t told his parents yet, it can mean three things: he’s not ready to settle down and wants to wait until he comes to that point before he makes his relationship with you public; he could be waiting for the right time, whatever that is for him, whilst preparing his parents to the idea of a new cultural presence entering into the family; or he simply doesn’t have the courage or backbone to tell them out of fear of their disappointment and disapproval.
If his mom is actively looking for a bride for him and he has not loudly and consistently objected to her match-making efforts, my advice would be leave, because that is an indication that you’re in for a heartbreak. If he has done that, yet still shies away from telling his parents, I would say give yourself a mental deadline of how long you’re going to allow yourself to wait and voice that to him. If he doesn’t honour that, then find the strength to leave, because if you don’t, you will be waiting a long time.