ANON- I grew up in a very conservative Indian family. The kind where my parents told me that I can date after marriage, without even a hint of humor...and then clarified that I would date my husband. I think much of my awkwardness and inability to interact normally with the opposite sex stems from the fact that I was raised in this stereotypical Indian mentality. For those unaware, girls are supposed to be pure, meaning:
- At a young age
- To someone your parents choose/approve of
I remember my parents giving one of many lectures - usually cautionary tales about the pitfalls of other Indian youth in America - that demonstrate this mindset.
The story was this: a girl was friends with a boy. They spent a lot of time together and a picture of them with their arms around each other ended up on social media. Now, when it came time for the girl to get married, her proposed suitor apparently found the photo and ended the engagement. After hearing this, no one else wanted to propose to the girl. Shame and disgrace rained upon their family, and it was all her fault. The moral of this story, my parents told me, is to not get close to boys. "Don’t even greet the boys at church with a hug," they specified. "Someone will take a photo and your life will be ruined."
Listening to this story, I was enraged. “What happened to the boy in the picture?” I asked my parents. “Did he ever get married?” They did not respond, but the answer was clear. Why does the girl always bear the blame in our culture? I wondered. I sassily told my parents, if that girl were me, I would be thankful that I didn’t have to marry that man. If he is so insecure that he excavates a photo from years ago, and can’t let it go, what kind of marriage would that be? If a person cannot accept his or her significant other’s past, and leave it in the past, there is no future for their relationship. This story also contradicts my feminist ideals since it implies that a girl’s entire goal in life is marriage. Now that the girl’s “prospects” are gone, her life is assumed to be ruined. She cannot truly ever be successful without a man.
This is where the cognitive dissonance begins for me. My parents have always dissuaded me from spending time with boys. Growing up, they encouraged independence, explaining how unnecessary a boy is for my success. Rather, boys were distractions. Yet, at the same time, there has always been the expectation that someday, I will get married (to the boy they choose). It used to be easy for me to push aside the anxiety brought on by this idea, but now that I’m getting older, the narrative has changed. I am no longer the capable, independent young woman they were raising. Now, “medical school is difficult and you will need someone by your side.” What happened to the idea that boys are distractions? What happened to the idea that I can do anything I set my mind to?
“Can you believe we’re going to get her married in 3 years?” my mom remarked when I returned from my first year of college. I just laugh these comments off, but the worry nags at me. From a young age, I knew this was coming, but it had always seemed so far away. I thought I had plenty of time to change their minds. While I have tried, it is futile. I thought perhaps my parents might mellow with age. From my vantage point, they haven’t. The clock is ticking and there is nothing I can do. My parents are good people and I’m blessed to have them. It simply hurts me how narrow-minded they can be; as reasonable as they seem, they are very much still set in their ways. This same stubbornness has led to many disagreements in our house. I have spent many nights upset about seemingly unjust decisions my parents made. Trying to cope with the combined stress of school, friends, and general teenage angst, I spent many nights imagining my fantasy future. One day, my prince would come and whisk me away from the nightmare that was my life. One day, I would look back at all my troubles and smile because they led me to him. One day, everything was going to be okay. I would be happy and married to the man who made them okay. But then I would remember how upset it made me when my parents discussed getting me “married off.”
One of the Malayalam words for “married” literally translates to “tied.” I had always thought marriage was simply another way for my parents to tie me down. Yet at the same time, here I was, looking at it as my escape. These conflicting views used to make me hate myself, and then hate my parents for making me hate myself. Now, it simply makes me sad. I think I have come to a point of understanding them. They grew up in a culture where everyone did as they were expected to. Their parents grew up in that same culture, and so did their grandparents and great-grandparents. Here they are raising their children in a foreign land, struggling to pass down our culture without it being watered down by the deluge of American ideals. I think this makes them cling more stubbornly to the culture they were raised in. They are simply trying to preserve their sense of identity in a society that is trying to erase it. But at what point should the respect I owe my parents stop overshadowing the respect I owe myself? Must I be tied down by their expectations simply because tradition dictates it? Perhaps they will change someday. I hope it’s soon.
But for now, I remain in this boy paradox.
illustration credit: hatecopy