For many South Asians, entering the dating scene is like entering unchartered territory. Young South Asians can rarely rely on their parents’ dating experiences to provide guidance on navigating this new stage of life and sometimes speaking to an older sibling, trusted cousin or friend isn’t feasible. Dating is also often in direct conflict with what many South Asian parents feel is appropriate for their children at a certain age, or at all. Some parents prefer their children to meet potential mates with parental supervision and approval, which is inconsistent with what many young South Asians want. Disapproval, secrecy and no guidance leaves young adults entering the dating scene feeling alienated, alone and confused. Problems arise when mistakes are made in dating, and there is no one to talk to.
Here are some dating mistakes, and what you can do to avoid them:
Sacrificing too much
Many South Asians feel pressured to get married by a certain age, and others feel that they have no choice but to sacrifice parts of their life or value system to meet familial or cultural requirements. If you bend over backwards to accommodate your partner, behave in ways that do not reflect who you are or compromise your values to maintain a relationship, you are losing yourself. The foundation of this relationship is built on you being someone you’re not, and this can never lead to a healthy relationship in the future. If you want your relationship to work in the long run, you need to be true to yourself, your values and beliefs. It is okay to compromise and meet someone in the middle, but pretending to be someone you are not cannot last forever.
Why do you want to be in a relationship where you can’t be yourself? It could be pressure from others to make the relationship work, because you feel like you should love the person because “on paper” they are perfect, or because you simply do not want to be alone. If you are willing to sacrifice what you want and who you are, as opposed to compromising on certain issues or beliefs, you will have a hard time sustaining a long and healthy relationship.
You may feel pressured to jump ahead and imagine your life in 20 years. This stems from a cultural expectancy that South Asians need to be married by a certain age, coupled with a desire to find a suitable life partner and settle down. The problem with jumping ahead 20 years when you’ve only been on a few dates is that the first 3-6 months of a relationship are euphoric and your ability to think clearly about the relationship and identify important signals is compromised.
It’s vital to think about the bigger picture when you are dating someone, but not get carried away with visions of a grand Indian wedding and the potential fairy tale life you may have. Identify concrete aspects of the other person that you enjoy and value, and aspects that concern you. Live in the moment and don’t get caught up with visions of the future. Things that may not matter when you are 21 and in love, like earning potential or living with in-laws, may matter when you are in your 30’s. Focus on where your relationship is at and enjoy yourself.
Ignoring red flags
Countless individuals will end a relationship and realize after that there were innumerable red flags along the way. If your partner is rude and disrespectful of people around them, if they are hot and cold to you, or if they disappear for days, they are showing you red flags. Red flags are subtle feelings that lead you to believe something isn’t right. You may want to believe you are overreacting to uneasy vibes, but most of the time the red flags we notice are cautionary cues that should be heeded.
While jumping to conclusions and ending a relationship is drastic and unadvisable, as soon as you recognize you’ve stumbled on something that doesn’t feel right, discuss your concerns right away. Best case scenario, you’ve misunderstood or have overreacted to something minor, and your relationship can move forward stronger now that you’ve voiced your concerns. Worst case, your suspicions are confirmed and you can move on.
Not voicing your needs
South Asian culture focuses on cohesion, and many South Asians are taught to push away their needs for the greater good. This comes with a price. Minimizing your needs and pretending you are okay with status quo can only maintain harmony in the short run. Eventually you will become resentful of your partner and the relationship, and will express your dissatisfaction in inappropriate or unreasonable ways, often creating irreparable damage to your relationship.
Work on your communication skills and be clear and specific, yet tactful. Expressing your needs doesn’t necessarily mean they will get met, but your partner will learn more about you and how you conceptualize your relationship. They will also learn to voice their own needs and show you the same respect that you show yourself. People understand and show love and respect in different ways; it can’t hurt to voice to your partner how you need to be shown you are loved, and learn what they need from you.
Staying when you want out
After some time you may realize that your partner is not someone you want to spend the rest of your life with, and for a myriad of reasons the relationship just doesn’t work. For many South Asians, once they have introduced their partner to their families and friends, the relationship becomes binding, and something that is not easy to walk away from. Whether you’ve been engaged formally or your parents have met, if the relationship doesn’t feel right anymore, walk away.
Think about the reasons the relationship isn’t working. Maybe either of you sacrificed too much and pretending to be someone you’re not has caught up, making the relationship unfixable. Or maybe it’s something far less complex and simple. If it’s cold feet or uncertainty about the future, give yourself some time and space to remember why you chose your partner in the first place. If the reasons your heart isn’t in it anymore are not going away with time and space, respect yourself enough to walk away or at the very least, discuss it with a parent or sibling for support.
Dating is a lifestyle that has never traditionally been a part of South Asian culture. Without role models or a culture that fully supports dating, South Asians can experience stress while looking for their life partners. Be focused, learn from mistakes others have made, and be true to yourself.
Red Flags in Dating
Treating others poorly: How they treat others is a good indicator, especially as you’re getting to know them in the beginning, of how they will treat you once the honeymoon period is over. If you do not like how they treat others on a consistent basis, it is a sign that you should reconsider the relationship.
Fighting unfairly: While arguments are unavoidable in any relationship, fighting fair should be an expectation that you have of your partner to ensure that they show you respect even if they are angry. If you notice your partner always diverting the conversation away from them, always has excuses for their behavior or blames you for why things go wrong, it is a sign your partner is not a healthy communicator. If they are not willing to change or be open to learning better communication skills, this is a major red flag.
Poor communication skills: With the increased dependence on social media, instant messaging and texting, it has become easier for people to avoid real conversations. If the person you are dating prefers communication via such impersonal channels over face to face or phone conversations, it is a signal to you that they probably lack strong communication skills or are not very invested in the relationship.
Afraid of commitment: One of the most detrimental qualities for a relationship is a fear of commitment. If your partner shows signs of commitment issues, such as having unrealistic expectations, trying to sabotage your relationship or avoiding conversations about your future, it is a big red flag that the relationship is troubled from the start.
Reminds you of your ex: If your current partner reminds you of your ex in behaviors, conflict resolution style or in the problems that the two of you share, it is likely that you are stuck in a cycle of dating the same types of people. It is best to leave this relationship early to avoid any of the pains and hurt that you experienced in past similar relationships.
Controlling behaviors: Domestic violence begins with subtle controlling behaviors and can be exhibited by either gender. If your partner tries to limit your contact with certain people or in general tries to control your behaviors, wardrobe or other aspects of your life, they are signs that the behavior will become worse as your relationship progresses. These are the biggest red flag signs that you should leave the relationship immediately.
Something doesn’t feel right: Despite trying your best at a relationship if you are repeatedly feeling as if something is wrong but you can’t pinpoint the problem, it is likely your gut is picking up on a red flag in the relationship. Sometimes, red flags can be so subtle that it is difficult to verbalize exactly what the problem is. If you find yourself asking your friends or searching online if certain behaviors or feelings in a relationship are normal, it is very likely something is wrong. If your partner is not willing or able to improve on the relationship despite your dissatisfaction, it is best to leave and find a better suited partner for yourself.