It seems as though just yesterday I was getting hour long lectures about why I shouldn’t even be looking twice at members from the opposite sex, let alone be caught dead talking to one. “This is not your age to be focusing on boys”, “Your priority should be school” “It doesn’t look good if you are seen talking to them like that”, just some of the creative ways my mom told me to stay as far away as possible from the male species, or face the consequences. It was the ultimate embodiment of being an Indo-Canadian female entering the world of pre-pubescent teenagers and secret MSN love affairs, also known as high school. Mothers and fathers across the Indian community forbid their children, more specifically their daughters, from interacting with the opposite sex, therefore forcing Indo-Canadian teenagers to either secretly foster a relationship with their male/female counterparts exercising tactics such as codenames on the phone and using friends names as alibis, or we simply obeyed the rules and avoided all and any contact with our future mates. You can only begin to imagine how unhealthy the relationships between young adults in the Indian community must have been, let alone the scrutiny we faced when our relationships were ousted to our parents by unknown uncles and aunties. There was no in between, it was either you risk getting grounded for life by sneaking a relationship, or you encounter social awkwardness when it comes time to communicate with a member from the opposite sex. There’s just no winning.
Fast forward 3-4 years to when I had just entered my 20’s nearing the end of my degree, I was blind-sided by the question I never thought I’d be hearing, “So why don’t you have a boyfriend yet?”, “Munda nai labya?”. My first instinct was to laugh it off, as if it was some kind of sick twisted joke, but to my warranted surprise, it was no joke. The pressure to get married was ON. As a 22 year old, recently graduated, Indian female, there are certain expectations when it comes to the big M word and it’s tough enough as it is in todays day and age to find someone the old fashioned way, let alone having your mom, strange aunties, and every other elder breathing down your neck. But I had to rewind and think about it for a minute, when did this flip switch in our parents minds? I mean a couple of years ago I was getting the death eye at the mention of a boy, and now all of a sudden you’re asking where my boyfriend is?! Do you see the contradiction here?
What sparked my interest even more was the fact that my mom was not trying to set me up with some Bunty or Goldy from her pind in India, but instead she expected me to have somehow magically known that it was okay to date openly now, and that I should have been on the hunt for a husband. What our naïve parents do not understand is that it is simply not that easy. When you are taught to avoid communication with the opposite sex at a young age, believe it or not, it registers, and now years later, it doesn’t help in situations where you might want to get into a relationship. Because we were prohibited to explore our options at a younger age, it becomes much more of a battle when we reach the age of expected marriage. Never having stepped foot in a male’s house before the age of 20 did not seem like anything out of the ordinary, until you have conversations with your non-Indian friends and get the are you kidding me?! stare. Upon further examination, these same Indian parents were not only restricting their teenagers contact with one another in a romantic sense, but even in a friendly manner. They told their youths that befriending a member of the opposite sex was wrong and frowned upon, I mean what kind of message does this send to impressionable teenagers. Either they will rebel and do it anyways leading the parents to be completely unaware of their children’s whereabouts, or the kids will have an extremely tough time building healthy relationships with their male/female counterparts in the future. Either way, this kind of hypocritical parenting style might not be the best approach to helping your children find the perfect partner.
Now, I couldn’t have been the only one that was facing this kind of hypocrisy from their parents, so I began discussing this with a couple of my friends, and it turns I was not alone. I’m sure some of you reading this right now are nodding your heads like yup, I know this all too well, and to you I say, join the club. To my dismay, I was completely thrown off guard by this phenomenon, leading me to question how.. HOW do our parents expect us to automatically throw all the rules out the window and find ourselves a mate. Looking back now as a 22 year old young adult on my younger years and how intimidated I was to ever talk to boys without my mom ever finding out, makes me question how things might have differed had we been allowed to explore the world of dating openly. I mean how are our parents expecting us to find a significant other when they prohibited communication with them our whole lives. Then leads to the where question: where do they expect us to find them. Now I am not saying that being able to date in high school would have landed me my future husband today, but perhaps it would have narrowed down the search.
Without having much experience in the field of dating myself, I decided to get some external data and asked some other Indo-Canadian young adults about this phenomenon, and got some interesting feedback. One young lady says that her parents were so strict, her mom would come early to pick her up from the movies and other outings, and if she even saw a recognizable male, she would immediately start hounding her with questions and accusing her of coming out to meet up with him, which made it very uncomfortable for her to maintain a decent relationship with any of her male friends as they were terrified of her strict mother. When asking her now about what her mother says to her regarding her current love life, she reiterates the same thing, “you should really find someone soon, you’re getting to an age where you should be thinking about your wedding”. But of course. I also spoke to a young man who had recently just got engaged, and he mentioned that his mom had actually introduced him to his fiancée because he had gotten so much heat for being in a relationship as a teenager that he completely shut himself off to approaching and communicating with females. A few years ago when his parents started questioning why he was not thinking about marriage, he was simply baffled and agreed to meet some potential women his mother had known, luckily he hit it off with one of them, but that aside, he most certainly was scarred.
I wanted to know just how common this phenomenon really was, so I decided to take a poll of how many Indo-Canadian young adults experienced this type of strict ruling in their households and then further on felt a pressure to get married or at least have a significant other in their early 20’s, making sure to poll both males and females separately. After surveying 50 males and females, I found that 77% of females agreed that they faced this type of hypocrisy as teenagers, and about 51% of males noticed this occurrence in their youth. Notably, females definitely receive the harsher end of any kind of strict and restrictive ruling, and I wonder if our generation of 20-30 year olds will raise their children with the same type of ruling. Slow clap for the Indian mom’s and dad’s out there that understand the importance of communication in relationships of today’s day and age. It truly is a strange phenomenon and I have yet to understand it, but I guess it’s something that is common in the Indian community, it will most certainly be interesting to see if this marvel lives on.
By Patricia Bhardwaj