After two eye-opening quarters, I’ve figured out how love and relationships work here: As a Northwestern student, you’re either hooking up with anything that moves, or almost married to your significant other.
That’s probably not what Indian-American parents want to hear, but honestly, what do they want to hear? I assume that what other Indian-American parents say or think probably isn’t much different from what my mother and father say—although they probably don’t feel the need to vocalize it as often. Ideally, they want us to stay pure and untouched through college and then get hitched by 24. They want their children to stay children for as long as possible.
But surprise, surprise: they’re also bent on having adorable grandchildren to dote on as quickly as possible. Basically, they want us to immaculately conceive—human parthenogenesis, if you will.
I think my mom says it best: “Pavithra, you don’t realize this right now, but your biological clock is ticking! By 24 or 25, you’d better be married so you can start popping out babies! But don’t date.”
That clock is now a time bomb, set on the verge of explosion, thanks to my current career plans. My mom has realized that her daughter’s plans to attend medical school will spell four more years of school—and four more loveless, stress-filled years. She knows far too well that as far as her daughter is concerned, boys will always take a backseat to the allure of kidney dialysis and irritable bowel syndrome.
In light of those concerns, my mom has extracted a promise that I’ll get married during medical school, preferably within the first two years. If I don’t find a guy, my parents will start looking—and they won’t settle for just anyone. He can’t just be Indian; he needs to be South Indian. And a Tamilian and an Iyer, not Iyengar. Of course he’d also have to be Brahmin.
Silly, forgetful me, how could I forget about the restrictions of our outdated caste system?
I believe what my mom really wants is for me to just marry the male version of myself.
Having dealt with my mother’s anxieties about the next phase of my career and love life, I’d like to take a look at some of the (many) dating-related issues that plague Indian-American parents.
Boys find soul mates, while girls scramble to find prom dates.
I think that Indian parents expect far too much of their kids, and it certainly doesn’t help that they have double standards. While daughters are put on house arrest, their macho sons tend to be given much more practice time to hone their skills in the dating pool. Girls, on the other hand, are expected to stay chaste and celibate until about 22 when, suddenly, they must morph into sirens and reel in a suitable guy in two years flat.
Daughters are to evolve from prepubescent tweens into vixens.
I’ve spent hours arguing this with my mom, and while she understands my perspective, she’s still pretty set in her ways. She doesn’t really want me dating as a college freshman, but she desperately wants me to settle down quickly. And she has a list of specifications that I’m expected to stick to.
Many of us worry that if we don’t find guys by our second or third year of college, we might just be resigned to spinsterhood. All those Indian guys will pair up—often with Caucasian girls who somehow succumb to their charms—and we Indian girls will be left hopeless and loveless, doomed to solitude.
Boxing Us into Categories
In today’s world, it’s unrealistic for my parents to expect that I’ll marry a Tamil Brahmin. I often tell them that they should just be happy if I am to marry an Indian, because interracial couples are all the rage nowadays. I’d also like to give all Indian-American parents the red alert that since most Indian guys seem to have severe cases of what we college students call yellow fever, their poor Indian girls get winded chasing down Indian guys.
The “Arranged” Ideal
Even parents who claim to be pretty “forward thinking” (like my mother) are really not—but I also understand why. It’s hard to change what they believe, especially since many Indian parents have had arranged marriages. And while most kids are outraged by the notion of arranged marriages, I have to admit that somehow, in some weird way, they seem to work out. My mom often says that my dad’s probably the only person who could tolerate her and vice versa.
Parents, you should allow your children to date. At least they’ll (hopefully) get a free meal out of it.
Kids in my generation will never stand for being set up with someone that they’re going to spend the rest of their lives with, especially given the stigma still associated with divorce in the Indian community. We can’t sit around waiting for our parents to choose our soul mates for us—we have to put ourselves out there.
I’m not saying that Indian parents should let their kids run wild, and I’m also not saying that it’s wrong for them to want to keep their cultures and traditions alive. But it’s time that parents realized that raising their children in America doesn’t just mean benefiting from its advantages—it also means adapting to this way of life and accepting them for what they are: Indian-American, and not merely Indian. If anything, most of my generation is far more American than Indian.
And remember, parents, to actually talk to your kids. They do listen, and you’ll also find that when you give your kids more freedom, they’ll tell you more. This may sound like a cliché, but it’s always the sheltered kids who rebel the most. I’ve seen it in my own friends. So even if you say your kids can’t date, they probably will anyway. But if you give your approval, they’ll feel far better about it.
At the end of the day, even those of us who are jaded and cynical want a fairy tale ending. And while most of us will probably never find our Prince Charming—or we’ll realize a few years into the marriage that he’s more ogre-like than charming—we’d like to try. So give us a chance, won’t you?
This article was first published in the April 2009 issue of the magazine.
|Pavithra Mohan is a freshman at Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism.|