How to deal with Indian parents when dating a Caucasian girl?
August 5, 2013 5:11 PM   Subscribe

I'm Indian and I have been dating a white girl for about 2.5 months. How do I deal with my parents who only believe in marrying someone who is also Indian? I've not told them about the girl I'm dating because I do not want to deal with bad talk when the relatives and family involved.

So I've been dating this girl for about 2 months and we get along fairly well. I live with my parents who are born and raised in India so they value traditional culture. My parents don't know that I'm dating a girl who is different race. I know that they would freak out and try their best to lecture me on only to date Indian girls. Anyway, I sleepover at my girlfriend place about 4-5 nights a week. I have been telling them I'm going to my guy friends house. But lately they have been getting suspicious that I have a girlfriend and aren't letting me go out. And my girlfriend wants me to come there all the time. We have great time when were together. Even tho I'm Indian, I do see my self with this girl in the future. But I do not know how to handle the pressure and barrier from my parents. I have one more year of school left and then I'll be moving out on my own to a different city. Me and my girlfriend have already talked about this and she's okay with it.

But right now, I live with my parents so I have to abide by their rules. What is the best way to approach this situation? I know my parents will find out eventually. I really do like this girl a lot and want to see her as much as I can.
posted by Parh6512 to Human Relations (36 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
Have they already told you that they expect you to only date Indian girls? Was it based on ethnicity, cultural, religion...all three? Are you first or second generation? Do you have any cousins who have paved the way in this regard (so to speak)? You sound like you might be around 20 or so? Given that you have only been with her for two months, I would probably counsel not revealing it to them until you think you might be more serious. If the repercussions will bring stress and tension, it may not be worth it. It sucks to hide things from your parents, I know. It seems that this is a challenge for many 2nd generation young adults--how much you're going to disappoint your parents!

FWIW, I actually am coming from the other side--3-4th generation euro-american, very areligious family, marrying a 2nd generation catholic indian-american girl.

Her decision was to keep our relationship secret until we were sure we would be getting married. Then she began a "slow reveal" process, where I was first revealed to be a friend, then a serious boyfriend. She did this to lessen the stress and "pain" for her parents of her not marrying catholic boy from their culture, speaking their language (more religion and culture than language though).

So I expect this may depends on how authoritarian your parents are, how much you're willing to deceive them and for how long, what would bring them to acceptance--them meeting her and finding her nice, marriage, children??

Best of luck.
posted by SpicyMustard at 5:27 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some people will probably tell you to have an open and honest discussion with your parents, since you're basing their freaking out on an assumption that they would freak out. Some people will probably tell you that you may be reading them wrong, and that with time and communication, you'll be able to foster an understanding. And that may well be the case. But sometimes, you just sort of know how your family will react to something.

If that's you, then you should lie to them until you move out. (You should be planning and saving for your eventual move now.) Be prepared to tell your parents to fuck right off and keep their opinions about the ethnicity of whomever you choose to date to themselves. Be prepared to have their reaction be harsh, and be prepared to have things you depend on, like their financial support, taken away from you unless you comply to their wishes. Take a clear stance, and make it clear to them that this is not about them and this is not even about this particular girlfriend. This is about you and your choices, and how you and your choices are separate from your parents and their choices. Be firm.

My grandma refused to talk to me for two years because I was dating a brown guy, so unfortunately I am more familiar with this than I'd like to be. You have my sympathy.
posted by phunniemee at 5:27 PM on August 5, 2013 [16 favorites]

I am also ethnically Asian Indian but born and raised in the us- my parents never care what race my brother and I date. They do not insist on Indian.

I did have a friend though whose parents didn't want her to date a white guy- she insisted her parents would disown her etc if they found out so they kept it secret for years.

They are married now with kids so her parents came around obviously. I don't know how it all went down but everyone seems happy now.

It really depends on what you think your parents' reaction will be. If you think they will lecture you and that's it, just politely brush off the lectures. If you think they will be rude to your girlfriend, you might want to move out first so you can establish better boundaries.
posted by sweetkid at 5:32 PM on August 5, 2013

Response by poster: I'm a first generation. I do have a cousin who is 28 and dating a white girl. He's independent and lives on his own. My dad talks about him all the time and how he lost his culture by not marring an Indian girl. He even thinks that he lost culture when he moved out of his mom's house. From this I can see how he'll react IF I tell him about my girlfriend.
posted by Parh6512 at 5:35 PM on August 5, 2013

Is your girlfriend interested in Indian culture? It sounds like your parents might be more receptive to meeting a white girlfriend who had some sort of commitment to maintaining parts of your culture in the future, in your home, maybe if you ever have children.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:38 PM on August 5, 2013

You should just tell them you're dating someone. Don't hide that she's white. (Though I wouldn't go out of your way to say MOM DAD IM DATING A WHITE CHICK OK)

I wouldn't try to get them to meet her quite yet (2.5 months is really soon for that), nor would I start bringing her over to your place.

Just put it out there and let it lie.

If they have a problem with you dating her, let them be the assholes who come out and say so. And then, if they really do say something unequivocal about it, just go about your business. Your parents don't have to approve of everything you do.

If you get to a point with this woman where your parents are ready to meet, and everyone is on board with meeting being a positive thing, go ahead and introduce them. But definitely cross that bridge when you come to it, and when everyone is ready.

If you never get that serious with this particular woman, the upside to conducting your life this way is that, the next girl you date, your parents will be ready for it. It won't have to be a big sneaking around production.

Also, re your dad and your cousin -- a lot of people are judgy about situations that have nothing to do with them. I wouldn't take that to mean anything about how he'll behave about your situation. And, again, even if he's against it, so what? Is he going to order you to break up with her? And if he did, would you?
posted by Sara C. at 5:45 PM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

Also re your parents "not letting you go out", WTF?

You're a grown adult. Go out if you want to go out. What are they going to do about it?
posted by Sara C. at 5:46 PM on August 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Your parents don't have to approve of everything you do

Yeah, this. I know how strong the desire to not disappoint your parents can be, especially in the case of immigrants, but disappointed parents are not the end of the world. They should be able to move on.
posted by sweetkid at 5:50 PM on August 5, 2013

Agree with Sara C. completely. Your parents will have to accept the fact that you are dating (ethnically Indian woman or not) at some point. Do it gently and with love though; I am guessing they are on the older side and if they are first generation Indians, they probably had to deal with a lot of hard work and cultural shocks and adjustments etc.

Additonally, I wouldn't beat the drums on introducing your GF to parents (or telling them about her race / culture) until you get pretty serious about her. I can tell you that its not worth the trouble.

Not sure how old you are from your post either, but IMO its a good idea to make a plan to move out, sort job / finances, and then have a heart to heart with parents (perhaps one at a time to make it easy).

Also, if you get to the point where things are pretty steady between you and your girlfriend, you could try to explain her the situation lest she feels weirded out, you know.
posted by Spice_and_Ice at 5:58 PM on August 5, 2013

Your parents don't have to approve of everything you do....You're a grown adult.

Grown adults support themselves. The poster sensibly recognises that he lives under their rules while he lives under their roof (they're probably also paying for school). OP: You can judge for yourself how likely a very strong reaction is, but I would not tell them, spend less time with her (4-5 nights a week seems a lot, don't either of you have jobs or anything? If you don't have a job, get one), finish school and move out, then date whoever you want. Or if this is intolerable, make a plan for supporting yourself sooner, and tell them then. Basically, if you tell them and they forbid you to see her, what are you going to do? If you tell them about her and they say you can't live with them and see her, what are you going to do? If you tell them and they say they won't pay for your education when you are obviously not taking it seriously but wasting all your time hanging out with some girl, what are you going to do?

My friend is a white girl dating a first generation Indian guy. His parents live on the other side of the country, and he always said that he would tell them about her when they were basically engaged. After about four and a half years, that happened earlier this year and they won't speak to her and don't want to meet her, so far.

Some other thoughts: sounds like this is your first relationship. Don't rush into it. You barely know her, don't be too hasty to commit to 'this is forever'. As phunniemee says, don't make it about 'this one girl', because then if you break up you'll seem to have lost everything you argued for. Don't put too much pressure on her to meet your parents, or allow her to try and make you move faster. If this really is forever, she can afford to wait another year for them to know about her. Don't allow 'being in a relationship' to substitute for all the other aspects of growing up that you've asked about like getting a job, setting boundaries with your parents, graduating, etc.
posted by jacalata at 6:05 PM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

There's living under your parents rules while they pay for your education, and then there's being forbidden to go out based on your parents' whims. OP isn't nine. I think it's probably OK for him to come and go when he pleases.

I mean, the interracial relationship thing, that's a much bigger kettle of fish and OP needs to find his own way to deal.

But no, I don't think it's wrong or rash or ungrateful to start standing up to them a little bit.
posted by Sara C. at 6:13 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm also first-gen Indian, son of pretty strict parents who are also very traditional. I've gone through what you're going through, and my advice is not to tell them. The things like "not letting me go out" are hard to explain to people not raised by strict Indian parents, but I understand how it's difficult for you, especially living at home, which I luckily didn't have to contend with. I also had the older cousin who married a white girl and whose marriage ended badly (and all my other cousins who married brown people happened to work out swimmingly) so I've heard what your dad has been saying thousands of times.

I happened to have dated almost all white girls in my 20s - I was inexperienced and needed to figure out how to be in relationships, so the simple odds are that you'll meet white girls much more often than others. My first girlfriend I dated for about 6-8 months before telling my parents - I think once you reach that stage you should consider gently opening up to them (starting with the old line about "friends" or "colleagues"), but mainly if you think this is going to turn into a serious relationship and hopefully only after you're out of the house. For me, I rarely told them about who I was dating until it was definitely a serious relationship. For them, I think they kinda figured it would be something I would grow out of. And to some extent, I did change my perspective in my 30s and wanted more of a cultural connection. But, when you're young and want to date people you should date who you want and try to learn about yourself and what you are really looking for.

No need to rush this.
posted by homesickness at 6:13 PM on August 5, 2013 [15 favorites]

Let's think practically a little. We don't know you or your parents.

Ask yourself this: Are your parents manipulative? Do your parents usually get their way? When disagreements have broken out with other family members before, is there a long, sustained campaign against that particular family member?

Remember, these are the people that raised you. If your parents fight as dirty as mine, they will exploit any psychological or emotional vulnerabilities against you. And not only you. If going after your girlfriend will yield results, they may do that too. If you're close to a cousin or brother or uncle, they may use them to try to get to you too.

It's not like the movies, and it might take a long time. Here's a few general things you can do to prepare yourself:
  1. Move out of your parents' house, out of their city is even better
  2. (Very important) Make friends that support you, preferably ones that aren't connected to your family at all
  3. Have a space away from your family and their home that you can escape to easily
  4. Have your own money to spend (this only applies if you aren't currently working)
  5. Possibly look into therapy (to have someone to talk to, a family therapist is especially used to handling this sort of thing)

posted by FJT at 6:29 PM on August 5, 2013 [3 favorites]

OP, would you mind telling us how old you are? (I read 'one more year of school left' and assumed, like, sixteen. Another poster assumed around twenty. Big difference.)
posted by Salamander at 6:55 PM on August 5, 2013

(From previous questions, the OP is 23 and in college).
posted by jacalata at 7:04 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Anecdotally, the Indian-Americans I have known in high school/college who dated non-Indians (or even Indians who were not from the right PART of India) hid all their relationships from their parents. It's just one of those things. I'm not at the age where marriage/children are common yet though, so I can't tell what it's like when relationships get serious. I really, really do not think you should tell your parents though... it seems like it would be a pointless exercise in rebellion, at least right now.

I think this question is very specific to an immigrant experience. I am Chinese-American, and my parents luckily did not especially care what race my boyfriends were (although they probably would have been pleased if he had also been Chinese-American, no lie), but they definitely had certain expectations about my behavior that are hard to explain to people outside. I think you should approach this as a tactician. Is the amount of trouble you are going to stir up worth whatever change in expectations you hope to achieve? What, specifically, do you hope to gain out of this? For many years I kept huge chunks of my personal life intentionally vague to my parents, and I think this was, for me, hugely beneficial. I think I learned to be tactful about certain things, and got better at ignoring others. I learned to change my expectations, knowing that my parents were who they were.

I will say that moving out greatly improved my relationship with them. When you see each other less often, when you don't feel the daily sense of obligation or guilt-tripping or accusations of cultural betrayal or whatever they heap upon you, it gets better. I feel like I relate to my parents as another adult now, because I am more mature and have gained considerable perspective, and it is frankly the best our relationship has ever been. But that took time and distance... I suspect it might be the case for you as well.
posted by leedly at 7:12 PM on August 5, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, right - thanks, jacalata.

In that case, I agree with Sara C. At 23, you're way waaaay too old to let your parents dictate your dating life. Seriously, people get married at that age. If you don't stand up to them now, this seems likely to turn into a lifetime of them calling the shots.

If I were you, I would be doing everything in my power to move out and live with friends for the last year of school. You've been legally an adult for 5 years. I don't come from an immigrant background, but I do have a very controlling/strict father, and I am eternally grateful that I had to move out of home at 17 to live nearer my university. It's the only way I got to live a normal, adult-appropriate life.

I know that, in your case, there are underlying cultural issues that I don't know much about, so I'll leave it at that.
posted by Salamander at 7:17 PM on August 5, 2013

For those suggesting that the OP should tell his parents: just consider that this may cause them to cut him off from money for college and/or kick him out of their house.

OP: you have the internet's permission (or, at least, some fraction of the Internet) to lie to your parents until you're self-sufficient (but no longer than that).
posted by Betelgeuse at 7:20 PM on August 5, 2013 [6 favorites]

But right now, I live with my parents so I have to abide by their rules.

But you're not abiding by their rules, you're lying to them.

Move out if you can. If you can't, come clean if it won't impact your tuition, and take out a loan to cover your living costs if you need to.
posted by DarlingBri at 7:24 PM on August 5, 2013

When people say 'at 23, you are old enough to do x', what it seems to mean is 'at 23, you are old enough to be able to move into an environment that you control, so you should be able to make your parents agree that since it is possible for you to leave and do x, they should just let you do x and stay in the same comfortable supported position'. The risk is that the parents will call the bluff and say sure, go ahead and leave. If the OP can't/won't actually do so, then he's creating a problem for himself. This is why, if he thinks it's at all likely for the parents to respond this way, he should not start openly rebelling unless he's not actually bluffing about leaving and paying his own tuition.
posted by jacalata at 7:25 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

When people say 'at 23, you are old enough to do x', what it seems to mean is 'at 23, you are old enough to be able to move into an environment that you control, so you should be able to make your parents agree that since it is possible for you to leave and do x, they should just let you do x and stay in the same comfortable supported position'.

Can't speak for anyone else, but I didn't mean that. On the contrary, I think it's impossible to 'make' anyone agree to anything.

I think that 23 is too old to be living under your parents' roof, accepting their financial support, and lying to them. If I were the OP, I would either find a way to move out and support myself for the final year (go part-time and work part-time, if I had to), or cut back on seeing the girlfriend (because yeah, no parent is going to believe you're sleeping at a platonic friend's house 4 nights every week).

At the moment, he's running into trouble because he's having his cake and eating it. Trust me, I can see the attraction, but something's gotta give.
posted by Salamander at 7:34 PM on August 5, 2013

It is not unusual for Indian parents to expect to be able to tell their children what to do in many aspects of their lives until their children are 25 or even older. In India many parents still help arrange their adult children's marriages. When the OP says his parents "won't let" him go out at night, that is not because they are manipulative or he is not mature. It's a cultural difference.

(I am not from India. I just have lots of first-gen and second-gen Indian friends.)

OP, I agree with the others who said that since this relationship is only two months old, you should probably wait a little while and see if this relationship continues to feel serious before you tell your parents what is going on and/or make grand plans to move in with this girlfriend. This situation with your parents not wanting you to leave the house may actually prove to be a good test of your relationship. Is your girlfriend willing to be patient with your situation?

If you definitely feel that this woman is someone you want to be with long-term, then you may have to make a choice to move out of your parents' house and start supporting yourself earlier than you had planned to in order to make this relationship work. At that point, if I were in your shoes, I think I would save up some money first for my own place and THEN tell them.
posted by BlueJae at 7:37 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

It is not unusual for Indian parents to expect to be able to tell their children what to do in many aspects of their lives until their children are 25 or even older. In India many parents still help arrange their adult children's marriages. When the OP says his parents "won't let" him go out at night, that is not because they are manipulative or he is not mature. It's a cultural difference.

OP isn't in India any more and norms can change with subsequent generations/time. In my experience it's uncommon for Indian parents to have such a hold on a child post age 18. So there is some different personal experience/anecdata.

I think the Indian thing isn't even the main concern - no matter who your parents are, if you think they'll be disapproving and/or rude to your girlfriend, you might want to wait until things are more serious with your girlfriend and you're not living with your parents. This way you'll be able to assert your boundaries better, because you'll have more autonomy over your life.
posted by sweetkid at 7:47 PM on August 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

From what I have heard about this sort of thing, this is the plan I recommend for you:
(a) Hide the relationship until you have moved out of the house, have your degree paid for, and are no longer being financially supported by your parents. And seriously, you can't sleep over there as much as you're doing and still hide it. She's going to have to learn to sleep with a teddy bear or something, because all the sleepovers is an obvious red flag. You don't want to get busted and cut off for this right now, right?
(b) Do not tell your parents about dating a white girl until you are VERY SURE that you want to marry her. This is going to be an exhausting, years-long battle, don't fight it with them until you absolutely have to.
(c) You should reasonably expect that their reaction will be terrible, and they may very well treat your girlfriend like shit and/or eject you from the family. Make sure that you can take care of yourself first, and that your girlfriend is worth that.

Good luck. You'll need it.
posted by jenfullmoon at 8:23 PM on August 5, 2013 [8 favorites]

I'm going to drop some wisdom, here. Maybe this will be seen by the mods as "not an answer to the question", but it's something I think about every time these questions come up. And I feel like it might be valuable advice for any young person facing parental disapproval.

Everyone, regardless of race, regardless of class, regardless of what country your parents are from, has to establish their own identity separate from their parents in order to become an adult.

You do. You just have to. There is no way to not do this.

Now, for some people -- and it's really hard to know whether you'll be one of those people, until you find yourself in this situation -- doing that is harder than you'd like it to be. I was one of those people, which is why I have a lot of feelings about it, over a decade later.

And so you come to a point. The point you're at right now. Your parents disapprove of something about your life, and they are not afraid to do batshit crazy stuff like forbid you from leaving the house in order to erase this thing they don't like about you.

You have two choices here.

You can submit to them treating you like a nine year old. This probably sounds like the most attractive option right now, because the stakes aren't all that high and your parents have a degree of control over your life that makes rebellion inconvenient. And I think for people who never had to face that fundamental disapproval, those people will always see this as the prudent choice.

Or you can rip off the bandaid. Let them disapprove. Let them be disappointed. Let them rage, and try to ground you, and throw temper tantrums. You're an adult. There's nothing they can really do to you to keep you from being who you are. And the thing about letting them rage is that, sooner or later, it won't seem so scary to you. Which will free you up to make the kinds of choices you need to make. Better to watch them throw tantrums over how many nights a week you go out, or your girlfriend's background, and see this behavior for what it is.

Now, it's true that your parents might kick you out or stop paying for school. You should definitely weigh all the consequences before you decide the time is right to rip off the bandaid. Don't throw away a world class education for the sake of seeing your girlfriend that one extra night every week. If you don't have a couch you could crash on, a loan you could apply for, a job you could get, then maybe the time really isn't right.

I was disowned by my parents when I was 19, over something that is really stupid in hindsight (it also had to do with my dating life). It was a really bad time in my life. But it also turned me into the adult I needed to become. And it was worth learning that disappointing your parents isn't the end of the world.
posted by Sara C. at 8:24 PM on August 5, 2013 [11 favorites]

OP you have my permission to go ahead and ignore the answers from people who are not in the least bit familiar with your culture, or have any idea what it's like to be caught in between two very different value sets, yet insist that their experience qualifies them to tell you how to behave.
posted by danny the boy at 1:12 AM on August 6, 2013 [19 favorites]

Tell them you're dating a Pakistani girl of a different religion. They will be so relieved when they find out she's white! No, I'm just joking.

When you're ready, you will experience what Sara C. describes. Everyone has their own voice apart from their parents and the whole problem in your question is that yours isn't loud enough yet.
posted by esprit de l'escalier at 2:13 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding homesickness that it really is hard for many non-Indians to appreciate the cultural dynamics at play. Biologically I'm a part-Indian, part-German woman who grew up outside of Indian culture (both cultures, really). I really didn't know anything about Indian culture at all until university where I was roommates with an Indian woman from my high school. After some confusion/frustration she took it upon herself to help me understand the culture, even though I've always mostly just watched it from the sidelines.

About five years ago she had an arranged marriage to an Indian man, with whom she completely and mutually fell in love with in the process of the engagement. He also happened to be the oldest son which meant they'd move in with his parents. Once the wedding was over, their marriage seemed to nosedive right into a dark period wherein her parents-in-law aggressively exalted their parental authority over them. For the first couple years their marriage suffered tremendously. Everyone told my friend to leave, including her own outwardly traditional/inwardly modern Indian family. However she maintained that she was in love with the man they had arranged her with, and she had already started her family with him. She and I had a single visit after she got married, wherein she confided her struggles and maintained her course of action. This was followed by radio silence for a few years, with the odd message maybe once a year.

Yes, compared to Western standards and through a Western lens we may describe this as dysfunctional, but interwoven in the choices of you and your parents truly is a value system plainly different from that of Western society. There's more than just dysfunction at work here -- there is a clash and blending of cultures on multiple fronts, which leads me to another nugget from my life experience I can share with you... I also happen to have a German female cousin who married a Sikh-Indian man (her high school sweetie). You bet his parents reacted adversely to her from the onset, yet several years later my cousin and her beau (and their three lovely boys) are still here, still managing to navigate his parents.

Sure, some things are still powerful points of contention (the boys go to church, not the temple), but consider this: if you're going to make your own choice about the woman you're going to be with, these are things you need to have a clear understanding about whether she is white or brown anyway. And from my perspective, whether you go traditional or western in choosing a woman to be with, it seems to stand that regardless of whether she's a perfect ethnic fit or not, you will still have to contend with bringing your girlfriend into a strongly traditional family. Heh aren't some Bollywood films teaching this pretty much all the time --even when the woman is ALREADY Indian?? So just some food for thought from my perspective.

I'd also like to add, do recognize that even though your girlfriend is "white" that doesn't mean she's necessarily lacking a possibly contentious cultural identity of her own. I know it wasn't easy for my German cousin on both fronts; she was from the proud German branch of the family and also had to maintain her choice of husband to her own relatives. Both women in these stories have my admiration for that.

In short, I think your best bet is to definitely wait until you're sure the relationship is serious, that this is the woman you want to marry, and that she is on the same page with you before introducing her to your parents. If you're truly serious about her, then building your own autonomy and getting out from under your parents' roof will without question make the process of introducing your parents to her go much more smoothly for all parties.

FWIW, I think it's quite an auspicious coincidence you posted this question today, as this morning for the first time in the four years since she married, I had lunch with my Indian friend. She's a happy mother of two, is still happy with her husband, and has found her power in balanced relation to the respect she has for her in-laws as well as her cultural identity. And she looks GREAT --still exuding her Indian identity in a somehow down-to-earth way to me. In fact we were chatting about the how "white is right" mentality can be almost poisonous to Indian identity, and how Westerners simply do not have all the answers. Even if we can only start seeing each other once or twice a year, I know it's signal she's been figuring things out and that's fine by me. Good luck, Parh!
posted by human ecologist at 3:41 AM on August 6, 2013 [9 favorites]

Nthing keep your head down until you move out. The crucial part of your story is that you live at home. Their house, their rules. They love you, but they can make your home life miserable if they find out.

Plan on moving out. Plan on losing their financial support when you do tell them, and you should, but only after you move out. Plan on them being angry and obstinate, maybe for a short time, maybe for a really long time. Plan on losing them, at least for a while. It will be painful, but it will be a necessary step in leaving the nest and making your own life.
posted by zardoz at 3:50 AM on August 6, 2013

Answering these kinds of questions will become easier if you think hard about one thing and make one decision: Do you want to follow what your parents want or do you want to follow what you want in your life?

No "Yes...but..." here. It's that simple.

You are young. You don't have to decide this tonight or tell your parents tonight. Finish school, get a job, move out of family home. Gradually assert your independence. And, for the love of God, don't string a woman along for years just to settle with the parents wishes! Or equally worse, marry the girl of parents choice, have kids, get frustrated with life and then start having affairs or hitting on other women to make up for what you "missed".

You can blame your parents and culture for only so long. Part of growing up means taking responsibility for your life and decisions. Most Indians/Indian Americans suck at it.
posted by xm at 6:52 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

You can blame your parents and culture for only so long. Part of growing up means taking responsibility for your life and decisions. Most Indians/Indian Americans suck at it.

Totally agree. I also think you should take with a grain of salt the opinions of non Indian people in this thread who say your parents will hate you/your girlfriend/treat you horribly because of what they've seen of the culture from the outside. You haven't given us enough information to know if that's true.

However they react though, taking responsibility for your own life and decisions is something you absolutely must do, background culture aside, and this will make any difficult experience in your life easier, whether it's this specific situation or not.
posted by sweetkid at 7:34 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I just wanted to chime in with one last thing: Your parents love you. Whenever they think about the people you're dating or will date, they are not just thinking about her. Their thoughts are tied in with their experiences coming to this country, their expectations of how she will interact with them, how they will interact with her parents, how the rest of your family will interact with her family, how both families will interact with your kids. But there is no doubt in their minds that they love you completely and that they want to love the person you end up with (even if she's white, and they know it, because they have definitely considered that possibility – promise). And, while everyone has their opinions, I think that the whole idea of families coming together is a pretty awesome thing and should be preserved. Heck, in a Punjabi wedding we have the milni - literally "meeting" - ceremony where all the relatives meet each other before the bride and groom meet up for the ceremony.

My point is that I don't think the right method for you and your parents to work through the ups and downs of your dating life is through butting heads, stamping feet and ultimatums. The only method I've seen work in my family and for myself (after 15 years of figuring it out through lots of butting heads, stamping feet and ultimatums with them) is through love and kindness (personally, I wish lots of problems in society were solved from that perspective but that's even more off topic). Not to say that there won't be arguments or dark periods along the way – there most certainly will – but they want you to be happy from the perspective of love, and it's the best way for the whole thing to work when dealing with them. And taking responsibility for your actions, having agency in your social and dating life, and figuring out what you want are 100% part of that and are things you need to figure out on your own, without their intrusion.

What that means for your present situation and whoever you date in the future is that you both need to love each other and, when you bring your relationship public, do it from the perspective of respect and kindness as a team. As I mentioned before, I dated and introduced my parents to non-Indian girls I had serious relationships with. Some, they really liked and some they really hated. In hindsight, the girls they liked (eventually, and often with many false starts, but eventually) were the ones where our relationship was built on love and respect for each other and our mutual respect for those around us. Naturally, that's not just "an Indian thing", but for your parents it's the only way they can approach the issues around who you're with.

So, when I suggested waiting to tell them, I'm mainly saying that there's no immediate rush to tell them. Figure out your relationship with the girl, figure out what you both want now and in the future. Basically, build a strong relationship with the person you're with then approach your parents with some of the strategies I suggested above. The part where she's not Indian will be really tough for them, but at least you and her will have figured your own stuff out before approaching your parents. She will certainly need to be strong through it and should be willing to be strong with you. And they've totally thought about these things, too. They just have, unfortunately, very different ways of approaching the solutions and poor ways to communicate having been raised in a very different way, on the other side of the world. Definitely move out.
posted by homesickness at 9:37 AM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

Part of growing up means taking responsibility for your life and decisions. Most Indians/Indian Americans suck at it.

Wow. This is a wildly inappropriate and simplistic thing to say. Please do not tell the OP--and literally millions of other people in similar situations--that they suck at being an adult because they are struggling to find a balance between living autonomously while maintaining a good relationship with their parents.

Possibly relevant bio about me: I am a Canadian-born, secular Jewish white male in my early 30s who is married to a Sri Lankan-born Tamil/Hindu woman (also early 30s) whose family came to Canada about 20 years ago. My wife did not tell her father about me--and I did not meet him--until about three months before I proposed marriage. Although my wife and I did not personally experience the challenges that you describe because her immediate family holds pretty cosmopolitian attitudes toward these issues, I know that some of my wife's distant relatives, and some of her closest friends, have had a more difficult time. You have my sympathies.

I think that jenfullmoon pretty much nails it exactly. I'll add only that if you do eventually decide to marry outside of your culture, but you don't want to sever your relationship with your parents because of it, you may wish to consider striking a careful balance between being assertive and being deferential to your parents when you break the news. Something like "I'm old enough to make my own decisions in life. I love this person and want to marry her. But I also love you both and want you to accept my decisions, attend the wedding, continue to be a part of my life, etc. I don't want you to think that my decisions mean that you are bad parents. Just the opposite, it means that you have done a great job raising me to be a smart, confident individual, etc. I am truly happy with [fiancee] and want you to share in my joy." Of course, you probably won't resolve the tension in a day, but this is probably the general attitude that you will want to adopt.
posted by obscure simpsons reference at 10:13 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Part of growing up means taking responsibility for your life and decisions. Most Indians/Indian Americans suck at it.

Wow. This is a wildly inappropriate and simplistic thing to say. Please do not tell the OP--and literally millions of other people in similar situations--that they suck at being an adult because they are struggling to find a balance between living autonomously while maintaining a good relationship with their parents.

Is it really?? Perhaps make sure that other people's bios are not more relevant before deciding to not give an ounce of the benefit of doubt to your fellow MeFites.

OP, I didn't say they suck at being an adult. I said they suck at taking responsibility. Two very different things. Not all adults are responsible, as we read on here often. Or worse, see in real life. Being one does not automatically result in the other. You have to make active, conscious decisions to be responsible.

The only reason I decided to respond in such a thread is because you are young and you have a chance at not ending up "struggling" in your 30s and beyond, as so many in similar situations do.

Another recommendation- have a diverse group of friends, in age and ethnicity. If you are lucky to know a few inter-racial couples who have been down this road, you will be able to learn much from them.
posted by xm at 12:46 PM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

I think posters who are looking at definitions of adulthood, family, responsibility and relationships from a specific cultural viewpoint and discounting any other frameworks are doing a serious disservice to the OP.
posted by DarlingBri at 6:51 PM on August 6, 2013

This really resonated with a friend of mine (an Indian married to a lovely Caucasian woman), who asked me to post the following comment on his behalf:

OP, ten years ago I *was* you. First gen gujarati, son of conservative (in the cultural preservation sense), religious immigrant parents living under their auspices, having his college education paid for, and without any relationship experience to speak of. In my freshman year at uni, I started dating a tall, blond american girl from a very liberal, atheistic family. Aside from the fear of telling my parents, the culture shock alone nearly ended our relationship a few times, because even though i'm born and bred American, we Desis live in a very very insular society.

For the first year, I didn't tell them that I was dating anyone at all, let alone a white girl. I finally told them the second year, and my mother and father could not have been less pleased about it. But the important thing was easing them into the idea. For the next few years, i slowly integrated her more and more into my family life, and made sure my mom knew who she was and who her family was and what kind of person she was. Moral character is frankly even more important than race here--the problem is not that they're white, its that the perception is that white folks are loose and free spirited and full of bad values and no culture.

I had to work very, very hard at changing their mind and bringing them around to her. She helped a lot in this regard, by being accepting and flexible to cultural sensitivities. Her helping me graduate college went a long way towards my parents accepting her.

Eventually, after about 8 years or so, we got engaged, which came as a shock to the folks, who still believed this was a phase of some sort, but it ultimately worked out and we're now 5 years in with a kid on the way, etc.

The takeaway here is that a lot of people will tell you that you need to be independent and tell your family to fuck off or whatever, but that is incredibly difficult for folks who come from indian backgrounds, as we're raised with a 'family first, every single time' attitude. You don't want to disappoint them, you don't want to cause familial strife, and your parents word actually means something to you. I get it, man. Rocking the boat for me would have been like asking me to tear my arm off. I nearly had a nervous breakdown trying to walk that tightrope.

Listen, you're young. This maybe an early relationship in your life, and it's not worth burning the bridges and raising the flags of war until you know for certain this is the hill you want to die on, and this is the person you want to make a permanent part of your life. Sleeping over at her house for most of the week would raise suspicions in any family, indian or not, so you might want to cut back on that, and lay low for a while.

The issue you raise of your cousin dating a white girl and abandoning his culture is a very important thing to think about. It doesn't have to be a binary choice. It is possible to live with one foot in both worlds, and do so happily. But don't destroy your familial relationship over this. You will regret it later on, and the heartache isn't worth it. Don't fight them, work with them. Ease them into the idea. Show them successful half indians and mixed couples, like Sunita Williams, who is also half gujarati. Time is on your side, so no need to take drastic measures.

Good luck, dude. You're not the first to feel this burden of intercultural blending, and won't be the last. Just know that it is surmountable, and there is light at the end of the tunnel, if you're willing to work for it.
posted by raw sugar at 8:06 PM on August 6, 2013 [8 favorites]

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