Sunday, August 4, 2013

Reader question: "Why do my (Indian) boyfriend's sisters have to get married before we get married?"

Today I'm going to share with you a question from one of my readers regarding Indian family dynamics:

"Madh Mama... I need your advice. I have been dating a guy who's from India for the past 2 yrs and I want to get engaged and married soon. Whenever I bring it up, he gets pissed off and tells me that his sisters have to get married first. I don't understand why he's saying that! He has 3 little sisters. Why do we have to wait until they're all married? He's the oldest, shouldn't WE be getting married first? Is he just making excuses? It's been 2 yrs already and I'm 31. I'm not sure I can wait much longer. Please help!"

My response:

Don't worry, you are not alone! This is a very common Indian cultural thing. 

In Indian families (even if they are modern) if there are daughters of a marriageable age (over 24 years old) in a family, the daughters HAVE to get married first. The daughters should be getting married first from eldest to youngest, and then the sons can get married from eldest to youngest. In Indian families there is a very strict order about things. This is a common custom all across India.

From a brother's point of view, he feels like he has to wait until all his sisters are married before he can get married. This is seen as an act of responsibility to his family. The brother is responsible for his sisters and it is seen as an unselfish thing to do. However, if the sisters are much younger (under 24 years old & still completing schooling) then he can get married first.

I don't think your boyfriend is stalling you, as this is a common custom in Indian families. But he needs to get used to the fact that he's going to have to explain a lot of cultural things like this to you (and many Indians have never had to explain their complicated family customs before)

You can get engaged privately in the Western sense, but don't go out of your way to flaunt it as it may put pressure on his family because they know they have to get their daughters married first. When Indians get engaged, they do it publicly, and they have a wedding date set within 6 months. My husband and I got engaged privately and I wore a ring, but I never mentioned it to any of his relatives. We were engaged for years before we got married. I knew we were going to have to wait to get married and it was nice to know that he actually intended on marrying me. Or you can do a promise ring, or a promise necklace, etc.

If you really love this guy, then here's my advice - take a few years to save up money for your wedding, build your career, and most importantly, build your relationship with your partner.

If he's adamant about his sisters get married first, then don't pressure him. It's a cultural thing that is not up for negotiation. Putting ultimatums on Indians do NOT work. If you want to score points with him and the inlaws, then you're just going to have to understand that that's how they do things - you have to respect their culture. I always tell Westerners to do everything the Indian way at first (to gain respect) and then bend the rules later (way later...). I asked my husband for his advice regarding this, and he said, "If you want to be in an Indian family, you have to understand the situation and be respectful of it". This is one instance where you just have to bow down and respect that it's an Indian custom. You have no choice!

With intercultural relationships it's a whole new set of rules because you have an entire different way of doing things, that is added into the equation.


What about you, dear readers? What advice can we give this girl? Anything I'm leaving out?


  1. Alexandra,
    Your advise is very good especially "Initially bend yourself and later bend the rules". lol.

    Anyway because I donot know this reader or her Boyfriend, I will play the bad cop and say this:
    - make sure he has sisters and not making it up
    - If he has sisters are they in marriageable age (atleast 22 years)
    - Does his parents/family know about your relationship?
    -What is their reaction to it? If they are against it is he trying to convince them otherwise or not?

    In one word is he telling her the truth about this whole situation or making it up?

    Just be cautious. Like I said I don't know the person and so, I am stating the general red flags.

    1. Yes, you have raised some really important, crucial points. I agree with all, excellent red flags.

      For the reader - After 2 years, he should be telling his family about you. I would even hope that he would do so within the first year. That way everyone can have time to get adjusted and come around to the idea that a foreigner may be entering the family.
      There are a few bad apples that just lie, lie, order to get a girlfriend, a.k.a. get in your pants.
      Does he take pictures with you, or does he avoid it? Does he hide when people are taking pictures of you?
      Do all his friends/acquaintances know about you? Are you invited to events with them to get to know them?
      I would totally snoop into his personal things. After 2 years, you need to know. Besides, what's he trying to hide? We as women are naturally suspicious. If you feel something's off, then do some digging.

  2. Also one of the Madh Mama facebook fan page readers Neetu has added a good point:
    "Honestly. ..thats because it is better for the unmarried girl in the house to leave the house before the newlywed comes. There are a few reasons and the first one being that the boys parents accept the new bride as their daughter. Secondly. ..the sis in law does not get jealous of the new bride. Thirdly....the financial transactions which take place traditionally. ..are replaced."

  3. He is a bullshit Indian. And he is not in India he has chosen to come to your country so he should respect your culture and marry you without forcing upon you his rule that his sisters have to get married first. He is not being a man he is still very much a child and it's sad that you have to go through that but If i were you I would not put up with the way he is treating you.

    1. It doesn't work that way. Your harshness is very North American. Many of these issues are things that have been in play for hundreds if not thousands of years. Changing an elders opinion on something isn't an easy thing. Just because HE isn't in India doesn't mean his FAMILY, HERRITAGE, MORALS, VALUES, and RESPECT isn't in India either. It's not like once you leave India your a free bird. It's all a process that involves many.

  4. Firstly he is not living in India he has chosen to come to your country and I think he should respect your culture and not force upon you his rule that his sisters must marry first. If you love someone you can do anything for them. But if you don't love them there are many excuses. I personally wouldn't put up with his behaviour as I think he is acting out of fear and he is not respecting you so you should stand up for yourself. Let him know that if he loves you he should respect your needs and wishes as you have waited a long time for him already.

  5. I never heard of this before, thanks for sharing!

  6. This is common in Indian Society. The reasons given in above comments are true. Also if the guy is from a conservative family and community in India, the sister may not be able to get married if the brother marries out of community, as the family gets a bad name in the community. Now no brother would want that for his sister.


Respectful comments only, please! (That means you, anonymous.)

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