Monday, October 6, 2014

The secret foreign boyfriend/girlfriend


My inbox is flooded every day with "HELP!" messages from other Indo-intercultural couples and with many of them, there is a common theme in one form or another...

One of the most common occurrences in an Indo-intercultural relationship is the concept of being the secret girlfriend/boyfriend. For your foreign partner - this is incredibly, well um, FOREIGN....

You see, foreigners do not like to be kept secret. They will want to meet some friends or family members within your first year as a couple - to try to get to know you better and try to understand where you come from. Also, it's a territorial thing. They want everyone around you to know that you've got a serious mate and that you're "taken". Plus, foreigners are more public about their affection with PDA and love notes. (Think: Tom Cruise jumping on Oprah's couch!)

For many Indians, the secrecy of male/female relationships is entirely normal. In India, there is a very strict gender divide wherein members of the opposite sex should not even converse, much less touch. There is a formality about Indian families - something to do with the familial hierarchy of elders - wherein your parents are NOT your friends and you dare not discuss anything like: sex, the opposite sex, dating, and basically anything related to how you really spend your time (think: not studying!)

Also, it's a control thing. Indian parents like to know where you are, what you're doing, and with whom, as they think your life is entirely theirs...forever! Thus, many Indians keep their girlfriend/boyfriend (foreign or not) a secret for as long as humanly possible.

For the foreign partner, this can feel extremely painful. Not understanding the cultural mannerisms, they can feel like they are an embarrassment, something to be ashamed of, or that you are not serious about them. (Remember that episode of Sex & the City - "Secret Sex" - when Carrie's friend hides his girlfriend because he thinks she's too ugly to be introduced to anyone?) No matter how long you are together, your foreign spouse may entirely doubt your seriousness about them for the simple fact of not telling your parents about them. Or they may feel bad about themselves and that they aren't good enough. This is a major cultural difference in dating. Your foreign partner may even give you ultimatums to tell before they pack up and leave.

This is specifically why I recommend telling a trusted friend or family first - for two reasons. The first is to calm down your foreign partner and bide you some time before they cut off the relationship altogether. The second, is to gain an alliance to have on your side so that when you do finally tell your parents (if the shit hits the fan) that you have somebody to support you. And being in an intercultural marriage, you need AS MANY supporters as you can get.

The simple act of telling the Indian parents requires a huge procession. First, the Indian partner should have a job and be able to support themselves financially (because they may get disowned and financially cut off - worst case scenario). Second, it cannot overshadow anything else going on in the family like other marriages that are supposed to come first (if your cousin-brother is the next in line to get married, let him have that moment - and no, foreigners, you cannot attend the wedding as a girlfriend!). Also, it also depends on the family's circumstances - if there is a key relative ill or if the family has fallen on hard times - that's also not a great time. Also, the Indian partner really has to be ready for it and all that comes with it - they have to be ready to answer persistent questions like, "when will you get married?"...ALL THE TIME. So, the stars really have to be aligned to tell the parents. It is not a simple thing - there are many, many factors. Serious vaastu!

I know another masala couple who waited nearly TEN years to tell the Indian parents - you really have to give that Gori wife props for her patience! The majority of people I have spoken to have been kept secret for under a year, however some were secret all the way up to five years. In the end, it really depends on how open your Indian partner is with his parents regarding his dating and/or social life. If they are typically very open, they could tell them in a matter of days. If they are not so open, it could take years. It really depends.

Being kept a secret is not a nice feeling, but we have ALL been there. It is purely cultural, and it really has nothing to do with the foreign partner - it is completely an issue between the Indian partner and their parents. And, there IS a light at the end of the tunnel...

Plus, don't forget - "be careful what you wish for"! If you are yearning to meet your Indian partner's family...after you meet them, you may wish you had been kept secret for longer and spared the drama! Remember, telling the Indian parents could be like opening a Pandora's Box...welcome to the never-ending circus, y'all!



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Dear readers, if you are in an Indo-intercultural relationship, how long were you kept secret for?

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41 comments

  1. I wasn't ever really a secret. He told his parents early on, and they accepted, then they didn't, then there was no discussion on the subject for three years, but they were at least aware. They were the first to bring the topic up again and it was along the lines of "so tell me more about this girl" ... 18 months after that we got married and, well, we're all family now :)

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  2. I'm in this situation now... We danced around the issue for a few years and then got serious. That was about a year and a half ago. His dad knows and while not thrilled is supporting and understanding of his sons position. No one has told his mom yet and I think they are all scared to tell her and her family. I'm white, not a doctor, and come from a broken American home. She is one of 6 daughters all doctors or pharmacists and well it's daunting. Sometimes I just want to get it over with so we can move on to the next step. His dad asked that we wait until after his cousins wedding in December. Other times I'm terrified to have to face his mom and the disdain I know that will come. Did I mention that I'm a plus sized woman?!! Sigh.... The stress is getting to me and I know he's nervous as well. He's prepared for the worst (being disowned), but I think it's more likely to be a long drawn out dramatic few years. I'm hoping that she'll just decide she's grateful he's finally marrying as he's 32 and has a 30 year old brother behind him she wants to move on to. Love your blog the insights help even though our significant others are from different regions. Mine is Gujarati.

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    1. I am glad that his father already knows. We have to trust that his father will help pacify the mother. She may freak out but at least you have one parent down.
      Enjoy these last few months until after the wedding, it may get stressful after.
      Don't worry about your weight, I am sure you're beautiful :)

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  3. My husband has kept me a secret for two and a half years from his family in India. A year and a half of which we've been married. He told his mother last week that he has a "friend" and I will be meeting her two days from now. She is visiting him now while he's away for work in another state (700+ miles away) for 4-6 months.

    Im going down to stay with them for 6 days for my birthday weekend. She doesn't know that we are married, but she told him if she likes me she "will make you marry her". So here's to making a good impression. Hoo, boy!

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    1. So far, so good. She's feeding me, and tells me I'm beautiful, but need to exercise (I'm a curvy girl). Last night while we were shopping, she told husband she and I would get along really well if I spoke Hindi.

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    2. Awwwwww amazing!
      Try watching movies together - old Bollywood - it helps when there is a language barrier to share laughs over a film.

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    3. Sounds like a good start! Goodluck :)

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  4. Me - I kept it a secret for about 3 years until I could not bear the pressure of 'please get married. We are looking for arranged marriage grooms.'

    Luckily there was very little drama and I was surprised.

    Also, there was little to be done. I had been dating for sometime. Not like I met him yesterday, so we could assure my family that we are serious and not playing around. And we were living together. So like a done deal. And I was done with my studies and working. I guess all of that counts.

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    1. Definitely counts! So glad that there was no drama, you are so lucky. I think it helps when the Indian partner is fully settled.

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  5. We dated three years before he told his parents about me as a friend and it was another three years before he admitted the friend was the girl he wanted to marry. It took them about six months to fully accept and give their blessing, but we've had no issues since then and have been married 8 months now.

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    1. Wow, long road. It also took us 5.5 years to get married.

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  6. I first started dating my American Jewish husband when I was 23 and my parents were all, "You have to find a nice, Bengali, Hindu doctor from a good family". I introduced him to my folks and said he was a good friend. They welcomed him into our home but he was hurt because he felt like he had to hold back on affection and that I was lying to my parents. I told him that he needs to be patient and that they need to get to know him as a person. He wanted me to be open and honest about him to my family like he was open and honest about me to his family. Years went by where we broke up, got back together, stopped being friends, became friends again, etc. etc. Then finally we started dating again 5 years later (I was 28 then) at which time I was open about him and that accelerated the relationship quickly and we ended up getting married. I wouldn't necessarily recommend our path to other people, but it is what worked for us. I think desi parents get more relaxed about "requirements" about who to marry the older you get.

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    1. Yes, the holding back affection is really really hard, and also the dishonestly too.
      You guys were meant to be. So glad you ended up together :)

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  7. This is very interesting! I had heard about bits and pieces of what you said and it was nice to read it all together. I am in an intercultural marriage but Japanese/Canadian and enjoy reading about the experiences of others in similar yet different circumstances. :)

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    1. Amazing! Love your blog BTW. Where are you located? We are in Vancouver.

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  8. lol Indian parents are about control. u r all wrong

    much better than your parents who extract rent when u r 18 to stay in ur own house (parents') and ask u to wash dishes in restaurants to support urself in college

    so bad & pathetic

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    1. BWAHAHAHAAAA!!! Except when you tell them you are dating someone (foreign or indian) and you get thrown out on the curb with no work experiences and no finances and get blamed for everything that's wrong in their life as well as health problems. LMAO!!!!!!

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  9. We were never the secret boyfriend / girlfriend. Now, at the beginning it was me that did not want him to tell his parents. Not because I thought that they would not approve because honestly, we really did not care if either one of our families (mine Latin) approved of disapproved but because my two best friends (both Desi girls) said that I have hit the jackpot with an Indian mother in law and two sisters in law. They meant well but that kind of scared me a little bit.

    A week later he told them anyway because for him, there was nothing to keep secret; we were not having a tawdry affair and he was the only one to make decisions about his life "I am a grown ass man" he said. He also said that he was not the typical Indian man that needs constant approval from mommy and daddy to live his life the way he wants to live it and if I cannot stand up to my parents what kind of man would that make me. His parents were very happy for us though. There were a couple of bumps (culture related) with his family within the first year but that was it. My MIL constantly says how lucky we both are that we found each other.

    So my advise is to be honest from the very beginning. Think about how your partner feels when you keep them a secret. The thoughts of "not been good enough, why can he / she stand up for me, why do I have to work so hard to be accepted", etc... are hurtful.

    Millie B

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    1. Very, very true. And inspiring.

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    2. I agree so much with you both!
      I had a relationship with an Indian man. He wanted to keep it all as a secret and acted in very shady ways to keep me hidden from his parents, family and friends, I thought it was such a horrible behaviour. I understand culture, but Millie's case is a true example of real love. Plus..why is it always about them and their culture? Indian men should also understand how important is for us to be introduced to their world :)

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  10. Hi there, the astrologer told his parents that one of us will die if we are together what should I do

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    1. This is a true statement for ANY marriage that is "till death do you part" !!! Seriously now.

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    2. Obviously tell them that it means you will spend your whole lifetime together and never divorce

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    3. @anonymous - In Hindu astrology there is such thing as a Manglik. To my knowledge this is an unfortunate thing of being born under a certain star. Oftentimes the priest will say that if the wife is a Manglik then the husband will die. So, for instance, the wife could marry a tree or a dog or something like that in a traditional ceremony and then she is free to marry the man, thus casting the bad spell on the first marriage. You may be interested to know that Aishwarya Rai was also a Manglik and had to marry a peepal tree...LOL.
      A lot of people are now abandoning these traditions and just getting married regardless. But yes, if you are a Manglik, you can still get married. Also beware that many astrologers tell the family what they want to hear. If they are opposed to the match, the astrologer may side with them.

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  11. I actually came from your blog regarding Indian MIL because this Sunday my boyfriend is going back home in india (from here, Singapore) to tell his family about us, again! Yes. Again.. because he tried last year but he received a slap and indian women's photos for him. Sad but also funny. I am thinking, is there anyway i can start to win my future MIL's heart. I think, maybe by sending letter.. or sending stuff? So i can start atleast by making it soft.. lol. We are one year boyfriend girlfriend. So glad i saw your blogsite. Such a big help. By the way, i am a Filipina, my boyfriend is a north indian-hindu. So the mummy, will definitely disagree. Ehe. But our hopes are up! :)

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    1. I would start with a gift, maybe a saree or something like that. Or some cooking specialty from Singapore. Maybe some Singaporean treats. Then after she warms up, give the letter.

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    2. You are lucky that in your 1 year of being together your bf is able to stand in your relationship. He has the courage to tell his parents about you.
      In my case, we have been together for 6 years. Though, we live apart, he works in middle East as for me in another country as well . Btw, I am also a Filipina.
      When we became serious with our relationship, he did his way of us to meet. But the sad thing happened, he was forced to !sorry the woman his family has chosen for him. He ddnt have the courage to tell it to my face. So I was so devastated when I found it myself. He ddnt deny it, but still wants me to stay with him and continue what we had started. I know it is unfair, but I do love him so I agreed with it.
      How I wished I had asked him about him telling to his parents. But I am aware of their culture that I ddnt even bothered to talk about it with him.
      Now, I wanted to move on but he refused it. He still wants me in his life. We do still talk everyday like what we usually do. But every time he goes to India, jst the thought of it, kiss me. I am confused. I dnt want to lose him but i dont want to feel this agony.

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  12. @alexandra

    I keep hearing the words drama being used for india parents opposition to an intercultural relationship. How would a western parent react when their child marries someone against whom they have strong cultural/racial bias. It is just that our list of biases is a bit longer.

    Suppose my son wants to marry someone whom i don't like because of x, y, z reasons. I may have preconceived cultural/religious ideas about that person. Can't help it i was raised that way. I may eventually let go of my inhibitions. But as a parent i have the legitmate right to express my opinion. I may react harshly. My protest cannot be dismissed as drama. I like every indian parent would like to be a part of the process of marriage from start to finish. It is my cherised desire.

    Inter cultural marriages are not just traumatic for the foreign DIL but also for the indian family. It is as much a leap of faith for them. For an indian mil who is already afraid of a foreign dil is a frightening prospect. Of course the foreign dil is not responsible for it.

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    1. I totally agree. In many ways it is more traumatic for the Indian side, as foreigners are already mixing cultures so much. I feel if both sides get to know each other, culture will drift away, and rather instead of just seeing "an Indian", or "a white", it will be just a person. I think foreigners need to be continually more patient with the Indian side, specifically for the reasons you mentioned.
      I don't know how old your son is, but the only thing I can say is that there is nothing wrong with being open with him, and he will be open with you...

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  13. I've Facebook messaged back and forth a few times with you regarding this situation, and I have to say - I have grown SO SO much since dating my indian boyfriend. I've grown to be more patient, understanding, excepting, and willing to learn more about non-western beliefs and practices.

    His parents have only heard of my name ONE time. Other than that one time, that was the only time he had ever mentioned hanging out with a GIRL…friend. I have never met them personally, and they have no idea that their son is dating someone(that WE know of…) I am completely understanding of the fact that it cannot be known. At first, it was really hard and I demanded he tell them. But after realizing how huge of a mistake that would be, I have decided to be patient - especially since we ARE still young…what if we break up? What if they kick him out? What if they start calling ME as much as they call him? What if they demand us to marry? Meet MY family? Patience is a virtue. We are not ready for the…ehh…consiquences of telling his parents yet LOL. If you know what I mean. But, every family is different. My man just happens to be pretty sure of their reactions, and they won't be the best. But I've learned not to take it personally. I've also learned to let things play out naturally. Not everything needs to be thought out and planned because LIFE is not thought out and planned. We will just continue to do what is working for us, and that is keeping his family separate from our relationship. Until the day comes where it happens, I am completely happy.

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    1. I am so so glad to hear this :) Sometimes getting the families involved does open up a can of worms!

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  14. Your blog and insights are invaluable, thank you for creating a safe haven for discussion of a topic that isn't brought to light very often.

    I have been with my Indian boyfriend for 1.5 years. His mother is very traditional (however, divorced) and is 100% invested in the idea of arranging a marriage for him. We have lived together for the past 5 months and when his mother came to visit (we had just moved in and my stuff wasn't out, I was still a secret) she found our lease with my name and begin asking questions - in which our relationship in it's entirety was revealed. I'm sad it ended up this way because it was sprung on her, and my boyfriend wasn't ready to talk about it and deal with the onslaught of emotional blackmail, manipulation, etc. that came with his mother finding out. Keep in mind, he is 34...I am 28...far from the control of parental interference or so I thought. We live and met in the U.S., he is well-educated and completely financially independent from his family. I am trying to provide all the info. I can to lead up to my question which is this.... his mother wrote me a letter and mailed it to me. It was not pleasant. It basically said I would be a misfit in their culture/family, she had been looking for my significant other a "nice Hindu wife" for the past two years, and no amount of reading, studying, etc. could compensate for the cultural differences in my upbringing and his. She also mentioned how living together wasn't moral, etc... which is fine, as I understand that it isn't for everybody. She tried to say that she wasn't racist, but the letter stated opinions very contrary to that and was pretty harsh. She provided her phone number and I think she expects me to write her back...but, what do I say when everything I want to say is absolutely not what she wants to hear?

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  15. I am so glad I found your blog!

    I have been dating a Gujarati, that was born and raised in England and now lives in the states with his family, for 2 years. After one year of dating, we broke up for 3 months because he thought he wanted to marry an Indian girl. Later, he confesses that that wasn't the reason and that he was just overwhelmed by life and work and the demands of a relationship.

    We have been back together for a year now and during this past year I have met his sister, 2 of his girl cousins, and 2 of his guy cousins. I have taken this as a good step forward. I still haven't met his parents but, according to him, they know about me. This past year I have really tried to look at our relationship from a cultural perspective and I have encouraged my boyfriend to be honest with me abot cultural things so that I can be more supportive and understanding of some of his actions and behaviors. However, he insists that culture has nothing to do with not meeting his family (because they are definitely more "westernized" than most indians) but that I haven't met them because they're so busy with work.

    However, I have seen that on social media that he hides our pictures together and posts. The first time I spotted this and asked about it, he acted like he didn't know what had happened and then the posts where all suddenly back on his page. A few weeks later, I went back on his page to see the same thing has happened.

    The problem I have is that he lied about it and he's not being truthful about the real reasons why he does things. I can be more understanding if he told me that he is concerned for cultural reasons but instead he choses to sneak around and lie about it (and gives me really weak excuses). It's truly heartbreaking sometimes. Any advice you could give would be much appreciated! I'm dying to make this relationship work because together, we truly have an amazing friendship and relationship but I'm afraid that things like this will eventually tear us apart.

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    1. Thanks for your post. I know about them being so different than westerners. I don't even talk with him anymore about real things. We just meet once a week and write every day, about daily things. He is sweet. And takes me out, or on weekends. I don't dare to ask anything anymore. I feel I need more knowledge also.

      Yeah, FB photos in secret. If we have insecurities, Indian men really know how to make them worse. If we are together with us, we are all perfect and one, but outside of the being together we are secret. It's hard.

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  16. Hi Alexandra,

    I love your blog. Just found it by googling "boyfriend meeting indian parents for the first time" haha.

    I am Indian (28) and my boyfriend (31) is Indian too. We're Canadian but I'm. Hindu and he is Christian. I didn't think this was going to be a big deal, but when I told my mum and sister about us around 6 months ago I got the typical bollywood drama reaction from both. They bawled, begged me to break up with him, asked me why I did this when they've provided me with everything, etc. I stood my ground and we never spoke about it for a few months.

    Now they're willing to meet him but I am super nervous! The past 6 months has been so emotionally draining that I've almost given into what they've wanted, but I love him way too much. I'm worried that they won't accept him and have anything to relate to their parents. How do your in laws and parents get along? Is it awkward at times?

    Also, just thought I'd throw this out there -- my colleagues find it absurd that I've been with my boyfriend for 4 years and we don't live together or are engaged - they have no idea how difficult and different it is to be Indian!

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  17. I have been a secret for 3 years. So this article hits home.

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    1. Best article on the web for us western girls being with an Indian man...

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  18. O wauw... I am also a secret for his family and yeah, this page of yours is the best on the internet. We are together since last year. We know each other up to 2 years now. He courted me like hell. I first went to our Guru to ask if we could be together. We got a yes.

    I am happy to read on this page that it is just a super cultural thing that he keeps me secret.

    I just would love some more relationship advice. I am tending to lean back a lot lately, and let him come to me, which is only once a week since a few months. He wants to focus on work and doesn't feel like seeing me more, but writes me every day and is very sweet. Last weekend he took me to Paris, that was really nice. We were really good. I know he loves me to the core. Now this weekend he is only sleeping and not initiating. Is it normal that your Indian guy doesn't care about seeing you for 2 weeks and is happy with writing every day?

    Next to the secrecy I am also getting insecure of his lack of initiative in seeing eachother.

    Should I initiate? Should I talk with him about things? Should I invite him to my place? I am sure he will come next weekend. Sorry girls, I am just feeling insecure. Does he want me or is he confused or lazy or what?

    Thanks.. Lots of love <3

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  19. Hello Everyone,

    I have an Indian boyfriend from Gujarati for 1,5 years and I'm from the Netherlands.
    First I was a secret for his mother and sister but now they know about me.
    His mom first said no but now she's saying she cannot make decision yet bc he is studying in America and she said she will talk face to face with him about me and then she will decide.
    im also texting her and she texts me back with dear, darling,smileys kissing face etc
    Boyfriend says it's good sign but we should not have hope.
    I never met her in life

    What do you think?

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