Friday, April 1, 2016

Ask Firangi Bahu: "How do I tell my Punjabi mother about my serious girlfriend? I am stuck in the middle!"

(Img via Wilson Lau)

Sharing a letter from a reader....

"Dear Alexandra,

I am a Punjabi guy, born and bred in the UK, with both of my parents coming from Punjab. My partner, as you can guess, is not. She is Eastern European having moved to the UK a while ago to be with me.

Whilst this sounds idyllic and great, it has not worked at all as things have not progressed as they should have (probably down to me), and we still live apart in secrecy. This is putting a very big strain on our relationship understandably, but the main issue is telling my mum.

Coming from a conservative Punjabi family that follows the Radha Soami path (I'm sure some readers would have heard of it), we never ate meat, fish or eggs and never touched alcohol. Being the inquisitive teen, I did start drinking alcohol in secrecy and still do to this day. It is something frowned upon in my particular community, though Punjabi's in general are big drinkers. So that's only the first secret, because since meeting my partner, I have started eating eggs. These may seem trivial things, but for my mum it would be a big deal!

Getting back to the background. Over a decade ago, my dad passed away whilst on a trip back to Punjab. It was my final year of university. It devastated my family and we have never fully recovered. I have two older sisters and my mum, all living together currently. In an Indian family, the girls need to get married and fly the nest somewhat, which they haven't, much to my mother's dismay. She sees it sometimes as her failure and sometimes resents my sisters for it. So altogether, it's not a happy atmosphere at home. I seem to be a peacekeeper, and the only one each will get along with for a time.

Now I am 30+, my mum is already on my case of saying, "if they won't, why don't you?" I never did fully get back to my studies, despite trying numerous times. I had suspended my studies because I did not cope very well with the death of my father. I ended up meeting my partner on a trip with school. We kept in touch, I secretly visited her, ended up falling in love, even met her parents and after a year, she then decided to move to the UK to be with me.

Maybe I should of explained the cultural differences better then, but what's done is done and now I am looking for solutions. She did not understand that we cannot live together until we are married and now resents me for it. I know I sound ridiculous, but I can live with the gossip in the community, but my mum would not be able to. Marriage is one thing, but I have yet to break the news to my mum about my serious girlfriend.

My partner and I do have a small business together which we run from her apartment, and which I use an excuse to be away from home. This worked for a while, but now the strain is too much. She wants me around more often, whereas my family needs me close by, as they see me as the glue. 

All of this is whilst I am trying to forge a career that happens to be more in the area that my mum lives, whilst my partner lives very centrally in the city. If we were to get married, I'd obviously want to be nearby family to provide the support network they need. Being the only male, they also regard me as the symbol of the family. Whilst I do always try to be open to my partner's culture, I don't know if she resents mine, because of our prolonged situation or she just doesn't get it. I have touched on the fact, that boys tend to stay with the parents for a bit before moving out after marriage, which didn't go down well. However, in my case, the depression I had after my dad's passing coupled with not finishing my studies means I don't exactly have cash in the bank to buy something soon. 

There has been a recent development as well. My sisters are in the process of moving out together. This has left me somewhat unsure of how to handle the situation. Them moving makes it even more so important for me to stick with my mum, but this is in conflict with how my partner sees things. Whereas she would not have a problem living with my mum further down the line, it's not something she would entertain from the start. Quite the opposite of how the mentality is of living with parents until you have enough to afford your own place. My mum is getting older, is retired, has bad eyesight and doesn't speak English (always worked with other Punjabi's in factories and farms, so never picked up the language!), so naturally I do think that it would make sense for my girlfriend to move here. 

The whole thing boils down to how to break it to my mum. My sisters do know, one more so than the other, but both are aware that I have a partner. The whole thing will become the fact that I have had a partner this long and have been staying with her overnight, which is frowned upon as you know in the Indian community. It's not love, but sleazy in their eyes.

Please help with any advice you can. I was supposed to go see my partner this weekend, but she is so unhappy with me that she does not want to see me. We are arguing more over silly things out of frustration and it has hit this giant obstacle. Its breaking my heart and I need to find a end to this, because she means so much to me. She helped me start to believe when I was in such a hole and still lifts me up..."

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Dear readers, what advice can you give to this young man?
How did YOU break the news to your desi parents?
How can he help his mum and keep his girlfriend happy being stuck in the middle?
How can this man engineer a happy ending out of this story?

Please share TIPS, SOLUTIONS, AND ADVICE from your personal experience...
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8 comments

  1. Very sorry to hear about the loss of your father at such a prime time of your life. Anyone can see that you've been caught between a rock and a hard place. Firstly stop being bothered by what the community has to say. Since you mentioned that your mother would frown upon a live in relationship and given your financial situation I don't see how you and your partner living together can solve the problem. I suggest you direct your partner to this blog and other intercultural blogs so she may get an idea how it works. Also ask her to go through all the "Ask firangu bahu" posts in this blog. It won't be a marriage if your partner refuses to understand the challenges she'd have to face and you also should be willing to fight for her no matter what. Getting married and living together with your mother or near her place makes sense but it also involves the compromise of your mother NOT interfering in your lives. Because this can burden your partner a huge deal. So yes all three of you have to make it work. It won't be easy but its not impossible either.
    Sue

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  2. Hello there,
    Extremely sorry to hear about your father. Since you live in the U.K. does the community there bother you that much. The diaspora might have at least changed in one way or the other right? Also how much does your partner know about your culture and has she made any effort to know anything about it? If you practice your religion then don't expect her to practice yours by default. Also I don't see what she has to adapt to regarding your culture since you both live in the U.K. anyway. The compromises in her life would be food and living together with your mother post marriage. I hate to say this but if your mother is supportive of your choice you guys can face any obstacles that come your way. Plead with her to support your partner of choice consistently and don't do anything that might her sentiments. Also be very aware of the fact that your partner is willing to fight for this relationship too! Chances are that your mother might not approve initially so are you and your partner prepared for it? You have to settle down one day or the other and god forbid, nothing good might come out of it, if you keep delaying your relationship matters. Your mother needs to understand that, and she will if she wants you to be happy provided your partner respects your relationship with your mother. Your mother also needs to give you space and not interfere in your life unless you ask her for advice. Try explaining about your culture to your partner and be very clear as to how much you want to make this work, but for that you will need her support as well.

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  3. What I have gathered from your post is that despite living in the U.K. you've just been living in a mini India. You sure have a lot on your plate.
    Its not just relationship issues. It would be very overwhelming for your conservative mother if you told her everything at once. She might fall ill and resent you. I know many Indians who live this secret life by drinking, clubbing unbeknownst to their conservative parents. They say its much easier to live it that way since their self righteous parents would never understand it. So I wouldn't recommend telling her about the alcohol now. Also how serious is your gf about this relationship? If she is as serious as you then I don't see any reason to not go ahead and tell your mother about it. Very gently, explain it to her that you love this girl very much and that you intend to marry her. Do not say that you have lived with her. It will only make things worse. See how she reacts. If she isn't supportive then tell her that you intend to marry your gf anyway and live with her. See how it goes from there and ask your gf to get to know a little about your culture. Like the above commenter said this blog might be very useful. She might not be very happy at first but you also need to explain it to your gf how important your mother is and that she needs to compromise as well if she wants this marriage as much as you do. Also explain the pros of living together.
    Alex has done a post regarding living with parents. You might want to get her to read a lot of posts from this blog. It really helps to those who have trouble adjusting to other cultures.

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  4. Hi,
    Many many Indians are facing this exact problem so know that you're not alone in this regard.
    First, on no account tell your mom that you've been living with your girlfriend or that you like alcohol. You need to tackle this rationally by slowly starting on how you'd like to settle down and you have this girl in your life who makes you very happy. If possible list out all the reasons. Believe me that is a huge plus. In case she doesn't approve of your choice explain how you are an adult, can make your own decisions now and would very much like it if she supported you. Explain it to her why you really need her at this time of your life since she is your only surviving parent and things will just become difficult if she didn't give her blessings. Similarly ask your partner the exact reasons why she doesn't want to live with your mom? My guess would be privacy, food, lack of communication and other things I can't think of right now. I know that you want to live with your mom but even if she approves of your relationship I don't see how this is going to work. Your mom has to be alright with your partner eating non veg, her clothing sense, religious matters etc. If your conservative mom isn't OK with all this your girlfriend has to make adjustments on vast proportions which would be unacceptable by her and the reason I'm guessing not wanting to live with your mom. Is she alright with such a huge compromise? Ask her to see things from your perspective, how important your mom is to you and why living together isn't such a bad deal. Just imagine how much you'd save if you all lived together. Your mom and gf will have to adjust a LOT and unless the contribution is made from both sides equally I don't see how this is gonna work out. I think living very close by at smaller places initially would be ideal in order to get to know each other better. Your partner might eventually like your mom and vice versa and one day you all may end up living together like you wished. Anyways good luck with it and sorry about your dad. I hope you all recover soon and lead happy lives.
    Sarah

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  5. I will ask some questions that might make you uncomfortable..
    1. If you didn't have a partner, what was the plan? Your sisters would move out/stay and you marry a homely, unsuspecting punjabi girl who would double as your mother's caretaker? (I highly doubt there are any such girls left even in rural punjab. All the news of not-really-wealthy NRIs marrying them and treating them as domestic help has put them on alert as well)
    2. What do you think will happen if you tell her about your partner, either slowly or swiftly? She'd definitely kick up a fuss, but would she come to terms with it after initial resistance or will she ask you to choose between the two?
    3. If she asks you to choose, (worst case scenario) who will you choose? This is most important- please think - A marriage is a legal bond too and would you enter into a marriage with someone whom you dont love or would you stand up for your love and try and find a workaround for your mother's loneliness?
    Everybody's got only one life to live.. If I was in your situation, I'd go about it in the 'utterly Indian way'. Announce that your gf is pregnant with your child. Make up any story - how you were both drunk, you couldn't handle the alchohol since it was your first time :P and ended up in bed, or how you got seduced when you two were working together or whatever, but now she's pregnant and you have to do the right thing for the baby ;)Then, once you are married,move in with your partner initially because she cannot move in with your mom as soon as she's married, and you can visit and help out at your mum's weekly twice or thrice as your schedule allows. Also, if your gf didnt bother to find out what are your religious obligations so far, she wont be open for it now on. Its better to observe all of them as and when possible in the company of your community people only. Rest of the time you live as you've been living now, compromising a few restrictions, following a few. You say that you've been the peacekeeper of your family for so long.. I'm sure everyone will come to terms with your news and you can continue keeping peace even after marrying your partner. Remember, where there is a will, there's a way!

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    Replies
    1. What she said, except for the 'Indian way' bit. You don't need to go that far!

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  6. It sounds like you want your partner to move in with you and your mother, but you are afraid your mother will never accept your partner, and your partner will never accept living with your mother. These are HUGE things you are asking your loved ones to compromise on, so I would ask you: what do you want your future family life to look like and feel like? To you, is having an upset mother worth staying with your partner? Is having an upset partner (who might break up with you) worth living with your mother? There is going to be no easy way to bridge those gaps -- some people have some good advice on trying to do so above, but the gaps may be too wide to be overcome. I do think your mother will eventually accept your relationship -- after all, she pretty much has to. But I don't know about your partner accepting living with your mom. That may be a deal breaker for her. What will you do if it is a deal breaker?

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  7. There's a lot going on here, but several issues stand out to me:

    1. Your girlfriend moved to the UK to be with you and has even started a business with you. You state that this was a while ago, so I can only assume it's been at least a few years. Growing up in the UK, you've probably got an understanding that these are both huge steps forward in any relationship in the West and signify her commitment to you. Are you showing your commitment to her in return?


    2. You state that your relationship has stalemated due to the secrecy and the lack of cultural understanding on her part. I question whether you took her culture into consideration as well, though. Knowing only the minimal information you've given, it's hard to determine whether or not you were honest about things. Did she know before moving about your important family role? Was it clear that your mother is very conservative and has traditional expectations of you? These may not be typical things in her culture.

    3. You've established a business from your girlfriend's city apartment but now want a career near your family. Is this a separate venture? If not, have you discussed this with her?

    4. Drinking alcohol and eating eggs will be a shock to your mother, but your girlfriend will probably be the hardest for her to accept. It may be best to introduce the idea of your girlfriend before you tell about the other two. While you chose to partake in these activities on your own, your mother may blame her for leading you astray. If you're going to have a full confession, as it were, do it in stages.

    Before anything else happens, you two need to have an open and hard discussion. You can't possibly get traction with your family if you aren't even on the same page as your girlfriend. Be 100% honest with her. How long will you live with your mother? If you get married and you three live together, what will daily life be like? If your mother doesn't accept her, what will you do? Your gf should be honest with you as well. What is she willing to compromise on?

    It may seem like there's no happy solution right now, but stay positive. My husband's mother begged him not to eat beef or get with a white girl when he left India. Guess what? He did both! It was hard for his family at first, but they love me : ) My husband was honest and firm with them. He was actually quite firm lol, and they knew that he meant what he said. Whatever you decide, stick firmly to it.

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