Friday, May 6, 2016

Ask Firangi Bahu: "Can I stay with my Indian boyfriend even though I am a secret in his life?"

(Img via Viktor Mogliat)

Sharing a letter from a reader...

Hi Alexandra,

I am trying to decide if I can stay with my Indian boyfriend even though I am a secret in his life...

I came across an article that is written by a black woman who is dating a white man and he is keeping her a secret because his family is racist. I am white, and my partner is Indian and this article describes my feelings exactly and also the way that I understand racism and prejudice because I grew up in Texas in the US.

I told my Indian boyfriend this morning that I do not want to be "something to be ashamed of" and he said this is not about shame, that it is a taboo in his culture, and I said "isn't a taboo about shame though?" And he kind of nodded like he understood what I meant but he didn't have an answer - it was a hard conversation already and we did not continue it. Reading your blog post on secret foreign gf/bf has shown me that it is kind of different, but I don't totally understand why. So my question for you is, given all of that, "Why is it not about shame? And why is it different from racism in America?" I guess I did see the part about it being common to have secrets in Indian families...I come from a family that kept a lot of terrible secrets all the time - my mom cheated on my dad, my dad also lied to my mom, and as a kid I lied to both of them for each other!

I am now trying to handle my own fear of secrets and lies while also loving this man who is a really great match for me, is a wonderful companion, fun, caring, interesting, deeply adventurous, and says he must keep me a secret. He also sometimes feels guilty of keeping me a secret and says maybe he should just bite the bullet and tell his parents but the look of despair on his face makes me want to pull him out of the drowning water, you know? I can tell it is not an easy thing for him to consider.

Please help me understand so that I can make a decision based on reality and not on my assumptions of how things "should" be based on only my cultural expectations...

------

Dear readers, what advice can you give this bahu?
Have you ever been a secret? And for how long?
At what point is it time to confess to your parents about your partner?
Is there any way that somebody can feel okay about being kept a secret?
Is having a foreign partner somewhat shameful in Indian culture?
Is being kept secret something to be ashamed of, or is it more complex than that?
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13 comments

  1. It is the same racist concept. Your boyfriend is just a coward for putting you through this. You should not be in a relationship that is a secret. Don't be fooled by your boyfriend, in the end he will just marry an Indian because he cannot stand up to his parents from the start. Cut all contact with him.

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  2. Dear Letter Writer, (Part 1)
    This is my first time writing a comment on a blog and I am reading quite a few blogs about intercultural relationships since I am a German woman in a relationship with an Indian man. We both are living and working in the UK where we have met.
    I think it is very hard to give advice and I feel not to be the right person to do so but I can share my experience.
    My partner kept me a secret from his parents for almost two years. Of course, it is not nice and it feels wrong from a Western perspective. At the beginning, it did not bother me so much since like in any relationship, we had to figure out if the feelings we had for each other were real and strong enough to last for a lifetime. And I understood that in this phase he did not spoke with his family about me because why would he want to risk his relationship with his parents for something that he has not figured out for himself yet. Although I told my parents about us quite early on, I did not risk disappointing them.
    Later this secret-keeping got a bit more painful since you start wondering if there is a future in the relationship or if there is something wrong with you. I decided to give my partner more time since I loved and cared deeply for him and I was also not ready to give him up. I tried to be not too pushy and to understand his side which was not always easy. However I thought that it must be even harder for him because a talk with his parents could end in many ways for him loosing something. Either he is trying to do what his parents wants and make them happy and agree to an arranged marriage but then he would have to give up me. Or he fights for us but then he might risk the relationship with his family. I felt very often sorry for him.
    Then after two years at a visit back home, he told his parents about me and of course they were not happy. I am not aware about everything that happen during this visit since I suspect my partner wanted to spare me the pain. It was quite a bit of back and forth. Once they said, we wanted to talk to her and then again no we do not want to get to know her and you have to give her up. During this visit the situation did not get solved. His family knew about us but they did not want us to proceed. However my partner did not break up with me and made it clear that he did not wanted his family to look for a bride for him. For another whole year his family ignored our relationship and kept going on as normal. He talked to them on the phone daily but no one ever mentioned or asked about me. This was a very difficult time for me since I was very upset that someone would reject me without trying to get to know me. It felt very personal. There were times were I thought I give my partner up to make it easier for him. But he was not ready to give me up and to be honest I was also not ready.

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  3. Dear Letter Writer (Part2)
    At one point his sister and brother-in-law made some effort to get to know me and we spoke with them. They were on one side supportive and I felt very grateful to them but then again they were worried because of the reaction of the parents and all the cultural differences. I always tried to see the situation from their side but it was not always easy since it is quite hurtful and not very good for your self-confidence.
    Then a year later my partner went back to India and that time he fought for us. Again I do not know the whole story, he only told me when he came back to UK: "My parents are not standing in our way". Of course, they were still not happy with his choice but they did not want to lose their son and so they said they have to adapt to the situation. Since then I have spoken to his parents once on Skype and now we are going to marry end of this year in India. There are still concerns from his family side but I also have the feeling they make a lot of efforts to accept me and to welcome me to the family. I also try to adapt to the situation and to learn Hindi and to get more knowledge about the culture and country. Yes, my story is one which ended happy and I know there are enough stories out there which did not end happy.
    In regard to your question: I think no one can give you really advise since every person is different and you have to decide for yourself if you can live with being a secret (at least for a while). I know your feeling though since I was in a very similar situation a while ago. I had to decide if I can leave with being a secret and the insecurity of the relationship. It also felt for me that my partner is ashamed of me or that something is wrong with me. However I think he looked at it differently; he felt very guilty the whole time. He did not wanted to hurt me but also did not want to loose me. He was just very scared and afraid because he knew, in any case he would hurt someone he loves very much (either his parents or me). Also he needed time to make sure that if he is fighting for us, I am ready to be with him and not to leave him at the last minute (men just need insurance about the love from their partner as we women need it). It was a very taxing time for him, me and our relationship. We cried many times together but we both believe it was worth it and also that our relationship is stronger because we endured this together. I hope me sharing my experience and thoughts might help you to find the right decision for you. I am only sorry that it got so long.
    Whatever you decide, I wish you all the best of luck and hope you will get your happy ending.
    To Alexandra, I love your blog and your writing style. Your stories have helped me so many times and by reading your blog, I already collect a few hints and ideas to deal with all the stuff that comes with an intercultural relationship.

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  4. I found this blog 3 years ago when I was searching for this same answer. It was the most foreign and hurtful concept for me at first!! I am an American girl raised by very open minded and accepting parents. My boyfriend is south Indian. My boyfriend met my parents, friends and family, and I met his brother, friends and cousins pretty early on. But he told me his parents, or any indian adults who know his parents (aunts, uncles, etc.) could not know of me. He avoided this topic at all costs.

    This really hurt my feelings and I got very defensive. I would often condescendingly snap at him about how "I'm so glad I wasn't raised by judgmental racists". I felt like it was a choice he was making but I didn't realize how it really just -is what it is.

    Indian parents are old school and there is simply no concept of dating in their culture. It was either I be kept a secret until the timing is right. Or, tell the parents and get pressure every day to marry ASAP. Which is worse ? Since we live in the US and the parents in India, we chose to keep it a secret.

    It sucks, trust me I know.
    But I was able to let go of my issue with this after my dad reassuringly told me "Taylor you are not settling, we all know he is a great guy and he treats you good. You shouldn't feel ashamed or embarrassed. It is really different and though you don't understand it, sometimes you just need to RESPECT other people's cultures".

    My boyfriend is an incredible person. There was never any doubt in my mind about that. And like you said your boyfriend does, I know mine also feels guilty- that drowning in water look is familiar! He is genuine, and I see that. So I sucked it up.

    It has now been 3 years that I have been a secret, and we have lived together for 2! I stay quiet in the apartment when he is on the phone with his mom. It just is what it is! I don't even realize it anymore honestly it's become so normal. I've gotten over the analyzing whether it's right or wrong.

    I've learned it's not so much racism as it is taboo about dating in general. We have several Indian friends who date Indian girls and keep them secret from parents!! It's like they're American middle schoolers!! They sneak out and lie to their parents about who they are hanging out with. And these are 27 year olds! It's no different than how they keep drinking alcohol a secret from their parents too.

    My boyfriends parents are on the flight to the US now. So, they will find out about me this week. The timing is finally right. There is a reason for them to know. And if they pressure marriage, that's fine bc we are stable and confident in our relationship after 3 years. So I was a secret, whatever, we needed that time to grow stronger as a couple withOUT his parents input.

    Does it still annoy me when I think about it that they will be "disappointed" that he chose me - a white girl? Absolutely!! But instead of letting my ego get in the way and taking it out on my boyfriend - I Plan to kill his parents with kindness!!

    And I'll be better for it.

    Just like I've sucked up being the secret girlfriend, his parents will now have to suck up the fact that their son chose a white girl.
    I got used to it, and so will they. And the best part of all - I'll still be with the love of my life.

    Moral of the story: if he is a genuinely good guy, don't lose him over this.

    Compromise and rest assured knowing its normal by indian standards!! Reading blogs and talking to other girls in relationships with Indians will help you realize you're not alone. Also watch Meet the Patels on Netflix. It's a documentary exactly about this and it's hilarious !!!

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  5. Dear LW - Sorry you are going through this. Regardless of what many Indian people will say and the fact that so many Bahus choose to believe, for whatever reason, that this behavior is normal - IT ISN'T!!! Is very easy to chuck this one to culture and how things are done in the Indian culture but the truth of the matter is that if he really wants a future with you and loves you, he will fight for you and with you from the very beginning. Not wait to see if he can make up his mind about living the life that he wants with you before putting what his parents want and who he should marry first. It is time for Indian parents to leave their children to live their lives instead of this perpetuating guilt trip, controlling garbage.

    There are a lot of Indian men and women that fight for what they want and believe and who do not keep the ones they love secret regardless of what society and their family want instead. And to diminish their courage by justifying the coward ones with "this is the way is done back in India and the others are just bad ungrateful children" is really unconscionable. Sorry! Can't have your cake and eat it and pretend this is fine.

    Why is it that always everyone else has to compromise because of the "Indian Way' and they don't? If this is what you want, to remain a secret even though you obviously don't like it in order for him to stay with you and not to leave you then fine. This never really ends well and most likely will be you who will suffer the most.

    I'm no expert but to give you a little bit of background so you don't think I am ranting out of my arse I was born and raised in Puerto Rico and my husband in India. We have been together for 13 years, married for 12 this coming October and I can tell you that I was not even kept a secret for one day. First because my husband is a real confident man that makes his own choices and never seeks Mommy and Daddy's approval (just fyi they are wonderful people and we love them and they love us tremendously) and second I greatly value myself and my self worth to allow to be disrespected this way. Not only him, but three male cousins from his generation married non Indians as well and neither one of them kept their then girlfriends (now wives) a secret. One married an Irish, one Polish and one was Indian but different caste. As you can see, this is something that I am very passionate and vocal about.

    You don't like the situation and how it makes you feel talk to him and be firm. The longer you wait for fear of losing him the longer resentment will build up. Good Luck!

    Oh and I want to address this question from the advise section:

    At what point is it time to confess to your parents about your partner?:

    There is nothing to confess to anyone. There is no crime or sin here. Just two people who seem to love each other. We need to stop looking at this relationships as something bad that we need to fess up to.

    Millie B

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  6. you should leave your bf !

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  7. I’m not sure what stage you guys are at with the relationship, but I can offer my own two cents based on my experience. Hopefully it provides some helpful perspective that you can apply to your situation.

    This is definitely nothing to be ashamed of! It is purely cultural. In any case, the parents should not be informed until you guys are 100% serious, financially stable, and ready for marriage. He knows his family best and how they’ll react….it is probably a lot of pressure on him being caught in the middle. Even though it’s really hard, try your best to go beyond your thoughts on this and understand his side. Fully open, honest discussions between you two about it can help both of you to a mutual understanding and diffuse any negative feelings on it. Make sure to acknowledge his feelings and what a difficult position he’s in!

    I have also been kept a secret...but actually it does not bother me because I really believe there is a right time for everything. We would continually joke between me and my husband-to-be, on how he will finally inform his parents. We make silly stories and laugh about it! No doubt when the time comes, it will be temporarily difficult. After the parents know, the relationship will move into a whole different phase, and you guys will need to be ready for that—the drama, the initial getting-to-know, and family life with the in-laws thereafter. I also lived in India and see how it is there...that is just the culture. Even local couples of same ethnicity and caste will keep their relationship a secret simply because unrelated boys and girls traditionally don't talk to each other, never mind have a relationship! Times are changing, but this is still a very much ingrained part of the Indian psyche—at least outside of the major cities.

    From an American perspective, it can be very hard to understand—I feel you on that. I went through similar problems with my first boyfriend….he was from a rural background and I always felt he was ashamed of me because I don’t behave/dress/cook “properly” (according to village protocol). This was compounded by the fact I was living there in India and felt pressured to change myself not only from him but everyone else. In that case, our problem really was not about culture but incompatibility. Being truly meant for each other means he will be by your side, support you, and his actions should never be habitually making you feel shame. Look inside yourself: is it his actions/comments/behavior that makes you feel ashamed? Or your own views and thoughts?

    You will know in your heart if he is truly the one for you. If beyond any doubt you know this is the man you want to spend the rest of your life with, then stick with him through this. It is probably more difficult for him than you, as he will be the one having to confront and deal with his family and try to balance their happiness with yours. Think of it this way: besides this matter of telling his parents—how is the rest of the relationship? If the positive far outweighs the negative, and he is as committed to you as you are to him, the stay with it. Just make sure to be 100% honest with yourself and each other.

    Remember whatever happens, God will take care and ultimately everything is for good.
    My best wishes for both of you! <3

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    Replies
    1. Dear Anonymous,
      Thank you for your insightful words. I believe sometimes a person says something just in the right way at just the right time and, even if it's been said before, it gets through. :) I felt that happen in reading your comment.
      I originally thought I would be getting responses about the differences between White Black American racism and Indian racism and maybe Indian White racism. The sociological differences are obviously huge. Instead, this post and the comments are more focused on the relationship itself. What got through to me in your post (and now I see it also in Firanghi Bahu's secret gf/bf post too) is that this part is not racism really. Not that racism would not be an issue at all, but this secret is because his parents do not believe in dating before marriage and would immediately pressure him to marry. He has said that this would be true even with an Indian woman. Since we're not at marriage talks yet, I also don't want other people getting involved in that process at all. If I am marrying a man, I want to know he is choosing to do so because he really wants to! It would be terrible if he made that choice due to social pressure. I def don't want to be stuck in that kind of relationship.
      In any case, I love your ending in which you remind me to trust in God to take care of everything. I am a person who believes God is a part of myself and my connection with others - a sort of framework or net between all of us - and I feel that reaching out and being supported in this situation is even in itself an expression of God. Thanks again :)

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    2. I'm so glad to hear it was helpful!
      Sounds like you have a well-balanced approach to the situation.
      All the best, :-)

      Delete
  8. Please help me understand so that I can make a decision based on reality and not on my assumptions of how things "should" be based on only my cultural expectations...

    - I think you being a secret is more due to cultural pressure and repercussions rather than your boyfriend being ashamed of you. It does not just happen with foreigners, it happens with Indians as well. I know so many people who were dating for a while but there was not a single photo/post on FB that they were. The moment it is on FB that they are engaged, you know that their families know. Most people keep their dating a secret until they are really serious and about to get married. This is because dating is not approved in India and also to keep tongues form wagging. Even if your parents were okay, there will be a dozen people commenting and harassing your parents should you break up and everyone knew that you were dating. It also affects your arranged marriage prospects as you will not be "a decent girl". So generally, people keep quit because the moment everybody finds out, there comes marriage pressure.

    Dear readers, what advice can you give this bahu?
    - I would judge the relationship based on how you feel with him and if you have confidence that will stand up for in the future and long term. You don't want him breaking up because he does not want to disappoint his parents etc. That is what I would judge. Also, is he comfortable meeting your family because that would show that he is serious.

    Have you ever been a secret? And for how long?
    - I have not been a secret coz I am Indian and my husband is not but I had kept him a secret for almost 3 years. A lot was my own fears of how my family would react.

    At what point is it time to confess to your parents about your partner?
    - When I felt we were ready to get married and I felt the arranged marriage pressure building up.

    Is there any way that somebody can feel okay about being kept a secret?
    - My husband (then boyfriend) was okay because he did understand Asian and traditional cultures and the pressures. However, I did not ask him to keep me a secret from his family because his family did not have such issues. If I did not want to know his family and friends as well, then that would indicate some issues.

    Is having a foreign partner somewhat shameful in Indian culture?
    - Having any partner is somewhat shameful because there is an expectation that your parents would choose your spouse.

    Is being kept secret something to be ashamed of, or is it more complex than that?
    - It is a complex issue and it does not mean that you are ashamed of your partner. I think "I am ashamed and therefore will keep you a secret" mentality is applicable to dating cultures but in cultures where people do not date or are not expected to date, it means something else altogether.

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  9. An article on NYT that talks about this - http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/05/fashion/weddings/a-secret-relationship-until-mom-and-dad-needed-to-know.html

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  10. I realize this answer is coming a little late, but in case there are any other late comers to this post, I wanted to throw in my two cents. My fiancé's family is from South India, and he did not tell his parents about me for the first two years that we dated. However, I did not feel that I was exactly a secret, given that I met all of his friends and his sister early on in our relationship. There was absolutely no shame of me on his part, and he regularly would denounce his parents as racist. He kept me a secret from his parents based on his reading of his family dynamics, and I trusted his judgment on the topic, even though I really did want to me his parents. His parents are very conservative and set on him marrying an Indian woman. His parents did not date, and wished to make an arranged marriage for him. He had previously told his father about a white woman he dated several years before we met, and there was a spike in tensions between him and his parents at that time over the relationship. Furthermore, he knew that his parents would expect us to get married very quickly after meeting me, so he wanted to wait until we were in fact planning to get married.

    When he did tell his parents, it did not go particularly well, although it could have also gone worse. His parents were extremely uncomfortable around me and barely spoke to me the first time we went. His parents were also ashamed that he had chosen a white woman and asked him to introduce me as his friend at their parties. Throughout this time, my fiancé steadfastly remained committed to our relationship and rejected the shame of his parents. (and, his parents are sort of warming up to me - his mother recently said that she liked me even though I wasn't Indian). This was still hard for me to deal with, as my parents are close to their in-laws and I always expected to have a good relationship with any family members I acquired through marriage.

    My specific advice to the letter writer is that I think there are a couple of things to consider: 1) Is your partner ashamed of you, or is he worried about the fallout with his family? 2) Is he keeping you a secret from just his parents, or from others in his life as well? There is a big difference between someone keeping you a secret from his friends/peers and someone just waiting a bit of time to break the news to parents who will be angry.

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  11. Hi! Well, I think all the people that wrote in this post it is or has been involved in an indian-other country relationship. At least I think they should be involved in order to get some opinion in this situation.

    I am also currently involved in a relationship with an Indian, I am latin girl and I am also hide to my now husband parents. As I wrote few words before, we are already married and the parents still dont know . I think that this hiding part is more common that you believe. I read some of the comments of the people here and some people say is good and others bad, maybe the ones that say that is bad it is only because their boyfriends didnt have so many problems with the family. Every family is different, it is not because of the boyfriends it is because of the family traditions.

    The only thing that I believe is that if you want to be with him, you have to be patience because you have to understand his family position too.

    My now husband, decided to get marry without saying anything to his parents because he wanted to avoid any drama in this. He wanted to be with me, so we got marry and then he will tell to his family, we only have been marry for 1 week now. The fact is that we are already married, nothing to do in this! As he said, now we will fight together in this and none can apart us now. We live in my country that's why we decided this, and when the time is appropriate he will tell his family.

    I think you have to consider to be with him if you want and if you also believe that the things will be better between you both.

    I wish you happiness in this! Greetings

    ReplyDelete

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