Through the last fifteen years of being involved in the Indian community and interacting with many non-Indian, Western,and white women who struggle with relationships and commitments with their Indian boyfriends, I share the top three mistakes that most of these women make while trying to overcome the challenges of acceptance from their Indian boyfriend or to-be's family.
Mistake #1 - Thinking Love Can Conquer All
Many Americans hold an ideal that regardless of social standing, culture, economic status, educational background and religion, love will overcome all these problems and make everything ‘ok.’ This can be true if and only if the couple have extensive discussions before marriage about expectations after marriage and into the long term, such as both partners’ career aspirations, family planning, traditions, values, choosing the place to live among many other variables. Of course, not everything can be breached ahead of time. Situations do change after marriage and through time.
Mistaking Love for Commitment
To many Westerners, the statement “I love you” often stands for a long-term commitment. That is one reason why many American programs broach the hard choices people make and situations that arise when one partner says “I love you” and the other isn’t ready to say it yet.
This being said, when most American [women] hear the words “I love you,” they take this very seriously. Due to mistake number one, she believes the man will do anything and everything in his power to create a long term commitment which will sooner than later evolve into marriage.
The problem is that in many Indian families, many may still believe love comes after marriage. This is of course due to the arranged marriage which is prevalent among many segments of Indian society regardless of geography. Thinking of this from the point of view of the Indian’s relationship with you, keep in mind he may hold back physical and emotional forms of affection as well as verbal confirmations of love. This is not because he doesn’t love you. In fact, many Indian guys who really do love you will withhold this out of respect for you and wanting to reserve these special occasions for after tying the knot. The problem here is that, in many Indian’s minds, they may not commit to any of these forms of affection until their parents have given the go-ahead. His relationship with you in this case, is not separate from his relationship with his family in that way. When his family accepts you; you are now family, so in his mind he is more willing to be open and available to you.
Giving Up Everything – Even Their Very Identity for “Love”
Due to the upsurge of the Internet, the incidence of cross-cultural love affairs takes place without the two people ever interacting face to face (in person as compared to Skype, which is not the same). The first time these couples meet face-to-face is when one saves up enough money to travel to the other. In some cases, their first face-to-face encounter is also when they decide to marry. The irony in all this is that this set-up is very similar to an arranged marriage minus the family pairing you up. You as the girl are acting as the super-traditional Indian girl who gives up everything; including her family, place of home, independence and identity to marry and move to India. Ironically, as the incidence of Western women taking part in this behavior increases, Indian man’s desire to marry the Westerner may increase as more and more modern Indian women are not interested in being so confined and traditional. Ironic that a Westerner is willing to be more traditional than an Indian (who is stereotyped as more traditional), isn’t it?
Because the Western woman is wrapped up in the exotic that is India; the traditional culture with the perceived higher sense of family values due to living in an extended family, and the idea of love conquering all, she is blinded by the reality that is about to hit her like a pile of bricks. The honeymoon in many of these cases never begins or ends before the marriage takes place. There is no honeymoon because the culture shock, reality and gravity of the situation hits the woman sometimes as soon as the heat hits her face as she deboards the plane.
Tying Things Up
Many say “The first year of marriage is the hardest.” This is often said among Americans who marry other Americans – not in a typical cross-cultural relationship. Yes, the first year of marriage can be the hardest even when the mindsets, environment and communication challenges seem very similar. Even for those who have traveled extensively within their own countries or abroad, they quickly realize living in another country, and with in-laws is worlds different than visiting a place on a vacation and staying in a resort!
As a side note: this post is not meant to discourage you from attempting a cross-cultural marriage; it’s meant to help you think about the reality that stands before you. Life will NOT be easy, the romanticism and exoticism will die fast and love may not conquer all when you land up in India and are in the midst of culture shock and your new family doesn’t approach life the same way as you. In these cases, many begin to lose themselves, feel misunderstood and become bitter toward their new family and life in general.
Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director of Authentic Journeys helps Indians build the skills to be confident and successful in managing business relationships with Americans. She works with Indians in India and Indian expats (NRIs) in the US over Skype, telephone or other VOIP programs.
Editing and photography in this is done by Kristy Robinson.
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