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November 8, 2011

Indian Women... Want a Western Husband?

Toted as a website ready to cater to Western male’s fascination for “the world's most exotic and beautiful women. [Indian women] are known for their gracefulness, culture, humble attitudes, loyalty, and exotic beauty.” This unnamed site*, no doubt, took me by surprise. A little shocking; a little scandalous; and at the same time bought up a lot of questions in my mind.

Anyone would want to browse this site to see “What kind of Indian girl may want to marry a foreigner?” and then also a thought may come to mind (by an Indian more than a Westerner), “What parent would allow their girls to advertise on such sites? Isn’t it unsafe? Doesn’t it go against the culture? Aren’t there enough good Indian guys to go around?“ All kinds of questions and judgments can arise in one’s mind. So of course, I had some questions and curiosities, so I clicked through.

Showcasing women from various parts of India in their late teens to mid forties, never married to divorced women with children; the profiles are diverse and intriguing.

I’d like to share a few questions that pop into my mind having coached women and men in cross-cultural Indo-American (and Indo-Western) relationships over the years:

  • What draws an Indian woman to want to marry a foreigner?
  • Have they discussed this with their parents? What is the parent’s reaction?
  • Have they discussed this with their friends? What are their reactions?
  • How would a girl on this site pose a relationship to their family in India if it has been formed without their knowledge and taken to the ‘next level’?
  • Is it alluring to go abroad? (This must be answered honestly, because the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence!)
  • Are these women disappointed by Indian men? Why?
  • What stereotypes do these women harbor toward Indian men? (Are they mostly negative and why?)
  • Are these stereotypes based on experience with Indian men (dating or otherwise) and can they be worked out?
  • What stereotypes do these women harbor toward Western men? (Are they mostly positive and why?)
  • How have these stereotypes been formed? What real life face-to-face experience have these women had with Western men?
  • What has been considered when marrying cross-culturally and merging diverse cultures and mindsets?
  • How important is it that the to-be spouse would be familiar with Indian culture?
  • Would girls on this site consider marrying a Westerner who has never experienced India or other countries or cultures? Why or why not?
  • Do you believe love can conquer all?
  • Are you craving a cross-cultural experience with an exotic foreigner?
  • How much are you willing to discuss open and honestly about your expectations for married life? Do you have deal breakers? Have you considered this? (If not, start now!)
  • How important is your to-be’s family and cultural background to you?
  • How would you discern if a foreigner is really a good fit for you, your lifestyle, cultural practices, personality and long-term short and long term personal and professional goals?
  • How important is it that your parents and his parents understand each other?
  • How do you feel about not speaking your mother tongue with your spouse?
  • Does your family accept your personal happiness over the happiness and adjustability of the entire family (these are important cross-cultural questions)?
  • How would you adjust food-wise? What if your to-be doesn’t like Indian food? What if he liked Indian food during the romance and honeymoon stages, but didn’t later? Could you adjust, would you adjust? Would you embrace these and other cultural adjustments or resent them?
  • What if your husband did not want to participate in your cultural or religious celebrations?
  • Would your to-be allow you to travel to India to visit your parents or allow funds for their travel to stay with you?
  • What about traditions of child birth and raising? Would your to-be allow you to go to India before delivery or allow your parents to come stay with you during delivery?
  • Would your to-be spouse be happy with Indian baby names? Would you be happy with Western baby names?
  • Do you think it’s easy or easier to adjust to Western culture because ‘it’s not as complicated as Indian culture?’ (This is a myth by the way; all cultures have their subtleties and complexities!).
  • Would you feel weird if your to-be did not ‘behave Indian’ (for example what if he refused to brush his teeth before morning tea)? (Remember, you will have to live with this person day in and day out.)
  • Do you have experience living and adapting in other parts of India or abroad? What is your adaptability quotient? (This is more pronounced when marrying cross-culturally.)
  • If you’re a divorcee, do you think a Western man would be more accepting of previous relationships than an Indian man (no jealousy)? (This is usually a myth!)
  • If you have kids from a previous marriage, would they go abroad with you? When would they be able to visit their dad? This must be discussed with your to-be from the get-go!
  • How will kids adjust to having a new dad and living in a new country?
  • Can you or your children speak the local language (of the country abroad)?
  • Are you interested in marrying cross-culturally because you want a cross-cultural experience? 
  • Do I have the skills to adapt to another culture?
This is just a sampling of questions that came to my mind. Myself being an American woman married to an Indian man and living in India, these plus many other questions were discussed before our marriage. These questions (and many others) are also deep and prominent ones that must be discussed before marriage and even negotiated throughout marriage.

Marrying is a big thing. Moving abroad and being married cross-culturally is also a bigger deal! Marriage is not all roses, but adding moving abroad and cross-cultural uncertainties and this is a recipe for ‘disaster’ without detailed premarital discussions. These discussions must be done maturely and not blinded by love. Take love out of the equation. Love may not get you through some of the practical challenges faced when moving, living and marrying abroad. Be practical and open-minded. Also, you will have to consider your visa status when you marry abroad. It will take time to get your visa, and secondly when you arrive your visa may or may not allow you to work initially. How will you spend your time? How will you adjust to the local surroundings and culture? How will you make friends? Things you were used to doing in India like shopping, general socializing with strangers, driving, walking on the roads, banking, getting foods you like, making phone calls, daily conversations and many other things you never expected will suddenly be completely different. It will be exciting to re-learn everything, but it will also be frustrating and you will most likely experience culture shock. Culture shock happens when there are so many new and different things to adapt to and it becomes overwhelming to process and adjust to. One gets shocked. It can be a physical, mental, emotional, psychiatric or spiritual reaction. Usually, it’s a combination of reactions all bundled into one. How would you know if you had culture shock and how would you manage that being around unfamiliar people and in a different culture that thinks and responds differently? Culture Shock will also affect how long it takes you to feel comfortable and settled abroad. You may even begin to ask yourself “Why can’t I enjoy life the same way after moving abroad?

I am not trying to scare you. I am trying to share some practical things that you must think about. Parents will try to tell you all this to prevent you from all these issues. Parents may not be able to articulate all these things when they are in shock of hearing you say you will marry a foreigner. They are worried about you, but usually impatient to change your mind back to your culture’s status quo. That is where I can step in to help you and your to-be and your family sort out all these things. This is through an individualized coaching approach that helps you draw on your innate wisdom. Though we may not be able to help you prepare for everything you may face abroad, as that is impossible, we can focus on the most important things identified by you. So, before you put up your profile on such sites, consider coaching to clarify your life’s direction.

Few days after posting this, I received hate mail from the webmaster of that site. He -an American man- appears to be uninterested in reading my post and immediately assumed I was against his website. I am not against it, I am just offering another perspective on cross-cultural marriage. He was condemning American women and Indian men and said things I prefer not to repeat here. None the less, when putting your profile on such sites, beware of what is written here and also that such sites can actually be run by racist, sexist people. Do you really want your profile on such a site? Because of this, I leave up my review of 'such sites' but have removed the name and links to that particular site. Too bad the webmaster doesn't actually have a positive reason for initiating such initiatives.

Thanks for reading.

Authentic Journeys: Bridging Culture on Virtual Teams

We help build effective, culturally competent global teams with focus on the cultures of the USA and India. Jennifer Kumar, Managing Director, an American citizen, has almost 10 years experience living, studying and working (owning a business) in India. Authentic Journeys Consultancy is registered as a Private Limited in India (Kerala) and an LLC in the USA (Salt Lake City, Utah). We provide onsite and live-online instructor-led courses, facilitation and corporate coaching.