What I’ve learnt about love…

love is

….after ten years of marriage.

Love doesn’t always buy me expensive or extravagant gifts

Love doesn’t whisk me away to far-flung destinations

Love isn’t as spontaneous anymore

 

Love always brings me a cup of tea in the morning while I’m having my shower

Love always arrives on time when I need picking up from the station

Love is the one person who believes in my crazy ideas- and doesn’t call them crazy

Love babysits for me when I need a night out with the girls

Love gets excited about starting a new box set together!

Love knows how I like my toast buttered (right to the edges)

 

The excitement of fluttery, flirtatious love gives away to solid, enduring, fulfilling love that enables you both to do life together in the trenches. When cancer comes knocking, when redundancy happens, when life is so shitty that you just want to go back to bed and sleep until it’s better.

Because that love is the most thrilling, and it lasts forever.

Are “friends with benefits” really of benefit?

friends with benefits

In the Noughties, the Sex and the City girls popularised the phrase “having sex like men”, (which I might point out is very sexist: not all men have sex this way) ie with no strings attached. No feelings, no “is he gonna call me?” hang-ups. Fast forward ten years or so and films like “Friends with Benefits” (FWBs) have further cemented the idea of regular sex with little or no emotional entanglements.

What’s more, it’s become a part of mainstream dating culture. For example dating app Tinder- which allows users to peruse and rate photos of nearby potential matches, grew massively in popularity within its first few months of launching. The app has become synonymous with hook-ups and has capitalised on the casual sex trend.

Not that casual sex is a new phenomenon, as the Guardian points out.

Having said that, the Samantha Jones version of female sexual liberation certainly gave women a green light. She glamourised promiscuity which meant a woman could escape being labelled a slut, in some cases anyway (see: every case of misogyny ever. A woman is a slut, a man is considered a stud/lad. Double standards still exist.)

Anyway, I was watching something the other day where two friends were discussing whether to add benefits to their friendship. And it struck me: there’s never really such a thing as no-strings sex. Unless you’re utterly devoid of any emotion, one person will be left feeling something from their night of passion. As one commentator pointed out, at the very least, for FWBs, the string is the friendship.

As someone who has been in a meaningful relationship for many years, I can’t help but wonder: aren’t we selling ourselves short if we ask for nothing in return for physical intimacy? I mean, it’s never “just sex” is it? It’s the most vulnerable we ever get with another person. It is baring your body and your soul. Doesn’t that count for anything?

Perhaps I’m romanticising it too much. Well there’s a reason for that.

Men are from mars… etc

Men and women are wired differently; that’s clearly no secret. The source of a woman’s sexual desire is very different to a man’s- and much harder to identify, apparently. Studies have shown that men are aroused more spontaneously by visual images. Whereas women take a lot more nurturing before you can get us in the sack. It’s why we like the whole romance, seduction thing- it appeals to our emotions. When a man takes time and effort to engage with us on an emotional level, it makes us feel valued, special, and it makes us feel desired. It’s that desirability that makes for great sex!

So I find it hard to believe someone who says casual sex is fulfilling. It leads me to think they’ve never had the real thing. Or perhaps they would say I’ve never really experienced the ‘freedom’ and the thrill that comes with casual sex. But to me that in itself is counter-intuitive: I believe you can only really be free with someone who you know and trust explicitly. And the thrill comes from knowing you don’t have to worry about whether they’ll call you in the morning- you know they will. Yes that kind of relationship takes time to develop but it’s worth the work.

Relationship with herself

At the end of the first Sex and the City film, Samantha breaks up with Smith Jerrod- a kind, supportive, genuine not to mention gorgeous guy “to have a relationship with herself.”

Riiiiight….

Yes, you need to be comfortable in yourself before you can function successfully in relationship. But ultimately we were built for companionship. It’s why we crave love.

I think the idea of friends with benefits being a healthy, viable alternative to a committed relationship- that involves sex, will simply leave us confused about real intimacy, and open us up to heartache.

And personally I believe I am worth too much to give away the goods that easily.

10 years of marriage and I don’t regret what I did

My bridal bouquet. My maid of honour caught it and still has it- I think!

A decade of being married. I can still hardly believe that much time has passed. I don’t feel older, neither of us do. It’s such a cliché, but really, where has that time gone?

There have been so many incredible memories and milestones in that time. One of them was having our daughter which continues to be a wonderful journey of discovery. But marriage is about so much more than the children. The Asian culture places so much emphasis on family, children, in-laws, community. When really, marriage is fundamentally about two people.

My marriage is my life. It’s my Monday morning when I don’t want to do the school run. It’s my cup of tea in bed when I’m sick. It’s the hugs and tissues when I’m scared about cancer, or the future or some other monster in the closet. It’s the person I care for, who I root for. It’s the person I’ve watched get older but who still looks the same to me as when we met 15 years ago.Yes, my marriage is my life.

My family didn’t give us their blessing and they refused to come to our wedding. I had chosen to marry outside of their wishes and expectations so I guess they thought we wouldn’t go ahead if they dug their heals in. We were told of another couple who postponed their wedding because of a similar situation. To us that was never an option: our marriage was always for the two of us, not about the joining of two suitable families. It didn’t matter if the people around us didn’t get that.

My wedding day was glorious- even without them there. I had never envisioned a situation where they would be, so I was very mentally prepared. Our friends and my in-laws were so wonderfully supportive. No one made me feel weird about the fact that there was no father- of -the- bride. There was an unspoken understanding and it was ok.

I’ve been lucky enough that my relationship with my parents has been restored to some extent. I know a lot of Asian women in my position aren’t as lucky as me in that respect. But there are still sections of my community that are a no-go. We are purposely shunned on a lot of important family occasions because “I didn’t marry a suitable person.” Well that’s just makes me laugh at how ridiculous a statement it is. I’ll decide who is suitable for me, thank you.

Still the isolation and rejection hurts sometimes- I’m not that strong minded every day. But I’m overcoming that- as I see more and more that I don’t want to be a part of that culture, that closed-minded mentality. Moreover, I don’t want to raise my daughter in a culture so riddled with judgement and so built on status and vanity. I want to give her choices I never had. To know that as a woman, she is equal to a man in God’s eyes, and that she will be loved by us unconditionally.

People ask me if I regret my choice to marry outside of the community. It makes me smile to even think about it. I am so pleased I did what I did. There’s never been a moment of regret. Yes family is a huge deal for us Asians, and there have been moments in the last ten years when I’ve ached for them so much I could barely breathe.

But you know what? Now we are our own family. And I get to live out my own notions of what family should be: unconditional love, boundaries without judgement, acceptance.

And have I told you how safe I feel? With my little family, I am not afraid anymore.

 

He always makes me feel safe.

Thank you for ten wonderful years together darling.

No sex please, we’re Asian

intimate couple

Is it ok to talk about sex for a moment?

Because it seems Asians are not very good at talking about sex. I mean we’re very good at skirting around the issue (no pun of course). Bollywood films and Bhangra videos are full of highly sexualised content. And yet no one really talks openly about sex in the Asian community.

So let’s just deal with the elephant in the room first. Whether we’re talking about it or not, Asians are having sex. Outside of marriage. People need to deal with that. Teenagers are doing it without their parents knowing (their parents don’t even know they’re dating!) Couples who have no specific intention of getting married try each other out to see if they’re sexually compatible. Engaged couples do the sex-dependant- on- marriage- thing. And there are all the other permutations in between. Work colleagues. Marital affairs.  University students. Holiday flings. Bar hook-ups. One night stands. And on and on…

Why is sex still such a taboo subject amongst the Asian community?

Writer Abhilasha Purwar claims that “our old Indian society is trapped in the shackles of its values and traditions, and often repeats to the new generation: “Sex is for procreation, not for recreation”.

In other words there are some who still equate sex with the duty of having good Asian sons children and not with pleasure. It’s those people who judge others who have sex for pleasure or intimacy. One Asian editor asked me not to mention sex in an article about dating, go figure, because she didn’t think it was ‘nice’.

Come on people! We need to give a language to this practise.  Because it is a reality- people are having sex outside of the South Asian cultural, religious and traditional bounds. And at what point should I mention that it was Indians that gave the world the Kama Sutra?

Yes for some sections of the community, religion prohibits sex outside of marriage, so it’s a matter of sexual purity. I see nothing wrong with that at all. I’m not saying here I endorse sex outside of marriage; I’m not giving you my specific views on it. What I want is to allow those who choose to be sexually active outside of marriage to talk about it without causing shock and alarm and certainly without all the slut-shaming- which is rife.

I had wanted this article to be about whether British Asian women should have more sexual freedom. I wanted to ask whether it’s time to acknowledge that our culture is evolving and sexual freedom is one of the products of that evolution. But I realised that as a community, we are not there yet- we’re simply not ready to ask that yet.

But we do need to have a constructive and honest dialogue on the subject. It could enable us to deal with double standards, such as turning a blind eye to a man who “has his fun” before marriage, but insisting that women are virgins.  We can teach our young people about the emotional realities of a sexual relationship, not to mention the health implications; and yes, talk about the benefits of waiting for a committed relationship or marriage.

We can attempt to deal with rape culture by teaching our sons to respect women, and that sex is a sacred and consensual act; not something they are entitled to and can simply take from a woman (or sadly, a child). This would enable us to deal better with domestic abuse and sexual violence in our culture.

Instead we pretend that Asians only have sex after we marry and maintain a façade that no one is doing it. It’s time we do away with the silence and the judgement and have a mature and realistic discussion.

Is this the end of interfaith marriage?

Closeup of holding hands of stylish wedding couple. Mixed race.

It would be easy to think that the British Asian community is becoming more open to the idea of interfaith and mixed race marriages. We’ve all seen the photos on Facebook of a couple doing the ‘dual ceremony thing’: the Indian wedding where one white face is wearing the traditional Indian wedding- getup amongst a sea of Asian family; and conversely, the civil or Church ceremony performed for the English side of the family.

The sad truth though is that young British Asians choosing to marry outside of the community are facing a renewed backlash- and it would seem that the subject is still as taboo as ever amongst Asians. In particular, religious hardliners and religious leaders are taking a stand against interfaith couples who want to have a religious wedding ceremony.

The most notable occurrence of this has been within the British Sikh community. Hardline Sikh groups are vehemently opposing Gurdwaras (Sikh temples) performing the traditional marriage ceremony known as the anand karaj unless the couple are both Sikhs. Protestors have even gone to the lengths of barricading themselves inside Gurdwaras to stop ceremonies taking place, and the homes of inter-faith couples have been attacked. Victims of these attacks have been too afraid to speak to the media for fear of further reprisals.  In response, the Sikh Council UK has just published guidelines for Gurdwaras, reiterating that the anand karaj is strictly reserved for two practising Sikhs.

This new wave of violent persecution amongst British Sikhs is a relatively new phenomenon. But elsewhere in the community British Asians are familiar with the barriers that an inter-faith couple faces: Islam has strict religious laws on marrying outside of the faith, as have some sections of Christianity. Couples who do go down this road face excommunication and often live in isolation of their Asian family.

Certainly in the case of the Sikh community, extremists are arguing that a religious wedding ceremony is null and void unless the faith is shared by the couple. If that’s true, does that mean that the union itself is not legitimate in the eyes of the faith? Would the couple be welcome in the place of worship- or would the ‘believing’ partner be expected to worship there alone? What about when children are born- how would the couple raise them within the faith if religious leaders apparently don’t recognise the marriage in the first place?

Traditionally within our culture, marriage has been a union which preserves wealth, status, where relevant caste, and of course religious identity. With many British Asians now choosing to marry outside of these bounds, extremists are arguing that these elements of our culture are being eroded, even destroyed.  How long will an inter-faith couple persevere with religion if all they get is judgement from the community?

One of two things could happen here: either young British Asians will choose love over faith and move away from religion altogether- which clearly religious leaders don’t want; or they will reject mixed marriages for the sake of their religion and to maintain links within the community and family.

The latter scenario isn’t as unlikely as you might think. Dating sites exclusive to individual religions are swiftly gaining in popularity. Many young Asian daters are becoming more specific in wanting to meet someone from within their own religion.

Sharn Khaira founded the online dating site Indian Connect for this very reason. The site is targeted exclusively at Sikhs and Hindus with an empathy for traditional marriage and culture. It is also carefully monitored to ensure only people living in UK can join. The site clocked up more 30,000 paid subscribers in less than a year. Sharn says: “I’m starting to see young British Asians move away from interfaith marriage because of the heartache and potential damage it can cause to families, not to mention the wider Asian community in their local area. So many now want to keep their culture and heritage in-tact”

I think it will take a generation before we really see the working-out of the issues involved in interfaith marriage. But I do believe where many before used the new found freedom in society at large to marry outside of traditional bounds, others are now holding back as they look at the repercussions.

Or will it be a case of love triumphing over religion and culture? It’s an aspect of our community that is worth watching to find out.

 

You might also like “Are interfaith marriages a mission impossible?”

#WhyIstayed in a love-less arranged marriage

Last weekend the hashtag #WhyIstayed dominated Twitter. It was a response to the awful footage of American football player Ray Rice punching his then fiancé, now wife Janay. Instead of sympathising with Janay, the press asked why she stayed with him and went on to marry him. Victim-blaming in action. As a response, those who understood that there are often very complex reasons as to why a person stays in an abusive, love-less marriage tweeted.

I feel I have to add my voice to this powerful collective testimony. While it’s not news that countless South Asian women stay in unhappy marriages, it doesn’t get talked about enough. Women all over the world in Asian communities simply ‘get on with it’ because that’s what they have to do.

Once the hue of being a newly-wed has dimmed: the bridal mehndi has long faded, the many wedding outfits packed away and the community moves onto the next wedding hoopla, the new Asian bride starts to feel it. They don’t talk that much- there isn’t actually that much in common. Sex becomes more duty than passion. They sleep with their backs to each other. Children kind of glue things together a bit, while the ever-present in-laws often drive them further apart. They start to become cold towards each other, distant. He seems to resent her. He starts to yell at her, humiliates her in front of their children, their friends. He calls her names and talks to her like she’s a child.

And because she’s moved away from her community or country she’s desperately lonely and isolated, away from her people. She has no one to talk to so she calls her sisters. She cries down the phone and they tell her, “You have to just work things out. This is it now, you’re married. That’s what married life is about.”

When I was about 11, I remember my mum saying she was going to leave, go back to her country, back to her mother and sisters. “I have a house there you know” she used to say to me. Ironically, it’s the house that was given as part of her dowry.

But of course she never left- which I am eternally grateful for.

Why did she stay? Yes for her children but also because that’s what you do when you have an arranged marriage. It was all arranged for you. Packaged. The right guy, from the right profession, in the right family. Oh yes on paper you are so right for each other. But in real life….

The sad thing is I know there are other British Asian women reading this right now and thinking uneasily that it was written about them. Well it was, because so many, too many women stay.

And there’s always the fear that one day he’ll get so angry that he’ll hit her.

Thousands of South Asian women live with domestic abuse. Some sections of our community condone it. Consider the ruling in the UAE about three or four years ago that said it was ok if a man hit his wife, as long as “he didn’t leave a mark.”

WHY doesn’t she leave? She has to be fool for staying! She’s got a brain, she can think for herself, of course she can just leave. Besides, today there a loads of organisations that actually help Asian women, they even offer language services if she can’t speak English. So there’s no excuse. It’s her own fault for staying.

She stays because of what the family would say if she left. Turned up on their doorstep with her children. And what then- live there forever? Who in the Asian community would want her and her children now?

She stays because….

If she leaves she will be considered damaged goods by her own community.

If she leaves she risks being ostracised for the rest of her life.

If she leaves she’ll be the one that everyone talks about at the mosque, gurdwara or wherever.

If she leaves she’ll be branded as having ‘Western’ ideas and being selfish.

If she leaves they’ll say “who’ll want her now?”

So before we judge her for not leaving, perhaps we should check our own attitudes. It’s often because of us that she stays- her community and the shame and victim blaming that we will heap on her. So next time, before you say “why did she stay?” ask yourself first what will your reaction be to her, when you know she left.

If you are in an abusive or unhappy marriage, please please seek help. If you cannot speak to your family, please call one of the numbers below, if only to have someone else to talk to.

And remember, emotional blackmail and mental torment of any kind is NOT acceptable and NOT your fault. You deserve to be treated with respect, even if you don’t love each other. Please reach out to someone- you are not weak for doing so.

editor@britishasianwoman.com

 

The Sharan Project

http://www.sharan.org.uk/

info@sharan.org.uk

UK only: 0844 504 3231

The SHARAN Project aims to support vulnerable women who have had to leave home either forcefully or voluntarily. Run by South Asian experts they provide assistance on key life skills as well as information and advice on a range of issues including health, housing, employment, education, and financial, legal and personal development.

Karma Nirvana

http://www.karmanirvana.org.uk/

Karma Nirvana
PO Box 148
Leeds

LS13 9DB

Honour Network Helpline: UK Only: 0800 5999 247

Supporting victims of honour crimes and forced marriages. They provide three key areas of service:  a telephone helpline for those in danger; advocacy work; education & training for victims, and partners seeking to work in this area. They have also recently worked with Cosmopolitan magazine petitioning for a day to remember victims of honour killings called “Who are Britain’s Lost Women?”

Asian Family Counselling

http://www.asianfamilycounselling.org

London Office

Suite 51, Windmill Place

2-4 Windmill Lane

Southall
Middlesex
UB2 4NJ

Tel  020 8571 3933 or 020 8813 9714

Gopi Aswani (Senior Counsellor): gopiaswani@asianfamilycounselling.org

A confidential counselling service for individuals, couples and families of Asian communities. All counsellors are fully trained and supervised. Counsellors are recruited from the Muslim, Hindu, Sikh communities, and provide counselling with a full understanding of the different cultural customs and religions.

 

What’s wrong with dating “like Westerners”?

Dating

Arranged marriages are as typically Asian as chaa (that’s tea for those who don’t know!) and samosas, right? I’ve even heard it said that “they are the heartbeat of Asian tradition. Without this pulse coursing through our lives, everything we know….as British Asians….starts to die”.

Well, if that’s true, then our community must be dying because it’s no secret that many young British Asians are side-stepping arranged marriages and carrying out their own search for love. As life in the West influences our lifestyles and our identities, it’s also influencing how we marry- which is increasingly on our own terms. Family suitability and even parental approval are not as high on our agenda as love, shared interests and sexual compatibility.

Internet dating, dating apps, going out with work colleagues and friends-of-friends are all fair game amongst young British Asians in meeting The One. Even parents are starting to come around to this idea.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking arranged marriages. There are many happily married couples in my own extended family were arranged.

But let’s be clear, for most, arranged marriages are essentially the joining of two compatible families. The right caste, religion, race, not forgetting job status and looks all make a good marriage, by Indian standards.

But if we are marrying for love, where the priorities are often different to those of the older generation, some argue that we are eroding our community: Inter-marrying of castes, religions and races lays the foundation for a different community of tomorrow: mixed race children, mixed caste or mixed religion children (if there is such a thing) means a very different British Asian community of the future. That’s multiculturalism at work. And for those who are fiercely loyal to their Asian heritage, well it’s that erosion that is the problem with us dating “like Westerners.”

Those who have chosen the dating route would argue that only they- and not their parents- can know who is right for them; that they alone should be in full control of making one of the biggest decisions of their life. And because of this control, it could be said they are ensuring stronger marriages that have been entered into wholeheartedly; rather than because they make the family happy.

The fact is we are evolving as a community. Tomorrow’s British Asian community will look different to today’s, for a number of reasons not just those outlined here. Really, we cannot insulate ourselves against change, we have to embrace it, and all the while enjoy and celebrate the many, many other things that ‘make us’ British Asian.

This post was originally published on Indian Connect