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.

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.

 

Help! I can’t live with my in-laws any more!

Bad mother in law jokes are usually good for a few laughs, and used to be the fodder for many 80’s stand-up comedians. But for us South Asians, the in-laws are no joke. For most married couples they are a huge part of married life, and many expected to live with them.

As such, and unlike for our Western counterparts, our in-laws are a feature in our daily lives; they are not simply relatives to be tolerated on birthdays and at religious festivals.

It’s not unusual for the father in-law to be head of the family, and when he passes on an uncle or older brother takes over this role. Decisions have to be run past them and made with their consent. Their opinions count and often decision- making often means considering their needs and desires.

So how do young Asian couples carve out some space for themselves whilst still maintaining happy, healthy relationships with the wider family? And how does this work if you are living with your in-laws?

One theory put forward argues that understanding the Asian cultural mind set: collectivism v’s individualism goes a long way to making the relationships work.

Individualism versus Collectivism 

In the West, it’s perfectly acceptable to have the standpoint that your life is your own. You have the right to live as you see fit and make your own judgements and decisions- this is individualism. Collectivism on the other hand is the idea that your life belongs to the group or society you are a part of.  You have little if few rights of your own and often you must sacrifice your own values and goals for the good of the group. Sound familiar?! If you substitute the word ‘group’ with the word ‘family’ you’ve pretty much described what it is to be a part of a South Asian family!

You’re expected to value what the family wants over what you & your spouse want. A romantic weekend getaway for two is more likely to be taking your elderly in-laws away with you because otherwise they don’t get a holiday. Or a night out with girlfriends could mean taking your younger sister-in-law along with you because you are expected to include her. Considering buying a new car? Forget the idea of a two-seater convertible, you’re more likely to buy a people carrier so that you can drive your in-laws to and from all the family functions you attend!

It might sound laughable and even deplorable to the Western mind- set, but the truth is this is a totally normal and acceptable reality for many South Asian couples. Putting the family first, including the in-laws of every generation in most situations, is all part of married life.

So how does all this help with understanding and dealing with your in-laws? Understanding that their priority will always be the family can help you manage the demands of the relationship. Above all set clear boundaries. This is bound to put a few noses out of joint. It will not come easily or without resistance but is absolutely vital for marital harmony. You simply cannot afford to put your in-laws or for that matter your own parents’ needs above those of your and your partner all the time, as this does not a happy marriage make! Instead compromise- a little give and take will go a long way. Respect will always be the cornerstone of your relationship, so do be mindful of that in all your dealings. Communicate your needs and clearly and respectfully. They won’t always ‘hear’ you, but be clear on where you stand and respectfully stand your ground. And that leads me to my next point: pick your battles! Don’t sweat some of the smaller stuff and that will allow you a bit more room when it comes to the bigger decisions.

Of course the good thing about collectivism- family as the priority means that when you and your partner need your wider family, they will usually be there for you. And this is a wonderful aspect of South Asian life.

Are mixed-religion marriages a mission impossible?

As mixed race marriages in the Asian community in Britain are becoming more and more common, it follows then that we are also talking about dual-religion marriages too. I’ve seen many a wedding photo on Facebook of an English man dressed up in a sherwani (the traditional Indian-male wedding outfit,) posing next to his beautiful Asian bride all decked out in her red wedding sari and full on mendhi for their ‘Indian wedding day’. Conversely, many Asian women have donned a traditional white wedding dress for their church wedding.

So the question is, after the confetti has fallen, and the bhangra dancers have packed up and gone home, do mixed religion marriages actually work?

Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes are reported to have split up over Tom’s strong Scientology beliefs- Katie allegedly did not want to raise their daughter Suri in the religion.  Interestingly, Tom’s three year relationship with Penelope Cruz was also reported to have split because the pair did not agree on religion.

When a couple brings two different religions to the table, how does that play out in day to day life? For example in decision making where strong traditions are held in both religions, whose beliefs get priority? When organising the household finances, do they tithe or give zakat? When children come along, a christening or naam karan?

In my opinion, if both partners have very strong beliefs and very different religious traditions, the marriage would simply not work. Look at Tom and Katie. He has long been a committed Scientologist, but, apparently Katie did not share his views and in the end could not live with Tom’s strong beliefs, either for herself or for her daughter. (Ok, so they were also a Hollywood couple, many of whom split up for other reasons, but you can hopefully see my point here.)

I believe that the partner with the stronger religious view would end up dominating and that would become the family’s ‘default’ religion. The partner with the slightly lesser conviction would end up becoming side- lined or at best, practising what they believe in a quieter more personal way.

For many followers of the major religions, and particularly the way religion is practised in the East, religion is a whole encompassing system. It informs the way its followers eat, drink, dress, relate to the wider community, and yes how we marry. In short, for many Asians (and others of course), their religion is a worldview and all life emanates from it.

If that’s the case, then can two people from different religious backgrounds have a successful marriage? Or, and here’s the big question, can love transcend all barriers and differences?