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.

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?”

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.

Men: would you date a woman more successful than you?

There’s a lot of talk about gender equality, particularly these days with fourth wave feminism such a prominent topic. But what about when inequality between a couple occurs naturally? I’m talking about when one partner is more successful than the other. This seems to be totally acceptable when it’s the man, it’s even expected. Very rarely though do we see a couple where the woman outranks the man in terms of job superiority or salary.

A few years ago we knew a couple where this was exactly case. The wife was incredibly ambitious and ran her own, very successful airline recruitment company. After they had their second child, the dad gave up his job as a fitness instructor to care for both children full-time. This made perfect sense as she brought home a lot more money than he did, and besides, as the boss of her own rapidly growing business, she couldn’t afford to work part time or not at all.

This all worked quite well for about 9 months or so. Eventually though he went back to working at the gym and they hired a full-time nanny. Her business continued to thrive and yes the marriage ended after not very long. It was never said that that’s why they divorced, and rarely is there ever just one reason that a couple break up over. But he openly said he was unhappy at her ‘attitude towards money’- take that to mean what you will.

We see it all the time in Hollywood marriages. Jennifer Aniston split from Tate Donovan at the height of her Friends career; Sandra Bullock famously split from her former husband Jesse James just weeks after her Oscar win.

Is it too simplistic and too sexist to ask whether many men are unhappy with their wife or girlfriend earning more money than them because they, the man, want to be the bread winner? Is it true that men have an innate sense of wanting to provide, in the same way that many women have a maternal instinct to care for others?

Well before every feminist shoots me down at that last point, let me say that it comes down to gender roles and what we expect from each other in a relationship. In some cultures it can be clear cut- that doesn’t make it acceptable, but at least the lines have been drawn.

For us Asians, men are very much expected to be the provider.  Women are often steered into careers considered more desirable or suitable for a woman so that she can make a ‘good marriage match’ by not outranking her future husband man. It’s fair to say that in the case of arranged marriages, a successful woman wouldn’t even be paired up with a man who was less successful than her, even if they were educated to a similar level. It’s simply not the way the culture works. The model is very clear: men provide for, women care for.

Ouch!

This is a situation where men are told that they have to be the more successful one, and women are given the message that they mustn’t be. That’s just all kinds of wrong and I’m not even going to get started on it.

But when it comes to dating there are no such parameters, and the guy would be seen as an ass hole for ending a relationship because he couldn’t handle that the woman made more money than he did.

Or is it just an unspoken rule of dating?