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Dating Just Desis: Why we do or don’t

By M. Khan

As a parent, especially a South Asian parent, it can be daunting to see your child dip their toes in the heady waters of the “dating” scene. This is especially true when you might be the type of parent who much prefers their offspring to meet other potential mates with parental supervision and approval.

But the reality is that this expectation is unrealistic; as a South Asian of the new generation I can tell you first hand that attraction and mate-finding happens much more at universities and in the workplace than anywhere else in the Western and Westernized worlds. Once rare, but now increasingly common, is the phenomenon of Desi girls dating non-South Asians.

When I was in college, I noticed an interesting thing; all over campus, brown guys and girls walked freely on the sidewalks together, one-on-one, instead of the normal gaggle of boys and girls herding about together. Apparently, in college it was okay for people to know that you were dating someone. And I guess it was.

There were certainly no scolding parents popping out of bushes to wag their fingers at the couples for holding hands with the opposite gender in public. And, even more surprisingly, there were quite a few South Asian boys who were “hooking up” with non-south Asian girls, i.e. dating them long-term, or less frequently, more casually.

But, what I did not see was more revealing. There was almost a total absence of South Asian girls dating non-brown men. The girls seemed to have an invisible force field around them (which must have been pretty strong considering the genetic lottery has endowed most South Asian girls with silky long hair and shiny eyes). Now, if we are to understand why a brown girl would ever date a white/Asian/black/Jewish/probably not someone their parents would like sort of guy, I first need to point out the several factors that cause brown girls to, on the whole, stay inside the bounds of their race:

(1) Family: Traditionally, parents would prefer their daughters to marry not just a race, but also a particular type of family. As someone who has dated across races, I would like to point out this is not exclusive to South Asian families (why else would debutantes exist?). It is just that Desi parents emphasize it with less subtlety, from an early age, and are more specific about what kind of person would be suitable: caste, family reputation, industry, education, and income level.

(2) Comfortability: There are a million little things that are unique to our culture. Having a partner who understands them without any explanation is a big plus.

(3) Bollywood movies: Don’t laugh! It is true! Bollywood movies have told us how romance should be since we were young. A guy who thinks mehendi is weird just does not suffice.

However, there are an increasing number of girls, like myself, who have crossed their parents and dated someone who on face value was not an ideal match. The top three reasons for dating a non-South Asian, in my humble opinion, are:

(1) Independence: Chances are that you raised your child so that she could have a successful career and support herself. This process takes a lot longer than in the past, and by the time children have reached the point where they are professionals and ready to settle down, they are less likely to feel the need for parental approval. Also, there is a certain subset of people who, in my opinion, are independent-minded from birth; as babies learning to walk, these types swatted away helping hands. As a parent, you probably have already butted heads with this child.

(2) Comfortability: There is a growing subset of South Asians that live a lifestyle that is in a way, jet-setting, and stretches from India to London to Toronto, and even Sydney. For South Asian children raised all over the world, and often in schools with people from all backgrounds, they may just be more comfortable having friends from different backgrounds. Surprisingly, for these children, dating someone who is from the same culture may feel suffocating, or in the extreme case, boring. There is fun in exploring the newness of somebody else’s cultural heritage.

(3) Statistics: Maybe there are not enough South Asians from which to choose. If every Tom, Dick, and Harry in the neighborhood is brown, then statistically, chances are, your daughter is going to find a partner who is South Asian. The reverse is true as well.

Ultimately, if your daughter starts dating someone who is not South Asian, as a parent, you should take it seriously. She has had to overcome several significant factors to choose to date a non-South Asian. What is more important is that if you have concerns about her choice, you speak with her about it in a reasonable, calm, and non-threatening way. The fastest way to accelerate a relationship is opposing it.

Furthermore, you may be surprised how effective having a nice, long multi-course dinner with this new person can be at putting things in perspective for you, and your daughter. Over some bhel puri, daal, and kulfi, it is a lot easier for you to see if her potential partner is reasonable, and for your daughter to see if it would actually be a challenge to incorporate such a person into her life.

Also, if you have had your heart set on introducing your daughter to a South Asian boy, I have some surprising news: Wait until your daughter is at least 25 years of age before you start pushing things. Before 25 most girls think they will be able to find someone on their own. Somewhere around age 25, for a variety of reasons, she will likely be more receptive to your overtures. Instead of assuming you know what is best for her, spend the preceding years proactively finding out what sort of person interests her.

And finally, do not lose sight of the fact that each person has a path of their own to explore. In the long run, what is most important is that your daughter finds a partner who treats her with a lifetime of respect, loyalty and kindness.

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