Ever since I was young, my parents have played a big role in my life. They’ve always felt the need to micromanage my life so I wouldn’t stray from the path they wanted me to go down. For a long time growing up, everything from the clothing I wore to the television shows I could watch was filtered through them. Years later, things have changed quite a bit. I can finally pick my own clothing (thank god), and I watch what I want, whenever I want to. But that doesn’t mean my parents have stopped managing my life completely. There are plenty of standards I still have to live up to. One of them is that they expect me to marry someone I’ve never met.
Conversations about my love life started when I was kid. They never forcibly hammered the idea into my head, but rather tried to “convince” me that love was a recipe for disaster. That falling in love would keep me blind from the pitfalls of the relationship, and an arranged marriage would be stable and I’d meet someone they had in mind when I turned 20. In any case if I were to fall in love, they had to be the same as me: Sri Lankan and Tamil at a minimum of a dozen other standards.
They both had their own reasons for this. They themselves were in an arranged marriage, before moving to Canada shortly after. My mother was always the more vocal one on the topic. For her it was an issue of pride and culture. She wants to see her first born have a traditional family with a wholesome reputable girl, while preserving our culture. My father was more practical on the issue. All he cares for is that she understands him when he speaks Tamil, and that our kid can speak it back.
As a kid I really couldn’t be bothered that much, mainly because I had no concept of love or attraction, and turning 20 felt like an eternity away. It wasn’t anything I had to worry about. But then the hormones kicked in.
As I entered my teenage years, there was a lot of change in my mentality. The first girl I was ever attracted to was white as fuck, which for someone who was raised being told that the only person I should find attractive was someone like me made it an awkward first relationship. It was hard to see my friends around me date so openly, while I had to date in secret like I was committing a crime.
Luckily (or unluckily, depending on how you want to look at it) we broke up, before the question of “How do I bring this up to my parents?” became pressing. But that doesn’t mean dating has gotten any easier. It’s fallen into the same cycle of meeting someone I like, going on a few dates and keeping the whole thing on the down low while panicking about how my parents would react if they found out.
The only thing I do know about this girl is she’s literally an ocean away, living in Sri Lanka
Trying to talk to my friends about this has also been just as awkward sometimes. As far as I know, I’m the only person in my friend group that’s gotta go through with this. I lived in a very culturally mixed neighbourhood so there weren’t a lot of Tamil kids around me growing up, and those who I did end up befriending didn’t have to face the same problem, or their parents didn’t bother to bring the topic of marriage and love with them. I truly felt alone in facing the problem, and sometimes I still feel alone, despite the reassurance of my friends that things will work out.
The last person I dated perhaps came the closest to a compromise. She was someone I liked who happened to speak the same language as me, despite being different in every other way. For the first time I felt like I could have a “normal” relationship, one that I didn’t have to hide or try to push down. But even then, talks of an arranged marriage put a strain on us. In the end, things fell apart, partly from questioning how my parents would react.
The only thing that hasn’t really changed is the conversations I have with my parents about the topic of love and marriage. Largely it’s the same as when I was a child, with my parents telling me it’s for my own good, and that it’ll make me happy. They haven’t even told me who they want me to marry.
It’s put me in a stressful place, forcing me to make a decision about whose priority I’m going to put ahead: my parents or mine. I’ve come to learn that this isn’t how I want my romantic life to go. It seems too cold and artificial. I won’t be able to find a genuine connection with whomever my parents want me to meet, not without getting to know the person. But this is made even more difficult because my parents have kept me in the dark on who they’ve had in mind on who they want me to marry.
The only thing I do know about this girl is she’s literally an ocean away, living in Sri Lanka. The cultural barriers between us are another roadblock I’ve considered. I won’t be able to make the same shitty jokes and obscure movie references without it flying over their head. There would be little that we would be able to connect through. I don’t want to abandon the culture I grew up with and I don’t expect her to do so either.
But I also know rejecting her would break my parents heart and the vision they have for me. I’ve broken and changed a lot of the standards that they’ve set for me over the years, but this one seems to be the one that they might not budge on. A part of me understands why they won’t. They’re afraid that I’ll lose my culture if I don’t, and that if I were to marry someone different, than they won’t want a traditional Hindu wedding, or that they won’t want to come visit Sri Lanka. If I were to date anyone that didn’t fit their standards it would isolate me further from them.
Standing between my own happiness and my parents is a reality I’ve just come to accept. The best and only way I can cope with the dilemma is the same way I’ve been doing for years now: try not to worry and hope that by the time I have to confront my parents their plans have pushed back another day. At the end of the day though, I know someone is going to get hurt, and I’ll have to decide who it’ll be.