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saska's avatar

Okay, long, possibly complicated question about independence issues w/ desi ('Indian') parents.

Asked by saska (105 points ) February 6th, 2013

Basically, I want to move to the US to study, and live in a dorm. I’ve planned this out, know the city I’m planning to move to pretty well (lived there before), have friends and family there, know my teachers, have a budget plan set up and everything. My mom still worries about me living alone though, especially about ‘what all the relatives will say’ (common desi problem). I’m turning 20 this year, and am tired of living based off of other people’s decisions. YOLO, right?
I also want to marry the person of my choice (and this person is from another race/religion, and is older than me (not like 20 years or something), but willing to convert to mine to make it easier for us to be together. Incredibly nice, funny, and level-headed too. So it’s not like I’m going after someone who isn’t a ‘good person’. The only thing is his race (which I personally have no problem with).

I guess, more than a question, this is a rant. I know what I want, and that I plan to go after it. I just don’t want to hurt my family in the process.. Any words of advice on how to go about this?

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24 Answers

KNOWITALL's avatar

You’re at the age where you need to assert your independence, which is natural.

From what I know of Indian family structures, you are supposed to obey your parents and have been raised that way, is that correct? If you go ahead with your plans, will your family stay in your life and welcome you in theirs?

When I broke from our family religion and tradition, it severed some ties, so just make sure the decisions you make are worth it.

And good luck, marrying outside your race isn’t always easy to adjust to, for either party, and the families sometimes make it difficult, but the couples I know who worked out are extremely close and happy.

zenvelo's avatar

Welcome to Fluther.

Yes, this is a question none of us can answer, because we don’t know you personal weighting of your choices against those of your family. And we don’t know what the repercussions will be in the long term if you marry someone that your parents don’t currently approve.

Would this be a permanent disruption to the relationship between yourself and your parents? Or is it something that they will eventually come to accept as your choice?

HolographicUniverse's avatar

Well this is a common issue when a bird leaves the nest, your family will worry because you’re moving a far distance to a “foreign” place in pursuit of a new life. I commend you for having a set plan in place and I encourage you to execute said plan. You may “hurt” your family but only in light of separation anxiety and their own personal desires, once this subsides they will be content with your happiness. This is your life and if this is what you think will make you happy then commit to it despite protest from your family (at some point everyone needs to assert their independence)

burntbonez's avatar

Of course, for a desi, family means something more controlling than it would for an American. Desi parents expect to have more say in their children’s lives, and having not lived in the US, they don’t understand and mistrust American culture and it’s influence on their children. They are used to controlling their children, and expect their children to be children for much longer than Americans do.

Your parents have your best interests in mind. They do not believe you have the experience or wisdom to choose well for yourself. They believe that if you choose someone from a different race (what race?), you will have problems you won’t be able to handle.

It is true that when you marry someone from another culture, there are many issues of conflict you cannot anticipate. So you will need extra good problem solving skills to deal with these issues.

You need to convince your parents that you do have good problem solving skills. You do know how to live on your own and take care of yourself. You understand what is involved in selecting your own mate, and they will approve of this person.

You must demystify things for your parents. They need to understand dorm life. You should show them pictures of the dorm. Do the online tour for them. Show them where you will eat. Show them how you will spend your time. Promise to check in with them. Tell them you won’t party. Call them from your relative’s houses. Think of all the things you can do to alleviate their worry.

As to the boyfriend—they will have to meet him. He will have to show he understands your culture and loves it. He will need to show he understands the religion. Also, he’ll need to get along with mamaji and papaji. That will mean he’ll need to learn to do cold reading and to make your parents feel like he is one of them. He’ll need to be more desi than a desi.

Well, that’s how I’d do it. You could always elope. They might get over it some day. But I’d mount a campaign, like a war campaign. I’d research and prepare and make them love your life and feel like it was an Indian life.

It’s a lot of work. But it depends how important family is to you. Do you want to care for them? Do you want them to feel comfortable and to love your life? If so, I’d make this campaign. On the other hand, if you are comfortable just being an American, I’d elope.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

I wish you the best of luck. I can’t say the rest any better than burntbonez just did. It’s tough in your culture to do what you’re planning on. Family is first, you’re second is the way. So know it’s going to be tough and steel yourself for some challenges and lots of guilt trips from the parents.

KNOWITALL's avatar

I’d also do some real soul-searching and make sure this isn’t simple rebellion.

When I rebelled, I used every excuse under the sun to get out from under the control of my family, even if it hurt me, which in the end it did.

CWOTUS's avatar

Welcome to Fluther.

Read some Jhumpa Lahiri. Her books have explained desi culture to me better than desis themselves ever could (or have).

bookish1's avatar

Hey, welcome to Fluther.
I don’t have time to read the other responses, but I just wanted to let you know that I understand. I was raised by an extremely conservative Brahmin in the U.S. I’ve seen my cousins have to give up on their loves because they were the wrong religion or caste. This kind of bullshit shouldn’t happen anymore, but it does.
It sounds like you have put in a lot of work to planning out your future. Have you applied to university already?
From my experience, I would say that the justification of schooling might be your best weapon. It was mine. If your parents care about you, they should care that you have the best education and opportunities available. My dad was educated in India and now teaches in the U.S., and is convinced that we have the best higher education in the world. If you have an acceptance letter in hand from an American university, it might make convincing your parents to support your decisions much easier.
Please feel free to PM me if you would like to talk more.
Best of luck to you.

marinelife's avatar

Worry about your own feelings and life first. Don’t worry about hurting your parents. Chances are good that nothing you did would be good enough anyway.

HolographicUniverse's avatar

I wanted to say that I like bookish1’s answer/offer, I think his answer has the most credence here.

saska's avatar

Thank you for the welcomes and the answers, everybody. :)

To those who are asking if this is simple rebellion on my part: no, it isn’t. I don’t like to rebel just for the sake of rebelling. At the same time though, I do not like people controlling my life too much. My parents are awesome and usually very supportive, hence my not wanting to hurt them. I do not wish to elope (neither does he; we’ve talked it through). That would cause more problems than it would solve, and it would just hurt a lot of people and be bad in the long run. Also, since it’s interracial, I think our wedding would also be a great way for both families to learn about each other’s cultures more, and mingle. He’s already reading up on my culture/religion a lot, and asking me questions, as do I. We understand one of the most important things in a relationship is good communication, and we’re both trying to understand each other’s backgrounds (it can be difficult at times, given the HUGE difference!) better.
With that said, I don’t want to be the kid who runs away from home with zero preparation or thought and fails at it. I don’t want to cut off my family, period.

@burntbonez He’s ‘white’.
The funny thing is, my parents already know I’m (praising myself here, sorry) pretty responsible, and fully capable of taking care of myself and not getting into trouble. I have already tried the online tour thing. I’ve detailed my plan to my mom, and she accedes that it’s a good one. But then she goes back to her original stance or gets moody about it. Understandable; we’re very close. I do not like the idea of living away from her either. But I have to grow up at some point, right? (And no, that does not mean complete abandonment.)

I plan to have them meet asap (and Skype before that, in the time leading up to it). I am 110% sure that, once they meet him, they’ll like him. He has all the qualities my mom describes every time she’s talking of matches, lol. And then some. The main thing though, is that I’m the one that’s going to be spending the rest of my life with this guy – not my family. Tbh, I’d never been against arranged marriages until I met him. I am still not against them. I just know that it’s wrong to have your partner picked for you if you already have someone in mind who you’re very serious about, and he, you.

@bookish1 – Thank you for that. It’s sad that there’s still this conservative attitude about religions/castes, especially in South Asian cultures. For the record, my family isn’t that big on the caste thing. There are people I’m related to who have married out of race and out of caste before. But they were raised in the US, so everyone didn’t make ‘as big’ a fuss about it. I think that’s unfair though. Should we not all be allowed equal rights, regardless of where we’re raised? My family is educated, but cultural conventions are apparently very hard to get over.

I mentioned marrying out of race to my siblings (without saying I already have someone in mind, lol). They thought I was crazy, and that my parents would never hear the end of it from everyone else. I really am past the point of caring what society thinks of my life choices though – only my parents. And I’m hoping that, as long as I make choices that are well thought out, not rash or obviously stupid, my parents will hopefully come around and support me after a while.

The thing I worry the most about is becoming too self-centered in the things I desire, which, right now, are a) studying in the US so I actually learn something worthwhile and can pursue my career (which doesn’t have quite as big a scope where I’m at right now), and b) building a stronger, more permanent relationship with my boyfriend, and having my family accept him. And believe me when I say I am a person who does not easily get crushes, let alone fall head over heels in love, so no, this isn’t just a teenager chasing an infatuation.

Wow, wrote a lot, lol, sorry guys.

saska's avatar

@bookish1 I plan to get my Gen Eds done at a college and then transfer to a university in about a year. :) Cheaper that way, and essentially the same thing.

Shippy's avatar

You have shown a good strategy to your parents. Keep on putting their fears to rest. Devise a plan whereby they can make contact with you easily. Like Skype for example. Tell them you understand their concerns, but your goal is not to hurt them nor yourself. Also tell them your faith is important and that you will keep in touch with similar people of the same faith in the USA.

Gabby101's avatar

I wouldn’t live my life to please someone else. I see people do it, but there is always an underlying anger that grows with time. I never set out to hurt my parents, but I did do things differently than they would have choose for me and I have never regretted it. Parents are just people and they make mistakes too.

saska's avatar

So I told my parents I’m leaving soon (mind you, I’ve been telling them this since October, that I plan to pay for my own ticket and leave this Spring.) Now I told them I’m booking my ticket, and they said no. What? Now they’re saying things like, you can’t go live on your own, you don’t know what the people at the dorm you’re planning to stay at are like, you’re not old enough to go live on your own yet. I don’t get why our culture likes to coddle its adolescents and make them dependent until they’re married and 30. It doesn’t stop at that point either.

I’ve been telling them my plan for months. They say I should wait for the Summer, but they’ve been saying things like this for years (no exaggeration) and nothing’s ever happened. The more time I spend here, the further I fall behind in my studies, because my credits from here do not count.

I’m depressed, and stressed out 90% of the time, and don’t feel like doing anything anymore. My parents have regrets from their own lives, and they wish they’d done things their own way instead of listening to everyone else. I don’t get why they seem to want me to repeat their mistakes.

What do I do?! Do I just book my ticket and drop the issue until two weeks before my flight? Argh.

CWOTUS's avatar

You’ve told them your plans, now it’s up to you to carry through with them despite their opposition, hurt feelings, anger and everything else they’ll throw at you. So, yeah, I’d book the ticket, pack your bags and get ready to leave.

Try not to burn any bridges, but be firm if you know what you want to do. Then do it.

saska's avatar

I’m trying as hard as I can to do all that. Is a flight that’s three weeks away too sudden? I need to keep in mind when classes start over there, and any flights later than this are more expensive too. My mom’s going all out on the guilt trips though. She just cooked my favorite food, cleaned the house, everything. (I’m borderline OCD, so a clean house is the best way to get me in a good mood.) I feel like a total ass.

But, at the same time, I know I can’t take another few months of staying here. I flipped out at my mom this morning, and then was depressed all day at school, and didn’t take any classes, just sat in a corner and read a book to keep my mind off things. Everytime I’d think of this, I’d start crying. I actually understand now what it is like to feel suicidal a lot of the time (embarrassing to admit that).

My classmates/friends were all worried because this is very unusual behavior for me; I’m not usually an openly emotional person. Half of them say I need to get out of here again asap, and the other half were like, ‘what, you’re going to fight with your mom and run away?’ Again, adding to the guilt.

I guess I just need someone to smack me and say, ‘DO IT BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE’.

am I making too big an issue out of this? people are starving/dying everywhere, and then there’s me, trying to study and be with someone I’m in love with, at the expense of potentially hurting other people I love.

CWOTUS's avatar

Just do what you’re going to do, with a smile on your face. You can attempt (if you think the effort isn’t entirely futile and a waste of time and energy) to get them to stop their efforts to retain you, but it’s unlikely that you will be able to enlist them as supporters, yet. Probably the best thing you can do – for all of you – is get them to “stop fighting me on this”.

The best things for you now are:
1. Keep the conversation away from the topics of major disagreement;

2. Maintain good relations with your parents (and their friends, and your extended family, etc.), and be respectful about listening (or at least appearing to, even when they tell you things you’ve heard forever, or which you know aren’t true), and

3. Keep your eyes on the prize, and don’t deviate from your plan except as dictated by your own good sense and any facts that come your way which might change the mind of a reasonable person. In other words, don’t neglect everything that people say and “do what you plan to do regardless of consequences”. Be mindful of consequences and learn as much as you can to make the transition better for yourself (and your family), and continue on that plan. If I were planning to do what you are going to do, and someone offered to make me the governor of a State, well, I might reconsider. But that’s not in the cards, is it?

So smile and move along on your path.

bookish1's avatar

@saska: I am sorry that you are feeling so depressed. This issue hits emotional home for me, so I am not able to give you as good and objective advice as someone else like @CWOTUS.
But please, try not to let the guilt trips and emotional manipulation get to you. It really sounds like your parents are afraid of losing control over you. They are also probably genuinely worried on your behalf, but they are not being very objective. Plenty of people embark on new lives in a new country without even having local family and friends, like you already do.
Maybe your parents will have more respect for your decision when they see that you are thriving in the U.S. and doing well in school.

And no, you are not making “too big a deal” of this. Yes, people are starving and dying everywhere, in India and the U.S. Of course you will not take your educational opportunities for granted in light of this. And as for “hurting” those you love, people’s emotional responses are always their own responsibility. If your pursuing studies and a romantic interest hurts your family, that is because it does not accord with their plan to control you. This is just another aspect of emotional manipulation, the idea that unless you live the life your parents planned out for you before you were born, that you will be failing them. I know all too well what this South Asian guilt trip feels like.

Best of luck to you, and be safe.

saska's avatar

Thank you both so much for your thoughtful answers! :)

@Cwotus Yes, I’m still open to alternatives that sound reasonable and that aren’t just my parents trying to get me to stay here longer. I would consider their offer to stay until the Summer except that, before this, it was ‘stay until the Winter’. I am pretty sure it will keep going on like this. I love them dearly, but I think this game will be endless if I don’t put a stop to it. And my staying here and being depressed with it is only having a bad impact on my relationship with them and making me resentful and bitter. (Sounds like I’m 80 already, lol.)

@bookish1 – Thank you for that. I’m sorry that you too have been on the receiving end of the ‘you’re failing us’ routine that so many desi parents put their kids through when they try to make their own choices. I realize that it’s a result of them worrying about and caring for their children. But I wish more people would realize it would do their children more good if they raised them to be responsible and rational adults, and then let them act the way a free-thinking responsible, rational adult would want to, while being in control of their own lives.

I’d been pulling up the booking sites and filling in my info without not booking the ticket for days. Yesterday, I finally managed to book my tickets (with Fluther open, so I could read these answers and not chicken out again) for 03/01.
It’s such a big relief to finally have a definite date now. The only thing is, how do I go about telling my mother? Whenever the US was mentioned in any context today, she changed the subject quickly. Also, I was looking at airplane seating charts on seatexperts to confirm my seats, and she asked what I was doing. I told her, and she asked which airline the charts are for. I explained, and said this is the airline I’m going to be flying with, and she asked how much the tickets are atm. I said they’re about $990 from here to Washington, and then some more for the domestic flight afterwards. Told her I plan to fly Southwest for domestic, since they’re cheaper and checked bags are free. (I have yet to mention that my tickets are booked and paid for for March 1.) She just ‘hmm’d and went downstairs after that.

Do I cook something and then go downstairs and tell her? (Sorry I keep asking advice on every little detail. I just don’t want this to fail or cause her unnecessary trauma.)

Thank you, once again!

CWOTUS's avatar

It seems to me that your mother doesn’t want the news directly. Some people and families are like that: communications are more indirect so that facts don’t have to be confronted and aired openly.

That’s okay.

You’ve told her the basics, “this is my airline”, “this is my seat”, “this is what the ticket costs”. But she doesn’t want the direct fact in front of her of “a ticket” or “a boarding pass”. So instead find a calendar for March somewhere, circle the first in bright red crayon or marker so that it can’t be missed. Maybe even put a little stick-figure airplane on the date, and just leave it where it won’t be missed.

If she wants to continue the conversation, then allow her to do that.

Good luck, and have a good flight.

Adirondackwannabe's avatar

@saska I’m amazed you’ve gotten this far with her and your father. I would have expected them to just say no and arrange a marriage for you. Give her a little space to get used to the idea, then try to talk with her. I don’t know what your relationship with her is like right now. So I can’t really reccommend a plan for the conversation to follow.

saska's avatar

So, hello again. I’m sorry for being AWOL for a while, and that too without saying thank you. Things were pretty rough these past few weeks though, as I’m sure you can imagine. After two weeks of my parents pingponging between resigned and furious, on the day of my flight, about 12 hours before my plane departed, they called my airline carrier and cancelled my ticket.
So.. that was a waste. I went through DABDA, and think I’m between the last D and A now, lol. I’ve made them give it to me in writing that they will not stop me from leaving in May, no matter what the situation, and that I am by no means ‘happy’ or relieved about staying here. It’s probably better that I wait until the weather there is warmer, Idk. Either way, this is their last chance. After this, if they still don’t do anything, at least I can say I waited an extra three months to give them time, and I’m not about to do that again.

Anyway, we’ll see how it turns out. :\ I will post updates.

Thank you guys for helping me almost get out of here though, lol. Especially CWOTUS, and bookish1. I feel kind of like I’ve failed everyone, including myself. But I was glad to be able to get objective, rational answers from people who weren’t emotionally involved. That was great. So thank you again, all of you.

bookish1's avatar

Hey @saska. Thank you for the update. I’m sorry that I lost track of this question, so I don’t know how long ago you posted.
That is awful what your parents did. Wish I could say I was surprised. Did you at least get your money back???
But please don’t think that you’ve failed yourself. What did you do wrong??? It is your parents who wronged you.
And you have drawn a line in the sand. You are leaving in May, and you are going to start up a new life and go to university in the U.S. They should be happy for you and proud of you. So many parents would almost die with happiness if their children could study in the U.S.
Stay safe, stay strong, and keep your eye on the prize.
And please do post updates when you can.

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