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Telling South Asian parents about your cross-cultural relationship: This is our story

You might be wondering why is this even a thing. Most of the time it’s not. But if you’re in a relationship with a South Asian person, then it most likely will be a thing, if it isn’t already. A quick Google search will point you to the most popular blog posts and reddit discussions on this topic.

We’re long past this now, thankfully, but I was reminded of it recently while we were watching Master of None on Netflix. The show stars Aziz Ansari, who is born of Indian parents but grew up in the US. It’s fiction, but is loosely based off of his own experiences. Aziz also cast his real-life parents as his reel-life parents, so at times it feels as if you’re watching his real life unfold on the show.

Dev (Aziz’s character in the show) gets into a serious relationship with this woman who eventually moved in with him. Fast forward to more than a year later, and it came up in their discussion that he hasn’t told his parents about her. When she asked him why, he said something along the lines of “I don’t know, it’s not a thing in Indian culture”, etc. I can’t remember exactly what he said, but I vividly remember that when he said it, Scott and I looked at each other and laughed. It reminded us of our own experience with telling his parents about our relationship. We had very tense discussions about it then, and watching that episode now made us revisit those moments in a more light-hearted manner.

Scott met my family first. In our home, in the Philippines. I just told my parents I’m coming home with someone, and that was it. Although I felt slightly uncomfortable telling my parents that I’m in a relationship, it was not something that I would keep a secret either.

Almost a year later, his parents were coming over to visit him for two weeks, and I was going to come for a few days in the middle of that to meet them. But less than three months before it was going to happen and his parents still didn’t know about me. He kept putting off telling them for no reason other than he didn’t know how to do it.

There was no way I was going to show up at their doorstep and say “Hi, I’m your son’s girlfriend.” I wanted them to get used to the idea of my existence before they see my face. But that would mean Scott telling them about me over the phone, which he didn’t want to do. He did it anyway, mostly at my insistence.

We didn’t see eye to eye on this one because I didn’t understand why it was so difficult to just tell your parents about your relationship. We’re adults, we’re financially independent, we’re seriously committed to each other, we’re old enough to make our own decisions. I certainly didn’t like being kept a secret, and I vaguely remember saying at some point that “I don’t deserve this.” In Scott’s defense, he simply did not know how to do it, and where, and when. Regardless of your age, there is no point in your life as a Nepali son/daughter when you would tell your parents that you have a girlfriend/boyfriend. There was no precedent in his family. Everyone who came before us were arranged, and if the elders had their way, everyone after us will also be arranged.

Nepalis take their duties and responsibilities to their families very seriously. It is the parents’ (and even grandparents and aunts and uncles) duty to pick their child’s life partner. There’s fanfare around the whole process of asking around for whoever is single and available, calling friends and acquaintances to ask what the potential partner’s family is like, asking relatives to put in a good word for your family, etc etc. These are the stuff of numerous phone calls and tea-time family conversations in the living room. And Scott and I, with our pronouncement of our relationship, took all of that away from them.

It’s easy to jump to conclusions and say “you’re ashamed of me, you don’t think I’m good enough to introduce to your parents” or “you’re a coward, you can’t stand up to your parents” or “your parents are mean and close-minded.” In reality, it’s just a complicated issue that requires immense patience and understanding and bucketfuls of grace in order to navigate successfully. In our case, we just did it and let the chips fall where they may. It was not exactly smooth sailing. It could have been better, but based on what I’ve read of other people’s experiences, things could have been much worse, and I am just thankful that they weren’t. And I’m writing this now as a married woman, so obviously things worked out well eventually.

If you stumbled upon this post because you’re having trouble with telling your South Asian partner’s parents about your relationship, I hope things get better eventually. If you’re past this point already, I would love to hear about your experience with it. 




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