By Sheela Lal – University of Missouri
I hate reading articles about dating. None of them seem to understand what dating is like to women of color. Sorry, women of color and immigrants.
Being a woman of color in a society full of white men, yes, dating is not easy. Being a daughter of immigrants makes sustaining a dating life harder.
Why do I say that? Immigrants are more likely to hold onto “old world” ideals; these ideals are probably more conservative. Trying to date before you’re married (or before you’ve earned at least a BS or BA) is unacceptable.
Sure all of your other friends are free to date (or not), but “you will not date when you live under my roof.”
Which is awkward, if you still live in their house.
Anyway, I know my mother is going to have a “talk” with me after reading this article, but at a certain point, you have to give up and share your story with the hope that it can lend support to someone else.
I “dated” in high school. I had less than a handful of boyfriends. It wasn’t primarily a parent issue then. They knew about one, which didn’t go over so well; they didn’t have much to worry about, for the “relationship” ended after two months. Anyway, I didn’t date because I didn’t know what I wanted. I didn’t know what I could bring to the table. I didn’t know myself.
Fast forward to college. I met guys. I tried to like guys. I went on a couple of dates and they failed. I quickly realized that being a woman of color at a Midwestern state school was going to teach me a new word – exoticism. All of the guys I met were initially interested because I wasn’t white. Wow, what a f***ing self esteem boost. Nope, I’m not interesting, just “foreign.”
Needless to say, as a wee freshman I knew I wasn’t going to seriously date anyone at my university.
Then I studied abroad in India, and that’s where and when I met the fellow I’m dating now. Let’s not get too excited now, I’m not dating an Indian. That would be too perfect.
“My daughter went to India and met a very nice Indian boy.”
I date a WASP-J (for Jewish). I thought I was losing my head. After years of writing off white men as exoticists, here I am dating a white boy.
But he’s different. Our first proper date was to a Shreya Ghoshal concert. He had no idea what was going on, but he appreciated the experience. He went to movies with me (including Aisha, where all I did was ogle Abhay Deol) and we traveled together. I think he’s seen more of India than my entire family.
In conclusion, he understands my background, erasing any point of contention in the future.
So what does dating mean to a brown girl?
1. It means knowing your family.
For most brown girls, family is a top three factor in most life decisions. Another factor is what you want. I can’t think of a third right now. How about, what would Amitabh want? Anyway, understanding what your family would want is important but you shouldn’t let it dictate what you do. If I let my family dictate all of my major choices, I would be pre-professional. I also wouldn’t date until I had a master’s degree.
2. It means understanding who you are and what you want.
That’s pretty self explanatory and goes for all women.
3. It means having to understand what you want from any relationship.
This comes after some trial and error. You aren’t going to know what is important to you until you interact with potential partners. I didn’t think I was going to be in a healthy relationship with someone who ran 5 or 6 miles at a time for “fun” or who collected stuffed pandas as a child, but so far, it’s turned out really well.
4. Unfortunately, it means having secrets.
I didn’t tell my parents about most (of the few) of the guys I’ve dated, and for a reason. I didn’t want to raise their blood pressure for no reason.
Kidding. Sort of.
If they weren’t anything special, it wasn’t worth getting another person involved in my family and cultural dynamics.
These dynamics vary from person to person, and that’s for you to gauge.
(You know what you should never keep secret? Relationship abuse. Please read Farah Mithani’s post here for more information)
5. I don’t have anything else. I’m sure other brown girls do, so please, contribute!