How to Have Your Healthiest Ramadan Ever

The holy month is closing in, and I’m sure many of us have started preparing for what’s to come. It feels like Ramadan comes and goes quickly, so it’s important to spend some time in advance thinking about how you want to organize your schedule. You sleep, worship, and eat differently, likely spend more time at the masjid and with your family, and hopefully attempt to make positive changes to your life. How can you have your healthiest, most successful Ramadan ever? Luckily for you, you’re reading this! Below, I give you my best tips for a truly revitalizing Ramadan in order of importance: worship, diet, sleep, and exercise.


Ramadan can be a good time to improve your health, as fasting has well-documented health benefits (1, 2, 3, 4). However, I think people often get distracted by the health/weight loss opportunity they see and forget to prioritize worship. I included this section because I think worship is absolutely the most important aspect of Ramadan. We should spend Ramadan renewing our commitment to our faith and leave it feeling spiritually invigorated. Personally, I want to complete the holy month feeling closer to God and more mindful of my blessings and purpose.

Believers! Fasting is enjoined upon you, as it was enjoined upon those before you, that you may become God-fearing.
— Quran 2:183
  1. Set a meaningful, realistic goal: I preface this item with “meaningful” because the point of reading Quran (for example) isn’t to whiz through its entirety in thirty days. The point should be to derive a lesson that we can incorporate into our lives for the rest of year. Study a chapter of the Quran and write about your reflections. Give up something materialistic. Commit some time to volunteer work.

  2. Focus on everything but the physical fast: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever does not give up dishonest speech and evil actions, God is not in need of his leaving his food and drink.” In other words, divert your focus from your planned meal or the desire to eat, and ditch bad habits like gossiping, complaining, lying, and giving into anger.

  3. Complete your five daily prayers: Many struggle with completing five prayers a day, which is central and critical to worship. Make sure to prioritize them if you struggle, as well as any other religious obligation you should master. Don’t focus on all the extra things you can incorporate if you still have difficulty establishing the foundation of worship. It’s okay to struggle, but necessary to keep trying!

  4. Learn something new: Don’t worship on auto-pilot. Cultivate your understanding of Islam by meaningfully engaging with the Quran, attending lessons, and reading religious texts/scholarly work. My personal suggestion is Muhammad Asad’s translation of the Quran.

[Read Related: How to Prepare for Ramadan: 3 Steps I am Planning to Take This Year]


View this post on Instagram


RAMADAN MUBARAK FROM US! ??? Ramadan begins in a few days – for me personally, it’s going to be especially challenging as I approach my MCAT date, complete my primary application for medical school, and sustain a high level of worship. I’m looking forward to the holy month because I want to strengthen my relationship with God and remember WHY I’m doing what I do. I find that when you’re buried in obligations, it’s easy to lose sight of purpose, which is SO important to keep front and center when you’re on a challenging path. In case you missed it, I wrote a piece recently about how to have your healthiest Ramadan EVER. Link in bio. ?? I go into how to maximize worship, sleep, diet, and exercise. It’s no secret that I strongly believe taking care of your body is a form of worship, and honoring it is a way to show reverence for its Creator. ???? What challenges are you looking to overcome this Ramadan? What do you seek to get out of the holy month? #ramadan2019#lifestylemedicine#wholefoodplantbased#wfpbno

A post shared by Sara Zayed (@posifitivy) on


It is essential to maintain a healthy diet during Ramadan. I’m a huge advocate for a whole-food, plant-based diet. Though we fast from dawn until sunset during Ramadan, many people gain weight by the end of the month because they overindulge when it’s time to break the fast. Compounding this problem is that get-togethers and community iftars are common, which bring with them unhealthy options. I deserve this, you think, after having fasted all day. However, not only are you making the next day’s fast harder by indulging in junk food, you also don’t reap the health benefits of fasting. Dr. Michael Klaper writes that “the key to lasting health is not the fasting, but the quality of the diet after the fast.” In other words, wrapping up a 16-hour fast with an oily meal and sugary dessert likely won’t leave you feeling healthful and vibrant.

  1. In order to stay energized and focused, stick to a healthy, plant-based diet: How could eating oily/sugary/processed foods make the next day’s fast more difficult? They stimulate your brain’s “reward center,” triggering a release of dopamine. As these foods become a regular part of your diet, your reward system becomes deadened, and like addictive drugs, more is needed to achieve the same effect. After quitting, you’ll likely experience withdrawal-like symptoms: fatigue, irritability, and cravings. Therefore, when you break your fast on fried, oily food and regularly indulge in sugary dessert, you spend the next day’s fast exhausted and hungry. Though my personal experience isn’t a general template, my fasts on a plant-based diet have been the easiest I’ve ever experienced: no hunger pangs, exhaustion, or cravings. For those of us who will have to follow through on major commitments like work and school during Ramadan, maintaining a healthy diet is central to staying energized and focused.

  2. Plan your meals to stay on track: During Ramadan, it’s extremely difficult not to encounter temptations. Meal planning is essential, especially if you’re busy. Every week, write down what you plan to eat each day. If necessary, begin cooking before Ramadan begins, and freeze food so that you don’t need to make snap decisions about what to eat.

  3. Be choosy about what you eat at gatherings: Don’t throw caution to the winds when you attend an iftar. When I eat at the masjid, I plan to bring my own food and pair it with any available plant-based options. If you’re making a dietary change this Ramadan, let your friends and family know, and offer to bring a dish when you accept someone’s invitation.

  4. Eating “just a little” doesn’t work: The more you give in to your cravings, the more challenging it becomes not to indulge. This is a direct consequence of the fact that high-sugar, high-fat foods trigger a release of dopamine. Stick to fruits for dessert, which are packaged with fiber, phytonutrients, and antioxidants, do not eat oil, and do not eat processed foods. Personally, I don’t eat meat at all, and I suggest that those who do restrict consuming it to once a week.

  5. Treat eating healthy as a form of worship: Above, I stressed the fact that worship is the most important facet of Ramadan. I believe eating healthy isn’t just something to do in parallel with strengthening our faith—it is part of worship. The bodies we have been given to fulfill our purpose on this earth are a trust from God that we should respect and treat with reverence. Each time you choose to say no to junk food and consume something nourishing instead, use it as an opportunity to remind yourself of God and the blessings you’ve been given.

  6. Don’t overeat: It’s far too easy to overeat come time to break the fast. There are two solutions: plan what you’ll eat in advance (when you’re well-fed, not hungry), and eat slowly. Start off by drinking water and taking a couple of bites of food. Pause to pray Maghrib before beginning the meal, which is sunnah. Be mindful of every bite, and reflect on what you learned each day from the fast. Overeating defeats the purpose of the fast and is an unhealthy practice.

  7. Practice fasting/eating less during the day now: If you snack throughout the day, the time to stop is now. It’s a harder adjustment to switch to fasting daily when you’re used to eating constantly. Consider preparing for Ramadan by fasting for a couple of days in advance, especially if you haven’t at all since last year.

  8. Quit caffeine: This one is a no-brainer. Don’t self-sabotage by quitting coffee or tea on the first day of Ramadan! As I described above, withdrawal symptoms make fasting harder, and that includes withdrawal from caffeine.

  9. Don’t fantasize about food during the day: I strongly believe that fantasizing about the variety of foods you’ll eat after the fast makes it harder to stick to a healthy diet. Unfollow those food blogs! The idea of (insert your unhealthy craving here) sounds amazing when you haven’t had food or drink for hours, and the more you build up the expectation and desire of eating it, the harder it is to stay away after the fast. Ramadan is a great time to practice being mindful of your thoughts, and this is one way to do so.


Personally, sleep is my biggest challenge during Ramadan. When I was a junior in college, I had an internship during Ramadan that necessitated a long, early commute. The exhaustion was unbearable at times. Losing sleep for worship and suhoor can make brutal what could otherwise be an easy fast. Therefore, key to having a successful and healthy Ramadan is sleeping restfully, for an adequate number of hours.

  1. Be selective about when you will lose sleep: Many advocate for cutting back on sleep daily during Ramadan. I disagree with this. First of all, worship comes in many forms; there’s no need to abuse your body to meet such a standard. Instead of going to the masjid nightly, worship with your family at home some evenings, which has the added benefit of improving familial ties and encouraging closeness and religiosity. Prepare your suhoor in advance so that there’s no need to get up two hours before Fajr to make a meal. Spend time during the day engaging in extra acts of worship, like taking brief breaks to read Quran, reflect, or pray. Remember: the goal of Ramadan is to come out spiritually revitalized, so the best possible worship is to work on improving your long term habits, not to engage in an extreme regimen that you dispose of when the thirty days are up.

  2. Don’t snack late at night: After ifar, stop eating. Late night food intake reduces sleep quality, and sleep deprivation makes you hungrier – a nasty cycle!

  3. Don’t eat crappy food: Just one day of eating high-fat, high-sugar, low fiber foods has been found to decrease sleep quality. In other words, what you eat for iftar affects the quality of your sleep, even if you’re not snacking just before bed. This is another reason to adopt a whole-food, plant-based diet: it is naturally high in fiber, low in fat, and unprocessed. Eating such a diet will improve your sleep quality and decrease your hunger levels (as discussed above), maximizing the benefits of the fast. Leave the fried foods, greasy chicken, processed foods, and sugary desserts at the door.

  4. Don’t oversleep: On the other end of the spectrum is oversleeping. Staying up all night and sleeping until iftar is unhealthy and makes it difficult to do anything but sleep and eat. Sleeping through the fast also defeats the purpose. Be regimented about sleeping at night, and try to get seven to eight consecutive hours at most.

[Read Related: 5 Tips For Observing Ramadan in the Corporate Workplace]


Exercise is incredibly beneficial for a variety of reasons, but it’s challenging to fit it in during a long fast. However, movement is always important. How can you include it in your schedule?

  1. If you were previously sedentary, perform gentle exercise: If you don’t already exercise regularly, I don’t suggest that you commit to an intense regimen during Ramadan. Walking or light yoga are two options for someone who doesn’t already have an exercise routine. Do not overexert yourself during the fast.

  2. Ramadan is not a time for muscle-building: Though it can be done with careful planning and calorie counting, I suggest you commit to a lighter load during Ramadan. You can easily lose muscle if you aren’t sustaining the calorie consumption necessary to fuel intense weight-lifting—in the absence of adequate energy stores, your body will break down muscle. Furthermore, I rarely advocate for calorie counting, and I think it should be avoided especially during Ramadan, as it can be a source of distraction.

  3. Exercise immediately before or an hour after iftar: Personally, I like to exercise right before iftar, so that when I’ve finished, I can hydrate and eat my meal. If you prefer to exercise during non-fasting hours, your best bet is to do so an hour after iftar. However, I caution you that exercising within an hour of bed time can make it harder to fall asleep (though it likely won’t negatively impact sleep quality). Above, we discussed the importance of sleeping restfully during the holy month, so be aware of this.

  4. Do not exercise vigorously when you have hours of fasting ahead of you: Though some like to work out after suhoor or during the day, this can lead to muscle breakdown and dehydration. If your schedule necessitates working out during the day, commit to an easy load for your skill level, and be careful.

  5. On the first day of Ramadan, don’t exercise: For those who exercise vigorously, I suggest you allow your body time to get acclimated to fasting by taking the first day off. Over the first few days, gradually ease into your new routine.

Final comments

Hopefully, the tips above have provided you with a blueprint for having your healthiest Ramadan ever. I think it’s important to be realistic about what you can commit to—you don’t want your attentions to become so divided that you lose out on the spiritual sweetness of the holy month. This is why planning is so important! Take the stress of decision-making out of your day to day, and just focus on executing. Deciding what to do on a daily basis is a cognitive load, and it drains energy and resources from implementation. Spending an hour at the beginning of each week mapping out your days will pay dividends. Be as specific as you can!

Finally, I would like to firmly comment on the importance of collective effort. It shouldn’t fall on one member of the family to prepare all the food (for example) and cultivate everyone else’s Ramadan experience at the expense of their own. Mothers are often forced to sacrifice their goals and worship so that they can meet the demands of their family, and I firmly urge you to reject that this Ramadan. If you are the family member that unfairly carries the burden, communicate to your family the expectation that they all participate. If someone else in your family is usually the responsible party, it’s your religious duty to step up and help out. “Helping” doesn’t mean doing small tasks. It means committing to an important duty and executing it throughout Ramadan—whether that’s cooking, planning the family’s schedule, or cleaning. This Ramadan, don’t be selfish. Do your part so that everyone can gain something from the holy month.

May you have a beautiful, enjoyable, religiously reviving, and healthy Ramadan with your family and loved ones. May you find it in your heart to forgive those you need to forgive, cultivate the strength to let go of bad habits, and develop a new closeness to Allah (SWT). If you learned something from this piece, keep me in your prayers! Drop any comments or questions below.

By Sara Zayed

Sara is a practicing Muslim, and she firmly believes that religiosity is closely intertwined with taking care of one's health. … Read more ›

‘The Black Rose’: British Asian Shweta Aggarwal Voices her Truth Against Colourism and the Battle to end her Skin Whitening Cream Addiction

Black Rose

I was a mere 14-year old on the fateful night of 22 April 1993. The night that witnessed black teenager Stephen Lawrence brutally murdered in a racially motivated attack as he waited for a bus. The night that cemented my fear, that the colour of my skin does matter. The same night that confirmed my indifference as a British Asian in the United Kingdom — were we really united? Fast forward to May 25 2020, the murder of African-American George Floyd by a white policeman was the turning point for British Asian author and my lovely friend, Shweta Aggarwal to finally break her silence and narrate her story of colourism, in her new book, “The Black Rose.” 

Aggarwal’s gripping memoir emits so many emotions; that of an awakening, a voice that has been suppressed for years, filled with anger, mistrust and guilt. But most importantly, “The Black Rose” successfully disrupts the narrative that consistently allows society to box someone as indifferent based on a visibility factor. For Shweta, this factor was the colour of her skin. The injustices she consistently endured via some family members and fellow South Asian peers throughout her life, was as a result of her skin tone failing to qualify as ‘acceptable’, or as she often quotes in her book, not ranking high enough on the ‘fairometer.’ Whether she was in India, Japan or London, the scale was never too far behind. 

[Read Related: Liam Neeson’s Week of Rage is Every Person of Colour’s Truth]

Within the first chapter, she recalls as a child in India, the distinct lack of subtlety displayed by certain family members through direct taunts of her duskier appearance in comparison to her parents. She realised that she wasn’t in complete isolation from this prejudice, as her maternal aunt and uncle were also harshly nicknamed on the basis of their skin colour — Kaali (black) and Savla (wheatish). Aggarwal was left mortified by what many South Asians sadly still continue to casually exercise. Echoing similar incidents within my social proximity, it’s infuriating witnessing the recipients of such remarks surrender to laughing at themselves too. 

Except it isn’t funny. Born into a culture where conversations on religion, caste and hierarchy in India are still so prominent, the comparison of Aggarwal’s skin colour being as dark as that of the domestic help (often from poorer families), prematurely planted seeds in her mind that she simply didn’t belong with her family, especially  when she was sent to boarding school. Her lack of self-worth coupled with these taunts, gave her a whole new vocabulary for the letter B, that grew in parallel with the ongoing prejudice and anxiety. B for blackie, beggar’s child, bedwetter! Not funny, but derogatory. Post her book launch that Brown Girl Magazine attended, she tells me,

I personally feel we are way behind when it comes to understanding the importance of mental health. Name-calling was normalised and if you objected, you were ridiculed further with remarks such as ‘So sensitive! Can’t you take a joke?’ Body and colour shaming can lead to a feeling of inadequacy in the victim, which can further lead to depression and much worse mental illnesses.

During the 1984 Hindu Sikh riots in India, where over 3000 Sikhs lost their lives, Aggarwal recollects the frightening moment when she and her classmates fled into hiding to escape the violence during a school trip. As a means to save all the students from harm, the Sikh boys were forced to remove their turbans and long hair — their visible identities stripped to keep them alive. Yet, ironically, even in this horrifying situation, Aggarwal felt least at risk, attributing this self-assurance to her darker appearance. 

The crux of her self-loathe was the love-hate relationship she formed with skin whitening creams. The birth of Fair and Lovely, India’s most renown brand (now known as Glow and Lovely following a backlash) was notorious for selling the damaging message that fairer skin equated to a happier and fulfilling life. For it was fairer skin women that would qualify for marriage — clearly their only sole purpose! 

Tactfully using famous fair-skinned Bollywood actresses in television ads and posters, their so-called perfection would scream out to vulnerable young girls. (Men were targeted much later on, but the importance seemed less). Akin to the wretched beach body posters plastered on every corner in January — because apparently bikinis only look good on a certain body type —  the damaging message remains the same. Social acceptance comes at a cost, and that cost is to look a certain way. 

[Read Related: Dear Priyanka Chopra, Endorsing Colorism and Discrimination is not ok. It Never was and Never Will Be]

It’s an extension of the dated methods imposed on women from the womb, where mothers are lectured on drinking milk with saffron to ensure the baby is fair, traditional matrimonial sites asking women to specify skin colour, and women being told to stay out of the sun. These socially ingrained views are eventually developed into modern day methods in the form of cleverly marketed consumables. Aggarwal admits, 

Most people only use the cream on their face just as I did. At that time, I didn’t even think about the rest of the body. I felt that if the face becomes fairer, that will be enough for acceptance. My mum noticed the difference for sure and I was lighter by the time I met my husband, Amit. I must admit the addiction is a combination of three factors: the justification in your own head, the strong marketing message that ONLY fair is beautiful, and the ‘compliments’ from those around you. 

I admired Shweta’s honesty on admitting what essentially was a dangerous obsession that she remained faithful to throughout her teenage and adult life. A ritual that, whilst prompted gradual results in her appearance, was never going to eliminate the insecurities she felt within herself. Moments of joy with her husband and children on holidays abroad, would be broken up by the need to ‘fix’ any damage the sun may have inflicted i.e. reverse her tan. The booming tanning industry in U.K., her now home, and admiration of her ‘sun-kissed’ look by Brits initially surprised Aggarwal — as if her colour had now gained acceptance. 

But who are we seeking acceptance from? A society that is still deep rooted in patriarchy forcing women even now to adhere to dated rites of passage that holds no relevance? Or a society that seeks to point out one’s indifference because of how they look — their skin, their religious attire, their weight? Or a society that passes judgement on a woman’s self-worth, and continues to abuse that same woman behind closed doors under the eyes of Goddess Kali? Aggarwarl goes on to explain,

The more damaging perceptions of colourism, are that ‘fair is rich’, ‘fair is successful’ and ‘fair is better educated’. Essentially, ‘fair is supreme’ in every sense. And if that’s the case, where does that leave dark-skinned people? In Ukraine, for example black and brown people were discriminated against and  not given a fair chance to save their lives. Is it fair to be denied a basic human right — survival — based on your colour? 

I personally was curious to know from my family what the definition of prejudice in the Hindi vocabulary is and how it is/was applied to in India. “Pakshappat” (taking sides) or “poorva dhaarna”, were the closest pure Hindi definitions known to my cousin, yet rarely used. However, my dad stated that “hum bedh bhau nahin hai” was the common term used to state amongst family and friends when someone was not biased and believed in equality. Somehow, colourism never really came under that category. A sentiment echoed by some of my Chinese and black friends . Even in parts of China and Africa, the belief that darker skin is perceived as inferior, is accredited to stereotyping certain groups of people as manual labourers working under the sun, and therefore of a lower class or caste. Does Shweta believe we can change this attitude?  

A couple of my aunts are still reluctant to help me with my mission. One even said ‘it’s pointless fighting it’, while one said, ‘everyone has the right to define beauty for themselves and being fairer is what beauty is for some.’ The problem with this is that people then start to look down on people who aren’t. Colourism, casteism and classism divide people, creating more unrest in society. If we continue to aspire to be fairer, we’re still encouraging white skin privilege, and encouraging colonial values. The more we allow ourselves to succumb to these social constructs, the more enslaved we feel internally. Melanin is crucial for protecting our skin against the harmful radiation of the sun. Feel blessed that you have it and wear it with pride! 

I wonder how we can dare to walk shoulder to shoulder with our black friends in the Black Lives Matter movement, if we refuse to face up to our own biases against colour? We seek equality in the U.K., but deny our deep-rooted prejudice, whilst a white privileged man lectures the world on the difference between racism and unconscious bias (yes Prince Harry, I’m looking at you!). “The Black Rose” has paved a way for many more voices to speak out against the damaging impact of colourism, and in my view, rightly belongs under the definition of prejudice in the collective South Asian vocabulary.

“The Black Rose” is available to purchase on Amazon.


Photo Courtesy: Shweta Aggarwal

By Sejal Sehmi

Brown Girl Magazine’s U.K. Editor Sejal Sehmi is an IT consultant by day, whose passion for writing stemmed from challenging … Read more ›

Dating with Intention as a South Asian American Woman

I’m at the gym. I’m on my grind. I keep telling myself that if I keep doing ‘X, Y, and Z,’ I’ll get results. Which is true — all the fitness gurus say so. The personal trainer I once had said as much. Yet, I forget to take a breather. I’m hoping for instant gratification, when I know the results I want — better energy, endurance, and metabolism — take time. I have to be patient with myself. So why do I feel pressured? 

When I sit down to take a breath, I notice this idea of instant gratification weaves a common thread. I put pressure on myself to complete projects, quicker and faster. As a licensed therapist, my clients also talk about how they feel the pressure to do more work in a shorter amount of time, leading to longer work days and burnout. Some new clients ask, “How long does therapy take? Will I feel better after three sessions?” It’s like those junk tabloids with headlines like, “how to lose 10 lbs in 10 days!” In an ever-changing, fast-paced world, there are expectations to do things faster and better. On top of that, a relationship with our body, our career, our mind, and yes, our therapist, takes time too. To wait for results can create an uneasy feeling. We can’t trust the process if we don’t see results right away. We’re focused on the destination rather than the journey. 

I believe the same idea is being applied to dating and relationships too. I cringe and roll my eyes when I hear, “Dating is a numbers game.” While it’s true that you might have to meet many people before finding your person, this has caused some of my clients to ‘gamify’ dating: swiping right on every dating profile and trying too hard on the first date in the hopes of landing “the one.” This prevents them from slowing down, truly seeing the person in front of them for who they are, and being vulnerable. My South Asian American clients feel the cultural pressure to settle down quickly and think they need to “catch up” with their friends who are getting married. They’re working very hard in the South Asian dating market, hitting up all the singles they meet, and finding instant chemistry with “the one.”

But just like a fad diet, once you get the results, you’re back at square one. You gain all the weight back, and the person you fell in love with falls out of love with you. You start to feel demotivated and hopeless all over again. Relationships that build quickly tend to fizzle out quickly too.

 [Read Related: I’m 24 Years old, and I Don’t Want to get Married Right Now]

Here’s how South Asian American singles should stop shaming themselves for being single, this Valentine’s Day season, and try dating with intention. At the same time, this therapist has some thoughts on how we South Asian singles could be dating better. If you’re single this Valentine’s season and wondering, “when am I going to find my person?” you’re going to have to challenge some long-held, societal beliefs about dating, marriage, and relationships, both within and outside of our culture. It means:

Being okay with not going on a ton of dates

Dating is not a game to win! Forget about the “numbers” game. You are also not trying to “trick” anyone into being with you. That shit is not cute. Show up authentically and don’t be afraid to be “caught off guard.” After changing their perspective, some of my clients tell me, “I haven’t found a decent quality person!” Yeah, that’s kind of the whole point. You could go on a ton of mindless dates and have your time wasted, or you can have one or two quality dates and feel fulfilled. Pick one.

Stop love-bombing

Because some South Asian cultures have a much faster timeline with marriage, you might find yourself trying way too hard to impress your first date in the hopes that it will rush the chemistry high. Dating scenarios that start this way burn out once things get serious. Looking for chemistry too soon is like chasing a temporary high. Be patient and take your time getting to know someone because chemistry takes a long time to build. 

Paying attention to what your date says and how they say it

We’re all putting our best foot forward on a first date. What do they talk about? How do they talk about other people? Does the conversation feel superficial? Does it feel like a performance? Do they take an interest in you? Are they sharing anything about themselves?

Remembering what you want from a long-term partner

Superficial qualities aren’t an indicator of how good of a partner they’ll be in the future. Having a high income doesn’t mean they’ll contribute to your relationship or the family you both build. However, their financial decision-making can indicate what they prioritize and what they value. And while physical attraction is important, there is no fountain of youth. Will you still want to share your life with this person when they are 60? Or will they annoy the shit out of you? 

Taking your parents’ opinion with a grain of salt 

Marriage is not just a blending of two families; it’s a ‘business contract’ between you and your spouse. Would you go into business with this person? Would you want to share physical space with them? Share a bed with them? Your parents are not the ones who are going to bump uglies with them, and at some point, your parents will no longer be around. Whose decision do you want to be stuck with? 

Remembering no one is perfect

There is no such thing as “Mr/Mrs. Right.” Let go of the idea that there is someone better out there. Dealbreakers are important because they indicate what you have tolerance and patience for, and this can affect intimacy, but don’t write someone off for something workable. Think about the things that give you the “ick” versus things that don’t give you the “ick.” If someone’s qualities are only mildly imperfect but overall don’t give you the “ick,” then it shouldn’t be a dealbreaker. If it’s something that can be changed, then maybe it’s worth being flexible. If it’s something that can’t be changed and you can’t get over it, then you’re wasting your time and their time too. 

[Read Related: Arranged Marriage: How Are Promises of a Lifetime Made in One Day?]

As a South Asian American who is also single, I am pressured by my family to get married quickly too. I know that many people in my situation would either give in to their demands or take matters into their own hands. They might date to appease their parents that they’re “working on it.” But I refuse to give in to the pressure. When I date, I date to enjoy the person in front of me. I see the person for who they are, not some idea I cooked up in my head for the outcome I’m trying to achieve. I put my most authentic self forward. If this doesn’t result in a relationship quickly, I’m okay with that. 

If this therapist can be patient with her process, then why can’t you? Like exercise, relationships take time, and you could be doing everything right and still not getting exactly what you want. You won’t be a good fit for everyone, and likewise, not everyone will be a good fit for you. But don’t close yourself off from the world. This Valentine’s season, learn to trust the process. Tune out the noise; the idea of “instant gratification,” Be patient, be honest, and be yourself. And don’t forget to take that breather. 

Photo Courtesy: Tracy Vadakumchery

By Tracy Vadakumchery

Bio: Tracy Vadakumchery, LMHC is a licensed South Asian American therapist in New York and Florida who specializes in treating … Read more ›

For the Perpetually Single South Asian Americans with Valentine’s Day Blues 

single south asian americans

Valentine’s Day is here, and my calendar is fully booked on February 14th. It’s not what you think. My calendar is fully booked with therapy clients who will most definitely be reflecting on their singlehood this year. And so will I. Most of them are just like me — single South Asian Americans, between the ages of 22-40 who come from moderately conservative cultures. The adult children of immigrants, who had arranged marriages, wondering when we will ever find “the one,” and why we won’t settle. 

What my clients don’t know about me is that I’m single too. And I face the same pressures from my own family

I’m a therapist in therapy, and I’ve had a lot of family trauma and baggage to unpack with my therapist. Through my training and personal therapy journey, I learned to question a lot of the things that I’ve been told about marriage and relationships. 

At the same time, it’s not easy. No one wants to be lonely. Brené Brown talks about how detrimental loneliness can be for humans in “Braving the Wilderness.” We all want to belong to someone or something bigger. And there is a difference between being lonely, without intimate companionship, and being alone in our experiences. As we get older, everyone we know in our age group is on a different life trajectory, and we start to feel both alone and lonely.

We straddle the line between two cultures — the one that we were born and raised in, and the one our parents and family tried to teach us. Many of us might live double lives. But being single is not an anomaly. In fact, according to the Pew Research Center, about 31% of adults in America are single. About 32% of American women, between ages 18-29, and 29% of women, 50-64, are single. This means that roughly about a third of American women are single, regardless of age or developmental stage. 

[Read Related: Dating While Queer]

Results vary by sexual identity and race. 56% of adults who identify as lesbian, gay, or bisexual, between the ages of 18-29, are single, compared to 29% of their straight counterparts. Black adults are more likely to be single than White or Hispanic adults. However, no statistics included Asian Americans. Some studies show we are more likely to get married due to strong values placed on marriage in Asian cultures, and less likely to get divorced. There is also a huge stigma against divorce. For  Asian American women, there is a cultural pressure to not only get married, but stay married. 

Of these American singles, half of them are not looking for something casual or are not interested in being in a relationship. In other words, they’re content being on their own. But 14% of single people are only looking for a committed relationship. In addition, singles over the age of 40 are more likely to look for something casual than those who are single.

For many South Asian Americans who are first or second-generation, we have no blueprint for the modern world of dating. A lot of us don’t know what a healthy dating experience, let alone a marriage, is supposed to look like if it is even at all possible. In the South Asian diaspora, marriage is taken very seriously, but counter-intuitively; we are not given the opportunity to spend time on making the decision — we are expected to decide very quickly. For most of us, who are children of immigrants, our parents more than likely had an arranged marriage — that was a decision made by our grandparents, aunts and uncles. And the wedding and engagement happened fairly quickly. That is our blueprint

There are many mixed messages about how to approach marriage and dating. Many of us were told to not start dating until after we graduate from college and get a full-time job, which left a lot of us with very little dating experience, and then, Poof! We’re magically just supposed to settle down. There are many desi people who stay single because they know they have issues to work on. A lot of us are aware of how messages about marriage and dating in our communities are sometimes not realistic, if at times rooted in colorism, internalized colonialism, patriarchal and misogynistic values, and racism. 

[Read Related:Why Can’t Women Date Younger Men?]

Dating is uncertain because you can’t control whether or not someone wants to date you, let alone if someone wants a relationship with you. And sometimes that has nothing to do with you and everything to do with that person’s preferences or baggage. But is it possible you have some baggage too? 

Staying single because of personal baggage is not uncommon for South Asian American millennials. Because of this, many of us believe that something must be “wrong” with us, especially when people ask why we’re still single and unmarried. While we should address underlying issues for why we’re still single, that doesn’t mean anything is necessarily “wrong” with us. 

As a licensed therapist, I see many single South Asians Americans who believe that something must be wrong with them because they’ve never been in a relationship before, or because they’re not in a serious relationship yet. If you’re one of these people, I want you to consider: 

  • Who taught you how to date?
  • Who taught you how to socialize with other genders? 
  • When were you allowed to date? 
  • How often were you allowed to socialize with other genders? 
  • What is your model of a healthy marriage or relationship?
  • Who taught you free will and how to exercise choice? 
  • How were affection and romance modeled for you? 

When we unpack the answers to these questions, we start to realize that there are actually very good reasons for why we’re still single. 

[Read Related: A Love Lost & Gained: Healing From a Breakup]

How Dating and Culture Interact

If there are that many South Asian Americans who are afraid of dating because they don’t want to repeat toxic relationship patterns, that means that many of us are…meant for each other. So why can’t we find each other? 

Our parents had an easier time finding each other because they lived in a homogenous society. My parents came from a community where everyone was of the same or similar Malayalee-Indian background and the same religion. My parents hope that I can find someone from our culture, but they forget that we live in a heterogeneous society, where finding someone who is South Asian, let alone of our specific culture, background, community, and religion, is few and far between. There is pressure on many South Asian Americans to find someone within their specific communities. Not to mention that meeting someone through a mutual connection doesn’t necessarily mean they’re a good fit for you. It makes it feel like our options are limited.

This creates a ‘scarcity mindset.’ Scarcity mindset is the belief that there aren’t enough resources or opportunities out there. When you feel there aren’t enough singles within your community that you can meet, it can cause you to become hyper-fixated on these limited ‘resources’ and even heighten anxiety. And to some extent, there is some truth to that fear — some of my clients are joining dating apps to meet South Asians out-of-state. As the people around you start to settle down, you might start to feel the pressure of settling down quickly to “catch up.” You may have tried to go on a bunch of dates or entertain the idea of certain people in your community, but they eventually fizzle out, fall flat, or end in rejection. You might start to feel discouraged. This kind of pressure can result in:

  1. Avoiding dating in the culture or dating altogether to prevent being hurt or feeling rejected, or having to confront the social anxieties of meeting new people and being open and vulnerable. 
  2. Latching on to the idea of someone we meet, working too hard to impress them early on, and attempting to force chemistry to guarantee an outcome (marriage). 

When you feel this kind of pressure, you might underestimate or overestimate how to interact with potential partners. This pressure might come from messages you’ve heard in your community that you’ve internalized. For instance, if you’ve heard someone say, “we don’t get divorced in our culture,” you might start to believe that divorce is the worst possible outcome. That might put pressure on you to find the “perfect” partner in order to prevent divorce, but the future of your marriage is not something that you can guarantee. Another example — if you hear your parents tell you to “just compromise,” you might start to believe that your expectations are not realistic; therefore, that’s why you’re not married or in a relationship yet. You might start to lower your expectations and get attached to any potential partner in the hopes that you can guarantee a relationship, but changing who you are does not necessarily mean you’ll attract what you want. 

[Read Related: Not Your Auntie’s Tips: 5 Sex Myths Busted]

How we approach dating, especially when under this cultural pressure, can have an impact on how we bond emotionally with people. One theory based on psychological research, called Attachment Theory and Styles, describes patterns of how we create and maintain emotional bonds with others and where we fall on the attachment style spectrum or circle. Cultural pressure to settle down and marry someone from your specific culture or community can influence how we date and why, but it prevents us from being mindful and enjoying the process of dating. Your attachment style might be the result of your family dynamics, your parents’ style of emotional connection, and cultural messages you’ve been taught about what a relationship or marriage “should” be like. For example, if you’re under cultural pressure to get married quickly to appease your family, you might develop an anxious attachment style because it triggers thoughts and behaviors that fall under that category. If you question the cultural pressure, you might associate marriage with negative connotations. You might push away dating and marriage and act in the way of an avoidant attachment. Your attachment style is not genetic or something you are born with. It is a pattern of behavior that is about how you relate with others, especially in relationships. It can change over time and vary based on your anxiety or the person you’re seeing. If you want to learn more about attachment style, seeking a therapist is a good resource.

Regardless of what your attachment style is, it can prevent you from being patient, truly vulnerable, and having quality dates or quality relationships. It might keep you in unhealthy dating situations or relationships too long out of fear that you won’t find anyone else “in time.” You might be jumping to conclusions about what should happen next when you date someone. When you really like someone, you might be asking, “What if things go wrong?” But what if things go right?

[Read Related:I Went on a Date Arranged by my Mom]

Valentine’s Day has never been something special for me, and while it would be nice to be in a relationship, I’m not going to let the cultural pressure of what I’m “supposed” to do, as a South Asian American single woman, dictate my life. I have my reasons for being single, and it’s no one’s business but mine (and my therapist’s). If someone in my family or my culture doesn’t approve of my singlehood, then I sincerely hope they’re awake at night thinking about why I’m single. What they think of my life is none of my business. At the same time, I’m not going to shut myself off completely from dating and relationships. Dating will be on my terms. While rejection hurts, I have accepted that people will come and go and I wouldn’t want someone to feel forced or obligated to stay with me if they have emotionally left the relationship. Ultimately, I’m looking for someone who will fit the lifestyle I already have, but if I don’t find my life partner, I’m okay being with myself too. 

You don’t have to follow your parents’ blueprint to marriage and relationships. You’re allowed to follow your own. If we adopt an abundance mindset, a mindset of knowing that there are enough resources for everyone and accepting what resources are available to us — along with practicing healthy relationship habits — we might develop better, more satisfying relationships. There are enough single South Asian Americans out there who would love to be with you. Stand firm in who you are and what you want, and be open to what comes your way.

Photo Credits: Shutterstock

By Tracy Vadakumchery

Bio: Tracy Vadakumchery, LMHC is a licensed South Asian American therapist in New York and Florida who specializes in treating … Read more ›