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29 November 2009

Musings on multiculturalism

A lot of people including but not limited to a few friends and random people I meet at parties, ask me, "What's wrong with Indian boys? Why are you dating a foreigner?" They seem even more alarmed when they realise that more and more Indian women are choosing to do this--step outside our dating "comfort" zones and be with men from other countries. Even my mother asked me more in a sociological sense--why are Indian girls picking foreign men? And are Indian men just being left far behind by the wayside in this new, 21st century world?

So, I figured I'd answer these questions. A small disclaimer that these are my thoughts and mine alone, perhaps with a few chimings in of other Indian women who find themselves in love with men who are not Indian.

To begin with, yes, perhaps the easiest descriptor of JC to people who haven't met him is the fact that he is English. Nationality, like it or not, conjures up a lot for other people. But, at the end of the day, he is my boyfriend and my best friend, and it doesn't matter if he's white or brown or green or purple. (Although, purple might be kind of cool!) I know that's very Michael-Jackson-y of me, but at the end of the day, your partner is your partner, you know? You stop thinking about the things that might define them to other people. Just like a beautiful face when you get to know it becomes just eyes or just a nose or just a mouth, I am often startled when people refer to me as in a multi-cultural relationship. It takes me a while, and then I'm like oh right, it's true, I am.

Surfing the internet, I've come across a lot of blogs that feature the other way round relationship--foreign girl marries Indian/sub-continent guy. But very few define what I have--where the boy is Not From Here. Perhaps it's because those other ladies don't think about it as much as the Other Way Rounds do, perhaps it's because as an Indian girl dating a foreign guy you're already assumed to be SO far out of your "traditional" structure that there's little or no point writing about it. My parents and my family know about JC, my parents have met him, I've met his, all is well. But I also get that we're not what you would call "typical".

Why am I with JC? He personifies all the things I want in a man--he is kind and smart and cute and he lets me be and have my own space. What more could a girl ask for? Must we bring our countries and their looooooooooong history into this? The Indian men I have dated--and I have dated quite a few--have been pretty much the same--commitment phobic, allergic to your Modern Liberated Sometimes-Writes-About-Sex-On-Her-Blog girl, attached to their mamas. They are in no way representative of all the Indian men and if you're with one who is all the things that JC is, then more kudos to you. My male friends are almost all Indian, but they're my friends. Not my lovers. And that makes all the difference.

And what of the Bombay girlfriend? That phenomenon that happens when expats move in large droves into a thriving Asian city (can also be substituted with the Singapore Girlfriend etc) and date an Indian girl to get a "feel" for the culture but then go home to wherever it is they're from and marry your girl next door keeping you just as a happy memory of more exotic times? They exist. I've seen them. Your Indian girl in that situation would be either a) using her expat man as an accessory or b) completely heartbroken. Yes, evil things exist. Yes, sometimes having someone on your arm is more important than waiting for the right person. But all the same, I advocate my multi-cultural relationship. I advocate having tarragon nestle up to garam masala in the kitchen, I advocate learning new things, I advocate not having a peg, a way to compare your partner to other people you know. JC and I began brand new, neither having an idea of what relationships in the other's country were supposed to look like. We taught ourselves. In some ways, he is an Indian boy--families are high priority for him. In some ways, I am an English girl--I feel that my partner and I should be completely equal with no one person running the house or paying the bills.

But in all ways, we are an awesome couple (touch wood and all that). Though not very much alike on the outside, on the inside we're, if not peas in a pod, then a pretty close second. We talk about things, we fool around, we care deeply about the other person. And that is what is wrong with Indian boys--they're not my boy.

And another woman with a foreign boyfriend writes a note for us. Here's what scout had to say:

I have not been lucky in love. I do not possess the ability to distinguish between what I want and what is actually good for me. My romantic escapades have almost always been a build up to the moment when I’m sitting alone in a corner of my room, staring at my knees, wondering what went wrong, replaying conversations and looks and James Blunt songs.

But for the last two years, I have had a constant in my life. Someone who I wouldn’t hesitate to identify as ‘family’ if I ever needed to. Someone who has proved to me, despite my neuroses, my stubborn attempts at proving my worst fears true, my self-destructive patterns of thinking, despite everything, that he will stay by my side. Someone who is convinced (more than I ever will be) that I’m the best person he knows, the only girl he loves.

I didn’t believe him. It took a very long, painful time before I began to let go of my doubts, of my loathing for myself, of my inability to trust anyone. A lesser man would have quit a long time ago. A lesser man wouldn’t have had the patience, nor the understanding required to sit through the breakdowns and infuriatingly regressive discussions that I have thrown his way. More than his often unconditional love, more than his understanding, more than the overwhelming gestures of affection, the most important thing he has given me is my faith in myself. And for that, I will never know how to repay him. No amount of video game consoles and Reiss jumpers will make up for the effort it took for him to pull me out of my well of self-contained gloom and show me what I was missing. I’m a miserable bastard, I am.

This is my first adult relationship and I would die a happy woman if it were my last. It changed me; it challenged me to stray away from the spiral I had created for myself. What I have with him is not trivial, not fleeting, not something I can replace easily if I were to ever lose it. It isn’t the kind of love you read about in paperback novels, it is the kind of love you can only build once in your life, the kind that probably won’t ever fade away, even if we were to never meet again.

And now, the things that set us apart to a casual observer – how our passports carry different seals on them, how his skin is paler than mine, how our accents don’t match up – they seem meaningless and insignificant. There will be people who believe that relationships borne out of drastically different backgrounds do not work, that there will always be a divide too large to bridge. But I cannot let him go just because my mother didn’t expect me to have a gora boyfriend. I can understand her reservations, they make sense to a certain extent, but what he must seem to my family and friends back home is not what he is to me. It would be unnatural for me to think of him as anything except in context to what he means to me, and to me, he means the world. It’s really that simple.


  1. Totally agree. How does it matter whether the person you're with is brown or black or white if you're in love?

    That being said, most of the foreign men I know (personally and through the experience of friends) are only interested in flings with Indian women. The ones that aren't would never be willing to settle down in India, which is totally a deal-breaker.

  2. I don't think nationality should even be a question to consider when you decide to date, fall in love or marry someone. My friend married a German guy while studying in New Zealand and she's very happy with him. I even know a very happily married Indo-Pak couple. Why should geographical boundaries decide where we can find love!

  3. Well said. And agreed. Wholeheartedly.
    I like this German boy I've just met on campus. He's here on an exchange program and it might be that we'll cool off once he leaves (We've barely started out.)
    But contrary to all my misgivings, he turns out not to be as commitment-phobic as some of the Indian men I've seen earlier. And it's Indians who're supposed to be the more caring ones. Go figure!

  4. bingo!!! seriosly wat does it matter from wich country the guy/gal is as long as ur comfy n all that wid him/her???

  5. Well I dated a half Swedish half Turkish guy for three years and a couple of others from other countries. At the beginning it's all exciting especially when you are 20 but in the end nationalities hardly matter cause you figure out your both human beings in the end. But you have to agree that dating a foreigner means a lot of compromise from both ends, having said that i think everyone should get out of that box and try something new at least once :)

  6. Marriages in India , atleast in most average families are not only about the bride and the groom , it is also about their families.
    It is a question of two families coming together in a kind of social bond..and in those cases, the bride and the groom being of the same culture matters a lot.

    You're talking of being all international...but sometimes even wedding between individuals belonging to different states is very difficult.

    Whenever i read your posts , i feel like you live in a world different than mine , though we're in the same county and chennai is really not too far from Mumbai.

    While you may be right that nationality is really not a question where love is involved , in the kind of society that i see , where parents have a million dreams about their kids...the girl falling in love with a foreigner can be most heartbreaking for them.

    Though eventually they might agree , it is not really as easy as you describe.

    And even after wedding , there is a LOT of adjustments that one must make...its far too complex.

    Yes , there are happy couples. where there is love , happiness lies...that is sure.

    Just that this whole cross-culture thing does not happen easily in the normal middle-class society in India.

    You're very lucky , like me.


  7. @stoner chick: Yes, this is a problem sometimes. But commitmentphobes are commitmentphobes across the board, not necessarily belonging to just one country. I just found in my limited experience that Indian men found it harder to "define" something than Western men did. Maybe it's the way they're raised?

    @D: I have several friends immensely happy in their cross-cultural relationships. It's true, geography shouldn't factor.

    @Rakhi: The ones who come here are already of a different mindset than other people, because we're assuming they're already a)broad minded and b) open to different cultures, just by virtue of the fact that they have travelled so far to live in a strange country.

    @buttercup: but sometimes, it is easier said than done :)

    @gymnast: okay, yes, I see your point, but I think today, more and more families are accepting that if their kid is happy, that's enough for them. Is it hard? Of course it's hard.But if you keep the channels of communication open with your family, if in the end you realise it's what will make YOU happy, you, the person who is making the life choice (because your family, at the end of the day, cannot be married for you) then it just gets a lot easier, in your head anyway.

  8. I agree that color, religion, race or age are not what matter, it is the individual and the equation you share that is of prior importance. However to generalise Indian men based on a certain sample is unfair! I know of Indian men (or atleast a man),who are so like JC(based on what you have said in this blog post).

    Good luck to the two of you! :-)

    Btw, I just laid my hands on your book and am gonna start reading it!

  9. @popsie: i thought i did make it quite clear that in no way was i generalising, just speaking from my own experiences. :)

  10. Nice post. Been there, done that - except the other way around. It didn't work - I could make excuses for him and say it's because his parents' culture wouldn't let them accept a white girl. Or I could not make excuses and admit that he was a crap guy who wouldn't stand up for me. Borders and passports are meaningless, we are all just people - good, bad, and everything in between.

  11. I completely agree with you. I'd say it's not just nationalities, but in a country like India marrying someone from another community can be made into such a HUGE deal.

    Like PSR said at the end of the day, you're just two human beings in love and that's all that matters right.

    Colour, race, community, nationality and all that jazz fades into the background when you're truly in love. I think it's high time, we broaden our horizons, and begin to look beyond our own nose, and make way for new patterns of thinking and respect the choices people make!

  12. @lucie: i find a lot more indian men tend to be conservative in their outlooks, indian women on the other hand, seem as though they have broken lose.

    on a completely different tangent, if i come to the uk, will you hang out with me? :) *shameless blog propositioning*

    @ Maryann: And you got the crux of it. It's MADE into a huge deal in our (mostly) xenophobic culture.

  13. I just don't get why people get so bent out of shape when faced with a multicultural relationship? I was dating an American guy for close to two years and I had stayed on in NY I am pretty certain we would still be together. Being with him was easy and we were happy together, for me none of the cultural differences came into focus- luckily he loved Indian food unlike a whole lot of Americans I met who found it a tad too spicy. Even his family was more than amazing whenever I met them and I did quite a bit.

    Nationality and culture though very critical are not and should not be deciding factor when falling for someone and deciding to be with them. After two years of dating and practically living together, my only grouse against my ex was he just couldn't sit through some of my favorite 3 hour dance-song-cry fest Hindi films!

  14. Bingo!! I personally think that the equation and the chemistry you share with the person matters over the race, colour, age and the nationality of a person. It is perfectly fine if Indian boys date foreign girls. We have had instances like Rajiv and Sonia getting married.

    When you look at the issue from our parents' angle, nationality and culture are important because it would be easier for him/her to adjust in a milieu like ours.

    I think what matters in the end is the fact that we are just two human beings falling in love getting married.

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  16. eM: Of course I will! Give me a shout when you are here. :o) Take care.

  17. reHi Meenakshi, well, my comment has nothing to do with your post. Just wanted to say that i read through your archives (It took me close to a month to finish them in between work:)) and I simply loved them!I have a 5 month old son and managing work & son & home IS quite hectic and believe me, there have been days when i get up in the morning with no sleep and not wanting to go to work & i would think, 'ah, I can read eM's blog':). It was like coming back to a good book:). Will try to get hold of your book. Is it available in amazon?

  18. Multiculturalism? Not really. Each person brings different qualities to the table. Compatibility dictates whether a couple can remain together.
    If a person from a different culture makes you happy, then the future depends on what steps you are willing to take to remain happy.

    On another note, you have started responding to comments with greater frequency these days, eM!

  19. When I read, 'But in all ways, we are an awesome couple (touch wood and all that)'.. I actually touched wood! Only then did I realize that I'm sort of connected to you (through your blog of course). That's actually a pretty heavy thing for me to say though. Been following your blog for months now.. but this is my first post comment (sorry, about that..)..

    I know it's not justified making generalizations - but I'll go ahead and make one anyways. The 'westerners' are much more open to life and experiences than indian men (even though Indian men are starting to catch up - slow and steady). This is what attracts us girls to foreigners.

    Have you noticed how much more 'home' it is with Indian men who've stayed aborad (US etc etc).. cz the majority of 'Indian Men' from India come with certain reservations (mostly very ridiculous ones too!)..

    Again people, I know this is a pretty bold generalization to make.. but oh well..

    All the best with your relationship. And touch wood!

  20. To be honest and it's just me personally, your parents will love you no matter what, they want you to be happy and in this day and age I just do not get it as to how "kids" being 25 still think that what the parents says it goes. I mean are you not old enough to make your own decisions? Even if your parents do not agree with it, in the end they will eventually come around cause they see that you are happy. And it's not just about dating a foreigner, they would be equally unhappy if you dated someone who's not from your caste and creed. And in the very end are you going to let someone else decide who you should be with or not?

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  22. Here's my experience with Indians who date / marry out of their community. I'm certainly not implying that this is the case with you.
    Most girls under the age of 30 are primarily concerned with popularity. They date men they perceive to be popular in the hope that some of that popularity reflects back on them. Foreign men who hang out in groups that are predominantly Desi tend to benefit from their uniqueness thanks to this phenomenon.
    Indian men who date white women do so because they are sick of the drama involved with dating Indian women. Desi girls are brought up to believe that they are little princesses. Most of them assume that any male interest in them should discouraged, since it is probably negative. If you walk up and say Hi to a white girl in a club she will probably say Hi back. Do the same to an unknown Indian girl and you get the cold shoulder – so why bother?

  23. Hey, I've been reading you for a while now and have commented once before. Usually I am too lazy to comment although I enjoy your writing. Just had to have my two cents here as I married my best friend who is from the U.K. We've been in India for the past year on research leave and we often get quizzical reactions from people all over the country which can be both amusing and annoying.

    At the end of the day if you're compatible as a couple separate nationalities do not matter! As you say the heart knows and wants what it wants...
    More happiness to you and JC. x

  24. My first comment on your blog. I want to reply to bloreboyyo. "Foreign Men" are more appealing to me because they are more independent, give you your space and are not tied to their mommas.

    This has been my experience, with all due respect to the Indian men out there.

  25. eM - speaking as a syncretic creature (Indo-West) or otherwise tagged as NRIs - curious to find out on your take on them as mates? Are they more confused being split or more attuned to one or another?

  26. @bloreboyyo
    Didn't really understand the point you were making about popularity, but the reason an Indian woman assumes that any male interest in her is negative is because it usually is. Most of the men who come up to women in bars or clubs are complete creeps who can't take no for an answer. I'm not saying all of them are, so this probably ruins it for the nice normal ones who aren't creeps.

  27. I guess I can understand what you mean, because just a month back I married into a different community and I know what I've been through to convince my mum that I'm marrying a human being and not into a different species. It's true that parents come around after they see how happy you are. I guess it takes Indian parents longer to accept that their "children" (and by that I mean us lot in our 20's) are finally grown adults who can make independent decisions and also take responsibility for our our decisions.

    I think we need to be able to accept and listen and try to understand instead of judging instantly, something our culture does really well.

    P.S- eM, I hope I haven't drifted away from the topic :) Just speaking out of experience!!

  28. @V, SC

    Simply saying that many Indian women lack the confidence to shine in their own light. Perhaps a result of growing up in our misogynistic culture. This leads them into relationships with men who can prop them up, rather than relate to them.
    Why look to a foreign partner to give you space and independence? Can't you find that by yourself?
    Most men (Indian or Western) are not controling and creepy. But if this has been your experience with Indian men, then maybe you're looking in the wrong places?

  29. ..and did it occur to you that Western guys who like Indian girls are looking for less independent minded women than the ones they dated back home? The fact that you're looking for your partner's permission to be independent makes you the dependent person that he seeks.
    Sorry to sound like a jerk, but someone has to stand up for Indian men in this comment space.

  30. @bloreboyyo - :) looks like theres no space to even express an opinion without getting our heads bitten off. Why talk about anything else?


  31. I once tried talking about multiculture relationships to a friend and miserably failed. Maybe I'll show him this post to convince him that nationality doesn't matter. I once had a Korean boyfriend, and i totally agree with you: Nationality, like it or not, conjures up a lot for other people. But, at the end of the day, he is my boyfriend and my best friend, and it doesn't matter if he's white or brown or green or purple. (Although, purple might be kind of cool!)
    Except for the purple part, because green >purple :P

  32. I think the keywords here should be (for everyone): "in my experience." So, while I find other multicultural couples more open minded and well travelled than others, bloreboyyo finds that western men are just looking for little indian girl stereotypes, someone "domesticated" and "homely", someone spoilt and entitled. fair enough.
    but bloreboyyo, i wasn't insulting indian men, just the ones i've dated.
    @second innings: again "in my experience" NRIS tend to fall into two categories--one lot that's still connected to India in some way, but accepts and appreciates that things have to change in any developing country and another lot who go positively ballistic if anything 'back home' isn't as it used to be at the time of their parents migration.
    @ everyone else: thank you for sharing your multicultural relationships with me. might i suggest posting about it on your blog and putting a link here for more resources?

  33. There are people who will always comment on dating folks from other cultures let alone countries. Even within India there are walls which stand tall whenever alliances from diverse Indian geographic cultures are mentioned

    Why do you think Chetan Bhagat's latest work was a runaway hit?

  34. The idea that English girls believe that they and their partner should be 'completely equal' is a myth. Or at least a huge generalisation about the grass on the other side. You just have to take a walk on a Friday night in this country to see the cringe-worthy ways in which young women subordinate themselves to their men. Patriarchy is a reality in many/most cultures- this one included. If you are attempting to show it a thumbs down- good for you. And good for everyone else in whichever culture who is doing the same.

  35. I loved this post. Usually, when I think about this topic for myself, I get defensive - and what I loved most about your take is that you didn't.

    Ultimately, it really isn't about Indian men vs. non-Indian men or some such division. Certainly, there are a few factors which make a difference, and they are influenced by one's background - I need to be with someone liberal and worldly, for instance, and I might be more likely to find that in a foreigner who's ventured far out of his comfort zone and into south India than in someone who's never left the state. It's personality, not culture, that wins in the end.

    I'm very happy for you - wishing you both the very best. :)

  36. Excellent post! I really enjoyed reading it. I will be back for more!

  37. aw c'mon...ofcourse it doesn't matter if he's black or white, but i'm not willing to undermine the power of inter-racial desire. Why every Indian woman wants a firangi guy is exactly the same reason Indian men are programmed to think of the blonde woman as uber sexy.

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  39. You seem more obsessed with your boyfriend's foreign status than any of your readers...maybe people question you on your multi cultural relationship(or whatever) because you make it a point to highlight/talk about his FOREIGN/GORA status at the drop of a hat...come off who is using a boyfriend as an accessory...maybe it would be more natural if you talked about him like an individual without the tag of "Foreigner"...and men being commitment phobic etc. is not a geographical characteristic...its an individual thing

  40. I'm an Indian girl with a French boyfriend.... couldn't relate to this post more. We've been together for quite a while, and I see myself growing old with him...
    I've been told so many times "Look at you going international with your men!" or "How did you manage to 'get' a French boyfriend?".
    It's sad that when it comes to an inter-cultural relationship, India isn't as liberated as it should be.
    Why am I with Flavien? Exactly why you're with JC.

    And yes, if I had to do this again, I'd have it exactly this way. Inspite of what society has to say.

  41. @ Nandini: It's so much easier to point a finger from the other side of the fence. If you could only understand how difficult it is for a white man-Indian girl relationship, especially in India, you would think twice before posting your comment. Everytime you're outside of your house, you have people staring at you. There is no privacy, often you feel like you're at a petting zoo. You're looked at as a traitor of your country, for having fallen in love with a white man.
    We, in inter-cultural relationships, don't make it a point to talk about the 'foreign' status, because we're in love with the person, not his nationality. At least, the ones in stable, long-term relationships... you realise how futile it is. It's everyone around us that hypes it up as the next biggest thing after the big bang.
    So kindly don't make such pertinent comments without being in that boat. Fortunately, we've seen both sides of the story - Indian men and European men. And it's our choice to be with who we want to be with.
    It's a tragedy that it's blown so out of proportion, that even writing a post about it makes you come across as someone playing "on your boyfriend's foreign status". Come out of it! And try and understand what we go through, each and every day. Each time we introduce him to Indian society.

  42. Sorry to be petty, but dont you mean musings on interculturalism? You cant be in a multicultural relationship, only an intercultural one. I thought this would have been common sense, aren't you a hot shot writer?

  43. Interesting! Do you know Animesh Rai? He's an Indian scholar who is exploring diverse aspects of Indian multiculturalism. He's got a few entries of a bilingual blogspot. As well as Edouard Glissant, who you could say is the thinker of the multicultural relationships!

  44. I love your blog and what you wrote in this post is something that I had wanted to tell everyone around me for a while. I am an Indian girl and 've been dating a non-Indian for over 4 years now and I should say, we still keep the flames alive unlike some people said, foriegn men are "only interested in flings with Indian women."

  45. I loved this post.

    I'd always been the kind of girl who could fall in love with everyone. He was my first real love. Sincere amore as they call it.

    And, he did completely break my heart. So, I wonder if I was the 'singapore/bby/insert thriving metropolis girlfriend' cos he wasn't an accessory. Even as I know I wasn't..

    Just, thank you for articulating this so beautifully. So many of my friends never managed to see him past his firangi-ness. I hope yours have gotten the chance to.


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