Updated: Mar 5, 2020
Being a Tamil girl with traditional parents in a western community has provided me with various challenges my whole life. My greatest challenge thus far has been breaking out of Tamil traditions to date a Dutch (white) guy. This article is about some of my experiences, lessons that I've learnt and survival tips to hopefully help anyone in a similar situation.
Although our relationship had progressed pretty rapidly, I had many reservations. Aside from the normal questions everyone has - is this guy for me? Do our future aspirations complement each other? Is this even serious? etc, I had a magnitude of other things running through my head - Is this guy worth me putting my family through a difficult time? How will my family respond? Am I going to get disowned?
This led to so much insecurity and fear that I kept trying to call it off at the beginning. Fortunately for me, he was very patient and understanding and never pressurised me into making any hasty decisions. Soon after, I decided to stop fighting my feelings for him and slowly let go of my fears and took the plunge into the relationship.
Survival tip: Identify and understand your fears. They are natural emotions and are usually justified. Reflect on how and why you feel these emotions, are they stronger/ more sensible than the joy, laughter and exhilaration you're feeling? Don't rush the decision making!
Crouching Tiger, Hidden Relationship
After deciding to give the relationship a go, it moved pretty rapidly. We are in the same university doing the same degree, and so we spend a vast amount of time together. Although we felt pretty sure of where this was all going, we decided to keep it on the down-low at the start of our relationship. At uni, we didn't want to be the topic of gossip. Outside of uni, I had an irrational fear that this would get back to my parents in some way, and I wasn't quite ready for what the consequences of that could be.
Here started all the secret dates… As an open and honest person, doing something like this was very unnatural to me. We weren't very good at it, and so many people (luckily friends) started noticing things.
Survival tip: You're entitled to your own privacy. Especially when you're trying to figure things out yourself, there is no need to try to answer everyone else's questions. Make sure you have firm boundaries in place and gently remind people who are being too intrusive to mind their own business.
Telling the Close Ones
After some time had passed, and we were in a more established relationship, I decided it was time that some of my close friends and family knew. My close friends had been in the loop from the beginning and were always supportive of my decisions. My brother was being protective and constantly reminded me that "all guys are d*cks". But his opinion changed soon after he met my boyfriend! My sister was also supportive and protective but in a slightly different way. She told me to take my time and not rush any decisions, particularly when telling the parents in case the relationship didn't work out.
Survival tip: I'm pretty blessed with caring and loving friends and family. If they're worried about something, it's usually with good reason, and thus I value their thoughts and opinions. Even if you don't always agree with their views, always make time to listen and understand other perspectives, especially when these people have your best interests at heart.
Telling the Parents
As I am close to my mum, I told her pretty early on despite some of my friends and sister's advice. My mum took the news very well actually, she asked if I was definitely sure about this decision but ultimately "wanted me to be happy". My cousin (from my mum's side) had married an Italian man, so the concept of marrying into another culture wasn't too alien for my mum. Although telling her about my boyfriend generally had positive outcomes, there were definitely some things she worried about. She was, of course, concerned about how my backward thinking dad would react, how the rest of the extended family would feel and how the general Tamil society would judge me and our family.
The time to tell my dad finally came at the end of my second year at uni. I couldn't evade it any longer. I waited until results came out and I knew I passed. This was just in case I failed and had to do resits, I didn't want to deal with the combination of academic and emotional stress. Not to mention, that if I had failed, my parents would have undoubtedly blamed it on me having a boyfriend and thus not paying attention to my studies. I made sure that my brother was around and had to prep my mum to act like she didn't know a single thing. I started telling them and first mentioned things I knew would play in my favour ("he's a doctor AND a dentist") and spoke for about 20 minutes before I ended with the fact he was white. It was all smiles and positive vibes until that statement. Understandably, my dad was shocked and was speechless for a bit. My brother filled this silence by also vouching for him, while my mum asked questions about things she pretended to not know.
After a while, my mum questioned his silence, and he responded with "what's the point in me saying anything, you have clearly already made this choice", and then he cried. As I sat there watching his ego take a hit, I felt guilty, but a part of me was also glad that he understood how firm I was going to be about the matter. After giving him a bit more time to process the situation, he decided to invite my boyfriend to our house. My dad was hesitant at first but soon got drawn into conversation with my boyfriend when he showed off his knowledge on Sri Lanka's history (and the Dutch invasion, awkward).
Survival tip: This was the most difficult part for me as it was filled with uncertainty, anxiety and emotional turmoil. Ensure that you speak to close friends/family and get all the support that you need to get through. Let the experience contribute to your growth and teach you resilience. Most of all, celebrate the wins, however small they may seem.
My parents decided to let other family and friends know soon after. There were multiple phone calls, one of which I remember my dad saying "Yeah…my daughter has found her future husband….no, he's not from our village". It was interesting to hear what people had said and felt. Most of my family, particularly the close ones, were supportive and understanding and cared more about the personality traits of my boyfriend rather than the race. However, as expected, there were many opposing views too. One which I recall vividly was a response from an aunt, who tried to reassure my parents by saying "Don't worry, they'll probably break up and it won't last".
Survival tip: Some of the negativity can really bring you down. After the first few times, I asked my parents to stop telling me people's responses, whether they were positive or negative. The judgement comes from people who don't know what your day to day life is like and thus it shouldn't affect you. Going about everyday life without worrying about what people may think/say is the most liberating feeling. However, this fluctuates, and that's okay too.
Though the journey has had many challenges, I don’t regret any of the big decisions I’ve made. The future looks promising; graduation, work, marrying and building a life with the love of my life. We hope to be an example of how beautiful and blissful life can be when you choose to lead with your heart. Namaste.