Take Me Home: The Asian Parent Conundrum
In the fourth of her series on dating as a Modern Muslim, blogger The Imposter looks at what to do once you’ve found someone you like and you want to take them home to meet the family
Hello daters and welcome back to the Modern Muslim Guide to Dating. Last time in Hello, I don’t want to sleep with you, please date me we spoke about sex and the prospect of waiting while dating. Whether you’re waiting for marriage or just don’t feel comfortable with intimacy until you’re in a loving, committed relationship, then this is for you. The main thing to remember is to be respectful of your partner’s preferences but also to be honest, fair, and not to apologise for having your own. Which brings us to the next phase on our journey:
Ok, so now I’ve found someone I rather like, how on earth do I introduce them to my family?
Throughout my adolescence, I watched my peers glide through a variety of ‘meeting the parents’ scenarios with relative ease, all the while knowing that this would never quite work in my world. Rather, bringing someone home to meet my parents was something that used to fill me with a little uncertainty. As Muslims in the UK, we are often straddling two very different cultural identities each with contending views on love, sex and marriage. I spoke about the idea of reconciling this difference in the Modern Muslim Guide To Dating (Part 2). Navigating your way through this part can be tricky enough, but adding family into the mix can often become a confusing and frustrating experience. With this in mind, I thought I’d share some of the lessons I learned along the way:
Context Is Key
I come from a very liberal Muslim household and, although my siblings and I were born in the UK, we have always respected our roots and the culture that my parents came from. This coupled with the fact that we had absolutely no precedent for dealing with boys, dating, or relationships generally meant that, in these matters, we deferred to the Pakistani way of doing things. As some of you may be aware, the Pakistani way of doing things basically consists of Jane Austen levels of propriety and a social separation of the sexes. In short, it’s time to dust off your petticoats and get out your wafty fans because we’re about to get Proper… capital P.
The Muslim and, more broadly, South Asian convention around love and dating has always been incredibly parent led. Dating, if attempted at all, was a precursor to marriage so invariably it was seen as something that lay within the fabric of a more formal and explicit commitment. Similarly, the concept of an individual’s ‘love life’ was not an endeavour you embarked on privately and was, ultimately, subject to the approval of your parents.
This idea of love and courting as being a family undertaking has been embedded in South Asian culture for centuries and, regardless of modernity, is a sentiment that most parents of us ‘first generation kids’ still deem incredibly important today. When you couple this idea with the fact that we have no real construct around how to approach dating as a liberal Muslim, things can get a little confusing to say the least.
It is important then to remember, that by venturing out in to the world and finding yourself a mate, you are essentially flying in the face of centuries of tradition (oh my). Tradition that may not align with how westernised we are in other areas of our lives but is still the only reference point that your parents have when it comes to matters of the heart.
Know Your Audience
Every family you meet has different standards of behaviour in the home, whether personally or religiously focused. It is therefore important to realise that there may be certain situations which may not be fully achievable in some Muslim households. But fear not, I do believe that a balance can be struck here; you just need to know how to work with the information available to you.
Love is a serious business for a lot of Asian and Muslim parents so bringing someone home becomes immediately more loaded and significant than it would be in a secular British household. Muslim parents aren’t really interested in hearing about your casual relationships with your hipster slam poet or your, I heart musicians with dreadlocks phase (literally my entire twenties) because it almost makes a mockery of their more formal, rather lovely, unassuming conventions around relationships. This concept was a little difficult for me to get my head around at first because all I wanted to do was share my life with my family. However, living comfortably between two different cultural ideologies often requires some kind of compromise on both parts.
In my family for example, we are pretty liberal but there is a strong sense of formality around taking a partner and incorporating them into your domestic life. So our compromise was that I was open about when I was seeing someone (primarily with my mum), but I didn’t like to bring someone home to bond with my family until I knew that this was an incredibly significant relationship in my life. So, as much as I was missing out on every boyfriend coming over and casually becoming part of the family, it’s important to realise that my parents were also giving up the idea that they would be the Mr & Mrs Bennett to my Jane or Elizabeth.
So in terms of your audience, only you know the culture within your own home. If your family has a slightly stricter or, conversely, more relaxed approach to dating then use these as your barometer. The key is, not to undermine your parents and their specific values but also to show them that a reality exists where you can uphold the ideals they taught you in your own different, but respectful way.
As those of you who read my blog may already be aware, I married both out of my race and my religion. In fact, my husband is Jewish. Now, my marriage is not conventional by any means but it was so warmly received and celebrated by my family; and his for that matter.
I spoke with Mamma Imposter about this recently and she said that when I brought my husband home for the first time, it was clear to her that he respected me, my religion, and the way my father and she had raised me. And that was the most important thing to my family, that the man I loved wanted to uphold and ultimately, respected our way of life. This is so important to Asian parents, particularly when you are marrying out of your religion and it is something I felt was important to emphasise when meeting his family too.
Speaking Of The Mammas…
If you are from a stricter family (that perhaps may not be comfortable with you even dating somebody) one of the biggest obstacles to overcome will be your parents’ sense of feeling undermined. So, before you can get down to anything constructive, this sentiment needs to be defused and skilfully packed away. With this in mind, one of the best things you can do in this situation is to take your mother into confidence. As is often the case with Asian families, your mother has the magical ability to soften the approach of a confused, angry or frustrated father. She is able to calmly quell the unsettling winds of change with her pakoras wisdom and maternal touch paving the way for some, hopefully, positive discussion. In short, she is one beautiful brown miracle. So, in this scenario, having the conversation initially with your mother and then allowing her to be a vehicle to your father could be a very valuable and comforting way to handle bringing your partner home to meet your family. If your relationship with your mother doesn’t lend itself to this, any older female family member you can trust is also effective in this role. There really is is a lot to be said for a respected woman who has gravitas and authority in your family as your emotional advocate.
Know Your Own Mind
Ok, so there’s been a lot of talk about being empathetic and respectful of your parents’ values and culture but it is equally important to remember that your preferences matter too. Of course you want your parents to be happy with your choice of partner, you wouldn’t be reading this if you didn’t care about their opinion; but aligning with their specific beliefs, wants, and expectations should be something you do in tandem with your own.
Knowing your own mind, being honest and having the strength to stand up for the things you want is the most powerful tool you have, not just in this situation, but in all areas of your life. So for goodness sake, exercise it. Speak up and bring your views to the party.
Although it is important to know the context of why you might be walking into a precarious situation, it is also important not to apologise for the choices you have made for your own life. If you believe you are doing what is right for you and your own connection with your religion, then that is the essential thing here. Take it from a ‘Mooish’ lady, it is possible to present a different idea of what your parents had in mind for you, but you need to handle it the right way. Before entering into this scenario, talk to your partner, be prepared and have a common understanding between you. Honesty and respect between you as a couple is just as vital as having respect for your parents; and often sets the tone for your parents to respect you. Just remember, you don’t have to apologise for finding each other and you don’t really need anyone’s approval to have a life together either. This is something you are inviting your family into, respectfully and with love. Yes, your Muslim parents are the King and Queen of your family but, do bear in mind that the head of state is a figurehead position and granting Royal Assent is really more of a formality these days, isn’t it? In other words, if you approach this more like a conversation and less like you are asking permission to do something, it will take some of the pressure off straight away.
Meeting the parents can be a tricky business for the modern Muslim. But with some consideration and forethought you can put yourself in the best position for things to go smoothly. If your family’s input and blessing is important to you, a little compromise goes a long way. Just remember not to lose yourself and that compromise is a two way street.
I know there’s a great deal of stigma around the Muslim view of dating and matrimony but, to me, it has been a faith and culture that has embraced my life choices and my interfaith marriage. The older I become, the more I see a beauty and dignity in all the ways Muslim culture is different from British culture and, rather than chose one over the other, I couldn’t wait to share all of it with my husband and my family alike.
Beautiful Daters, it can work and you are not alone! Just be respectful, stop apologising, and be proud of all the different strands that have knit together to make you the glorious specimen you are.
Read more from The Imposter on her blog My Life As An Imposter or keep up to date on Twitter @imposteriam