For many South Asians, entering the dating scene is like stepping onto an entirely different planet. Not built into the culture, young South Asians can rarely rely on their parents’ experiences to provide some familiarity or guidance on how to navigate this new stage of life.
In addition, dating is often in direct conflict with what many South Asian parents feel is appropriate for their child at a certain age, leaving the teenager or young adult feeling alienated when they are ready to start dating. The problem arises when mistakes are made in dating and young South Asians feel there is no one to ask on how to improve their dating experience.
Here is a list of the top five dating mistakes and what you can do to remedy them:
1. Jumping ahead. The pressures to get married from the community and family, coupled with an individual desire to find a life partner, South Asians may feel pressured to jump ahead and imagine what life will be like far into the future despite having only gone on a few dates. The problem is that within the first 3-6 months of a relationship, our brains are flooded with oxytocin, a chemical that creates feelings of euphoria. This affects your ability to think clearly about the relationship and identify important signs on whether this relationship is worth investing in.
What to do: It is prudent to think in the back of your mind whether the other person would make a good spouse, but do not let your mind get carried away with the fantasy of a wedding or marriage. Identify concrete aspects of the other person that you enjoy and value and aspects that concern you. Most importantly, focus on where your relationship is at that moment, whether it is a first date or your 3 month anniversary.
2. Ignoring red flags. How many times have you dated someone only to realize after it did not work out that there were countless red flags along the way? If they are difficult to get a hold of, if they seem hot and cold, if they play games or are disrespectful of people around them they are showing you red flags. Generally, if you get to the point of asking if a certain behavior is acceptable or normal or if your gut is telling you something is wrong, you have probably stumbled upon a red flag.
What to do: While jumping to conclusions and ending the relationship based on incomplete evidence is not advisable, as soon as you recognize that you have stumbled upon a red flag, discuss your concerns right away. Best case scenario is that you will have misunderstood your partner but an honest conversation will have strengthened your bond. Worst case, your suspicions will be confirmed and you can move on.
3. Keeping an arms length. While men are stereotypically the most likely to have commitment or intimacy issues, this is a problem that transcends genders. Due to unattainable Bollywood or Hollywood standards, many South Asians have unrealistic expectations of what is the perfect partner. Any flaw by the significant other can be considered too large to manage and the relationship may end prematurely. Similarly, being fearful of feeling hurt, rejected or betrayed also acts as an excuse to keep your partner at arms length, lessening the intimacy that can be experienced in your relationship.
What to do: Do not enter into a relationship until you have addressed issues that prevent you from being emotionally and/or physically intimate with your partner. Identify the source of fear or anxiety when it comes to commitment and work through why these fears exist. Being in a relationship before identifying and improving on these limitations will only exacerbate the problem.
4. Not being honest about your needs. South Asian culture emphasizes the good of others over individual happiness. This leads to a level of cohesion and togetherness that is not present in individualistic societies. On the flip side, South Asians are taught to push away their needs for the greater good, which also comes with a price. Minimizing your needs and pretending everything is ok maintains harmony only in the short run. Eventually you will become resentful and will express your dissatisfaction in inappropriate or unreasonable ways.
What to do: Having high self-esteem makes it much easier to communicate your needs with a partner. In addition, work on your communication style so that you can be clear and specific yet tactful. Expressing your needs does not always mean they will get met but your partner will learn more about you and how you conceptualize the relationship. They will also learn to show you the same respect you show yourself.
5. Sacrificing too much to get into a relationship. With the pressure that many South Asians feel to get married by a certain age, many feel as if their only choice is to sacrifice parts of their life to meet the requirements of their family, friends or culture. If you find yourself bending over backwards to accommodate your partner, behaving in ways that do not reflect who you truly are or pushing aside your most important values to get their attention or maintain the relationship, you are losing yourself in the relationship. The foundation of this early romance is shaky at best and will not develop into a healthy relationship in the future.
What to do: Identify why you want to be in this particular relationship so badly. For some it is because of pressure from others, because they think they should love this person or because they’re afraid of being alone. The answer to this question can bring you back to who you truly are and what will make you happy. People who tend to sacrifice themselves (as opposed to compromise) for the sake of a relationship often have low self-esteem. Learning to value yourself to value your needs as much as your partners can lead to a strong and healthy relationship.
Dating can be difficult for anyone but especially so for South Asians. It is a lifestyle that was not traditionally a part of South Asian culture until just one or two generations ago. Without having role models or a culture that fully supports dating, South Asians can experience significant stress while finding their life partners. By being aware of the common dating mistakes and actively working on fixing them, South Asians may have an easier time finding their life partners.
What are some other dating mistakes you know about? Please leave your comment below.