DEAR DR. NERDLOVE: I have been an avid reader of your blog for a few years and have finally mustered the courage to ask for advice. I really enjoy the laidback approach to answering some really serious matters, and the fact that you provide pictures of cute animals when things get really serious or disgusting. And of course the nerd culture references, especially anime references.
I understand that while I am from India and given the different social and cultural customs it might not be the wisest idea to ask someone living in the US for non academic advice, right now I would appreciate your advice. I honestly haven’t found any Indian contemporary who is not misogynist or believes women are a hive mind.
As for my background, I am a 25 year old dentist planning to pursue a master’s degree. I live with my parents and elder sister, which is pretty normal in India.
My parents are a classic example of everything that can go wrong in a relationship. My father is financially opaque and allegedly is more involved in his brother’s family and way more interested in chatting with strange women on facebook and watching really crude porn (he always downplays it by saying that he pressed some weird link, but that is all a lie, he is tech savvy enough to know how to block his facebook account) and complaining about my mother to anyone and everyone he meets, including me. My mother sees that as tantamount to cheating. Even prior to that she has felt that he is diverting more of his earnings to his brother’s family (who is employed).
This is not to say my mother is without blame. She has been narrating tales of all the injustices to me and my sister for as long as I remember, emphasizing how she sacrificed her pleasures after becoming a homemaker, while my father would be the representative of the family at all the gatherings of our extended families. I sometimes have felt sorry for my father who is never appreciated for whatever little he still does. Mother being a chronic complainer always sees the glass as half empty.
Even my father has recently resorted to using emotional blackmail against me and my sister. For example, he likes to repeatedly mention how he gets emotionally hurt every time I have to physically shove him away from my mother when things turn nasty. When I reason that violence is not negotiable he counters by saying that I should atop mother’s nagging. It is like if mother uses words, he’ll use his fists. He wants to get a licence to hit my mother without consequences. And things get nasty, slapping, hitting with sticks and there was one time when he bit my mother on the arm.
For my parents, the house and the cyberspace are war zones and they must gather people to their sides. Their arguments stem from ridiculously petty issues but escalate to trash talking and in bringing up events that happened before I was born.
It comes as a surprise to me how I remained a good student all through my school years and eventually have become a dentist.
The only impact of my parents’ toxicity that I am aware of is that I have grown to be extremely wary of expressing anger in particular and confrontations in general. My social life has been rather ordinary, even today I have a few friends from my school days with whom I am in touch. In dental school too I have been friendly with my peers, only the coming years shall tell me how many of them will remain in my life but I am optimistic.
What I wish to know from you is how should I approach dating.
Seeing the disaster my parents are, I have no intention of getting matched with a person I have no compatibility with or to even have her live with them. I fear she’ll become just as bitter, resentful and toxic as they are. The conclusion I have made at present is to focus on my education and career, get a place of my own away from my parents and then think of dating.
But I cannot exactly control when people come in my life. In India, most women get married before thirty and I fear that by the time I have enough money for a house away from my toxic parents (I assume i will be in my mid thirties by the time I become financially independent) there would be no single women left. Even during my years in dental school, three women got married and one of them gave her graduation exams while pregnant! It kind of like a biological clock for men.
This is what is always on my mind whenever I am interested in someone at the present moment. Though I fully understand that not all relationships will end in marriage and may collapse after that too, I don’t want to be the kind of person who is dating without any end point in mind. This may be an atypical thought coming from a man born in the late nineties by that is my old-fashioned way.
And I don’t think that anyone is there to “go on a journey to build and grow together.” Everyone seems to want the finished product, not a work in progress, financially or emotionally.
And to top it all off, it might all be pointless since the woman in question might be married off by her parents to someone else anyway. (Arranged marriages are very prevalent in India). Of course that applies to me too, but I don’t want to go down that path knowing how badly it can get when living with someone you are not compatible with.
I will appreciate your regarding my situation.
Thanks in advance.
Joyless in The City of Joy
DEAR JOYLESS IN THE CITY OF JOY: So I’m going to have to give an obvious caveat at the start of this, JTCJ. Like you said: I’m an American and you’re living in India. There’s going to be a difference in outlook, culture and customs, and I’m going to be ignorant of circumstances on the ground that folks in Calcutta would find obvious. So I’m going to apologize for any blind spots in advance and recommend that you take my advice with suitable amounts of salt.
And with that, my thoughts.
My first thought is that arranged marriages aren’t automatically joyless or, worse, full of animosity. I actually have friends from India and Pakistan who chose arranged matches, and their relationships have been successful and happy. One of the keys for their success had been a willingness to take things at a relatively sedate pace; after they met people that they found interesting and compatible, they spent some time getting to know each other before getting married, with the acknowledgement that they could call it off if they had reservations. Another was that they (and their matches) focused on compatibility and mutual respect in who they were looking for. But most importantly were that they acknowledged that they were going to have to work to make their marriage successful. That meant that they were going to have to prioritize clear and open communication, to make sure that they understood each other. They also had to be mindful of how they handled disagreements and fights and make sure that they were actually resolving issues instead of just trying to stop the fight. That way, they weren’t going to be hoarding resentments and grievances like a passive-aggressive squirrel, storing hate-nuts for the winter. And they made a point of complimenting each other, admiring each other and expressing gratitude and their appreciation for one another; in fact, they made a point of trying to keep a fairly solid ratio of compliments to complaints. Complaints can trigger our inherent negativity bias, which makes them hit five times harder than compliments and gratitude. That makes it important to try to ensure that you don’t only appreciate or admire your partner, but that you express that appreciation, openly and frequently.
My second thought is that, well, they f--k you up, your mom and dad. It sounds like your parents marriage was a nightmare to grow up with, and I’m sorry you and your sister had to go through this. But while you can’t change your past — or your parents — their marriage doesn’t have to be your destiny. In fact, you’ve made the conscious decision to try to avoid that, which is awesome. Having that template of “ok, here’s what I don’t want” gives you something to build from. Because you’ve seen the way that bitterness and resentment can fester, you can look at the behaviors, beliefs and attitudes that lead to your parents acrimony and make a conscious choice to do things differently. They’ve given you the map of the traps and pitfalls that their relationship fell into, and you’re in a better position to avoid them.
Of course, knowing what you don’t want doesn’t automatically translate into knowing what a positive relationship looks like. And while there are some things that you can only learn through experience, I would suggest is that you might want to look for positive relationship role models. Those may be the marriages of friends or the parents of friends who are happy and nurturing. Talking to them about their experiences may well go a long way to helping you map out what you’re looking for and how to achieve it in your future relationships. Or, failing that, you may look to examples in pop culture for the kind of relationship you would want to have and work towards developing the skills and communication that you would need to help encourage that sort of connection. They’re not a perfect guide — after all, those relationships work because the writers say they do — but they can go a long way towards helping shape what you would want your relationship to look like.
(And here, I have to confess: I have a fairly limited knowledge of Indian pop culture, so I don’t know who I could recommend; perhaps readers could provide some suggestions. Though I will always recommend Gomez and Morticia Adams as an excellent starting point…)
My third thought is to be careful about falling into traps of making assumptions about others, especially on the individual level. While there’s a strong tradition of women marrying young, that doesn’t mean that every woman is looking for someone who’s a “finished product”, nor is that even necessarily what they’re looking for. One of the ways that men can make dating harder on themselves is that they often end up responding to what they think women expect or are looking for, rather than what women actually want in partners and relationships. This is one of those times when having women as platonic friends is incredibly helpful; it gives you a much more accurate idea of what women want, as well as what their dating and relationship experiences are like.
By that same token, while I understand that you’re worried that there will be a shortage of single women by the time you’re ready to date… well, I hate using this phrase but feels aren’t reals, man. This is an incredibly common — and cross-cultural — anxiety in men; they worry that if they don’t pair up by some artificial deadline (usually their late 20s) then they’ll have run out of available women to date. Why? Because they’ll all have settled down and found boyfriends and husbands.
Except that’s not true. Even in conservative cultures, or cultures where there are traditions of marrying young, there are still people who don’t follow tradition or who don’t want to get married that young. I suspect that your experiences and outlook on relationships aren’t as uncommon as you might think, for both men and women. In fact, I suspect there’re more people than you realize who feel the same way, and it may well be worth your time to seek them out. These could be networking events for young (and single) professionals, social organizations, even just clubs for people who dig movies, anime or what-have-you. Expanding your social circle will go a long way towards helping you meet more like-minded folks… including women who may well be looking for someone to grow with, rather than someone who’s “finished”.
But more than anything else: pursue relationships with intention, modeling the kind of relationship you want and the behavior you want to see from your partners. And don’t be afraid for you and your partner to write your own “rules” for your relationship. One of the reasons why relationships will often fall apart is because they try to force themselves into a relationship model that doesn’t fit them. But the great thing about life is that you don’t have to follow other people’s rules; your relationship is a collaboration between you and your partner. While other people may have opinions, they don’t get a vote. You and your partner can define for yourselves how you want this relationship to work, what rules the two of you agree to follow and how you want things to progress. When you find someone you’re compatible with, the two of you can decide what you want your relationship to be.
Now in fairness: sticking to your guns and making sure that you find the partner (and relationship) that you want may mean being single for longer than you’d prefer. It could take time to find somebody who’s right for you and who you’re right for. It’s understandable that you may want to examine your “must-haves” and decide that maybe you can be flexible on some of them. That’s a completely valid decision. However what you don’t want to do is drop your standards out of a fear of being single. Getting into a Somebody, Anybody, Everybody relationship — where you’re just trying to fill the hole marked “girlfriend” or “wife” — is a great way to end up in a bad relationship. It’s one thing to compromise; it’s another when your relationship is compromised from the start. Make sure that you’re getting into a relationship with someone because you want to be in a relationship with them… not because you want to be in a relationship.
You’ve got a lot going for you, JCTJ. You know what you want, you’ve made great choices and you’ve got a game plan for a solid life. That’s all to the good. Don’t let your worries overpower your goals; the fact that you’re worried about something doesn’t mean that there’s actually something to worry about.
Please send your questions to Dr. NerdLove at his website (www.doctornerdlove.com/contact); or to his email, firstname.lastname@example.org