When Expat Polar and I started dating, it was about only a year later that I decided to take our relationship public on my social media. Apart from the devastating divorce I had endured in the recent years of my late twenties (which you can read about here and here), I knew there would backlash due to the fact that that we were not of the same race, religious background or culture. You can read Expat Polar’s earnest perspective on what its like to date a Desi woman for a man of his race, religion and culture in this previous post.
More frequently than I would like, the odd person will contact me with a message that extolls the moral and religious virtues of having a partner who is similar in background and skin colour. While I was mostly prepared for these sort of interactions- I choose not to engage with these people- I was less prepared for more specific judgments and startlingly strong opinions on the things I did relating to my relationship. In this post, with the help of Pikachu, I will share a few common reactions I have received and explain how & why these perceptions don’t actually apply to my relationship.
1. Your partner lets you wear THAT?
After choosing to post a photo of myself wearing a swimsuit on Instagram, a few people felt it necessary to ask the above question. I was bewildered at first and wondered,
-Is my partner in charge of purchasing my clothes?
– Is he my style advisor that I need to run wardrobe choices by him?
– Why would I need his permission to wear anything?
Truthfully, the concept of me needing anyone’s permission to do anything ended when I moved out of my parents’ house many moons ago. As the only two people who supported physically and financially me from birth till adulthood, I have always believed that my parents would be the only 2 people I needed to obtain any sort of permission from. As my dependency on them diminished, so too did the need to obtain their permission- as in the case of most mature adults. There is no one on earth that has done as much for me as they have. So why would I attribute that level of importance by asking anyone else permission to do anything?
In my mind, my partner is my equal. As much as we can rely on and support each other, no one person is in charge no matter who earns more, who is the man or what their cultural beliefs are. He wears what he wants and I wear what I want. Whether that may be a bikini on one day or a hijab on another, his permission is not sought or needed since I am a grown woman capable of choosing clothes that I am comfortable in.
Past experiences have taught me that a man who expects me to ask for his permission to do anything or feels compelled to comment on the length of my sleeves or the tightness of my trousers, indicates that we will be saying a short and swift goodbye sooner rather than later.
2. You’re so lucky that he supports your travels & career
Like most expats and travel bloggers, the concept of luck for me is a tricky one. Indeed, I have been privileged to grow up exposed to the diversity of my home country and the freedom it affords which has always kept me open minded. I have also been fortunate to speak English as my home language-which is something I have built my career abroad upon- and lucky that I was born into a family whose socio-economic status meant I could pursue my passions with minimal obligations. However, the concept of luck in my relationship isn’t one I believe in beyond the fact that it was lucky we met.
The truth is that in the 21st century, most people in progressive societies are choosing their relationship partners regardless of sexual orientation and culture. So if you are choosing your partner, spending time together, conversing and and getting to know each other, surely its not a matter of luck that you would be with someone who supports your passions- it must be a conscious choice that you made to be with this person who knows what you love to do and thus, supports your hobbies no?
In my case, even though Expat Polar and I knew each other for a decade before we started dating- when I was still reluctantly considering the possibility of even being in any sort of romantic relationship with a man- we sat down and had the honest conversation about support.
“How do you feel about me traveling both with and without you?”
“Will be you be ok with the fact that I am busy both with professional life but also commitments relating to my blog and photography?”
In turn, he told me about his long working hours, crazy professional life and the possibility of him pursuing an MBA. It sounds insipid but asking these questions and having these discussions gave us each a better understanding of what we expected from a relationship and how we would manage those expectations. There is this general perception that if men devote long hours to their job, they’re dedicated but if a woman spends too much focusing on things other than her relationship, she is termed as neglectful. We were both in agreement that we didn’t subscribe to this belief. So no its not a matter of luck that my partner supports me- I entered this with my eyes wide open and made a conscious decision to be with someone who supports me.
3. How does he cope when you’re gone?
This one boggles my mind. First of all, I am GONE so how would I know what he does when I am traveling? Why are you asking me, ask him?! Second of all, are we still working on the assumption that when the female partner has left the male alone for any prolonged period of time, that he withers away into oblivion from lack of feminine care?
This one always baffles me because my father never collapsed into a giant heap of flesh when my mother went for conferences when we were growing up. Life went on, we ate what my father cooked and did our homework motivated by the reward of ice cream and Kim Possible.
I think this point relates back to number 2. I made a conscious choice not to be in a relationship with any man who was incapable of looking after himself. I have never been interested in being anyone’s cleaner or cook so men who are incapable of doing either don’t feature on my radar. Its conscious choice- if you are over 25 and your mum is still doing your laundry and packing your lunch, you and I are never going to happen.
So to answer your question about how he copes in my absence- he does what he always does before this panda rolled into his life; goes to work, cooks, cleans, watches Brooklyn Nine Nine and creates his vlogs. My presence isn’t the reason for his survival, it only enhances his quality of life.
4. But you’re too different, it can never work!
You’ll find that every human being you meet in life is different to you in some way or another. Most times you’ll find a successful way to interact with, respect and maybe even enjoy some sort of relationship with the person whether it be professional or friendly. Sometimes it goes beyond that and you will learn that you don’t need to have all the same characteristics in order to be in a serious relationship with someone.
Balancing ethnic, cultural and religious views under one roof can seem difficult, but as long as the two of you note your boundaries and perspectives from the beginning and respect them, things can work out. I realised that even when I was in a relationship with someone who was very similar to me in most ways, it was not a guarantee that things would work out especially if open communication, maturity and honesty were not present. Now I know that in order to make things work with the one you love, listening to actually understand instead of to combat is one of the main ways that it will happen. Expat Polar and I define our own rules and cohesive culture for our relationship… when you want something to work, you will find a way to do so.
To be honest…
At the end of the day, this post should teach you that having an opinion on someone else’s relationship is both useless and ineffective. Each couple will do what works for them taking into account their personalities, habits and life choices. Less and less couples are adhering to traditional gender roles and outdated societal expectations. The drawback of social norms and their impact on your relationship is that they assume that what is good for your neighbours will be good for you too.
If you are a person bound by the constraints of religion and culture then that’s fine- but do resist the urge to thrust those beliefs onto other people. As someone who receives a lot of unsolicited advice, I can tell you that I find none of it useful. If I did want advice on any aspect of my life, I would request some and often do- just ask my family & friends. (I talk a lot about unwanted opinions from Desi people in this post).
If I have learnt anything, its that there is no right and wrong in relationships so much as there is ‘what works’. Take the time to communicate and find out what works for you and the person you chose to be with. It doesn’t matter what your friends, family or other people do or even what they think. What matters most is that both of your personalities, needs and desires are taken into account for all relationship decisions.
Are you a victim of unwarranted relationship advice? Do you and your partner also have non-traditional ideas and gender roles? Let me know in the comments below!