He’s Just Not That Into You

I started reading Slate’s “Dear Prudence” because it reminded me of a beloved Siouxsie Sioux cover from 1983 (and you scoffed when I said I was a Goth in high school); I continued to read Prudie because her work is quite interesting. Beyond composing her advice column, every week, Prudence (also known as Emily Yoffe) chats online via the Washington Post with people, “about their romantic, family, financial, and workplace problems”. Today’s chat included a doozy of a problem, starring an EVIL BROWN MAN! So very sad.

Q. Interracial Relationships: My long-term boyfriend recently informed me that, because I’m white and he’s Indian and Muslim, I could never be a good parent to children (that don’t yet exist) that are half his. Basically, he didn’t want to continue our relationship because he believes that Indian/Muslim children should have two Indian/Muslim parents, not one white parent and one Indian/Muslim parent (although if we had children, obviously half of their genes would come from me). When I tried to counter his arguments, he called me racist and said that I would never understand. I had to break up with him, but I’m still so enraged–I would be a great mom to any children, and I seriously think he’s wrong. I think he’s afraid to talk to his parents about our relationship (they have relatively firm religious beliefs, whereas he is nonreligious but values Muslim cultural traditions), so he decided that ending things was the best plan. How should I have reacted, and how do I react now, since he still wants to be friends? (Note: This isn’t about religion. He is quite firmly against organized religion, so he would never ask me to take up any religious beliefs, and offering to do that wouldn’t help the situation, as it would fly in the face of his beliefs about organized religion.)

A: I’m afraid that when someone says he finds you unsuitable as a potential mother to his children, he wins that argument by default. You are understandably enraged at the end of this relationship. But over the long run, you will be happier that you didn’t try to force someone to merge his DNA with yours just to show you how wrong he was. For some people, when it comes time to make marriage and reproduction decisions, their spouse’s ethnic or religious background doesn’t matter. Other people find it does. Of course it’s painful that your boyfriend has now informed you he’s in this latter camp after several years together. But since you want to become a mother, you have to move on and find someone else you can spend your life with. And for your own emotional health, that may mean taking a pass on his offer of “friendship.”

Oh, dear. I don’t want to seem unsympathetic to this woman’s complaints because, sister, we’ve all been there…brown, white, black, olive…who among us hasn’t been blue over love? As someone who spent the totality of her teens convinced that she would never, ever have a boyfriend and would never, ever be loved, I will always feel for anyone whose heart is aching. It’s pure awfulness with a chaser of real pain. There’s no denying how brutal rejection is, how it reaches in to your core and eviscerates you as if you are an extra in an extra-vile video game. It hurts. It hurts so very much.Having typed all that– and though it is none of my business except to the extent that she asked a public question knowing that I might witness it as well as the answer she was seeking– I have to say that I am skeptical. Not about the veracity of her suddenly being single: certainly not. Not even about how her ex-bf is at best, a spineless, feeble wimp and at worst, a huge, festering penis. No…I’m skeptical that he’s a nasty old racist, which is what the people whom I overheard discussing this at lunch called him.

Frankly, Mr. Shankly…I think he decided that he didn’t see a future with this woman, probably for a few reasons, and so he wanted to end this relationship. Maybe he was too much of a coward to end things in a forthright fashion, so he started spouting gibberish like “White people suck at parenting!”, knowing that she’d do the needful and kick him to the curb. Maybe, as harsh as it may sound, he had an epiphany that she wasn’t worth fighting for– and a fight is what it would have taken. Maybe he loved her and during hazy, blissful moments with her, he felt his mind wander to that blurred daydream-like glimpse we each occasionally see in to our own futures– and maybe he saw her there, too…but upon later reflection, he realized that he couldn’t bear to commence the necessary negotiations, the grave discussions, the inevitable arbitration between two, disparate people which is required to decide how to get married, whether to baptize children and even, what to feed them.

I also think that her intro, “My long-term boyfriend recently informed me that, because I’m white and he’s Indian and Muslim, I could never be a good parent to children” might potentially, perhaps just a wee bit possibly be tainted by her rage– and why wouldn’t it be? We’re human, colored by emotions and shaped by bias. If we are brown, or “ethnic”, we are colored and shaped by loyalty, obligation and especially guilt. What do we owe to the people who dreamed a dream in a faraway nation, who left, who sacrificed, who suffered, who quietly worked, lived and loved like protagonists in a Jhumpa Lahiri novel, only to be crushed when we didn’t get in to Ivy League schools, and then didn’t take the MCAT or the LSAT or the GMAT and THEN refused to get married by the time we were 25? What do we owe the men and women who created us, who are frail, flawed, selfish and yet, saintly? Could anyone unlike us ever understand that gnaw within? That stubborn pull to please?

Do we ever understand it?

Here is what I like to think about this story, because at my core, I am an idealist. Someone who believes that amor vincit omnia and that good lurks everywhere, even in online advice columns and the lives of those hurt enough to seek them out…and the crazy bit of conjecture I’m about to bestow is buoyed by his desire to still be friends.

I think he may love her. I think he may love his parents more. And I think he knew that if he was an offensive caricature of a “foreigner”, if he rejected her for something she has no control over, suddenly and without warning, he would, in some bizarre way, make it easier for her to get over him, because if she was seething, she’d want nothing more than to see him leaving, even if she was confused and outraged and wronged as he left. That, oddly enough, might be easier than being honest about filial loyalty and facing question after question in a hostile, heart-broken interrogation filled with “But, WHY aren’t I good enough?”s. Sometimes, it is much easier to be a dick, to kick a puppy so that it doesn’t follow you, to turn on your lover in such spectacularly appalling fashion that she doesn’t even recognize you, let alone agonize over the incomprehensible way that you order your priorities.

But as I said, I am an idealist. A dabbler in fiction-creating. A sucker for stars crossed.

For all I or anyone else knows, she unflinchingly conveyed her story exactly as it went down…in which case, brown or not, he sucks. I hope he didn’t mean what he said about her potential as a Mother; I wonder if she was lying down at that point, her tears streaming to her ears, obscuring her hearing. That’s an excruciating way to attack a person, to insinuate that not only is she unworthy of his love and life, but that she’s also not skilled enough to nurture her own children (!), simply because she isn’t exactly like him. Such a sentiment is ugly, afflictive, the lowest sort of blow. I cringe at the thought of it.

Still, after all I’ve seen and heard…well, just know that the fanciful, “maybe”-laden explanation I offered wasn’t the product of my fecund imagination. And that while dozens, if not hundreds hate on this man for what he’s done, I am reminded of others who did similar, who are not honorable, but who are also brown…and human. They, too, need to be loved…just like everybody else does.

178 thoughts on “He’s Just Not That Into You

  1. Dear Neha, Please calm down. Your comment about African-American children being born to single mothers and being raised in dysfunctional families wasn’t in good taste at all. We call know the reasons why this happens. And as an Indian living in India, I can tell you that many Indian families are equally dysfunctional, only in different ways. A close friend who wanted to leave an abusive marriage was prevented from doing so by her parents because they feared that a divorce may harm the marriage prospects of their other two daughters. Many Indian parents think of their sons as their old age pension and expect care and support in old age in return for their ‘investment’ in him. While you may think there is nothing wrong in such an approach, in reality, this cultural practice translates into a strong son-preference and a concomitant devaluation of daughters, who are seen to be an economic burden to the family. There is a lot that is wrong with the traditional Indian family structure, and our blind loyalty to family honor and ‘culture’ causes a wide-spread curtailing of the individual freedom and liberty of those who have the least power in an Indian family — women. Peace, PD

  2. “Anyways, i’m having a hard time finding a desi girl that I can hold conversations with for hours at a time”

    Chyli maybe she feels the same way about you :) COnversations have to go both ways even for hip-hop doctors.

  3. CisternaChyli, maybe you’re not talking to the right girls! What’s that phrase– “great people talk about ideas, average people talk about things, small people talk about other people.”

    Good summary, LinZi, but then again, there are plenty of families that don’t fit even those generalizations (and I know you knew that). I spent my school years being pushed by my parents (and especially my dad) to compete/excel in school. If I didn’t have all A’s on my report cards, I got grounded for weeks. I wasn’t allowed to take “fun” classes, like art class, because my dad thought they were a waste of time compared to hard academics. And my sister and I were not allowed to watch TV or play video games because “it rots your brain” (which now that I’m an adult and we’re close to having our own kids, I kind of agree with). I wasn’t allowed to date until I was almost in college. Since I became an adult and moved out on my own, I’ve either called or instant-messaged with one or both of my parents almost every day. As for my husband, his parents really put a lot of trust in him and his judgment, and everything he’s done since moving out on his own has been completely driven by himself and his goals, not by his family…and of course, they were completely trusting and accepting of his choice in a wife too, even if I was a gori, and not a good Jain/Marwari girl.

    Of course, now that we’re getting ready to have kids of our own, I’m glad my Indian hubby has the same strict standards. We’re not supposed to be our kids’ friends while they’re growing up. We’re supposed to be their parents, and to have high standards and expectations. That was one of the things I liked about my husband when we started getting to know each other–common values for our future family.

    So basically what I’m getting at is, it’s the values, goals, and mindset that you and your partner share that really matter, not the color of their skin, or their ethnicity, or whatever. If you meet someone who’s openminded and willing to learn about what’s important to you, then you’re really lucky, whether you share the same ethnicity or not.

  4. “”5.) Family gives up a lot to help their child succeed.” Disagree.”

    Define gives up a lot ? Im talking about giving up MORE than just what you normally give up for having a child. Having a child and taking care of it by definition means giving up a lot. I didn’t see my American family friends giving up the kinds of things that my parents did (and my other Indian friends).

  5. @PD: I actually read a study conducted in rural China in which they concluded that part of the reason for the son preference there is because with a joint family living arrangement, sons bring in daughters-in-law who give the parents care and emotional support in their old age. Daughters, on the other hand, get married and offer this service to other families. That’s not the sum-total of the explanation. It was something like 10% of it. But something like a gender preference with kids is always going to be far too complicated for simplistic monocausal or even bicausal explanations.

  6. I didn’t see my American family friends giving up the kinds of things that my parents did (and my other Indian friends).

    That’s probably less an Indian thing and more an immigrant thing in general. Immigration for us “lesser races” is though. The only reason our parents went through it was to obtain what they thought would be a better life for us.

  7. Define gives up a lot ? Im talking about giving up MORE than just what you normally give up for having a child. Having a child and taking care of it by definition means giving up a lot. I didn’t see my American family friends giving up the kinds of things that my parents did (and my other Indian friends).
    That’s probably less an Indian thing and more an immigrant thing in general. Immigration for us “lesser races” is though. The only reason our parents went through it was to obtain what they thought would be a better life for us.

    Well yes, I think that the things given up are different, and for an immigrant of course it is MORE. But I think American parents (in general) give up a lot for their kids. Such as: time (taking their children to sports, dance, piano, driving them to clubs, helping with homework, watching their recitals, sports games, going to their school shows), money (playing for all those extra things like violin lessons, sports, etc (and in my case, paying for private school)), giving up things in their lives (my mom stayed home to take care of us, she could have had a career if she wanted, but she wanted to raise us).

    Those are just a few examples, and sure, it is TOTALLY different then what an immigrant parent gives up coming to a different country. But I still think American parents tend to give up a lot to help raise their kids…

  8. “We’re not supposed to be our kids’ friends while they’re growing up. We’re supposed to be their parents, and to have high standards and expectations”

    D Jain I cringe when I hear parents (or soon to be parents) talk about ‘life plans’ for their kids before they are born. I’m sure you only have the best interest of your children at heart but the world is a huge place. Sometimes the mistakes you make along the way make for a richer and more rewarding life…allow your kids to form their own identity…a few hours of tv and videogames don’t hurt :)

  9. Rahul said, “He’s just not that into you? There’s an explanation for that.”

    Dang. For a minute I thought you were going to link to a Viagra ad.

  10. Can someone please explain to me why we are all hating on metal mickey? I didn’t find her comments disrespectful. Just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean you get to cry to the interns and call them trolls. (Of course, this is the internet, so troll-hunting is a virtual sport.)

    Sure, I feel connected to Indian culture & all that jazz, but I too think that ridiculous threats of disowning a child/suicide/family armageddon for wanting to marry the person of their choice is controlling and borderline unhealthy. Sure, no one wants to believe that about their own parents, but frankly, it’s a fact. Yes, many of them eventually come around but none of their dramatics are acceptable. The guy mentioned in Prudie’s column was a total jerk and not right for the advice seeker anyway. He used his culture/religion as a “get out of jail free” card. I feel appreciate my parents as much as the next person, but not to the point where I unquestioningly honor irrational thoughts or agree with some of their less-than-progressive beliefs. At the end of the day, I will live my life. There doesn’t have to be a dichotomy between adult independence and respecting one’s family. It’s possible for an adult child to establish healthy, respectful boundaries with their parents. That doesn’t have anything to do with coming from a certain race or culture.

  11. Can someone please explain to me why we are all hating on metal mickey?

    Sure, happy to. I think most of us are basing our reactions to MM on the totality of her comments on SM– not just what he/she’s written on this thread. It’s not a question of tarring and feathering people we disagree with, it’s nothing that facile. I think a good amount of the irritation stems from the fruitlessness of coming to an American blog and then complaining that it’s…American. Of course it’s not going to represent her European experiences. Also, it’s one thing to explain how and why you’re different or where you’re from, but when someone does that in a confrontational way, it’s going to get…confronted.

  12. I actually don’t have a problem with the content of Mickey’s comments per se (though, I think it’s a bit ridiculous that s/he is so adamant about the non-specialness of inter-desi relationships since s/he has admittedly not been around many to know). Some of his/her comments have made me think more about the original question that I posted on here. But, I have a problem with the way the comments are delivered– you can make your point without being deliberately provocative or confrontational, especially with a subject as sensitive as this one, and he/she chose not to do that. I find that disrespectful.

    Sorry for the non-specific gender, but I always assumed Mickey was a guy and now other commenters have me thinking s/he is a girl :)

  13. People are used to subjugating other people with laws and codes and moral standards, parents are no different.

  14. Rohit,

    Stop complaining about your parents. Whatever your probelm is, speak to them about it. It is good practice; your significant other will also have issues sooner and later, and you will have to deal with those as well. And what kind of parent will you be anyway 20 years from now? So don’t gripe about your parents.

  15. Oh, Rohit! You are correct. I did read Post 70, but failed to connect it with you You are that poker boy! No wonder you complain so much about parents, aunties etc—they wouldn’t have liked it. Even I don’t, though I am a complete stranger. Although you seem to be very succesful, I still don’t like gambling. Even being a left-wing academic like Vijay Prashad seems better than being a poker player.

  16. Even being a left-wing academic like Vijay Prashad seems better than being a poker player.

    HEY! Be nice. Let’s not say anything we can’t take back here. . .

  17. See what I did, I wrote haha in Spanish bc I was making fun of academics. See?

  18. “Even being a left-wing academic like Vijay Prashad seems better than being a poker player.”

    Well that does hurt…I’ll just try and console myself by swimming in my money scrooge mc’duck style :) :):)

  19. @D. Jain: Thank you! Common sense isn’t so common these days, y’know. ;)

    @Rohit: serious question – did you anticipate anyone in your South Asian community having problems with your career choice? Just a thought. I’m not saying that you should pick a career based on other people’s ideas of what you should do, but still… Also, reread my post. It talks about HEALTHY boundaries between an adult and his/her parents. Parents setting strict but healthy limits for a CHILD =/= subjugation.

    @ugly truth & obviously anonymous: How was she being confrontational? I guess I didn’t read her comments that way or maybe I just missed something. Frankly, this is a blog where anyone and their grandma are given the choice to comment. It’s up to the moderators to delete comments they deem inappropriate, trolling, etc. I personally like that metal mickey gave a more global perspective, even though it may not have been delivered in the most polished fashion.

    @shilip: Every loving parent gives up a LOT for their kids, regardless of their race. I’d like to see you go up to a non-immigrant parent and tell them what you just said here.

  20. “I’m not saying that you should pick a career based on other people’s ideas of what you should do, but still…”

    So what are you saying Radhika?

  21. So what are you saying Radhika?

    Rohit’s Balance Sheet

    Credits: * Has cut off parents’ apron strings * Red Lamborghini

    Debits: * Too indenpendent to tie spouse’s apron strings

    Overall assessment: * Sigh! Maybe those mama’s boys are the best tradeoff, after all

  22. @D. Jain comment 151 – YES, I so totally agree with you about the shared values thing. My (white) husband isn’t particularly “into” my Indian-American-ness, and to be honest, desi culture isn’t really a big part of my life either. But the things we do share in common, which are huge:

    Respect and appreciation for all our parents did to get us where we are now Emphasis on education/working hard Strong belief that marriage is forever (both of our parents have been married for 40+ years)

    To me, these are way more important than whether he understands Tamil (heck, I don’t even speak it), or wants to celebrate Diwali.

    When raising our child, it’s way more important to me that she learn about and respect all cultures, rather than being raised with one particular set of traditions. I don’t want her thinking that other cultures’ food is “weird” or someone in ethnic dress looks “funny”, etc.

    But unlike my own upbringing, I’m not going to make her wear Indian clothes or go to Indian Sunday school, etc. If she wants to go when she’s old enough, that’s fine, but there was definitely a pressure to be “more Indian” that I and my desi friends felt while we were growing up. And to be honest, I’m still bitter about that, I’ll admit it.

    I love the comment that someone (metal mickey?) made about Indian culture not dying out anytime soon :D