"You really can’t help who you fall in love with."
The idea of a young individual having a boyfriend or girlfriend is simply not fathomable by many South Asian parents.
Bringing up either one of these words stereotypically results in blank stares and a whole lot of tea spat up the wall.
The focus is to be on schooling or studies, and after then, the idea of courting is not even considered.
It’s straight to marriage with someone who is carefully chosen of the correct background, caste or religion.
With non-marital relationships being heavily frowned upon within the community, those who attempt to sustain them end up leading a double life.
As well as swearing those around them to secrecy.
The challenge is even bigger for young Desi women, who are constantly faced with the constraints of a patriarchal society.
Patriarchalism is further amplified within South Asian culture as can be reflected in many of the traditions and expectations of Desi women.
In some circumstances, they are viewed as a possession and marriage is simply a statement of worth and honour.
Therefore, the family a Desi woman marries into is carefully curated. With so much confidence in a match, dating is not even considered.
To even imagine introducing a ‘boyfriend’ to Desi parents is regarded as an extremely foreign concept that is met with a lot of hostility.
There becomes this larger societal expectation around meeting a boyfriend, that this will be the one and only.
It is very important to recognise the cultural and generational differences between young South Asians and their parents.
Older generations were not always given the freedom and flexibility to date and choose a partner.
Many were only given the choice to marry for practicality, rather than truly being in love with one another.
The idea was instilled that they were going to be with the person that their parents chose.
However, with a new cultural barrier installed i.e. living within the UK, there have been more grounds in which to challenge this way of thinking.
Many young South Asians want the ability to search for their significant others, or even have the chance to play the field.
Being surrounded by different cultures where dating is the norm has opened up a new perspective.
Most young South Asian girls experience freedom when they move away to university and have the opportunity to talk and meet with a variety of people.
They also do not have the stress of maintaining secrets as opposed to when they lived with their parents.
However, coming back home is when reality strikes and there’s another battle of learning to balance western life, whilst upholding eastern traditions.
We spoke to Maya Nehal, a 27-year-old from Derby who shared her experience of not only introducing a boyfriend but a non-Desi boyfriend to her parents.
Maya had met her now-fiancé, Alex, whilst studying at the University of Liverpool:
“The relationship was very easy at first when I was living away from home, I was able to see Alex whenever I wanted without having to answer questions.
“He was able to hang out with me in my uni house and I was able to go over to his with ease.”
However, when Maya graduated and moved back home to save money, the situation became a lot more complicated:
“I felt like I lost some of my privacy, and it became very difficult to keep the relationship separated from my home life.
“I was always so conscious about everything, even facetiming Alex became harder as I didn’t want my parents to overhear us talking.”
Maya was also dealing with having to maintain a long-distance relationship with her boyfriend:
“It put a lot of strain on the relationship itself. Alex was very understanding of the cultural difference but would sometimes feel upset that I was hiding him away.
“He was also living in London, and I wanted to go and visit him, but had to be so tactical with my timing, whilst keeping it all a secret.
“However, my parents grew suspicious of how I kept spending long weekends in London and confronted me one evening.
“I was over having to try and hide this part of my life. At the same time, I was concerned as to how my parents would react.
“It was like I anticipated they would be very upset with me.”
She explained how she finally told her parents that she had a boyfriend and they weren’t the most welcoming.
“It was difficult for them to grasp as they are very traditional and also me being the oldest child, I know I was breaking so many moulds.
“Especially being the eldest, I knew that my parents had a bigger expectation for me to meet their standards.”
Maya described how she explained that she was in love with her boyfriend and that if her parents did not want to meet him, they wouldn’t have to:
“My mum did not speak to me for a few days and I knew my dad was very uncomfortable with the idea.
“There was the other issue of him not being South Asian. My parents were concerned that he does not have any knowledge of our culture and traditions.
“I left them to deal with the news and after a few days, they did pull me to have a conversation. They started to ask me about whether they will meet him, and then marriage should be on the table.”
Maya said she found the conversation very overwhelming, but she also understood the societal expectations that her parents were also a victim of.
She knew deep down it was all out of love, and that they care about her a lot.
However, she was upset that they would never be able to fully understand her reasoning behind having a boyfriend and not rushing into marriage.
“Marriage is such a big deal, and at that time I was too young to commit myself to something like that.
“I had so many other focal points, but equally, I loved Alex and wanted him beside me.
“It’s sad that our community have put such crazy emphasis on marriage, especially for young Desi girls!
“We are expected to focus on our studies, and after some time building a career, the pressure is on to marry and start a family.”
Over time, Maya’s parents became very welcoming of her boyfriend Alex, however, it took a lot of time and communication with her parents.
Maya advised: “I wish this could be the case for everyone. I was very lucky that my parents did come around.
“Keep up the communication, allow them an insight into your thought process, and most importantly, just be patient.”
“It is a lot for parents to process, and we cannot hate them for that.”
“But, you really can’t help who you fall in love with, and I really do wish there were more of an open conversation surrounding it.”
Being a Desi girl in the UK is nothing but a constant battle of learning to balance western customs and eastern traditions.
When living in a place that is so multicultural as well, relationships will inevitably become racially mixed.
In addition, the younger generation tends to stray away from traditional South Asian relationship concepts as they are seen as more of a social statement rather than truly fulfilling connections.
Sometimes it truly is a matter of breaking the mould and helping those around us to understand that it is okay to date, explore and to have time to make mistakes.
This will not always be met with the warmest welcome, but it can only be attempted.