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The White Hindu has moved! This blog is no longer updated, but Ambaa is still writing The White Hindu every weekday at

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Too American

I hate being thought of as typical. Typical anything. I feel dismissed if someone says "she's just being a girl" or "she's so American" or whatever it is. Maybe that is where my at-odds-ness comes from. In other words, I have tremendous difficulty fitting in with the culture around me, no matter where I am. I have a need to be different and stand out. Unfortunately, that instinct doesn't mesh too well with an Indian culture where individuals are not as important as the whole and family is the smallest unit.

Someone in the comments mentioned the idea that converts to Hinduism treat it like Christianity and approach it from a Christian, which is to say western, mindset. I think that is sometimes the case. There are some western Hindus I see who seem to have replaced Jesus with Krishna and basically have a Baptist religion going on! But I don't really think our brains doom us to only be able to understand religion one way. I'm sure there are tendencies in us Americans to see things a certain way, but I do think those can change. Also, not everything is as western in our brains as you would expect and not all Indians have an "Indian mindset."

Several years ago a man named Whorf published a paper about how our native language effects our thoughts. He posited that if our language did not have a word for something, then we would be unable to know what it was. I'm pretty sure his was the theory behind the strange idea that the Native Americans, when Europeans first arrived, were unable to see the ships because they had no concept for that type of vessel (which seems ridiculous to me. They new what boats were, it just looked a bit different!). It later turned out that Whorf had no research whatsoever to back up these claims.

Our native language (and culture) does not doom us to never being able to understand another perspective. However, it does have effects. This article my Dad recently sent me illustrates it perfectly.

So yes, I do think that we all have a default way that we approach the world that is based on the culture around us and the way our parents teach us. But it isn't unchangeable and it also isn't always what you expect.

In many ways, I grew up with two cultures and two cultural ideals. There is the American culture around me and the Indian culture whose ideals were taught to me in my home. I have had tremendous difficulty reconciling the two.

There are a lot of ways in which I think like an American.

I like personal space, for example. Also, I believe in personal social mobility and that our birth should not be our destiny. Those are pretty American, or at least Western, ideas.

On the other hand, there are distinctly Indian things in my brain too and they often put me strongly at odds with those around me.

One example is that my first boyfriend really believed in progress. He believed that improvements in technology and education are making a better and better world, that we are growing and becoming greater, that a golden age is still in front of us. I could not understand his perspective at all. I'm very stuck in the idea of cyclical time and that we started out good and are running down (like entropy). But progress is one of the main ideas that America is built on.

The biggest thing that has made me unable to fit in is my ideas about marriage. By a huge margin, Americans believe that love is important in marriage and that one must be in love before getting married while Indians believe that romantic love is not a trustworthy emotion and has little to no connection to marriage.

I have both these messages competing for my loyalty and it's making it nearly impossible to date like a "normal" American.

If I say to my mother, "I'm not sure that I love this boy", she will respond, "You're so American. Love is fleeting. He's nice to you, he's a good man, what else do you think love is?"

Strangely enough, said American boyfriend would like for the woman he is with to love him. She thinks he is also being too picky.

What does love have to do with marriage?

I don't know. Growing up, I got the idea that the two are unrelated, or at least that you can create love from nothing with enough dedication and hard work.

But then when I moved out of my parents' house I started hearing something very different.

However, still stuck with my ideas about dedication and hard work, I've spent years with various boyfriends, trying to force myself into the mold of the perfect wife. Yet, I don't end up married. Because these American men don't want the perfect wife, they want someone genuine and that I don't know how to be.

Now that I'm nearing thirty and I'm still unmarried, I'm getting these mixed messages stronger and stronger. Of course, everyone just wants for me to be happy. They have very different ideas about how I should get there.

Love is not something that I can put into words. It is not something I am sure about. It can't be measured or quantified or located in a physical way. Like faith, I guess. And yet I have faith and I don't have any grasp on love.

How important is that spark, the sizzle, the chemistry, the feeling of being in love? Whether important or not, Americans want it in their relationships and I think that I want it too. I've tried the dedication and hard work route and it has not led me to happiness, so it's time to try to approach relationships like the American that I am.

I am taking a year off from dating in order to get a handle on myself and figure out how I am going to fit myself into the culture that I live in. Until I take a breather, and get my feet back under me, it is not fair to the men in my life for me to be dating.


  1. "Indians believe that romantic love is not a trustworthy emotion". Hmm...Are you saying that because "arranged" marriages and not "love" marriages are prevalent in India? I think "arranged" marriages came into being as a means of protecting a culture when India was under an Islamic onslaught. I do not think "arranged" marriages came to be because of some profound thought on the part of Indians. Probably, what you mean by your statement, is that a guy may meet an exquisitely beautiful woman, and decide to spend the rest of his life with her and end up marrying her. But the crystallized chores of ordinary life (after the whirlwind romance with endless possibilities) kills the love. The same man, who professed undying love to the woman before marriage, ends up noticing every wrinkle on the body of his wife. In the US such a marriage would be headed for divorce. In India such a marriage will probably survive because the couple end up sacrificing their happiness to ensure an uninterrupted childhood for their kids. In my immediate family (7 uncles/aunts on my Pa's side and 6 uncles/aunts on my Ma's side) there has not been a single divorce case and I am pretty sure for a large majority of Indians this would be true. Maybe spouses just get along putting others ahead of the self...Maybe marriages survive because the social mobility for a divorced woman is severely restricted in comparison to the US...I dont know. I guess there is so much happening in India at any point in time that it is easy to forget your problems for a while. Ganesh Chaturti, Navratri, Common Wealth Games corruption :-), etc.

  2. I've been told by Indians that I'm being silly for thinking that I should be in love with the man I marry.

    I've heard the lines about how love will come later and certainly I've heard that my personal happiness it not of any great importance.

    Not that I'm thinking love needs to be this big, grand, dramatic experience like a Bollywood movie, but still, I want some kind of love to exist in my marriage!
    But yes, that statement was about the

  3. Well I agree with Kalbhairav. Here marriages are also based on love. Now a days arranged marriages mean that the couple is introduced by parents, the final decision is after all their own.
    The difference here is when the love dies out , people don't see that as a culturally valid reason to end the marriage and try their best to accommodate. In the US they probably would split.
    As far as cultural confusion is concerned, I too face it but not on such a scale as you. My father is south Indian, mother central Indian & I've spent time living all across India. The cultural differences are huge and in India each state is like a whole new country. What I do is that I just pick the best from these cultures and try to maximize my happiness.;).

  4. I like that idea, picking the best from each culture with the view to maximizing happiness. Sounds like a plan!

  5. was nt krishna and rukminis union a love marriage? In fact they got married against her family's strong opposition...vedic scholars were no dumb writers my dear fellow hindus, they had a plan for future generations in everything they scripted, no random fiction compiling, agree both ramayan and mahabharata (and bhagavatam) are Itihasas or epics written in post vedic period...surya

  6. A very interesting article. Thankyou for providing a link. will get back after taking more time reading it.

  7. I agree that Indians think that love will come after marriage.But what if it doesnot come. Romantic love goes out after sometime ,no doubt,But its fun to be in love .
    love is important to me.

  8. I really don't know. That's why I feel so confused right now. I guess it isn't just cultures, but different individual people telling me different things. That's why I'm going to take some time to myself to figure out what I believe.

  9. Lack of divorces in earlier generation of Indian families does not reflect the quality of those marriages.These days divorces are rising in India for both love and arranged marriages due to many factors - financial independence of women, rise in extramarital affairs due to decline in values and availability of more opportunities, divorce not considered a social stigma anymore at least in urban areas and in some communities, globalization, rise in income, rise in nuclear families and so on.

    I think the best situation in this case would be a healthy BALANCE between the 2 extreme paths mentioned in the blog. Marriage will never be an unending source of romance, passion and all that - there will be ups and downs. At the same time, it should not be an oppressive system in which there is no room for individual choices/will/ space/beliefs etc.

  10. Hello, Aamba again...

    I know one woman in early 40s who married when she was 21 or so [She was my roommate...]. She married without loving him & she learned to love him & that just made me 'wow!' when I heard that story.

    Yeah but I believe that there are 2 types of love: romantic love & love you have for family & close friends. Somehow i believe that marriage might be love like for close family, the caring important one.

    Then again... I'm only 16, never had bf & don't know anything about love...

    Oh & I do mix hindu & western country for feeling comfortable

  11. I'm very unsure about love. I think I need to be more sure about things before I marry, so I'm going to do some more studying and learning.

    I'm reading a few books about marriage, including Elizabeth Gilbert's latest. After Eat Pray Love she wrote a book called Commitment about the history of marriage and her relationship to it.

    I don't want to end up in a situation that is unfair to my husband either. Whoever he is, if he is expecting my love, then he should get it!

  12. Very wise words, SM. A middle ground, balance. That's what I'm always striving for in other things, why don't I ever apply that to romantic relationships?

  13. @alice, at 16 you havent got much to worry about, no boy at that age will be looking for 'any serious' relationships. Besides you /him dont have a clue about the careers you will 'land' into etc. As a hindu dad I would like you to wait until you are 19 or 20 before you think of ANY relationship whatso ever. You must focus on education and strngthen your prospects toget into a good job. Lay a strong foundation now....Iam preachy but with a good intention, you can ignore what I said. In this liberal and open societies its no big problem to get intoa relationship and equally easy to get out of it. So why hurry and distract oneself. With a good career you will have more freedom, than when you remain a dependent on a man for financial support and survival.

    That said most hindus put priorities like kids and a spouse ahead of romance. Hindus hate divorce because they dont want to hurt kids in anyway.If spouse is reasonably good and caring,even without ever being a romantic hero like what you see in indian movies thats good enough. A sincere man, not abusive, not being a slave to alcohol or other habits or not a cheat, reasonably intelligent bread winner, then the wife must be happy.

    If love marriages were to assure happiness tell me why 1 in 3 or 4 marriages fail in, say, USA? Why so many dating couples break up? Im not against love marriage and also I am not a proponent of an arranged marriage. One has to be a hindu, which means one adopts moderation as the material basis of life.One has to get busy with ones spiritual goal fulfilling instead.I know there are some pricks out there, who only cause troubles all their life, then divorce is the best way, I agree.-Surya

  14. Wise words, Surya. Alice, I myself did not start dating until I was nineteen and I was glad in the end that I waited that long. In high school I felt so left out and unloved, but I would not have gotten the kind of serious relationship I wanted at that time.

    The question of why so many love marriages end in divorce is a good one. I am studying and learning about it. I think that there has to be a middle ground in one's thinking. It's great to have love and romance, but to also look at practical concerns and whether this person is a good friend and a good person. As they say, romance fades and sometimes you feel upset with the other person. But I still want the basis and foundation of real love to start with!

    We'll see. I'm going to do some more study and research and try to practice surrendering to God and letting what is meant to be happen.