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.