Sunday, November 05, 2006

Desi Dating And Matrimony

A veteran war horse of the dating game once gave me advice out of pity for my naiveté "Spend time just talking to them, go out for lunch, forget dinner do lunch or coffee..go dutch, disengage all the trappings of 'dating' while still dating." Anyone would agree all of that makes good sense. In an ideal world, one would graduate from friendship to relationship to love and the transitions would be natural and seamless. That is theory and then there is practice.

I can speak only to the desi condition not having dated non-desis. We seem to have taken arranged matrimony into our own hands, added to it a western sensibility that is not part of its inherent nature and thrown "dating" into it for good measure. We will get the horoscopes checked out before embarking on anything serious but also expect to feel that natural vibe that tells us we have found "the one". We do not want to get emotionally entangled with the prospect and would prefer to hide behind the shield of our match making parents yet we want to be in love before marrying. There are more contradictions that can be counted in our dating tending mating recipe.

With a formula like that, the enterprise is doomed even before it gets off the ground. It does not help that one of the two parties has a greater need and urgency for closure than the other. Many of us are guilty of introducing a "relationship" element into a nascent friendship and then strangulating it within a time-boxed denouement. The resulting stress is usually enough to sap all the vital energy that it takes to move things forward.

Most desi encounters begin with the parties agreeing at least in principle that they should start as friends and take things forward slowly and should it not work out disengage gracefully. Inevitably, somewhere along the way (and often very soon) one or other of the two will step up the pace and push to the next level even without having reached any level of comfort as "friends".

For men that might mean implying and expecting a committed and exclusive status when in truth they may emotionally not be ready even for a "commit to commit" . The strategies include but are not limited to all-night phone calls, inundating her mailbox (physical and electronic) with notes and tokens of love, meeting several times within a short period of time creating an illusion of a stronger, longer relationship than it truly is.

Finally there is talk about marriage, in-laws, future plans of returning to India and god forbid the yet to be born children - essentially dream peddling without any realistic notion of a possible future together. Once you engage each other at levels that are beyond the scope of friendship its not possible to go back. You can only dye a fabric a shade darker than its original color and not lighter - you try to bleach and you may ruin its texture for good.

Women may act of out need for emotional closeness that the previous string of pseudo relationships did not bring. Then there is the dread biological clock factor which is mostly a state of mind and has little to do with actual biology. When the prospect feels right, she may not be able to curb her enthusiasm and end up sending alarming distress signals - he is the male with the right plumage but she zeros on him with more force than he is able to withstand. She may force an early read on the relationship to assess if it is worth pursuing. Time spent in pursuing a prospect is time wasted if the prospect does not turn into husband.

To invest time, energy and emotions on a man without any line of sight towards the goal of matrimony may be more than she is willing to do. Dating becomes a commitment snare that she is as desirous of laying out as the man is of escaping. At the end of several years in the dating scene she will either suffer from attention deficit disorder in relationships never allowing time for things to run their course or just cling to the boyfriend of two years from habit and sheer exhaustion.

Men have told me that women will offer to sleep with them just to jump start into relationship mode and hope that physical intimacy will enable them to extract a commitment of marriage. Then there are the women who at the end of the second in person meeting ask if the man is ready to name a date for the marriage and will make him feel like a degenerate pile of trash for not being able to do so. Presumably men neither seek the slut nor the sati but the happy medium in between that was personified to our generation by the girl in the VIP suitcase ad - the pretty girl next door who has everything a man needs in a wife blended in perfect proportion.

Men claim that women of a certain vintage have a dating playbook and it is often impossible to know the person she really is. They will display the exact mix of spontaneity, fun, wit, charm, loving and caring for a man to feel the warm and fuzzy they need to in a potential wife. Some men get suckered in while others wonder why the vibe feels so manufactured. The former get married and turn disappointed when the woman finally shows her true colors once safely ensconced in the state of matrimony.

The later keep shopping in the ever growing pool of prospects who can be found online - there is always better accomplished, better educated and better looking women out there and each encounter sets up expectations for a bigger, better deal around the corner. Shopping for a spouse can turn addictive. When at last they do stop and get hitched, men are left to wonder why the nymphomaniacs they were dating have zero interest in sex a year into marriage or why the woman who checked on their flu twenty times and brought in chicken soup from the other end of town does not have the time to cook a single dinner in a month.

Likewise women are disappointed in the men they date and marry for a wide variety of reasons. The man is no longer turned on by her confidence, her decision to go back to school for an MBA and her successful career when in fact those were the things that once attracted him to her. They can't agree on the right time to start family less the right time to stop. Her parents are are a little less equal than his parents, all of her money is his money but some of his money is always out of bounds - it is funneled back home through an NRI account and a credit card with an astronomical credit limit. It is the least he can do to assuage his guilt about not being there in India to take care of his parents.

The theme of interfering in-laws is a common across most desi marriages that go kaput. Despite the couple having every reason to stay happily together they are not able to because of the parents being privy to too much in their marriage. This aspect hardly manifests itself in the dating period when the couple is challenging the traditional wisdom of arranged matrimony.

The western sensibility that enabled the marriage is not extended to daily functioning of the institution itself in as such there is nothing to tell a couple that came together via dating from one that was arranged to be married. One would think there would be distinct differences contributing to the success parameters of one or the other. Marriage is probably one of the most seriously challenged desi establishments today suffering from a sub optimal mashup of the occidental and oriental world views of getting into and surviving life long relationships.


SFGary said...

You paint a dire picture. What you need is a nice glass or two of a good Sonoma Zin. Its amazing how the world is all of a sudden brighter, more hopeful...

Other than the fact that the immigrant desi typically has a harder time shifting gears to a western mode of dating and finding a mate, the larger problem is outsize expectations fueled by overly romantic notions. There are probably not enough men (or women as the case may be) to fit the bill just right.

Heartcrossings said...

SFG - Mood enhancing drugs may do the trick better but I guess I'll pass :)You're right about the overly romantic notions. Some people remain in forever 16 in their minds. The rest of us who grow up have to bear the brunt of their emotional retardation.