Lately, as I’ve been working with some of my Asian clients, some of their pain has hit a deep chord within me:
I feel like my mom won’t love and accept me unless and until I get married.
I don’t want to be a burden on my parents any longer. They are constantly worried about when I’m going to get married.
I constantly feel a sense of shame and guilt for being single. My parents don’t even know what to say to their friends about me. It seems like my success at work isn’t enough!
Ugh, I’ve been there.
For nearly 14 years—during my twenties and thirties—my dating life was a point of tension between my parents and me. Even though I was trying to get a hold on my career and date in a confident, healthy way, I would find myself falling apart, trying to manage everyone’s expectations. I went from relationship to relationship, thinking each man was ‘the one,’ but always ending up with heartbreak.
I love my parents and have so much compassion for them. After all, it couldn’t have been easy to see their little girl growing up so fast and possibly dating and marrying outside the Indian culture! Moreover, in India, most people have an arranged marriage, and my parents were trying to do their best, given their duty, to make sure I was settled with a kind, decent man who could provide for the both of us. They were perturbed by the dating scene (who isn’t!). Also, dating many partners (and of course, not knowing if it’s going to end in marriage) is a big taboo in our culture—something that brings shame to a family.
In a way, they were mirroring my desires—to find the man of my dreams (I was, and continue to be, a die-hard romantic), and of course, not experience the pain of heartbreak, something no parent wants for their child.
I know this now, but I still feel a pang in my heart when I think of how tumultuous our relationship was.
There was a hidden gift to all of this. It was because of the focus on marriage that I learned how to become a proficient dater, find my soulmate and also became a relationship and dating coach!
However, it was also because of this pressure that I kept getting into painful relationships with men and even got engaged to an Indian man who was dangerously wrong for me.
I was a toxic mess inside while I was dating. I had no idea that my low self-worth, shame, guilt, resentment and lack of self-esteem were shaping my identity and creating drama in my love life.
Some questions that I began to entertain, which helped me navigate my dating life:
Why I would keep dating men, even if they were distant, unavailable, or even slightly abusive?
Why I would push away men who were kind and sweet but did not fulfill boxes on my ‘checklist’?
Why I would make men jump through hoops to prove their love for me and create drama and fights if things didn’t go my way?
Why I would easily feel jealous and insecure, and kept working hard to be a ‘trophy woman’ to attract and keep a man?
Don’t get me wrong. I knew I could get any guy I wanted. But I would subconsciously keep attracting men who would exacerbate my shame-based patterns and I had no idea how to make a relationship last.
There were many times when I was single where I felt as if I wanted to die. I know this sounds drastic but I had the internal messaging that unless a man validates and wants me, I am nothing. Plus, the pain of heartache and loneliness was excruciating.
[Read related: There’s More to Me Than Marriage]
My self-worth as a woman was tied to my marital and dating status. I also had a belief that if I wanted to be respected by a man, I needed to be smart and successful. Now, looking back, I realize that shame, guilt, low self-worth, and wounded patriarchy runs deep in our Indian heritage.
Until my generation, women had no say about whom they could marry and when. My grandmother got married at the ripe age of 14 and had her first child at 17. In India, women whose husbands died became outcastes and beggars as they were never given economic independence. If a woman wanted to leave her abusive relationship, she had nowhere to go. Many women aren’t allowed to work so they are all housewives.
Additionally, sexual shaming starts the moment a girl gets her period. She isn’t told anything about it, and once she gets her period, she is taught that it is dirty. She is kept at home and not allowed to date so she won’t get pregnant and bring shame to the family. Women in India are not allowed to sleep with their families, go to the kitchen or the temple when they have their periods. You are taught that menstrual blood is foul, and I remember disgustingly tossing my used pad in a gutter (ironic, given that the menstrual cycle is revered as the most sacred part of a woman’s power to create life).
As soon as a girl becomes a teen, she is teased and sexually harassed by men, and is reminded by her family not to bring shame by becoming pregnant (or being ‘slutty’ in any way).
One of the saddest things is that when a girl is young (especially in poorer families), she is told that she doesn’t belong to her own family and she is constantly domesticated and trained to be a good daughter-in-law for her future husband and family. Parents have to begin saving for their daughters’ dowry from the day a girl is born (usually huge sums of money that leaves families in debt), truly making the girl child a burden on the family. This is the cause of sexism and female infanticide in India.
I wanted to create a new path for women. One that is empowered and self-loving. One that elevates a woman to her true Goddess status—the great creator and nurturer of life, the true bodhisattva—the one without whom nothing else could exist!
Even though my parents instilled confidence in me, empowered me in every single way, and has never made me feel ‘less than’ a boy (for which I am infinitely grateful), the ancestral trauma did seep into my psyche.
Looking back, I realize that my low self-esteem affected every part of my life. What career choices I made, what friends I hung out with, my avoidance and lack of commitment, and of course, my painful relationship patterns. I had trouble feeling like I deserved greatness in my life, and constantly settled for ‘good enough.’ I was even judgmental of others, feeling like other people weren’t measuring up to my standards and weren’t worthy either.
Does any of this resonate with you? Do you wonder if your lineage has affected your self-worth and dating life?
Whether it’s Indian or any other lineage, I know that it’s been a difficult ride for women. And it affects how we, as modern women, date.
I was able to learn how to love myself and undergo a transformation in my love life and career, and also end the cycle of low self-worth. I met and married the man of my dreams who is truly the answer to all my prayers, and I’m infinitely grateful to my path. We’re creating the foundation for a partnership on our terms – healthy communication, respect, trust, and healing. We’re having beautiful daughters of our own, and raising them in an environment of love and acceptance. I also finally dared to leave my corporate job and start my coaching practice, mentoring thousands of women in love.
I now know that my ancestors and parents are well-meaning, and were limited by their capacities at the time, but they’ve also endowed me with incredible gifts of my Indian heritage such as my values, my ideas around faith and spirituality, the sacred role of women in a society, seeking wisdom, respecting our elders in our society and so much more. I’m now filled with gratitude for my culture, parents, and ancestors and realize that I had a chance to integrate all my different aspects of myself. I feel beautiful and proud of my lineage.
If you are reading this, I believe that you must end this generational wounding that women in your family face. You are worthy, deserving and capable of creating a life and partnership on your terms – a life that brings you happiness and fulfillment. I know this is possible for you. There are many teachers, programs, books out there. Pick one up, and begin the process!