The problem with dating Asian women…


by Sunny
25th April, 2008 at 4:15 pm    

Heh, I’m not talking about my experiences here by the way, just in case you thought I was getting all personal.
I’m doing an interview with Sathnam Sanghera about his just-published book, which I’m reading right now. It’s quite good actually, in a therapeutic sort of way. This is one of the questions I asked him:

Did the book help you get your head around dating women in general?

He says:

Yes, it did. I dated both Indian and English women in my twenties and used to make all sorts of sweeping generalisations which, on reflection, had more to do with my own neuroses than them. At one point in the book I go as far as saying “second generation Punjabi women – being the product of patriarchal culture – are either depressingly servile or terrifyingly aggressive… Sikh girls don’t have personalities, they have post-traumatic disorder. They have to fight so hard and so persistently for their independence that they become brutalized by the experience, and even when they have their freedom, they can’t stop fighting.”

There may be some truth in this, as there is in most generalisations, but I can see now that I struggled with Punjabi women, not because they were mad, but because I invariably met them in arranged marriage scenarios, which are often strained and awkward… I say it in the book, but I think there is something intrinsic to such meetings that makes them stressful.

Existing in the grey area between a date and an arranged marriage meeting, you have to act like you’re there because you want to be, even though you are compelled to be there; you have to flirt but at the same time imply no sexual intention whatsoever; you have to reveal things about yourself, without giving too much away (you can’t risk damaging information getting back to your family); and because your ‘date’ has been chosen by someone else, and because so many British Asians are (like me), for want of a better word, schizophrenic, constantly switching between personas to fit into different worlds, you have absolutely no idea what end of the Punjabi spectrum they are coming from, and whether they mean what they say. They could be anything from a sword-wielding religious Sikh who has never cut their hair or left their house without a chaperone (or pretending to be), to a nymphomaniac alcoholic who is throwing up into your lap after an hour and demanding you move on to China Whites for a boogie.

In short, I think I struggled with Indian girls because I was being forced to meet them by my family, whereas, things took a more natural course elsewhere. Now that obligation has gone – my family still want me to marry a sikh girl, but they would accept anyone – I don’t feel so chippy. Frankly, I’ll take anyone, English, Indian, whatever. The only problem now, of course, is the usual relationship stuff… finding someone who can stand you, finding someone you can stand the sight of, getting your head around the idea of spending your whole life with just one person…

So, can anyone else relate to that or have any thoughts?

Also, anyone have questions for Sathnam? He said he’d be happy to answer them (not all though!) as he’s a PP reader too.


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  1. Leon — on 25th April, 2008 at 6:21 pm  

    Don’t recognise his stereotypes at all tbh.

    I think I struggled with Indian girls because I was being forced to meet them by my family

    Yep says it all about his experiences really.

  2. Gurpreet — on 25th April, 2008 at 7:28 pm  

    “In short, I think I struggled with Indian girls because I was being forced to meet them by my family, whereas, things took a more natural course elsewhere.”

    i think that’s probably the key point in the whole thing. Being forced into an uncomfortable situation often brings out things in people which aren’t their natural behaviour and so you get a very skewered view of them.

    I’m sure i will have some questions for Mr Sanghera when i finish:) I’ve started reading the book, but not got very far with it yet,i’m finding it difficult to relate to…i’m panjabi sikh and although some of the mindset of his parents match that of mine i think there is a big difference and that makes it less interesting to read for me…obviously there will be thousands of people who the experiences will resonate with. i’ll definitely finish reading it once exam season is over though!

    on a side note; i left the book lying around in our front room for a few weeks and without fail every family (immediate and beyond) who came in would see a sikh kid on the front page, pick it up and read a little bit of it..and these are people who very rarely read anything. the point of that story: Sikh kids = increased book sales!;)

  3. Dalbir — on 25th April, 2008 at 10:04 pm  

    That sort of made me laugh. I went on a blind “arranged” date a little while back (my lovely grandpa was so insistent!). Personally I found it a bit strange and contrived but I know of MANY people who have solid successful marriages (well so far anyway) from such introductions.

    I relate to that point about not knowing where in the Sikh “spectrum” your date fits. I know under such circumstances there is a tendency to try and project what is assumed or judged to be the correct persona. Often this is a world apart from reality.

    Reflecting on past relationships with girls of a Sikh background, I would say that they have been pretty cool (until the downward slide – which is probably as much my fault as anyone else). I think one thing that strains relationships between Sikhs are the expectations of family but I don’t want to play into stereotypes here. There is a rigidity in terms of status that anyone from a Panjabi background would understand.

    ————
    Sikh girls don’t have personalities, they have post-traumatic disorder. They have to fight so hard and so persistently for their independence that they become brutalized by the experience, and even when they have their freedom, they can’t stop fighting.”
    ————

    I think this applies to a 2nd generation that suffered from not having sufficient examples of positive normative behaviour within their own community at that time. I think they were envious of perceived western freedoms and many tried to “escape” their families to ape them with both positive and negative effects.

    But another unexplored area is the impact of having strong matriarchal role models. Despite the stereotypes of the timid “asian” women, many Sikh women I recall (I’m talking about the original generation here), were strong minded with a commanding presence within the family and wider community.

    However it must be said that many of the 3rd generation seem infinitely more confident and at ease with their heritage than many in their mid 30s. I’ve often thought that the pressures of the early immigrant experience of maintaining and having to create a community from scratch leaves many casualties in its wake. Once things become more settled and sure, the children become more confident and self assured themselves.

    I haven’t read the book yet btw (it’s on order).

  4. Boyo — on 26th April, 2008 at 9:04 am  

    Well my Canadian-Bengali mate has just been dumped by his pain-in-the-butt WASP princess (ok, she was 10 years his junior and neurotic to boot) and is now for the first time seriously considering his Brahmin family’s long-standing offer to set him up with a suitable bride.

    TBH, in his case it might work – he’s looking for all the things that his ex was not: stability, a family, security, etc. I think these are the things that matter: you will make a relationship work if you really want to. An arranged jobee might work in this case because as long as interests coincide with attraction, there is also the family pressure to make it work, which will counteract the pick n’ mix, disposable attitude engendered within Western society.

    But it’s always a gamble innit. That’s the ugly beauty of life.

  5. Ravi Naik — on 26th April, 2008 at 3:21 pm  

    The “Asian” experience in the West is so highly overrated. And Sathnam as others, seem to cling on the same old cliché “because so many British Asians are (like me), for want of a better word, schizophrenic, constantly switching between personas to fit into different worlds”.

    I would say that everyone, regardless of their ethnicity and background, move around different personas in relation to: friends, close friends, family, close family, parents, grandparents, in-laws, people we do not know, colleagues from work, etc. Our world is comprised by different worlds, and we change personas to interact with each of these worlds.

    On the subject of women, all I know is that you know that you are in a long-term relationship, when you become unable to describe her with a noun and an adjective – women are way too complex, no matter what race or culture they are from.

  6. Gurpreet — on 26th April, 2008 at 6:44 pm  

    “women are way too complex, no matter what race or culture they are from.”

    nope, PEOPLE in general are complex no matter what sex,race or culture

  7. Boyo — on 26th April, 2008 at 8:24 pm  

    Nope, women ARE way too complex ;-)

  8. Gurpreet — on 26th April, 2008 at 8:28 pm  

    lol…i’m not going to agree with you but i’m not going to argue either ;)

  9. Leon — on 26th April, 2008 at 10:41 pm  

    Only thick men think only women are too complex in my experience…

  10. douglas clark — on 26th April, 2008 at 11:41 pm  

    I don’t think women are any more complex than men. It’s just that they ask us to understand them. And, sometimes, we don’t.

    Story of my life, really.

  11. Gurpreet — on 26th April, 2008 at 11:50 pm  

    “It’s just that they ask us to understand them”

    eh? do people not try and understand each other in general?! isn’t that how most human r’ships develop

  12. Leon — on 26th April, 2008 at 11:52 pm  

    Gurpreet #11, yep that’s my view also.

  13. douglas clark — on 27th April, 2008 at 2:22 am  

    Gurpreet @ 11,

    Err.

    No.

    People seem to deliberately see difference as a quite positive thing. I tend to think that what we have together is more important. If you see life that way too, then we are as one.

    There you go.

  14. Desi Italiana — on 27th April, 2008 at 8:44 am  

    It’s probably not a good idea to assume that a commentator is a male by their handle, but I’ll hazard a guess and say, isn’t it funny that most of the comments here are by guys? :)

    Also, I think these stereotypes and trying to fit someone into a “Sikh spectrum”– especially a spectrum labeled and defined by religion– is a bit weird. When we talk about white folks whose religious identification/affiliation is Christian, we don’t say, “Oh, I don’t know where to fit Fanny in the ‘Christian spectrum’– evil like Eve, or passive and man pleasing like Sara?” So why is it that we think it’s ok to code South Asians that way?

    I think that the biggest problem facing the South Asian diaspora is being plagued and indoctrinated by cliches on how we are– we are “confused 2-gers,” we are “schizophrenic,” that religion is much more of a defining factor for us, we are this and that. Again, it wouldn’t be fair to describe, pre-judge, and think of whites that way, and I don’t see why it’s ok to do it to ourselves.

    And with regards to stereotypes, it’s important to get to know a variety of individuals– ie stepping out of your own realities, etc. If you hang around a bunch of yuppies whose prime motive in life is making money, then it’s no surprise that the desi folks there are superficial. And this applies to all, whether they are desi or not.

    **

    Wish Sathnam good luck in finding his rani.

  15. Boyo — on 27th April, 2008 at 9:37 am  

    “Only thick men think only women are too complex in my experience…”

    Only thick men think they understand women, in my experience…

  16. douglas clark — on 27th April, 2008 at 11:07 am  

    Thought I’d already posted this. But there you go.

    THE DEFENCE OF DESI

    Desi is a fierce woman. In the vernacular, not someone you’d take a broken pay packet home to.

    Still and all, she makes a huge amount of sense. I am not frightened by her.

    Perhaps because I know I have no chance, being sixty and ugly. So thus I can debate her on her own terms.

    Still, and all, Desi is not sexist, she is not racist and if her comments on her thread about Nepal are to be taken as read, she is not your typical American neo-con.

    She is OK, in my book.

  17. douglas clark — on 27th April, 2008 at 11:12 am  

    Boyo,

    Only thick men think they understand women, in my experience…

    Yup.

  18. Desi Italiana — on 27th April, 2008 at 12:57 pm  

    Hey Douglas,

    Thanks for the “DEFENCE,” but what did I need to be defended from? Did I miss something, like a nasty comment that has now been deleted?

  19. Desi Italiana — on 27th April, 2008 at 12:59 pm  

    “Only thick men think they understand women, in my experience…”

    Look, most people are hard to understand, whether male or female. This stereotype that women are hard to understand and somehow men aren’t is a bunch of bull.

  20. Ravi Naik — on 27th April, 2008 at 4:13 pm  

    Now, now… you complex people, behave.

    My point in #5, was not that women are more complex than men (who is insane enough to go there?!) – but that in my view, Sathnam’s description denote that he probably never established a long-term relationship with any of the women he described, and thus he is constrained by one adjective descriptions (servile, aggressive, etc.), and obviously women are more complex than that once you get to know them in a deeper level. I should have made that clearer.

  21. Nav — on 27th April, 2008 at 4:34 pm  

    Now call me crazy but I totally agree with this:

    At one point in the book I go as far as saying “second generation Punjabi women – being the product of patriarchal culture – are either depressingly servile or terrifyingly aggressive… Sikh girls don’t have personalities, they have post-traumatic disorder. They have to fight so hard and so persistently for their independence that they become brutalized by the experience, and even when they have their freedom, they can’t stop fighting.”

  22. digitalheer — on 29th April, 2008 at 7:32 am  

    Nav, you’re crazy.


    As a Punjabi Sikh American 2nd gen woman, I’m a bit flummoxed at how comfortable Sangera is “diagnosing” the Sikh women he’s being introduced to. Post traumatic stress disorder? Is that an easy way to dismiss a person burdened by constrictions of expectations/behavior, or to avoid analysis of oneself and outlook?

    I realize that part of the theme of Sangera’s book is psychiatric disease, but really, pathologizing women as crazy is so 1950′s. I expect better from across the pond.

    -
    Also, DesiItaliana. I agree with so much that you have to say.

  23. Mike — on 30th May, 2008 at 10:05 am  

    1. Men are more usually more complex than women- and I’m a guy- but a man will usually give in soon rather than later on any issue except one particular one (and I have explained this one issue to women many times, and no matter what culture they are from, enough of them make this mistake)- see point 3.

    2. I do find that as a white guy I need to try twice as hard as an Asian male to go out with an Asian woman- whether South or East. Seems to me that Asian men are lucky- they do not seem to make much effort, but women from their cultures are imbibed to prefer them. But if you do manage to go out with an Asian women, whether South or East, they are ultimately as relaxed about their bodies, actually I think more so, than European/ white women. They just take longer to become more intimate- which is actually fair enough. Generally I think this is actually a sign of confidence/ self control- and that they do not need to become intimate too soon in order to make/ or misguidely keep a realtionship.

    3. That one rule- as all men know- she could be unemployed, not dress so well, even mean to old ladies (she has to be really hot if she does this), and kinda cheap (unfortunately I find a number of women are), but whatever she does she cannot mention the concept of sex and another male in the same discussion. Eg. ‘I actually like doing this when I have sex. . and my ex. . ‘; ‘My favorite position is. . and this one guy. . ‘; ‘Yesterday I was in the museum. . there was this French guy- and I love their accents- who. . ‘. Even if she was a porn-star it makes no difference, her past is her’s, as long as when she is with me she is with me completely, and if she is not that interested then she can leave. Fairly simple rule but the amount of women who are surprised by this when I tell them, and more to the point make this mistake, is fairly notable. Men pretty well are instinctive not to make this mistake. But women let me warn, and this is where you think men might be ‘complex’, if you do make the above mistake, a man will not actually react, unlike a woman would if a man made this mistake to her, but he will over the next 10 days come-up with a good other reason to stop seeing you.

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