Dear Auntie Sparknotes,
I’m a Muslim girl (so already that’ll tell you I can’t a) date b) have premarital relationships, or c) look badass by drinking vodka). I’m fully aware that I’m not supposed to be romantically involved with anyone before marriage but that’s where the problem is: marriage.
My parents are strong adherents to the classic Indian philosophy of “Oh beta, don’t worry about love or boys, we’ll find you a good Muslim Indian boy from India and you two can get married.” To clarify, it’s not like they’ll pick one guy and coerce me into choosing him; more like they’ll find a few and make me pick from them — kinda like having someone sort through all your mail and give you only the stuff they think is important; so, yes, while they’ll take the junk mail out, they might also throw away your NME or Wired magazine, comics, etc.
I already disagree with my parents on numerous points, and I actually give a really big hoot about who I have to share breakfast with for a lifetime. On top of that, my parents want me to perfectly fit the culturally accepted ideals and norms so that “I get good suitors”. (Side rant: you will not believe how much my mom scolds me for going out in the sun — “you’re ruining your color!” — or complains that I’m short — “you have the same genes as your sister why is she taller? You could’ve been taller, you didn’t try.") In our culture, it’s all about the mothers being matchmakers for their children: girls dress up for (gender-segregated) parties not for fun but to get noticed by the mothers, and everyone goes for an M.D. because it’s considered the most prestigious job you can get; it’s like a guarantee for a spouse.
But I never subscribed for any of this! I don’t want to jump through hoops pretending to be someone I’m not, just so I can find a suitable partner. Being an independent-minded, American-grown woman, I’ve got my own bunch of kaleidoscopic opinions and ideas on how things work, marriage included. I’m just afraid when the time comes, under duress (e.g by my parents), I’ll get fed up and just wind up going along only to later regret my choice.
I’ve tried sitting my mom down and talking to her about this, but when I try to show her my perspective, she just scoffs at how “naïve” and “American” I am and brushes it off as she knows better and says my opinion will change with time and experience. How am I supposed to deal with this? How can I possibly find someone who meets everyone’s criteria (mine, my parent's, my culture's, my religion's, etc.)? Is it better to just let my parents figure it out for me — and hope I change enough to agree with their choices?
And by that, I mean that it is never "better," ever, under any circumstances, to hedge your marital choices on the hope that the person will change.
Even if, as in this case, the person is you.
So, to answer your question, the way you deal with this is as follows: by asserting your status as the foremost authority on who you are and what you want—and by cultivating a healthy suspicion of anyone who claims to know better than you what will make you happy. And that's true even when the person saying so is your parent.
Because parents, loving and wise and well-intentioned as they are, nevertheless do not always know what's best for you—nor do they always have your best interests at heart just by virtue of being parents. The mere act of having a child doesn't turn you from an ordinary human into a paragon of selfless sacrifice; parents are still just people, and like all people, they're not immune to the effects of ego, bias, or self-interest. And while their guidance and experience can be valuable, it can't trump the value of your own feelings when it comes to decisions that affect the rest of your life. Decisions that you, not they, will be living with the consequences of. Decisions of the sort that every person has to make for herself.
And that's why, before you do anything else, you need to value and trust what your heart is telling you.
Because you're not naive, Sparkler. You're a thoughtful and intelligent young woman with your own desires, dreams, and values—and while you respect your parents' views, you also disagree with them in fundamental ways. And not only is that okay, it's an experience that everyone in the world goes through at some point, on some level. Right now, a hundred people who were raised all their lives to think, act, and choose a certain way are discovering that happiness lies elsewhere. Somewhere, the child of a self-made man is deciding he doesn't want to go into the family business. The child of a bigot is proposing to his mixed-race girlfriend. The child of a hippie liberal is registering Republican. The child of a Westboro Baptist Church member is deciding that God does not, in fact, hate fags.
And you, the child of parents who subscribe to a very particular approach to dating, mating, and marriage, have realized that you... don't.
And while there's nothing wrong with your parents' adherence to a system that promotes a very particular ideal of beauty, accomplishment, and marriageability (even if I personally think it's distasteful to groom people like prize ponies in search of a superficially attractive pairing), that system only works if everybody involved shares and values that ideal. But since you don't—and since the kind of guy who'd be a good match for you isn't likely to, either—you're not wrong to conclude that participating in this type of courtship would just mean being examined from all your worst angles by people you'd never want to impress in the first place.
Does this mean that you can't or shouldn't allow your parents to introduce you to men? Actually, no: it may even be that you can find ways to work within their system to find guys you get along with. (For instance, you could make your participation contingent upon meeting all the eligible bachelors and determining their suitability yourself, rather than letting your parents decide who makes the first cut— or you could agree to give it a try, but reserve the right to test out the Muslim-American dating scene, too.) But that's only after you resolve to make this choice for yourself, based on what's important to you—and to do so even if it means disappointing somebody. Because having people moan and gripe about what a bad choice you've made might not be fun, but it's nothing compared to the agony of living each day in a life that's not authentic to you, based on ideals you don't believe in, waking up next to a person you don't particularly like.
So, take this opportunity to examine your own feelings, your parents' desires, and your cultural and religious edicts, and discard as criteria anything that doesn't line up with your personal values—no matter how dearly-held by someone else. Decide, if you want, that you don't give a damn about having lighter skin or a doctoral degree; decide, if you want, to opt out of a system that goes against everything you believe about what makes somebody worthwhile. You have the power to decide why and how and whom to marry. You have the power to declare, out loud, that you don't care about making a good match so much as making the right one. And yes, you have the power to decide to put your marital prospects into someone else's hands. But if you do, let it be because you trusted their ability to safeguard your happiness, not because you doubted your own.
Are your parents in charge of your love life, or is it your responsibility? Tell us in the comments! And to get advice from Auntie, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.