A few regular readers have asked me recently why I haven’t written much about dating or Indian men lately. Truth be told, there really isn’t much to tell. I haven’t dated for a long time, and am actually quite happy that way. I do still have some interesting experiences trying to understand men here, but I’ve been precluded from writing about most of them thanks to some male friends who have specifically asked that I don’t write about them. I’ve honoured their requests, but unfortunately it’s meant some of my best material will never be published. But for those of you who know me personally, a couple of glasses of wine should be enough to coax the stories out of me.
I have however observed and learned a lot about Indian women lately by talking to a few single male friends. I’ve been pondering why so many of my male friends don’t seem to date. These are lovely, eligible, educated, attractive, enlightened and interesting men, yet they seem to be perpetually single. One sighed as he recounted dates that he had been on. Another avoided the question by deflecting it, recounting tales of a female friend who is having trouble finding a potential mate despite “seeing” many men through the arranged marriage circuit. But all had stories of why they don’t really date Indian women.
Dating in India here is mainly for those with an education and some wealth, so these stories really are limited to that section of society. But what I’ve heard from my discussions with my male friends is that they find the expectations of women they meet simply too much. For example one friend recounted sitting on first dates with women and being asked questions about his income. Worse still another was ordered by a potential date that he would need to earn more to support her because she didn’t want to work. Another felt like he was at a job interview when he was given a long laundry list of questions about his future plans and thoughts. There was no romance, no giggling and certainly no anticipation or flirting. Rather these men were being put through an inquisition to see if they were eligible for the role of husband to Daddy’s little princess.
Needless to say there were no second dates. Just a lot of frustration and disappointment.
Even when they meet a woman who does seem like she’s actually interested in them and not their bank balance, they continue to be apprehensive. Some have watched friends marry women who go from being lovely and supportive to domineering and emotionally abusive the minute the wedding sarees have been put away. One commented that it appears as if the love and affection that led to marriage seems to have been a complete farce to just close the deal.
Others have watched newly wed women just quit their job and flat out refuse to contribute financially to the household once they are married, even though there are no children or parents to look after. Here in India, most with means have a maid who cleans and even a cook, so there isn’t much work to be done to maintain the household except boss other people around and attend kitty parties (the term used in India for “ladies who lunch”). It seems while women cling to the idea of female empowerment, some don’t really want to live the reality. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for someone not working if they don’t want to and can afford not to, but surely in a marriage it’s a decision that should be made jointly.
And no, this certainly isn’t every woman. None of my married female Indian friends behave like this. They all work very hard at both their job and their relationships. But I do certainly hear a lot of issues from my male friends who would like nothing more than to settle into a relationship with a great girl who appreciates them for who they are.
I wonder if it’s in part to do with the dating culture. It seems to me that modern India is at a cross-roads when it comes to relationships. One foot is trying to take the western path of dating and finding your own mate, while the other is firmly stepped in tradition which relies on arrangements and nuclear female roles. So while it’s fine to date and find your own mate, dating is still treated by some as if they are just brief introductions that will lead quickly to marriage rather than a prelude to romance and courtship.
While more couples do live together before marriage here, it’s still quite taboo and certainly not the norm. Many people still live with their parents until marriage, and then live with their in-laws, so for them there really is limited scope and places for western-style relationships to develop. One of my platonic friends won’t even allow me in his house because he doesn’t want to explain to his parents who I am, so what hope does he have in building a long-term relationship with someone that lets them see how he behaves in his own space.
No matter how modern many people appear, their lives are still constrained by so many taboos and hidden rules that make being able to date freely difficult. In a weird way, it kind of makes sense that dating for some women has become more like an opportunity to interview someone and close the deal quickly if a suitor is appropriate. They can then do what they wish after marriage, because of course divorce is still considered taboo (although it is increasing, but sadly I suspect not as much as infidelity).
It all makes me sad. Sad for the women who are making these choices to work within the system, and so sad for the great men out there who would make fantastic husbands but of course won’t compromise themselves for it. For them, the feeling that they are not much more than a meal ticket and a credit card is almost palpable. They and their potential wife, deserve so much better.