I am the daughter of two immigrant parents who are, by all accounts, are a product of a successful arranged marriage, which will turn 50 in December. I was born in a small southern town in the US. My folks were among the first Indian families to grace the Blue Ridge Mountains. And for as long as I can remember I have been caught between two cultures. The dance I had to do between being born in America and brought up by Indian immigrant parents was never more on display than when it came to relationships – love, dating, marriage… all of it.
I consider myself very lucky to have an open relationship with my parents. They are quite progressive and truly fostered my independence in every aspect of my life. But, there was a great divide when it came to dating. Simply put, my mom could not relate. At all. Casual dating was a foreign concept to her. She did not stand in my way of dating, but she also could not ever really understand it. In high school I fell in love for the first time. HARD. I dated a boy for 3 years. As we sailed into the spring semester of senior year, he smashed my heart into 4000 pieces. That is a story for another day, but I will never forget my mom’s reaction. I was left broken in the way only a first love heartbreak can leave you. My mom swiftly tried to come to the rescue. She arranged a dinner out with a few of my best girl friends. As we lifted our forks to eat my mom made a quick toast. I was starting to tear up, imagining what words of comfort and strength she would impart to her wounded daughter. She took my hand and held it gently, like she has so many times over my life. She looked deeply into my eyes, then around the table of my girlfriends who had lifted me and held my fragile heart and simply said, “Well, aren’t we all glad that is over”. That was it. We never spoke another word about it.
Dating was simply one of the few things we could not really, honestly talk about. My mom’s ideas and notions of dating came not from her own experiences, but from watching soap operas. Her standards and expectations of a partner were less based in reality, and more based on romantic comedies. For a long while, this led me down a dangerous path of holding unrealistically high expectations for love, relationships and for the people I was dating. I envisioned date nights to be wild, romantic, over the top acts. Imagine walking into your bedroom with a new dress laid out on your bed with a note attached to be ready at 8. Followed by a whirlwind evening filled with surprise after surprise – dinner at your favorite place, a concert, coming home to your bed covered in rose petals… you get the idea. But, that, that is the stuff only in movies. Those ridiculous romantic ideals are smoke and mirrors and oftentimes fade as quickly as they appear. It also can lead you down a yellow brick road that leads to nowhere, but disappointment. Disappointment in others, in your relationship, and, worst of all, disappointment in yourself for allowing these ridiculous expectations to swirl around in your head and color your love life.
It has taken me a while, but I’ve come to realize that I am a much happier, more fulfilled person, and better partner if I ease up on expectations. I stopped chasing the mirage and looking wildly from side to side searching for the perfect relationship anywhere I could find it on the horizon. We are all only human. None of us are actors on a movie set. Nor are we stepping out from the perfectly curated pictures posted on social media. We are real people trying to navigate through the muddy waters of life and hopefully do that with a partner alongside us. Once you have that person, let’s all try to ease up expectations – of ourselves, of them, of the relationship. The excitement of the new relationship will wane, and after it does, you want to have a relationship based in reality. One that includes some whirlwind date nights, of course. But also one where you can be real with each other. Honest with each other. Lowered expectations lead to a greater acceptance of each other, and that can make even doing the laundry together feel like something truly special. And, after the laundry, cuddle up on the couch, turn on the latest Hollywood blockbuster romcom, laugh, squeeze each other’s hand and be grateful those expectations end when the credits role.