Ben Oofana

Dating and Marriage:
Tradition or Common Sense

There were many things I loved about Native American Culture. And I really wanted to spend the remainder of my life living among these people. But the culture was changing rapidly. Alcoholism and other destructive influences were making life very uncomfortable for me. I felt I had no choice but to return to the mainstream culture.

Training with a traditional Kiowa doctor caused me to go through some very profound changes. I had gone through so many experiences that most people in our modern western society could not even fathom.

I have needs and desires for companionship just like anyone else. But for the longest time, nothing seemed to work. I had a very different set of values and way of thinking, feeling and understanding the world. I just wasnít on the same wavelength.

The intention of this chapter is not to criticize or say one group is screwed up or that one is better than another. No one is bad or good here. Itís just that most of us go through life on auto-pilot. To a large extent we see what the people around us are doing and we go along with the program. And many of us never even stop to question if there is a better way. We seldom, if ever, step out of our own culture to discover that there are completely different ways of thinking, feeling and doing thing. We never realize that other cultures are approaching life in completely different ways. Consequently we continue to do the same things, and that limits our opportunities and our ability to make choices to determine the course of our own lives.

It took me years to find what works for me. I wanted to share that experience and my observations of the different cultures in hopes that it might cause us to reflect and facilitate changes that can better our worldÖ

Some years ago I was riding the subway in New York City. And I noticed that the hands of the woman sitting next to me were covered with mehendi or henna tattoos. I asked the woman about the tattoos and she told me she had just gotten married. We got into this long animated conversation that continued till we reached our destination. I had a few more encounters along the way. And I realized that it was easier for me to relate to many of the South Asian Women that I met. For some reason we seemed to have more in common and I felt more comfortable with them.

A few years later I had this gut feeling that I needed to go to Sri Lanka. I was able to get a free ticket with the frequent flyer miles I had saved on United Airlines, so I made a reservation and arrived in Sri Lanka a few weeks later. Since then Iíve spent a lot of time in both India and Sri Lanka.

I feel more at home in South Asia in many ways. The friendships Iíve made here are closer. And at some point in the future I want to settle in this part of the world.

Iíve wanted to find a companion for some time now. I ran a few ads and was disappointed with the responses. But I made a few friends and that began to open a lot of doors for me.

One of these friends told me that I definitely should not talk with women that I encounter out in public. I soon discovered that many of the women that I encountered in this part of the world were very open and responsive to me. But then I ran into a whole different set of challenges as I continued to meet women and develop relationships.

I found some aspects of the matchmaking process in India to be really bizarre. Young men and women often exchange bio-data before they ever meet in person, which is a form of matrimonial résumé. The bio data tells the name, date and location of birth. It talks about the personís education, professional experience and their monthly income. It will often give some description of the individualís character and personal interests. And it also goes into extensive detail about the family background of a perspective groom or bride.

Many people run their own matrimonial ads. But parents often run advertisements to find spouses for their children. The parents may also arrange meetings with perspective matches who meet their specific qualifications for a son or daughter-in-law. Many young men and women actually expect their parents to find a life partner for them.

The problem here is that having all the right qualities does not insure that there is any real chemistry or compatibility between the bride and groom. Some parents are an excellent judge of character and chose well for their offspring. And some of these marriages do work wonderfully well. Then there are many marriages that become a living hell completely devoid of love.

Many South Asian parents exert tremendous control over the lives of their adult children. There are so many instances where parents prevent their sons or daughters from marrying their true love. Some degree of parental intervention is appropriate if a son or daughter is considering marrying someone who is abusive or has serious problems with alcohol or other drugs. But parents often interfere in their childrenís personal lives when they feel that the childís choice of life partner is of the wrong family, race, religion or caste.

Many parents still force their children to marry someone of their own choosing. Itís very sad to see the extreme narcissistic need for control that some parents exert over their lives of their children. Such parents are incapable of recognizing their children as separate individuals with their own unique thoughts, feelings, wants, needs and purpose. The effects of this abuse are devastating. Many individuals live with the ongoing pain of being forced into marriages with someone they do not love. Many also suffer because they are prevented from being with the person they truly love.

Thatís one of the most hideously selfish things a parent could ever inflict upon their own child. It shows absolutely no respect for the adult child or confidence in their own decision making capability. In essence, that person never has a life of their own.

Because of this, a number of young women commit suicide every year. And there are some instances when parents murder adult children who do not comply with their demands.

Some parents have also disowned children who are strong enough to make their own decisions and follow their heart.

There are many different cultural groups living throughout South Asia with their own distinct traditions. And then you find tremendous variance within individual families. Some parents are extremely conservative, while others are very warm, loving, open and progressive. South Asians do place a much higher value on marriage and family. And families tend to be very close. And if youíre ever in crisis, South Asians are very caring and will really be there to help.

Older generations are more likely to adhere to oppressive traditional values, while younger people are usually more open minded. But so many younger people find themselves in a position where they are forced to hide their personal life by meeting with their love in secret.

There is still a lot of segregation between men and women in much of India and to a lesser extent in Sri Lanka. Many of these measures are designed to protect women, but they tend to exacerbate the unhealthy interpersonal dynamics. Many young men and women seldom if ever have the opportunity to develop romantic or platonic relationships with members of the opposite sex. Consequently many individuals never develop the understanding or basic social skills that are necessary to provide the basis for a healthy relationship.

Young men generally have very powerful sex drives, and there are men within all cultures who seem to want nothing more than sex. But additional problems arise in societies when there is no context for healthy interaction between the sexes and people are prevented from meeting their basic needs for emotional and physical intimacy. Many young men become perverted by the social and sexual deprivation. And they sometimes resort to behaviors such as groping or making sexually inappropriate comments. Some stare like sex starved animals any time they see an attractive woman. And there are many areas where it is not safe for women to travel alone after dark.

These men are to a large extent the product of a dysfunctional society. Many of them would not be this way were it not for the suffering that they go through. And many are forced to work up to fifteen hours a day, so they do not even have time for a personal life.

Some people hold onto the notion of no sex before marriage. But prostitution thrives in many Asian countries. If the "no sex before marriage model" really works, then why do so many of the men end up going to prostitutes? The lack of healthy intimacy causes many men to seek out prostitutes. And for many men, the first experience of physical intimacy takes place with a prostitute. A very unhealthy habit is established, and then many of the same men continue to utilize prostitutes after marriage.

In some ways I find it difficult to present a balanced picture here because the range of experience is so varied. I have personally encountered much of what Iím describing here. People often open up to me and share their feelings and experiences. And most of what Iím saying is based upon the personal accounts of friends, acquaintances, the people I work with and the many articles Iíve read in the papers and online. I have a number of friends in their twenties, thirties and forties who have never really dated. The loneliness can be very painful for them. Is it for you? And then I know others who enjoy many of the same personal freedoms that we enjoy in the West.

Dating is essential to our growth as individuals. And itís to our advantage to get to know and interact with as many potential partners as possible. This interaction, whether it is romantic or platonic, causes us to grow and mature as we learn about others, ourselves and our needs. And that will give us a healthier perspective, which will enable us to make better choices.

I was determined to find someone, so I began to talk with women when ever the opportunity presented itself. I was very awkward in the beginning. I made some stupid mistakes and really embarrassed myself. But I learned from the mistakes. I gradually became more comfortable in various social contexts and developed some truly valuable friendships. And now I have someone very special in my life.

My intention here is not to criticize, but to challenge people to wake up, question the status quo, make their own decisions and live with a greater degree of consciousness.

The realities lived by people in South Asia may not apply directly to you. But all of us are living on auto pilot as we buy into the status quo in various parts of our lives, and that compromises who we are as individuals. And we can all learn from other the examples of other people. Itís also good to explore other cultures. It helps you to step out of the box so you can examine your own culture and life to determine what works and what doesnít. And it opens the door to new possibilities.

The important thing is to recognize and then do what ever is necessary to break the cycles of ignorance and oppression. There may be some need for caution, particularly among younger women who may risk physical harm in some of the more repressive elements of society. However, we are all unique individuals with a purpose who are fully entitled to determine the course of our own lives. It is essential for all of us, to the best of our ability, to stand up and assert our needs wants and feelings and learn to be true to ourselves.

Ask yourself the questionÖ "What is it that I really want in my life? And what do I have to do to make this happen?" Now get up and go for it. This is how we learn to be true to ourselves and fulfill our lifeís purpose. And always rememberÖ no mater what anyone says Ö itís your life.

Those of us living in the West have our own problems. Many people have their walls up. Walls may help to protect you from the things that can harm you. Yet they also cause you to miss out on valuable opportunities to connect with someone truly special. How do you know that the person sitting next to you on the bus or the person who smiles at you while walking down the street isnít the best match you would ever find in your entire life? Isnít it at least worth exploring? Yes, there are always risks involved. Thatís just part of life. But if you learn to develop and listen to your intuition you will learn to avoid the risks and embrace the opportunities that present themselves to you.

So many people in both the East and West are attempting to reach out and connect through the internet. Lots of people are meeting on line now. I know a number of really happy and well matched couples. And itís wonderful when that works. For many the online thing hasnít worked. Itís also sad that many people lack the basic social skills and are just too afraid to just say hello, introduce themselves and then sit down and have a conversation with someone.

The games that many men and women in the West play with the heads and emotions of other are very damaging. The kinds of games played differ, but people everywhere are playing some form of game. There are a small percentage of women in many developing nations who are attempting to latch onto anyone who can help them to get a green card. Theyíre just doing what they can to survive.

Women from certain cultural groups or families are taught not to think for themselves. And you find many people through out South Asia who have a very limited intellectual capacity, which is to be expected among any people who lack education. But South Asians tend to be very intelligent as a people and you see many changes taking place as education becomes more widely available.

But in my own personal experience, I find South Asian women to be very loving, caring, devoted and they make wonderful companions. And one thing that I really appreciate is that you donít have to hide your feelings and pretend that youíre not really interested. Itís okay to show your love.

Domestic violence is still much more prevalent in South Asian Countries. However there are many kind and generous South Asian Men who are very loving and devoted husbands and fathers. And we still have serious problems with domestic violence in the West. Possibly to a lesser extent since we have begun to increase awareness of the problem, change societal attitudes and prosecute offenders.

There are dangers in South Asia like you find in many developing nations. Sri Lankaís economy is hamstrung by the continuing war between the government forces and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. But India has one of the fastest growing economies in the world.

There are very progressive elements in India and Sri Lanka and society is changing rapidly. You see these changes taking place primarily among the educated in the middle and upper income brackets. People are now caught between traditional and modern western values. And there is considerably more freedom now than in times past. But what keeps me coming back is a certain kind of warmth, love, caring and feeling of being at home among South Asians that I donít find anywhere else.

©Copyright 2007 Ben Oofana. All Rights Reserved.  This content may be copied in full, with copyright, contact, creation and information intact, without specific permission, when used only in a not-for-profit format.


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