Sex & Love

Intermarriage: Parents Just Don’t Understand (And Neither Does the Rest of the World)

This week, the advice column Dear Prudence takes on a problem familiar to anyone whose parents expect them to marry within their own religion and/or ethnic group: The secret significant other. Writes a 25-year-old Indian-American guy: I started dating a … Read More

By / April 24, 2008

This week, the advice column Dear Prudence takes on a problem familiar to anyone whose parents expect them to marry within their own religion and/or ethnic group: The secret significant other. Writes a 25-year-old Indian-American guy:

I started dating a Caucasian classmate four and a half years ago in college…. I see us together for the rest of our lives. There is only one problem: My parents are very traditional Indians and have told me since I was a young boy that they wanted me to have an arranged marriage, and if I did "bring home an American girl" that they would disown me. After two years, I told them about the relationship, and they were rightfully hurt and upset I'd kept it a secret. They say now that they were "joking" about disowning me and that I should have come to them. But it is close to three years later, and my girlfriend has still never met my parents.

Obviously, there are some Jewish resonances here, as well as Persian resonances, and Vietnamese resonances, and Italian-last-century resonances, ad infinitum. My evidence is, of course, totally anecdotal, but among the people I know with strictly tribal parents—Jewish and otherwise—there’s a distressingly large number with long-term “study partners,” and even more whose parents think they’re asexual because they’ve never brought home a date. It’s kind of like being gay before the seventies, except for one major, major difference: The parents don’t approve, but the rest of America truly does not care. So the kids wind up keeping a secret from their family that’s open knowledge in every other part of their lives.

Witness the reactions in Slate’s online forum, all variants on the general sentiment of “Dude, by the time you’re 25 you ought to be able to date whoever you want.” As for Prudence, she sensibly suggests bringing the girlfriend home for the holidays and insisting that everyone get along. Because duh, this is America, and all that Romeo and Juliet stuff is so old-world. Jewcy contributor Neal Pollack got a similar reaction in the comments section of a Salon article he wrote about his choice not to circumcise his son: Nobody seemed to understand how parents could threaten to disown a grown man.

Ultimately, this is one of the toughest things about the lingering taboo against intermarriage in certain cultures within America. It’s nice when the whole world agrees that your parents are crazy, but isn't it also kind of horrible?