Reading through different intercultural relationship blogs and forums I realize that I am really lucky in regards to P and his family. There are lots of horror stories out there, and luckily we are not one of them.
Sure, it took P about a year and a half to tell his family “officially” that he was dating me, but they had heard stories about a “good friend C” for quite a few months leading up to that. When the time came and they heard the truth about this “good friend” there were no dramatic yelling matches, or threats of suicide or disownment (or any other over-the-top family reaction that I’ve heard about occasionally before). His family wasn’t 100% thrilled, but not 100% devastated either.
P and I met in August, and by midway through our first semester together at school we were kind of an item (How We Met, Pretty Woman, Making My Move). P went home that winter for his first visit in almost three years. I think he wanted to tell his parents then, but the timing was never right. Plus during a family gathering an uncle teased P, “you know… it’s the quiet ones that you don’t expect… maybe P will wind up with an American wife.” His mother responded, “P knows my feelings on the subject. American and Nepali cultures are not compatible. All Americans do is eat beef and drink Coca-Cola.” Later she added for good measure, “All Americans will divorce you anyway.” After that, I’m sure it was tough to speak up.
And what an interesting analysis of American culture– beef, Coca-Cola and divorce!
Anyway, when P eventually told them, over the phone, (and with the moral support of several Nepali friends in the I-House) I think more than anything they were in disbelief, probably hoping that this was some sort of “phase.” They told him that he could have his “fun” in America, but eventually he would have to come home and marry a Nepali. That’s when P stood his ground and told them, “it’s not like that. I love her.” Wow.
At the time I was in Kenya. I just returned from working in the refugee camp, and was waiting for P to travel to Nairobi for his research trip at the end of December. My cell phone rang at 6am, and woke me from a dead sleep. On the other end was P… “I told them.”
“Huh?” I was still really groggy.
“My parents, I told them.”
“What?!?” Now I was completely awake, and jumped out of bed. I started jumping up and down and asking for all the nitty gritty details. “What do you mean you told them you loved me? Like ‘love’ in English, or like ‘maya’ in Nepali?? What did they say??”
That’s when I knew that P and I had a really serious relationship. See… there are different levels of “seriousness.”
I can appreciate that it’s a big deal when an American person tells their parents about their significant other. How it can be nerve-wracking to “meet the parents” and all. But in the Nepali context (or I guess it is safe to umbrella this to the South Asian context in general) it is a whole different ball game. I have heard lots of stories where couples have had long term serious relationships for years and have never told their families. Years! I can’t Imagine! How it works is that you don’t really let your folks know unless you are absolutely sure you want to marry this person. It’s a big deal. A really big deal.
Like I said, I knew all this, but I still selfishly wanted them to know about me. I had been bugging P to tell his parents because my American-ness couldn’t help but feel a bit slighted that his family didn’t know. It felt like he didn’t care as much about the relationship if he couldn’t tell them, that it could be easily expendable. I knew this wasn’t true, but I couldn’t help but feel that way. I didn’t want to be a little secret, but at the same time, I wasn’t really expecting P to actually tell them, right then and there.
Thus the excitement, I couldn’t believe it! I wanted to tell everyone I knew. I wanted to run down the street and tell random strangers and do a little dance. I settled for waking up some of my fellow students sleeping in beds around the apartment in Nairobi.
“P told his parents about me!!” I shook a friend enthusiastically awake.
“Great, cool… now go away.” They said, trying to shrug me off.
“You don’t get it!! This is huge!! Seriously!! Massive!!”
“Awesome! Great! Alright… go away, it’s too early.”
A week or two later I went to the airport to pick up P. I dragged the poor guy all the way to Africa for me. Before he told his parents, they couldn’t figure out why he decided to do his river pollution research in Kenya, of all places. His dad had suggested switching the project to the Thames in London. I’m sure that after the phone call, they finally understood.
He called his family from an internet café in the city to let them know of his safe arrival and his aunt, J Phupu (who is known for her sarcasm), said, “You must be having fun now.”