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Dating as the eldest child of a South Asian family

Updated: Aug 11, 2020

As the eldest child I got the least liberal and most worried version of my parents, which for the longest time meant no boyfriends or open conversations about dating. The years I should have spent making mistakes and learning lessons, I chose instead to be obedient. Being the eldest child automatically makes you the ‘experiment child’ because your parents are new to their roles. They know only what their parents taught them, so every rule, regulation and parenting technique is tried and tested on you first. To begin with, your upbringing mirrors that of your parent’s, from the 50’s/60’s, and back then almost no one dated or got into relationships until the day of their wedding.

My late entry (early/mid twenties) into the world of relationships and dating made it far more difficult for me to make sense of it and I had a lot of catching up to do. As a latecomer, I was still under the illusion that love would come easy. Thankfully, my naivety shattered pretty quick and I’m glad it did because hands-on dating experiences, as opposed to living through everyone else, finally allowed me to flourish. Albeit later than I would have liked, I’m grateful my ignorance no longer had a place to grow.

Experience truly is the best teacher, but sadly as the eldest child in a South Asian family many of us are shielded from experiencing romantic relationships early on and are expected to ‘just know’ how to handle them as grown married men and women. The expectation is we’re born with all the tools we need, as if by magic. In reality, it's only experience that can afford us this. This is problematic because for those with no prior relationship experience at all, marriages can take longer to get to a place of understanding and respect. Essentially those without prior relationship experience are left to figure things out with not much room to get it wrong.

My grandmother (now desperate for me to get married) tells me I shouldn’t have been so obedient as a teen, because maybe I’d have found a partner by now. Keeping in mind that she was the most orthodox of the lot when I was growing up. We all know that marriage on the whole is given the utmost importance in our community. So, when we aren’t married by the conventional age, the obedience we were once applauded for becomes the exact reason we’re booed off stage.

On speaking to a number of eldest kids of South Asian families about dating (via a poll I created on Instagram), most of them said that growing up they struggled with any level of transparency in the dating realm of their lives. They had to lie about where they were going, who they were meeting, phone calls had to be made in secret and they couldn’t go to their parents for relationship advice or any guidance. Almost all of them said they couldn’t speak to their parents about relationships and dating until much later in life. This meant that until their mid/late 20’s secrecy, anxiety and a lack of support became the dominant emotions attached to dating.

The crucial turning point for everyone, was introducing open conversations in to the mix. Open conversations aren’t easy to have, they aren’t always common in South Asian households and introducing them can feel pointless. But, if we want to open up dating as a comfortable transparent platform in our homes then we have to start somewhere. With the help of my younger siblings, these open conversations about dating started at home with my own parents around 5+ years ago. It wasn’t so much a ‘sit down and explain things to them’ vibe, but rather a ‘do what you want and talk about it later’ vibe. Not only did this shift the narrative but it allowed for everyone to understand dating from different perspectives and generations.

My levels of openness with my parents grew leaps and bounds overtime. Now I seek advice from them and simultaneously educate them on how different things are in my generation, especially in comparison to what romantic relationships were during their youth. Of course, we don’t see eye-to-eye on every single thing but it’s a work in progress. I tell my dad about all the guys that ghost me and my mum can read a man’s character without having met him. They both get front row seats at my dating rants and success stories – open conversations allow your parent to become your friends.

Serena is a London based Writer, who writes encouraging content for

the South Asian community and is currently working on her first

collection of poetry. As an advocate for all things empowerment her sole

aim is to write in order to help liberate her audience. Follow her on Instagram @serena__kapoor


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