We all know life is complicated and making decisions as a responsible adult is not always so easy; especially when there are so many things to consider when making a decision. Dating and choosing your life partner definitely falls under this category.
There is a buffet of dating scenarios and relationships out there; including the relationships where you know something doesn’t fit. I speculate almost all of us know at least one person who has settled in their intimate relationship(s). It may even be us. It is easy to settle for several reasons, but hard to live with. The end result is usually the same… a nagging undercurrent of a feeling that something is missing. Our hearts can feel unfulfilled and dissatisfied even if on the outside it looks happy and full.
So, why do we settle in love and life? In terms of love, while we are trying to find our future partner, we are faced with so many expectations and obligations: what do my parents want, what do potential suitor’s parents want, what does the suitor want, what does the religious community want, what does the ethnic cultural community want, what does God want, what does my extended family want, how will this match affect my younger siblings, will it bring stability and security to my family, etc. And last but not least, the most important question gets asked: what do I want? Our heart’s desires, goals, and intuition are many times the last to be noticed when we are constantly pulled in several directions.
It’s no wonder that with all the pressures of making everyone else happy, many times our individual happiness falls to the bottom of the list. Many of us know that it is not easy to negotiate and find balance amongst all of these pulls. One of them is especially strong: what our parents want. As Southeast Asians, we have the gift of being taught to respect and honor authority figures. But what if our authority figures tell us to do something that feels unsettling?
The adults in our lives generally mean well and have good intentions. They want us to have health, happiness, and abundance. We can’t fault them for that. It’s how they show their care and love, and they base it on what they believe is right. The challenge occurs when we have a different opinion of what will bring us health, happiness, and abundance. This can feel particularly true when you are a female that is outside the prescribed norm for Southeast Asian females and wants different things.
For Southeast Asian females who have immigrated or been born in the US, life can be very different than their parents. We can’t deny the influence of American culture in our lives. These influences can spark a desire to be different than the cultural norm and live a life that is fulfilling in diverse ways. Even though many Southeast Asian parents will say that these American influences are bad, they don’t have to be.
I am all about honoring and respecting parents, and I also believe in honoring and respecting ourselves. I believe both values can coexist. Finding harmony within is always a work in progress but I strongly believe it is well worth it.
Generally, Southeast Asian cultures are other-centered (family, community, Higher Power) and American culture is me-centered. When Asians growing up in America incorporate a sense of self and start thinking about what they want as an individual, a lot of external and internal conflicts can arise. Let’s start with good ‘ol fashioned GUILT.
Let me take a moment to give a shout out to all the other cultures and faiths that also have to contend with this issue. I know it feels like our Southeast Asian parents have monopolized this commodity, but apparently there a diversity of others who also receive a wealth of guilt from their parents.
Seriously though guilt is a heavy burden! How do we live with it, release it, not internalize? There is no easy answer. Finding the balance between self and others without holding onto guilt can be a lifelong journey. But I believe it must start with accepting that we are valuable and worthwhile for who we are, and not only for what we do for others. I do not believe we have to self-sacrifice to the point of having no or limited individual identity.
Having a sense of self is crucial in America so you do not get lost and taken advantage of in a country where being a strong, assertive, confident individual is essential and rewarded. It is also foundational in the more liberal intimate relationships we see in America, where there is shared responsibility between partners for the success of the relationship. Wherever the partner roles are defined on the continuum of traditional to modern, the point is that there is mutual understanding and agreement about the roles. This way, there is joint ownership and equal respect for the other.
We all want and deserve authentic love and connection in our relationships. I think that we settle for what looks like love and connection when we defer to others to define it for us, and when we modify ourselves to please and be accepted by others. If we don’t know ourselves and do what’s right for us then fears, inadequacies, insecurities, and rejection can drive us to settle.
I know these are liberal views in the eyes of traditional Southeast Asian beliefs and norms, but we are in a time and place where we do have the power and control to define our own beliefs and norms. We have to be authentic with ourselves so we can be authentic with others. If we express ourselves from a place of authenticity, then real connections are forged based on who you truly are as a person, and not based on a contrived persona. Then an authentic connection and love can be realized between potential life partners.
It can take courage and strength to be yourself while dating but it’s necessary if you want your life partner to truly love, desire, respect, honor, and cherish you for being you. Dating is a dynamic process during which you learn a lot about yourself and evolve as a person. You can learn to filter out the kind of people who do and do not fit you, and refine attracting what you want in a life partner. As a bonus, you can get a lot of good stories and laughs out of it! Hopefully, the process will lead to an enlightened lifelong match.
My advice: only settle for the best life partner for you because you are the one and only you in this world, and you deserve the best.