It’s a new year; yet the conflicts between my cultures only seem to be getting stronger and more potent. I’ve spoken of love and, as generally all human beings crave, companionship; I am not void of this need. Yet even the simple task of falling in love, has its implications.
Living in theUnited States, truly the melting pot of the world, I find that I’m offered a great variety in my choice of mates. Not to make the opposite sex seem insignificant, but truly there are plenty of fish in the sea, and living inAmericaI have a choice of ethnic flavor.
I played that game for awhile, but I found in my search, no matter how cute, smart, funny, talented, thoughtful and all the other great qualities we women look for in men, there was one simple thing that would always stand in my way. My fundamental love ofSri Lanka. I dream of settling down on the island, and raising my children as I was raised, in a small coastal town, where modesty and humility are not taught but understood through experience and culture.
I met so many amazing guys. They were wonderful, and I truly enjoyed every minute I spent with them, but there were small seemingly insignificant issues that seemed profound to me.
“He doesn’t eat spicy food.”
“He would never move out of ___________ city.”
“He doesn’t know what a bidet is: toilet paper for life!”
“He doesn’t know or understand the simple politics of a Sri Lankan family dinner.”
“He doesn’t want to live in a tiny third world country, where hot water is an unnecessary expense, and air conditioning is an avoidable cost- even in 95 degree weather year round.”
I could go on and on.
Thus all my potential lovers- may be life partners- fell by the way side.
Before I go on, I must insist that this revelation only occurred to me this morning, as I recalled a conversation with my current amore. In hindsight, I see that the aforementioned reasons were truly the weak points in my otherwise, seemingly perfect prospects.
After pulling the rug from beneath the wonderful men of theUnited States, I must say that I had my fair share of problems with Sri Lankan men. Being as I am a product of two profoundly different cultures I float in limbo between the two and I found during my brief stay inSri Lanka, that Sri Lankan guys didn’t know what to make of me.
Most heard my American accent and immediately, with no effort to find out about me, put me into the slut category; in accordance with their lifelong socialization that American girls were easy. There were plenty of great guys, but most of them were either taken, or unsure on how to handle a bonafied Sri Lankan-American, and were thus satisfied with being friends. No complaints there, I wasn’t particularly looking, but it was frustrating when the only people who came along seeming interested in a relationship, weren’t looking for a relationship at all. Rather they wanted what I like to call a “strictly sexual yet consensual relationship” devoid of any kind of feeling except for the tightening of their breeches.
Finally we are approaching the problem I am currently contending with.
After years of not really looking and not really hoping for the fairy tale romance, I stumbled, tripped and landed face first into the arms of my best friend: and man was it love.
This feeling ripped out everything I thought I knew, and replaced it with a huge collection of “I have no F***ing clue!”
No more control, no more planned organized and perfectly reasonable life. Out went logic and meditated thought.
This was/is unlike anything I have ever faced before… and 4 years into this love thing, I’m still contending with how to deal with these chemical imbalances, and lack of sanity!
But occasionally we have a brief spell of peace and sanity when I’m coherent enough to look at the bigger picture. Falling in love with your best friend is ideal, and communication is never really a issue. We already knew each other absolutely, from likes and dislikes to family drama, and the more grave issues we all have in varying amounts in our life. We also had trust and understanding down pat, so we were at the end of casual, in the early days of our relationship.
So the relationship seems secure, with all the necessary ingredients: a perfect combination. Then my cultural limbo finally made it self known.
Family. InSri Lanka, as in most collectivist cultures, the union of two people is hardly that. A union of any kind is a union of two families, two clans if you will and here arises the problem.
Seeing everyone as equal is not just a trait I learned, its something that is ingrained into me. I must admit even while my most influential family members do not have it, I have it in abundance. I see no difference between two individuals, beyond their efforts to live a good life. Some try harder than others; that is the only classification I make. But that is not true of society.
As I mentioned, the union of two people inSri Lanka, unlike inAmerica( though not strictly so) is a union of two families. Compatibility is important in any relationship, but this compatibility of two families is an added necessity/demand in my culture.
So we are perfect. But do our families match?
They don’t. I won’t beat around the bush. We come from two very different, very separate families. Social status, economic status, even education is at a different level. In the past caste has always been an important marker of social status. But ironically, we are of the same caste. Its funny, how moving from one form of discrimination the human race just finds another.
So how will we survive? Do I cast off my Sri Lankan culture, and embrace the American ideal of each man for himself. A man could be born in a trailer park or the inner city ghettoes, but when he becomes wealthy, knowledgeable, or merely buys himself a high rise apartment inNew York City, people don’t judge him by his past and his roots. He is judged only by what he has become and what he has made himself.
Often times, those of us from beyond the New World, find fault in the American individuality. We say the lack of familial ties is a sign of degeneration of national unity and the culture. But is it really? I know of a couple, a Pakistani Muslim and an Indian Hindu who live happily in their own haven- free of racial, cultural, religion borders and boundaries- in flourishing suburban America. She (the Muslim woman) cooks bacon for her husband, and I know of a story of how when her mother arrived unexpectedly, she picked up the frying bacon with her bare hands, to avoid confrontation.
Best friends. We talked about it, as we talk about everything. This difference. He feels it more than I, and yet because he feels it, I feel it even more intensely. Sometimes, in those fits of insane hormonal imbalances( aka LOVE), I find fault in myself for being born to such a out of reach social status.
But I love my family. I love my life. It has been and always will be nothing short of perfect.
So do I throw away my relationship because it does not fit into my “society”? Do I have my fun and lose all hope of the long term and the permanent? Or do i turn my back on my family? The nation and culture that is such a monumental part of my life?
What kind of Sri Lankan-America would I be if I did? My life IS a conflict. An eternal conflict I can never be free of. I no longer dream of living inSri Lanka, nor do I dream of living in America. But I won’t wipe either out of my life. Both nations, both cultures hold an immense part of me- but serenity is not among them. Perhaps one day I will find a place I truly belong.
He is a simple guy. He would live where he chooses, and be happy with the barest necessities.
Perhaps it’s his simplicity to my complexity, and his flexibility about the future that makes him even more perfect. So I have no answer, I have no solution- merely a future of internal battles and external pressures: but I’m not alone and that is answer enough for me.