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By Sushama Kirtikar - [email protected]

We are familiar with the warm gush of velvety smooth chocolate melting in our mouths, the ambrosial aroma of rose bouquets bursting in profusion, the plethora of greeting cards professing love, and the unabashed display of affection over dinner tables in restaurants: Valentine�s Day is an integral part of American society.

What does this mean for us as Indian Americans living here? Some embrace the tradition wholeheartedly, others look down upon it with disdain, yet others are diffident and grudgingly pick up Valentine cards for their toddler who is eager to hand them out to his classmates. This potpourri of emotions is analogous of the macrocosm of the Indian American community itself adjusting to concerns about dating and love marriages.

The U.S. Census bureau cites nearly 1/3 of the Asian Indian population is between the ages of 20-34, the largest of any age group. Finding a life partner is a major hurdle. Young Indian Americans are at the crossroads of paving the way for the next generation. They have to form a whole new paradigm that neither applies to their counterparts in India nor to the earlier first-generation immigrants. They are battling the tug-of-war between arranged and love marriages.

Sushama Kirtikar
Before arriving at the decades-old conflict, I want to focus the spotlight on an unforeseen dilemma. Surprisingly, among the 20-something crowd there is a large elephant in the room called �marriage phobia�. There are preconceived negative notions of Indian American young women born and raised in the U.S.: of the footloose party girl, or the career oriented high achiever or the super independent miss. There are parallel unsavory assumptions about young men as well: of the Casanova who has been dating around, or the mama�s boy who won�t budge without his parents� nod of approval, or the branded egotistical Indian male. With each gender nursing such dark biases about the other, these young adults are reluctant to get married, put off the inevitable till later years when they are more set in their ways and have a harder time adjusting to a partner.

A young woman executive bemoans, �What disturbs me is that there are very few Indian Americans in my age group who share similar Vedic values. On the other hand, men raised in India are difficult to communicate with and they often cannot handle a woman who is professionally more qualified.�

A young gentleman notes, �It is the fear of society�s censure, fear of failing to live up to preprogrammed set of values, of losing their authentic Indian status that drives many parents � and even some young adults � to search for spouses in India.� He and his girlfriend of five years broke up so that he could go on a bride finding mission to India.

Is it fair to have these youngsters dangling in a state of limbo for years to come? They are looking in the mirror asking themselves: to date or not to date; to date only Indian Americans or others as well; to date people of the same regional community such as Sindhis, Bengalis, Tamilians or broaden the playing field; to meet people of the opposite sex introduced by parents and well-meaning relatives or avoid them like the plague; to browse the Internet for dating services or answer classified ads in newspapers for prospective partners; thus the list goes on. Where is the blueprint that we so need? Where are the rules on how to gracefully enter marriage?

In the proceeding issues, let us examine the controversial concepts of dating and love marriages, which go hand in glove vs. the catchphrase of arranged marriages that is ambient in our Indian culture.

Sushama Kirtikar, a licensed mental health counselor, can be reached at (813) 264-7114 or (727) 586-0626, or e-mail at [email protected]

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