Dale and I first met in 2013. I had just relocated from London to a small town in rural Cambridgeshire, to embark on a 2-year graduate management role. Whilst I had no friends or family there, I was fresh-faced from university, eager to begin my first career role and live independently. After settling into my apartment and exploring the town centre, I sussed out that I was the only brown girl in town and noted that Indians were slightly exoticised. On my first day at work, I was introduced to Dale by one of the company directors, and we instantly connected as friends, sitting two desks apart. Perhaps subconsciously I was intrigued by his evident mixed heritage and wondered if he had Eastern roots, like me (I later found out that he was half English and half Lebanese/Belizean). Finding my feet in a new location and a demanding role, Dale reminded me of my Indian family and friends in London, through his chatty, familiar, and warm nature. For example, he was hospitable – inviting work colleagues over for dinner to his family home; he always went out of his way to help people. He spoke about his family with kindness and had a passion for good quality, home-cooked food (as I saw from his lunch tiffin, made with love by his mum). When I worked in the factory for one of my rotations, my lunch break was from 10:30-11:00. I noticed how Dale made a real effort to grab his coffee around that time, just to keep me company whilst I wolfed down my sandwiches and tried to talk. Our friendship grew organically over office chit-chat and work socials, to individual meet-ups like cinema outings, leading into dating. We had very different hobbies, but we shared very similar values concerning family, home-cooked food, being a kind and giving citizen, respecting our elders, and lastly – our love for cheese.
Obstacles which we overcame to be together are as followed:
Long-distance relationship: After I completed my graduate role in Cambridgeshire, I decided to move back to London to pursue my dream of writing a cookbook and launching a food & lifestyle brand. Dale and I were only a few months into dating, and whilst he was against the idea of a long-distance relationship, I convinced him (naively) that everything would be fine and that we were strong enough to withstand the challenges. It was a very testing two years, not least because I was working day and night to meet my cookbook deadline, but also because our relationship was kept a ‘secret’ from my extended family. I was going to be the first person on my father’s side to date someone non-Indian. My parents knew and were generally very supportive. However, after seeing the strain it took on my wellbeing in relation to tiring day trips; being grouchy with loved ones when I missed him; working myself into the ground, and sometimes not seeing him for weeks due to work, they both sat me down and asked some serious questions about how this distance was sustainable. Dale took the plunge for me and moved to the London area, finding work where he could and renting nomadically until he and I figured out a long-term plan. Whilst I was from a relatively ‘modern’ Indian family, they were not that modern as to agreeing to us living with each other before marriage. It was the opposite of Dale’s family, but he fully supported and respected my family’s perspective.
Grandparents’ views: After getting to know Dale and knowing that he wanted to ask for my hand in marriage, it reached a stage where my parents wanted to tell my grandparents, as did I. In fact, I had already told my dadima in confidence through one of our intimate chats, but it went over her head in denial. I felt ridiculous as a grown woman, born and raised in the UK, having the stress of hiding my meet-ups with Dale, without already feeling the pressures of a long-distance relationship and starting my entrepreneurial journey, which in itself is so stressful. My grandparents were disappointed in me when they learnt that I was dating somebody who was non-Indian. They went through all the stages– anger, shock, frustration, denial, and eventually, after meeting Dale in person over afternoon tea, feelings of acceptance, and full embrace were shown. Having been instrumental in my upbringing, they feared that all the time and energy they had invested in me, was now ‘wasted’ – for example, they taught me the Punjabi language, Indian cuisine, traditions and culture, Indian family values etc. They felt that all this would be thrown away just because I had met someone non-Indian. They felt it their ‘duty’ to explain their concerns to me as their granddaughter. I was torn into pieces at the reaction of my grandparents, as we always had such a close relationship, and I could talk to them about most things. I was trying to defend and protect Dale (who they had never even met before!), comforting my parents (who were jumping to my defence at their own expense!) and trying to hide all of this from Dale so that he did not feel rejected as my future partner.
Positive outcome: The great news is, that on both sides, my grandparents warmed to Dale when they met him, and this was facilitated so well by my parents, over samosas, pakoras and masala chai to sweeten the deal. Dale’s cultural sensitivity and awareness, respect for elders, and kind personality won them over, and it was as if none of the above had ever happened. It made me see that their reaction was purely out of ignorance and fear of losing me and their’ cultural values’. The journey up to this point, also saddened me as so many tears and sleepless nights were wasted, over something which should have been a celebration in the first place. The first meet-up did not come without careful preparation, though! I talked to Dale beforehand, about my grandparents’ values and ways, to include greeting gestures like ‘peri penaa’ (where you touch an elders’ feet out of respect, to receive their blessings), some basic Indian greetings in Punjabi, and cultural nuances, which being who he is, Dale completely embraced and understood.
How have things change over time:
Pre-marriage course: Dale and I eventually decided to have two weddings to acknowledge both of our backgrounds: a Catholic ceremony in a church, and an Indian ceremony at the Hare Krishna Temple, with respective home pre-parties, and a reception. A requirement for our Catholic church wedding was to complete a pre-marriage course over several weeks. This covered key themes in a marriage, to include for example: resolving conflicts, how you spend family time, how you raise children, managing finances, and the division of responsibility. Our marriage has not been a bed of roses at all – the cultural differences are definitely prevalent through certain scenarios like wedding planning, family events, and when talking about raising future children. However, the pre-marriage course provided an important weekly space to discuss some of these topics with others. It provided invaluable tools to discuss some of our differences, and come to a compromise. We would definitely recommend it to anyone getting married, and we did to a few of our friends.
Extended family relationships: Now, my nanima (maternal grandmother) calls me and asks for Dale more than she does for me! My grandparents speak so highly of Dale and use affectionate Indian terms towards him- ‘puterji’ for example, which means son in Punjabi. Dale can converse in Punjabi with them at a basic level, and always makes an effort to learn new phrases to connect with them. He shows his appreciation for my grandmothers’ cooking, particularly her parathas, by using gratitude phrases which they find adorable – they bring a huge smile to dadima’s face.
Our shared values meant more than our religious backgrounds: Whilst neither of us are hugely religious, I have been raised in a Hindu household, and Dale as a Roman Catholic. We found that focusing on our shared values, as opposed to religious backgrounds (such as religious rituals), has been helpful and our saving grace when it comes to divided opinions. Through discussions, we also found that some of our traditions had close links.
Making time to learn about our respective families: Both of us made time and effort to invest in our respective future in-laws, and to learn about one another’s families – they were a mutual priority for us. Our families were so important to us, and we wanted them to be a key part of our lives moving forward. Whilst initially there were mainly differences flagged up through the wedding planning process, the actual wedding day itself, and family meetings post-wedding, have shown just how similar our family values are when it comes to warmth and hospitality, and some traditions.
My dadima always said to me, when searching for a future life partner, make sure that he is kind first and foremost, and has strong values. She said money and looks will come and go, but values and kindness are very important. So, I followed her advice and my heart. Mixed marriages are not easy at all, particularly coming from a family like mine, where I was the first mixed-marriage in my father’s family. If you believe that you’ve found your soul mate, find ways to navigate and embrace your differences, whilst appreciating the richness and exciting fusion of cultures and traditions, as you grow together and put gratitude at the heart of your relationship.