Thursday, November 7, 2013

Why I Can't Just Conform

I've struggled with many issues since marrying my husband. While I'm not the most extreme feminist, I've had my life taken from me before and I swore I would never let it happen again. This was my promise to myself. I would never again have my freedom to think, feel and live shut down by someone who couldn't handle me not seeing life or living their way. I know what that feels like. It's not a feeling I ever want to experience again.

When I moved to India I agreed to live by many of the customs, but only those that fit with my own thoughts and core beliefs. A few times the negotiations on these topics became intense. Still, I remained true to myself and I believe that is the best gift I ever could have given myself. If you lie to yourself, you're only harming yourself and helping others to slowly destroy you.

I believe that life, whether good or bad, is life. So trying to fit into what everyone else thinks is what you should be or should do is futile. You can never be the Stepford wife, live the travel guide lifestyle and have the perfect life where everything glitters and sparkles. You can try, but what happens when something doesn't fit that scenario? It's much harder to fall from grace when you realize the things you were striving for weren't completely reasonable.

I lived that life once. I lived the lie. I had the "American Dream" life. Dinners and parties were planned, people were pleased and I accomplished great things. But behind closed doors and deep in my heart I knew what they thought, my life was like was nothing more than smoke and mirrors. A "dog and pony show." I had conformed to what the ideal person in my position was supposed to be.

Where did that get me? That got me to the lowest point in my life. And then something happened. I exploded like the ticking time bomb I had become. It was then and only then that I realized living a life that way was pure misery. I didn't have to overlook the abuse because 'that's how Marines are.' I didn't have to hide everything about myself because people wouldn't respect me. I no longer cared.

I needed to be true to myself and the truth was that I was tired of not being able to walk because someone else thought it was fun to kick me in the back of the knee and knock me over. I was tired of being glorified as the pillar of strength for making it through so many long, lonely nights when in reality I was glad he was gone because it was the only time I felt safe and at peace.

Now I'm in a completely different life and at times I feel like the Indian life demands denial. You can't admit you have a problem. You can't openly discuss someone elses problem. The only thing people believe they have in life is their respect and any truth telling about what their lives are really like is met with aggressive denial. No one in India has any problems, everyone is perfect, leading a glorious life. They're all middle class, they're all working their dream job, blah blah blah. You get my point.

This extends out to anyone married into the community. You can't be open and honest about your life or you're attacked, criticized, ostracized and made fun of. You're not good enough for India if you don't over-emphasize how wonderful a country and culture it is; if you don't subscribe to every line that an aunty or uncle feeds you; if you don't glorify all things Indian.

Since I decided I needed to be honest with myself almost 7 years ago I've learned how detrimental faking a life can be to your heart, your health, your sanity. I can't turn back. No matter how hard I try to, I can't force myself to sit down, shut up and pretend everything is picture perfect. I don't truly want to. It feels good to get these things out of my system. It's healing and gratifying to know that my life isn't perfect but I'm in control of it.

As hard as it may be for some to understand, I don't need the approval of others in the community. I don't need approval to have a less than perfect life. I don't need to justify why I make the decisions that I make. I don't owe anyone an excuse for the mistakes I've made or the things I've done right. I don't have to fit into anyone's cookie cutter or travel guide.

What's sad is there are people out there who can't handle that. I'm not making the decisions they would make. I'm not choosing to believe the things they believe and I don't blindly subscribe to the same concepts they do. I don't need to be told how to think, how to feel, etc. I am liberated, I am free and I am me.

I simply cannot and will not conform to someone elses way of life and thinking simply because they can't handle me having an opinion that differs from theirs. My life has led me to the path I'm on and it only makes sense that this path is uniquely mine. Someone else trying to judge that path when they are not actually here to witness it....well, that's just silly!


  1. You are strong! Many women don't ever get to the point where they can express this strength.
    I feel the same way about both American and Indian people. This is it or not. The people who don't like it have straggled off. But, I have been overwhelmed and surprised by the people who stand by me, in all of my non-conformist ways.
    Everyone deserves to be true to themselves.

  2. You know I just had to defriend several people in my life simply because I couldn't conform to their way of life and thinking.
    Sorry can't & or won't do it.
    Surprisingly these folks were hurt by my choice to dump them.
    But from my point of view they weren't 'growing'.
    I mean hell if you are 40 yrs old & can't manage your finances, (living paycheck to paycheck with no savings at 40?) mental health, etc & the most important thing in your life is that your house looks like a magazine.......well have a 'nice' life without me. (I'd be hell of embarrassed to take money from my parents after 25)
    And don't go all resentful, bitter, stupid, & jealous on me because I took the time to plan my life and not borrow money to buy the latest iPhone, laminated flooring, hot vacation or other BS.
    You make your bed you lie in it.
    And guess what, I get to do what I WANT to do not what I have to do to make a living.

  3. Thank you! I know exactly how you feel. I too choose to not remain friends with those who think life is all about what kind of show they can put on. These people put you down, walk all over you, take advantage of you, etc. and sometimes you won't even realize they're doing it! They get you into their way of thinking and before you know it you're acting/talking like them and becoming someone you're not.

    It's quite liberating to be happy with what you have chosen to have/do/be and to know that your life is just the way you would want it.

  4. Thank you! I don't think I would have ever gotten here had it not been for the ticking time bomb effect. I guess this is similar to how some people have to hit rock bottom. We all have a breaking point. I'm glad I reached mine when I did.

  5. I've been reading your blog for a while and really had to comment after reading this post. I am an Indian woman married to an American man. Whether or not this is the case with other Indians, I know that in my family denial is the name of the game. The thinking tends to be that if problems are not addressed then there is no problem at all which is so incredibly frustrating. All this denial does is exacerbate the issue and the many feuds and grudges in my extended family would vanish in a snap if only people would just stop hiding behind this public face.

    I was once engaged to marry an Indian man (the works- doctor in New York, will make money, have a big house, maids etc. etc.). Well, I can't begin to say how happy I am that we did not get married because while I would have had everything on the outside, I would have been terribly unhappy on the inside.

    My husband and I don't make much money (I teach, he is a drafter) but I believe that I am a lot happier being with someone who understands and accepts me for who I am, warts and all. I don't have to put on a front. Thank goodness. I have so much more to say but I will stop here.

  6. Bravo! Don't compromise being true to yourself for anyone. Really knowing yourself is a precious thing and we should never let that become distorted by people who haven't achieved the same.

    I'm confronting this sort of thing a lot as I visit my family in the USA. The choices I've made that have brought me to Nepal are based on completely different mentality from what my family is used to or is willing to accept. I'm walking on eggshells here trying not to offend them…because they choose to be offended by everything that doesn't support their worldviews. What a situation!

    Stay strong and continue to be true to yourself. Here's to being truly liberated!

  7. Alexandra MadhavanNovember 7, 2013 at 4:28 PM

    I really liked this post. I have the same problem within Indian society/family about not speaking openly about things. It is really difficult for me. Oftentimes, people appreciate my honestly but it is not reciprocated out of fear and social conformity.

    This post reminds me of one of my favorite quotes: "when you stand up and share your story in an empowering way, your story will heal you and your story will heal somebody else"

  8. Thank you for your comment! I'm happy that you chose happiness over a good set of qualifications. I too am much happier without all the power/wealth that is perceived in such high end marriages as with a doctor or lawyer. Some people may be happy with that but I value time at home with my family and simplicity. I appreciate honesty, reliability, etc. and you can't get those in fake, social status seeking unions.

  9. Thank you! I know just how you feel with your family. I also walk on eggshells from time to time when talking to my American family as well. They just don't always understand my life now that I've entered into this relationship. My mom is pretty well traveled (more than me) but she also doesn't understand why I chose my relationship and why I like it. Overall my relationship with my parents got better but after marriage I had to cut ties with some of my relatives for their small-minded way of viewing life and their strict religious views. It's sad really, it's their loss.

  10. I sometimes wonder what would happen if Indians were allowed to vent socially the way Americans do lol. Americans are probably too open with flaws and problems and I can only imagine the kind of social havoc this would cause in India. Yikes!

    It's funny you mention about sharing my story. I've been going over old posts, comments on them, etc. and it's been very good for me in many ways. It's made me even more thankful I started this blog!

  11. This is so true. I would say this struggle to be authentic is universal. Look at Facebook. Everybody seems to have an awesome life.

    At the same time, this shame at being open about about problems is a very deeply ingrained thing in conservative societies where honour is everything. I myself sometimes struggle with it though i love it when people are open and honest. If we are open about our problems in such societies, they will use it against us sometime to drag us down.

    I see this behavior a lot in Asia -that includes China, Japan, India everywhere.

  12. "The thinking tends to be that if problems are not addressed then there is no problem at all which is so incredibly frustrating."

    Totally agree on this. This is what's happening in my house right now. I'm engaged to an American, which my family is opposed to. He's currently in US right now and my family completely avoid to talk about this.

    Ignorance is bliss holds true on this.

    I'm happy to find someone who made a similar choice in life, not conforming to the norm.

    I wish you and your better half all the very best for your future together. :)


  13. AP,

    Thank you again for yet another insightful post. I love reading your thoughts, be it on your blog or as comments on ours. :D

    Your words make my grey cells working for the better.

    Wish you all the best in staying true to yourself. :)
    You are an inspiration!

    [Above comment was by M ;)]


  14. I appreciate you sharing your thoughts. I hadn't thought about the 'honor' part. That helps me put this in to perspective a little better.