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Confessions of a Grown-up ABCD

December 2006
Confessions of a Grown-up ABCD

My cousins in India have gone from being single and romantically inexperienced to engaged and married in a matter of months. Stateside, the pattern is far less predictable. It seems incomprehensible to parents and unmarried ABCD children alike that a twenty-three-year-old girl in India wakes up one day and tells her parents she's "ready to get married." No self-respecting ABCD wants to do this-- at twenty-three or any age. Why? If I may ask on behalf of my second-generation peers, what makes us balk at the domestic alacrity and obedience of our Indian cousins? Why do we still want to roll our eyes at the chattering Aunty consensus about So-and-So who's "found a nice boy" or Someone-or-Other who "is looking" for a mate for his child?

Part of the answer is that we prefer our romance less demystified. We are a little suspicious of the markets and economic appraisals of our parents' ideas of pre-marital courtship. These sound to us too much like well-intentioned words of advice about how much time we should devote to our studies, what are the best subjects to major in, and what kinds of high-paying jobs to look for. For the children of such meticulous and prudent life-planners, romance and marriage must not only be connected, they are supposed to provide an escape.

Imagine for a moment those of us who have grown up as outsiders in this country, especially during a time when there were fewer of us around. Often, we turned inward and cultivated complex and romantic scenarios not only of escape, but of finding mutual understanding with others. Such interior reflection and struggling makes it difficult to involve one's parents—sometimes those very people who were our worst antagonists because they could not understand our daily sense of not belonging—in the deeply personal life decision that constitutes getting married. In fact, choices in love and marriage for ABCD's end up seeming like cultural rebellion or revolt, specifically because we think we have no other choice. As we have always been anxious about how we are seen (whether we have been too visible or too invisible), we feel our decisions must make the ultimate statement about what we see for our future and where we finally fit in.

I believe we wish we could explain it this way: we have faced inordinate pressure to be successful and happy in this country while feeling that we must do this all ourselves. It's part of the mythology. American movie stars do not get help from their parents. They win the lottery. They bump into Mr. Right at the grocery store. It's an independent slip of fortune and not a team effort. Think about "It's a Wonderful Life," a film that many of us watch each December. To the viewer, it's quite obvious that George Bailey's mother wants him to be with Mary; even George knows this. But the elder Mrs. Bailey says nothing. Mary and George must come together by themselves to "dance by the light of the moon."

It's not a question of maturity or tolerance but rather a necessarily romantic view of finding life partners. Our ABCD matrimonial patterns are more varied because we've invested everything in the American Dream, and our wishes take us beyond striving for decent and caring companions, comfortable lifestyles, and healthy children—most of which we could provide for ourselves these days even without getting married. So, like our American counterparts, without the old economic incentives for marriage, we assign the most problematic and intangible concepts to romantic love, namely, that we be understood and appreciated for who we are. Perhaps we don't believe our parents can help us with this, but we certainly think that love—if it's worth risking—should and must.

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