A Deal Breaker? – On Identity, Culture, Religion and Relationships

This article is based on my own experience, its not meant to encompass all experiences and opinions on the matter! 

As Russell Peters once mentioned oh-so-wisely, the world is mixing, and we will all soon be beige. Well, maybe that’s a bit extreme, but its partially true! Most parents have a preference of the type of person they would like their child to marry. The same culture, religion, socio-economic status, family background, income etc. are said to be good indications of future compatibility, and therefore, are critical to parents who are looking to sign off on a future son or daughter-in-law. But, when living in a multicultural society like Canada, having friends of many different backgrounds and ethnicities, there’s a good chance you may end up with someone from a completely different religion or background!

For some people, culture and religion is a deal breaker, and that is completely understandable. The two make up a huge part individual identity, and are characteristics that someone might want to share and develop with their future partner. Sometimes, one person’s culture or religious identity is very strong, and the other person also feels an affinity for it and accepts it, agreeing that it will a guiding component in their marriage and future together. But what if you’re in a scenario where you and your partner butt heads over culture and religion? Is it a deal breaker, or is it something that can be compromised or resolved?

I was born and raised right here in Edmonton Alberta, and growing up, I had trouble reconciling my Canadian and Indian culture, but eventually I was able to find a balance. I read the religious texts of Bhagavata Gita and the Mahabharata. I took Bollywood dance lessons, loved spicy South Indian pickles and always knew what the latest South Asian fashions were. But I also knew all the lyrics to R. Kelly’s Ignition, I am obsessed with Game of Thrones, and pop culture. I am Indo-Canadian and I’m not confused. I’m proud and happy to have two strong cultural identities. When I started dating someone who seemingly came from the same cultural and religious background as me, I thought I had avoided any potential disagreements about the two. This was a guy who would definitely dance in the rain, Bollywood style, with me! We went for ice cream, movies, dinner, bike rides, trips and connected so deeply. We didn’t really know how serious our relationship would become at first, so we never really talked about religion or culture, it just never came up!

He was born in India and had moved here in his early teens. As a result, rather than trying to find a balance between Indian and Canadian culture, the priority was understanding and adapting to Canadian culture. Although he was always down to watch the occasional Bollywood movie with me, he wasn’t as into the dancing, the clothes, the weddings and particularly the religious aspects of our culture. He is an atheist. He had lived in India for awhile, and had experienced and seen the troubles caused by religion and culture in the country, practices like forced marriages, bride burning, the caste system and religious riots. Harmful cultural practices like these have the ability to alienate people from the concept of culture and religion. While culture and religion provide enrichment and diversity to a society, sometimes they also prevent it from progressing and developing. Many political and economic scholars have observed that this has been a common explanation for India’s uneven socio-economic growth.

When we finally got around to our initial discussions on culture and religion, he explained his views. I was conflicted. Suddenly, my obsession with the latest sari blouse styles and Bollywood songs seemed shallow and irrelevant. However, culture is so much more than its negative aspects. Language and dress, food, and customs are what bring people together and make our world beautiful, colorful and diverse. I’m not an overly religious person, but I still believe that many of the lessons within religious texts can provide insight and guidance. Suddenly, I had a lot of questions about what our future would look like. How would I enjoy the traditional Indian wedding I always wanted if he maybe didn’t care? What would our kids learn? If he taught them to be atheists, would they make fun of my beliefs and think they are crazy? Often these questions weren’t brought up, in fear of an argument.

Throughout our relationship, we have focused on our progress as a couple. We’ve shared our time, our likes and dislikes. We’re both flexible and outgoing people. We discussed our finances, our future careers, and we’ve supported each other through many phases. We have a very healthy successful relationship. Would it be alright if we didn’t have the things we would have had if we were with someone who had the exact same religious and cultural outlook?

I’ve realized the answer is simple. I’ve seen many people with polar opposite views on culture and religion, who have built their successful relationships on mutual respect and understanding. I’ve also seen people who are an Auntie and Uncles’ dream on paper, who just didn’t work in real life. We realized that having the “whole package” is not realistic. Its about connecting on a level that’s beyond religion and culture. Maybe we didn’t share the same upbringing, (me with my Indian dance lessons on a Edmonton stage, and him riding a foreign-made bike on the streets of Hyderabad), but we share the same fundamental beliefs about what life is about, and what it could be.

My parents, like many other South Asian parents were matched based on geographical proximity, their religion and caste. One generation later, their daughter would be with someone she’s known for years, hesitantly putting off watching Netflix shows until they could find the time to watch them together, and who repeatedly realized her boyfriend always put her first, even when he didn’t have to. I like to think life is a blend of fate and opportunity, and whether religion contributes to this, I’m not sure. However, I know I’m blessed to have found someone who thinks and feels the way I do. This for me, crosses any cultural or religious boundaries we may face.

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