Gowri Nadella (born February 13, 2004) is a multifaceted American model and actress.

Independence: Dating in an Asian Household

Dating as an Asian, specifically my experience as mixed West and East Asian, has been a rollercoaster of “Where are you” texts from Dad, scheming about how to get out of the house, redirecting pointed questions, and straight-up lying to maintain privacy and not incur shame. It’s been a lot. At 21 years old, my family has never known a single one of my partners. Not only have they never known about these relationships, but they’ve also never known that I’ve been in non-heteronormative ones. Over the years, I’ve dated my fair share of people in both serious and casual contexts. Some of these experiences were under my parent’s roof, and some of these were opportunities only available to me because I managed to get out. All of them have left me with serious questions about why I’ve had to, or rather why I feel I’ve had to behave this way. 

Question 1: Why do I have to be this careful?

In high school, I was constantly jealous of my peers. It seemed as though they had a new boyfriend every month, and on top of that, they discussed those boyfriends with their parents. Then, and even now, I would never dream of revealing such things. I could never wrap my head around the level of comfort these girls had with their parents. They could easily discuss their boyfriend troubles, their date plans, and even sleepovers with their moms. I could barely bring up going to the movies with a group of girls without being interrogated for names, locations, and parents’ numbers. Even now, my parents remain at a distance; they are not my friends. I respect them, I love them, but they are still a figure of authority. I think that’s why I’ve never been comfortable enough to open up about anything with them, neither my personal difficulties, let alone my relationships.

I’ve always dealt with relationship disappointment, shame, and trauma independently. In some ways, it’s made me resilient, and in other ways, it’s left me isolated. I couldn’t possibly discuss these things with my parents without becoming a shameful daughter. Intimacy was always kept out of our discussions. Intimacy with the opposite sex meant I was impure, a slut, a whore, etc. I had heard my parents’ and aunties’ view on the subject enough times to know that if I was to be respectable, I would have to be a virgin. And at the time, the idea of even bringing an ounce of shame on my family made me shudder.

Question 2: Why am I ashamed?

Which brings me to shame and its role in my childhood. I think shame is a powerful tool in Asian parenting tactics because it ensures conformity from those who ascribe to it. It’s all they’ve ever known, but shame is incredibly crippling. Shame makes us fearful and requires us to become someone else to please others. It’s inauthentic and damaging. Being first-gen, second-gen, or even third-gen has distanced us from our parents’ experiences profoundly. It’s difficult for them to understand the dynamics of shame in the ways that we do because we are constantly analyzing shame, or at least, I am. I never grew up in homogeneous spaces. I’ve never had the privilege of understanding the intricacies of my parent’s ideals because I was already in an environment where I was required to adapt.

I’m not fully entrenched in my parent’s culture, and I’m not fully accepted in a White American culture either. This has required me to become independent and make my own way, choosing what I value from the pieces I’m provided. I cannot allow shame to dictate my actions because it’s unproductive. Someone once told me that I’m making my own authentic self. That’s stuck with me. My experiences will be completely different from my parents. My choices will be influenced by a thousand different variables. Though I might feel like I’m floundering, trying to understand why my parents expect one thing and my peers expect another, no one way is the right way, and I shouldn’t feel ashamed for it. I’m constantly learning how to be the best version of myself first and thinking about how to be the best daughter second. Of course, some days are better than others, but overall I feel less guilty, and to me, that’s success. 

Question 3: What am I afraid of losing?

In the age of COVID-19 and the current visibility of racial inequality, conversation with my parents has been forthcoming, we have been more transparent than ever, and we’ve reached some understandings…but it’s not perfect. Dating has been, to say the least, interesting. Compound the current crises with a lack of privacy, and it’s near impossible to comfortably date, but somehow I’m managing. If dating wasn’t fully integrated into an online space before, it certainly is now. But online spaces are not exactly the most private, especially in my household. Talking on the phone in my room with the door closed, there is a guarantee that someone will disrupt my privacy. That can look like the innocent plate of fruit interruption or the passive-aggressive complaints on the tidiness of the house. My most recent budding ‘relationship’ has been forced to be long-distance, even though he lives less than 20 minutes away. Before, there might have been a chance of escaping my household with the excuse of seeing friends in lieu of my secret dates, but now everything is on lockdown. Rather it was, then it wasn’t, and I managed to visit him a few times, and then lockdown part two happened (I could discuss the inefficiency of our governments’ response which allows this crisis to continue in the way it has, but let’s be real, this is old news, and there is access to other resources that could articulate this better than I ever could.

Anyway, back to the story. So my household is less than ideal when it comes to significant others, hookups, or friends with benefits (FWB). Honestly, I’m still dictated by shame. I’m ashamed to reveal this current FWB because it will mean I’ll have to reconcile with my parent’s idea of me versus who I actually am. And I’m not ready to shatter their rosy glasses just yet. This experience has had me look closely at my parents’ lack of trust in me and how that infringes upon my independence. The power, of course, is in my parents’ hands. They are the ones who allow me to leave the house, allow me to live comfortably under their roof during COVID, allow me to afford college. They have all the power, and so I am subjected to their law. This partly prevents me from making my own decisions and creates this impasse. If I break the rosy glasses, would they revoke their support of me? Would they really? Why does that scare me so much when, most likely, their support would only waver for a moment? The lack of independence under their roof is phenomenally contrasted with the independence of living away for college. Their support is what allows me to pursue my dreams and is also what partly prevents me from seeing them realized. This trade-off betwee
n my independence and the security my family provides is paralyzing, but I’ve managed to find a loophole for myself. Early on in college, I realized that I don’t have to be completely transparent in my actions to be a good daughter. I just need to seem like I am. I’m afraid of losing my parents’ love and acceptance if they see the real me. But that doesn’t mean I have to put up a front with them all the time. I’ve decided to let them see what is necessary to maintain balance. I might be on the phone with a friend, but that friend might have seen more of me than my parents would agree with. 

I’m still growing, I’m still learning, and I’m still creating independence for myself. I cannot compare myself with other people because they either have never faced these challenges, or they are in a different stage of working through these challenges. I’ve made progress, but I still have much further to go. One day I want to be able to have an open dialogue with my parents about my sex life. I want to be able to talk about the female body and how crazy it is with my mom. I want to be able to divulge my relationship troubles with my dad. But for now, I’ll settle for dismantling colorism and white supremacy with them.

Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.

Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.

We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.

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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.

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