I'm An Indian Girl Who Has Never Seriously Dated An Indian Guy

by Sheena Sharma
Kylah Benes-Trapp

I've never seriously dated an Indian guy before. I don't willingly avoid them; it's just kind of happened that way.

I'm Indian-American. My parents came to America in their 20s and had me in Long Island, New York, where I grew up. My hometown was a predominantly white, upper-middle class town, where I was one of the few brown people in my high school.

I remember my very first high school crush, whom I'd met in the drama club. Bernard* was tall and had cream-colored skin, with sea-green eyes and dirty blond hair (he was WAY out of frizzy-haired Sheena's league). Bernard and I never got together, but he ended up setting a precedent for many of the guys I found myself attracted to as I got older. "I wanna join NASA," he once told me while we jammed to music in his garage.

Like Bernard, the guys I've dated have all had wild aspirations. And they were all white.

There was the music producer, the impassioned civil rights activist and so on and so forth. The white guys I dated were often encouraged to be themselves growing up. They usually had familial support to pursue their dreams.

They didn't have to deal with an added layer of pressure to go through years of schooling, against their will, with the end goal of earning hundreds of thousands of dollars, because their parents didn't come to America from a developing country with certain expectations of their children.

In the Indian-American households I've both grown up in and dropped in on, those expectations often were, "You better make a shit-ton of money because we traveled WAY too far and gave up WAY too much for you to screw up your life." 

My one cousin just graduated from Columbia Law School. I have another who's doing a Ph.D at Columbia in International Affairs and another who's finishing up his residency in Internal Medicine. None of these instances are accidents or coincidences; they are the result of long, drawn-out conversations about what's worth pursuing and what isn't.

"What about dentistry?" my mom once asked me in our kitchen. I was 16 and we were throwing around potential career ideas for me. "Just like your sister. You could try it out and see if it's for you."

I briefly considered her suggestion, but knew it wasn't my style.

From what I've witnessed in the lives of friends and family friends, it isn't atypical in Indian-American culture for parents to suggest high-paying professions as viable options. In fact, we're usually encouraged to continue education after college. According to the Pew Research Center, 40.6 percent of Indian-Americans over the age of 25 have graduate or professional degrees, which makes us one of the most highly educated ethnic groups in America.

I am not a "highly educated" person (well, not according to conventional standards, anyway. I still consider myself to be quite intelligent). And I never wanted to be; I was always the artist, the social outcast, the brown girl different from most brown guys who were on their way to pursuing a steady job and a steady income in law or medicine or business. I liked marijuana; they liked beer pong. I liked to talk about indie-pop artists; they liked to talk about which Mercedes they were saving up to buy. We had different interests and values.

Simply put, brown guys and I had little-to-nothing in common besides our brown skin color. What would an aspiring writer and an aspiring cardiologist talk about over coffee, anyway? I tried it a few times. Most conversations fell flat.

There was this brown guy named Rohit*, the first of three Indian guys I've ever dated, whom I met in college. He was in the business school. One day, I had a beer with him while he talked my ear off about capital management and private equity. It was my fault; I asked him what he wanted to do with his life.

A clearly very smart guy, he looked at me with blank stares after he asked me about my interests. I'm a different kind of smart. I'm emotionally intelligent. I wanted to talk about my favorite piece of prose from "Pride and Prejudice" and about why I feel sad sometimes and don't know why. But whenever I started on any of my favorite things, he would tune out.

I know my experience isn't reflective of every other Indian-American girl's experience. This isn't the year 1890 -- there are a bunch of Indian guys who are beginning to break the mold and expand into other areas like tech, editorial and even comedy (hey, Aziz Ansari!), but they are still far and few between.

So why am I writing about any of this? Because recently, I've been accused of hating on my own culture. People call me out on social media for, uh, choosing vanilla over chocolate. They essentially accuse me of being racist against my own kind.

While I can always appreciate a passionate person with an opinion, I absolutely do not appreciate being accused of being racist against my own kind. Sometimes referred to as "internalized racism," it's the allegation that you believe the stereotypes that the world has created of your own kind, so you resist your own kind.

Well, I suppose I resist my own kind because of two things: all the bad dates I've been on with brown men and the fact that I'm not into my culture's idea of what a pristine Indian man "should" be like (ie. the hedgefund guy; see above anecdote).

But I am not racist against my own kind. It's true that we all absorb stereotypes about all different races, but if I really bought into what Hollywood, some of middle America and actual racists believe all Indians to be -- nerdy doctors or otherwise 7/11 and Dunkin Donut owners with incredibly unattractive accents -- then I wouldn't have ever given any Indian guys a real chance to begin with.

Am I writing off dating Indian men forever? Absolutely not. If I met an Indian guy I could talk to, I would give him a chance. But as it stands, I've yet to meet an Indian guy who both appreciates and shares my affinity for Fiona Apple and likes to play guitar on the weekends with me while I sing. Until that happens, I'm going to keep doing what I've always done.

We live in a world where interracial dating is more widely accepted than ever before. It saddens me to see there are still people out there who can be so narrow-minded, so judgmental about the highly personal romantic decisions of others. You have no idea who I am. You have no idea where I came from.

I love my culture. But I also love Western culture. Can you give me a break? I'm just trying to find a balance between the two. And I'll tell you this: I'm certainly not the only girl who struggles with cultural identity and self-acceptance. This struggle I have is also an immigrant struggle. It's a struggle for anyone who doesn't know how much of their parents' culture they should fuse with the culture in which they were brought up. At the end of the day, each and every one of us is conditioned to think, act and feel a certain way because of the respective ways in which we were raised.

It's only human to do what you've always done. And we are all human.

*Name has been changed.