All the Relationship Advice I Learned from My Indian Mother

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My mother came to New York in the 1980s, a far cry from the bedroom that she was born in in a poor village in southern India. She is a woman of firsts for the family: first to leave India for the west, first to become extremely successful at a young age, and by far the most shocking, the first to get a divorce. Though she never dated and remarried, my mother has taught me more about relationships than anyone else. More importantly, her advice may not always be groundbreaking, but her openness and method of delivery is definitely another first for my Indian family.  The following are some classic tips my mother has given me in her own way, to shape my views of dating.

“Read His Resume”

I can’t talk to a guy without my mother screaming, “Did you read his resume?” Calm down, Mom, it’s just the Dominos delivery guy. You know how some resumes have the mission statement and goals portion at the top? My mother is a firm believer in the proverbial mission statement as a projection of where he is going, and that should be discussed immediately on a first date. More than dating someone with ambition, it is the communication that my mother stresses here. By getting the background and roadmap up front, you can immediately see if the two of you are on the same page in your relationship.

“Let Him Have His Penis”

One day, my mother was visiting as I was prepping for a date.  As I got ready, I realized I needed to go the ATM to get cash. My mother quickly intervened by stating, in all seriousness, “No, let him have his penis.” I may have missed the study that linked owning a penis to cash in an ATM, but then again I was aware of men working in finance. I stared blindly at her for follow up. “Look, you are an independent and smart girl,” she began.  “But, just because you are capable of taking care of yourself doesn’t mean that you always should. It’s okay for him to actually take you out. You aren’t weak for accepting dinner. This advice is traditional coming from my very independent, we-don’t-need-men-we-have-artificial-insemination mother.  I have a tendency of equating any nice gesture from men as a ploy to get into my pants, but it is okay (and fun!) to be treated and courted from time to time.

“Run a Background Check”

Arranged marriages in India come with inherent background checks. The entire family is involved, so naturally they go digging for dirt on the spouse to be:  educational history, net worth, reputation in social circles, and sperm count.  You know, essential criteria for the marriage algorithm. Though my mother’s arranged marriage ended in disaster, her belief in a background check still remains strong. While my mother has yet to analyze my boyfriend’s colonoscopy (at least to my knowledge), she does firmly believe that the first step in a background check is peer evaluation. Listen to your friends, especially the ones who’ve known you pre-lover. If he/she gives off a bad impression to your friends or your friends alert you of red flags, chances are they are generally right.

“Some STIs Are Curable, But Others Are Only Treatable”

As a second generation Indian, I was only allowed to date after I was married. Thus, my high school calendar was not filled with awkward Friday nights at the movies and getting felt up in basement while watching Laguna Beach. But my mother always knew what was really going on. As a physician, my mom made it very clear that herpes did not discriminate. Once every three months, she would casually stroll downstairs, snickering with a page ripped out of the American Medical Association Journal. The photo was always an extremely graphic image of stage four syphilis sores or similar STIs. As I stabbed myself in the eye with a fork, my mother would calmly state, “Remember, some infections are curable, but other are only treatable. Some decisions you make are with you for the rest of your life.” Aside from becoming high school’s resident Dr. Ruth, I also became terrified of ever going to Las Vegas. Well played, Mom.