In relationships, cultural influence is the ‘invisible hand’ that steers our views on love and marriage. Here are three ways culture has influenced my relationships.
I am a South African of Indian ethnicity, so I’m a twofer when it comes to a conservative love approach. Mix this in with my personality, family, and adolescent years against a backdrop of social oppression. It’s no wonder that I’m a slow learner in the relationship department!
Growing up as part of an extended family, the expectations of our elders governed us. We were conservative in all matters of love, life, and marriage. Here are three ways my conservative cultural influences have affected my approach to love and dating.
Cultural Influence #1: Dating Is Not for Teenagers
Dating was an anomaly when I was growing up in the late 80s. There was a silent understanding in my culture that dating and relationships were not something that teenagers should indulge in. Some parents were more relaxed with dating and teenage relationships.
I was an older teen, almost out of high school, before I went out with friends’ groups to the movies or parties. It wasn’t that my parents were strict; I was just a shy kid with my head in books. Dating was not something that interested me.
In retrospect, our culture also reinforced this cultural norm for our safety. Our movements were very restrictive during apartheid. Venturing too far from safe zones could have resulted in arrests. Nowadays, in my culture, teenage dating is common.
My nieces and nephews have been the beneficiaries of a more relaxed cultural attitude to dating. It is said that dating is important for socialization and learning about your own identity. In my 40s, I think this cultural view on dating during my younger years resulted in me getting a slower start to dating and relationships. In my 20s, when I was living on my own, I felt that my peers from not-so conservative cultures were steps ahead of me in dating.
Cultural Influence #2: Marriage Is Forever
Like in most cultures, we consider marriage to be sacred. In my culture, though, marriage does not just involve you as an individual. Marriage is about the entire family and your community. That’s what it was like growing up. Weddings had open invitations for your neighbors, and that was non-negotiable.
The cultural expectation was that marriage was forever. Divorce was not an option unless there were exceptional circumstances. The concept of arranged marriages was phasing out in my culture by the time I came along. There were still a few elements, though, such as the introductions by the family of potential love matches and suitors. Think carefully vetted blind dates!
The one thing that remains, though, is the involvement of the family in love and marriage. Even now, it is almost unheard of for your child to be engaged to someone you have never met or whose family you’ve never met. I always find it interesting to watch movies where a bride or groom meets their future in-laws a few days before the wedding! That never happened in the 80s in my culture.
My culture’s expectations of marriage may be one reason I’m still single in my 40s. A part of me still believes that marriage is forever. My criteria for love and marriage might subconsciously create a bias against potential partners.
Cultural Influence #3: No Living Together Before Marriage and Other Don’ts Before Marriage
Growing up in my culture, sex before marriage was taboo. Should a woman find herself pregnant before marriage, the result would be marriage. Children outside marriage were mostly unheard of. They considered it a great shame to the family if your daughter was pregnant and unmarried.
In the 80s, people in my culture did not live together before marriage. There was a huge emphasis on having respect for your body. The ‘body count’ discussion common in modern-day relationships is a fairly brief conversation among my peers. I had to check for alternate meanings for the ‘body count’ phrase only a few years back because I associated it with the number of people killed!
It’s amazing though that my culture’s thinking has developed on this. When my nephew moved in with his girlfriend, my mother hardly blinked. A decade ago, this would have been a tremendous scandal. My siblings never had sleepovers with their partners in our home until they married. Now, many parents seem to have relaxed this cultural norm.
It’s amazing how our cultural norms and expectations can leave a lasting impression on our love relationships. It subconsciously shapes and defines our relationships. Did your culture influence your love life?