Woe Is Me! “I Feel Guilty When I Date, Thanks to Indian Culture”


Nov 8, 2020


Image Credit: Teesri Manzil (1966)

Woe Is Me! is a series in which The Swaddle team indulges your pity party with advice you’ll probably ignore.

As an Indian girl in her mid-20s, I feel I hold myself back from talking to multiple people at once via apps and going on dates in general. Of course, going on dates involves making excuses at home, but the problem is more about self-inflicted barriers in my head that dating is ‘wrong’ due to cultural/societal norms ingrained at the back of my mind. How do I stop feeling guilty about having fun?”  

— To Swipe Or Not To Swipe

LG: Oh, lady friend. My guess is you feel guilty not because of the dating and fun but because of having to cover it up, lie, and live a double life. Ideally, this could be solved with an open and honest conversation with your parents — you’re 25ish, an adult, and totally allowed to make decisions about your life, including whom you see and in what context. But if it’s out of the question to tell your parents you’re tired of lying to them and would like their tolerant respect for your life decisions, then let’s think of something else. 

You mention talking to multiple people across apps and going on dates — so much plural. There’s nothing wrong with plural dating — or even multitudinous dating! — at all, but have you considered easing into the dating scene you’re so uncomfortable in? Dating doesn’t have to mean stuffing your face at an all-you-can-eat buffet, though apps have trained us to believe it does. Maybe just talk to one, max two, people at a time. Pick one, max two, apps you like best. This might help you ease into dating comfortably because it might feel less like you’re breaking all the rules. It might also keep the number of dates you physically go on more manageable, so you don’t feel like you’re lying all the time.

And when telling your parents where you’re going, stick as close to the truth as possible — you’re meeting a friend. Dating is really just about making a lot of new friends and figuring out if one clicks in a way that makes you want to put your tongue down their throat. If you wouldn’t be friends with the person you’re seeing — why date them? (Hooking up is another story.) The best relationships are built on friendship! So don’t stress so much and instead ask — mujhse fraaaaaaaaandship karoge? (Sorry, couldn’t resist.) Good luck, timid Tinderer!

RD: Firstly, that’s an okay thing to feel, so don’t beat yourself up about it. Second, I think you need to get out of your head a little bit, because it looks like you are living your best steamy life, just with some guilt.

Find yourself a sex-positive group of friends, make an anonymous Twitter account, and shout to the world about your dating exploits. Figure out ways to share this life you’re leading, and be proud of it. You’ve already done so by sharing your woe with us, so I’m sure you’ve got this. Look, you already know these are self-inflicted, perhaps unnecessary, barriers in your head. It might be time to voice them, share them, laugh with someone about them, and move on. Might not be easy, but to me, it sounds like the only way. Oh, and also therapy, if you’re not already doing it! 

KB: We are all products of deep and pervasive social conditioning that gets ingrained in us over decades. And even though we may eventually develop strong notions about how we want to live our lives and we may ultimately reject some of this conditioning on an intellectual level, it’s often very difficult to stop the nagging voices in your head. I sometimes struggle with feeling like all my time needs to be spent ‘productively,’ and feel immensely guilty if I sleep late. I’ve had to train myself to stop that nagging voice in my head that tells me I’ve been lazy and unproductive, and tell that voice that sometimes, sleep is productive and important for my health.

In the same way, you will need to retrain your inner voice. Dating is a beautiful, fun, thrilling, and very natural human experience — in fact, it’s one of the most exciting aspects of your 20s. So when you feel that nagging voice creeping in, meet it head-on, and tell the voice that it’s reflecting an outdated, patriarchal, and sexist norm that you don’t accept. And that dating is what you — a consenting, autonomous adult — want to do. You get to choose how you want to spend your time and your life, not society.

DR: Obviously, that sucks! But, having grown up in a conservative family in a small town, I relate to this so much. And, it’ll probably make you happy to know that I was able to overcome it — so, maybe, you will be, too.

Here’s how: the mantra is to unlearn these societal and cultural ‘diktats’ around dating, and tell yourself that nothing else matters as long as what (or whom) you’re doing makes you happy. Morality is a very human construct, which means: hey, you can design your own moral values! As long as you aren’t breaking any laws and violating 50 different social distancing norms and putting people around you at risk, you’re not doing anything wrong. While it may be too late to change your family’s opinions around dating — meaning that you may need to continue making excuses if you care about avoiding conflicts or don’t want to disappoint them — I think it’s time for you to shed your self-inflicted barriers and rule the dating scene! The world is already a difficult place to live in; the least we can do to make it better for ourselves is to stop living by values that suffocate us. Good luck!

ADT: Honestly, considering how absolutely droll and boring the modern dating scene is, I think having this particular ‘fear’ is delightful. Feeling guilty about having fun, and then having fun anyway is just a special kind of feeling. Savor it! Enjoy this tortured longing, because soon you’re going to simply stop caring about ‘traditions’ and ‘conventions’ and aimlessly swipe through the dating app ecosystem till the end of civilization.

However, I’d also advise you to actively try to work through thinking you’re ‘bad’ for dating whoever you like. This dating ecosystem thrives off making women feel like garbage, and we simply cannot have you blaming yourself if another person behaves like a douchebag with you. Stay safe and swipe away!


Written By The Swaddle Team


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