love is a three-headed monster

navigating love as a bengali-american woman and how i lust to be alone.

(note: I am currently writing this at 3am and I am just spilling everything I am currently feeling so it’s a bit scattered. I apologize in advance! Also, these thoughts do NOT represent all South Asian women living in the diaspora. These are simply my own personal thoughts and personal experiences.)

Falling in love to me is really scary. Love to me has always been a three-headed monster waiting to gouge my heart out, sinking their sharp teeth, and ripping it into shreds.

When I look into the eyes of one of the heads of the monster, I see my elders trapped in the reflection. Growing up, the elders in my family had always told me to “stay away from boys” because “chele manush onek karap/ boys are very bad”. They’d utilize all sorts of fear tactics they could possibly find. Whether it be how I would be destroying the family honor, how sinful it would be for me to be with a boy that I wasn’t married to, or using stories of girls that rebelled against their parents and ran away with some guy. They’d say that those girls that would sneak around were “nostho/bad” and that good girls wouldn’t do that.

But the warning that had instilled in me the most was that by falling in love, it would somehow “mess up my life”. All boys were was a distraction from my future, and once I would fall in love, there was no going back.

For the past 21 years, whenever someone would express romantic interest towards me, my immediate reaction was to ignore them or find it “annoying” or a “disturbance”. I believed that by simply falling in love, my future would ultimately be shattered. And as a first-generation girl growing up in America, I couldn’t handle that. I didn’t want to disobey my parents as I knew how much they struggled for me. Falling in love would be selfish and its a slap in the face for everything they had gone through, I’d think.

I know that my parents just wanted to protect me from hurt and heartbreak. It wasn’t their intention to make something so pure and wonderful into something to be afraid of. But were they truly afraid that I would get hurt by my lover or would it hurt them more to hear whispers from our community of how nostho/bad their daughter turned out to be?

I’d look back at my life and ponder about all the girls that would leave their homes with long sleeves and jeans, telling their parents they were going to the school library to study. But instead, they would change in the local McDonald’s into short skirts, with shaved legs, let out their long glossy hair, and painted on dark red lipstick. They’d have this planned weeks in advance to see their secret boyfriends. I would scoff at them, labeling them as “McDonald sluts” and think how horrible their parents would feel if they found out what their trashy daughters were doing. But I would never do that because I was a good girl.

But now, I wonder if I missed out. I am envious of how courageous and bold these girls were. They had used their youth relishing in their lives by surrendering themselves to young forbidden love. I wonder what it’s like to be so young and not yet jaded by the cynical reality, taking every chance to risk their reputation for a small moment of pure intimacy. What did I gain from judging them? What did I gain from staying home, watching them?

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A few months ago when I turned 21, the conversation at home had suddenly shifted. One that I was definitely not prepared for. My mother had started to ask me if I had a boyfriend or if there was someone that I liked. I had thought she was testing me to see if I was ‘on the right path’. And when I became startled and immediately said no, she’d mischievously laugh and said she just wanted to know. My father would jab jokes whenever I’d make jhalmuri for him and say “will you make this for your shashuri/mother in law?”

Out of thin air, it seemed like my entire family had started to talk about boys when just a few months ago, the word “dating” was only whispered in the household as if it was a curse or a shameful secret. The change felt unsettling. All my life, I was to stay away from men and that I was forbidden to even think about them. But now that I have turned into an adult or reached a “marriageable” age, it was suddenly okay to talk about it. But how could I? How could I even think about marriage, when all my life I have been engraved with the notion that being in a relationship would mean that I am reckless and that there were dangerous monsters waiting to tear my life apart?

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Love had also made me feel like it would mean that I would no longer be independent, which is a characteristic I had always been proud of. I would puff my chest out with pride and tell my friends that “I don’t need a partner to feel good about myself” or “I don’t need someone to take care of me”. In high school, I would secretly feel pompous whenever a girl in my class would be upset for not having a man that would give their designated attention to. As if I was a modern woman or more powerful for not wanting to be loved.

Every time I had heard my friends talking about their dream wedding and what they want their husband to be like, I always felt unsettled.

When I had explained to them that I don’t want to get married, they’d stare at me back, puzzled.

Independence was something I had secretly craved for my entire life. I had dreamed of traveling the world by myself, wearing whatever I want without someone keeping me under surveillance, taking walks whenever I wanted to without having to explain why or where I was going beforehand, indulging into my guilty pleasures of obsessively watching crime documentaries until 3am while eating ice cream with no one to judge me, having a small apartment with large windows, and drowning myself in sunlight. The feeling that I would be alone with not another presence in the room and doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted seems dreamy. Falling in love made me feel like this utopia I had built would be taken away.

I would sense their silent judgment when I had told them this in exhilaration. How could someone so desperately want to be alone? To be in a room with no one else, left alone with yourself and your thoughts? Why would a girl ever dream about being an unmarried woman? There was something obviously wrong with her, they’d think. Perhaps she’s too chalack/clever. Too educated, too modern.

But the truth is, I can’t help but feel that marriage will tie me down. When I had told my mother this, she said that this was not true and that marriage could be liberating as well.

“What do you mean by marriage being liberating, Amu?”

“I mean that making your own little world and creating a family is a beautiful thing.”

Your own little world echoed in my head. I had thought about all the times my mother had come home from a long day of work to cook food for my father, and how I would tell her to order food in if she was too tired. But she’d refused, saying that we had already ordered food the night before and it would be disrespectful to my father if we did so again. One by one, all the women in my family had entered my head and how throughout their entire life, their purpose had resulted in pleasing their husband and their husband’s family.

When I look into the eyes of the second head of the monster, I see my future. I am with a man my parents would deem that most fit for me, and my mother in law. They are staring at me with their pursed lips, nose flaring, glaring at me. I see myself in the corner, my head bowed down, constantly thinking of what would be considered shameful and not shameful to them.

Would this someday by my world? I shuttered at the thought and suddenly felt suffocated as if my lungs and throat were filled with cotton.

“But isn’t it tiring to constantly please the other?”, I asked.

“Marriage is filled with compromises. You have to be selfless and understanding.”

For some reason, the word compromise had stung me. But I don’t want to make compromises. I want to just live, I whispered. I gasped at myself, feeling monstrous. Am I selfish for thinking this way?

When I told her about my worries, she said that she would find a respectable, educated, modern man for me. But then I thought about all the husbands that had fit into these criteria that the woman in my family married into. I laughed to myself as I knew that being a “respectable, educated, modern man” did not stop them from their endless nagging, surveillance, and orders.

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I stare into the eyes of the third monster, the most vicious of them all. In them, I see my formidable truth. My stomach suddenly feels full and hot, as if it is filled with scorching coal, and my chest is tight. This feeling is somehow familiar, and I realize that this happens whenever my elders talk about my future marriage and husband. How the man they want for me will be tall, educated, respectful, and modern. But what if the person I fall in love with are none of these things?

I look back at the three-headed monster. Each of their heads scowls at me. My elders, my future, and my daunting truth. They ogle at me, wondering what my next move is.

I put my arms up, declaring that I surrender. It is better to be alone, I say.