I’ve been a part of various social groups at the educational institutions I’ve attended during my lifetime. I would meet girls and boys of my age from multiple backgrounds every other day. In addition to direct experiences, I would hear stories from my close friends about our mutual acquaintances and the issues that young adults face in their romantic or ‘pre-marital’ relationships. My friends were mostly either a part of it or extended their full support to others. In my case, it was either my religious bias or a cultural one that intervened. My comment or opinion on relationships was typically conventional, conforming to religious and cultural values in our society. They were the type that would win the approval of desi-aunties and religious figures. I would also look at relationships from an outsider lens without ever trying to understand the complexities or the ‘grey areas’ of it until I had a chance to look deeper into the dynamic.
I do not prefer to generalize as the cases vary from person to person. However, a common issue that I identified was toxic parenting. The reason why our youth opts to stay in relationships after passing the ‘getting-to-know’ phase is not always out of choice, but rather a result of a systematic problem that exists on a grass-root level. While I understand the generation gap that persists in all spheres, parents not being able to develop an emotionally secure bond with their children is the attributing cause behind it. Young adults are pushed to a point where they don’t feel safe enough to share with their parents that they have developed emotions for a partner and want to spend the rest of their lives with them. They are constantly bashed for feeling something that is perfectly natural, while all they seek is to be understood by their primary caregivers. The bashing further leads to self-doubt, low self-esteem, loss of confidence in decision making, feelings of shame, etc. which compromises the mental as well as physical health of young adults. It is the two extremities where children are often asked to either leave their parents and elope, or leave their partner and marry the person chosen by their parents. This is where the gap extends between a child and their parent, and it continues to expand as we hear stories of other friends in our surroundings undergoing similar circumstances. The continuous denial on parents’ part contributes to the internalized fear of abandonment that young adults have developed collectively, which results in forming romantic relationships that they can hide.
The institution of marriage is accompanied by vast standards created by our culture and choosing a partner yourself is met with humiliation. I wonder whether the anger comes out of the desi parents as a result of their authority being challenged, where they find it hard to accept that their children are free individuals who can exercise their agency and choose a partner for themselves with a different criteria from their elders. If not, is it the fear of being questioned by certain religious and cultural ideals that would otherwise outcast the parents for allowing their children to marry someone who does not fit the general criteria. By no means would I tend to disregard the situations where parents don’t object to the choice of their children. However, I would say it is almost a privilege to have emotionally healthy ties with parents given the societal norms in this day and age.
As romantic relationships have blended into the youth culture now, it is the need of the hour to look into the intricacies of it, rather than using a singular black-and-white lens that fits into a socio-religious perspective. While I personally struggle to look beyond the apparent labels that have been created in interactions with the opposite gender, I am convinced that the relationship dynamic that exists among young adults today is a consequence of a troubling family structure. It is a pressing matter that requires attention in order to heal from a collective trauma that the youth and elders are both suffering from.
Amna Sheikh has completed her Bachelor’s in Social Sciences and Liberal Arts with a major focus in Psychology, from the Institute of Business Administration, Karachi. She does not only have an entrepreneurial spirit by running a few small-scale projects in her homeland but also writes reflectively on social issues to understand life from a deeper and holistic perspective.