The back of a woman looking out of the window

“I’ll be seen as a bad example”: the very real expectations for unmarried South Asian women to live at home

Being judged, cast out by the community and seen as the “bad example”, what happens when you want independence as a single South Asian woman but are pressured to stay in the family home.

“Girls only leave home once they’re married.”

“It’s shameful to live with a boyfriend.”

“Why would you want to leave your parents? Don’t you love them?”… said the South Asian aunties of all the young brown women thinking of leaving their family home – dare I say it – unmarried.

Who would have thought that something as simple as moving out as an unmarried woman would come with such shame and guilt? However, this is quite the norm for me and for many South Asian girls, who I like to refer to as “brown girls”.

As I approach my 30s, I’m incredibly ready to fly the nest now – with or without a partner. I don’t want to wait until Prince Charming puts a ring on it and takes me away, as in the eyes of my parents, that’s the only time they will find it acceptable for me to leave. 

I want to be independent, pay my own bills (yes, that’s crazy – who would want to do that?), make my own food, and style my home in a way that resembles me. That’s what grown-ups do, right? For most, it’s a natural progression to find your way in life at some point and fend for yourself.

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Although we are incredibly blessed to have parents that want to do nothing but provide and make our lives comfortable, it can come at a cost. It’s still their house, their rules.

Why don’t I just leave, you ask? Reputation is everything, and South Asian parents or families care enormously about what others think or what others will say. Every move we make, we make as a community, and especially as a young South Asian woman, every move is made with significant consideration of other people’s opinions and the fear of being judged or cast out. We constantly have to uphold an image of perfection, or as close to, which comes with some pressure.

A little while back, I approached the subject with my parents: the idea of possibly moving out and living on my own.

It took me some time to even pluck up the courage; I had to get all of my facts and figures in check, and know exactly what I wanted to say. For example, being extremely clear on costs, where exactly I’d be moving to, statistics on the crime rate in the area, and that’s just the half of it. I’ll tell you now, no matter how prepared I was, I didn’t have the answers or the right responses to all the guilt that would come my way.

“Do you hate us that much? You have all the space here. What more could you need? We do everything for you; why would you want to leave?” they responded.

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At that moment, the guilt certainly set in, and it made me question myself and the decision I had made for myself. They were right, completely right. How could I not agree with them? They have always done everything for me. In those moments, there was nothing I could say to reassure them of my choices.

I couldn’t even begin to imagine what the reaction would have been like if I had said I wanted to move out with a boyfriend. It wouldn’t just be my parents sharing their disappointment, but an entire community.

Even if you wanted to keep it a secret that you’d moved out, someone, somewhere (most likely a nosy long-distant cousin) will track you down on Instagram and have no problem sharing your news with the rest of the family. The talking aunties and extended family members would have a field day with this type of news.

Every time you turn up to a family event, your relatives and even the aunties that aren’t actually your aunties will have no problem asking you tons of questions and making you feel bad.

Not only that, but those aunties will start to use you as the “bad example” when trying to control the actions of their own children. It’s a real shame. Here we are, young brown girls living in a western society, trying to progress, fit in and be “normal” while balancing cultural expectations.

If I’m honest, the same amount of guilt can set in even if you are married and you have chosen not to live with the in-laws. There really is no winning. I understand, South Asians have a lot of family values, and we can lean on each other; however, there are so many rules and expectations.

It’s 2021, so why is it still so difficult for brown girls to have their independence?

I personally think there are two sides to the coin, and I generally like to look at this optimistically and see that it all comes from a place of love. South Asian families have a difficult way of showing their affection, but by feeding you the most delicious home-cooked meals and always giving you somewhere you can call home, no matter how old you are, they truly mean well.

Unfortunately, I also believe it can be their way of controlling you, and ensuring that as long as you’re in their house, you’re following their rules and not jeopardising the family’s reputation.

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Either way, whether it’s love or control, neither are reasons to stop you from living your life for yourself. The best advice I could give to anyone that wants to move out before or after their marriage is to save, save, save. Do your best to be financially independent before anything else and then have open and honest conversations with the people who really need to know about your decisions.

Don’t give in to the guilt, and don’t ever let anyone shame you for a decision you have made for yourself.

Images: Getty

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