The Pressure of Family Expectations

Fulfilling the expectations of your family and society are not the same as being a useful member of society.

We live as social beings, and we derive immense benefit from the cumulative knowledge of other human beings, and from their labor in creating a comfortable and safe civilization for us all.  Realizing this, a healthy person will want to flourish and prosper in a way that makes for a meaningful life, and which adds value for his fellow human beings, or to nature at large.

In fact, a strong argument can be made that a meaningful life has to be about more than oneself.  A narcissist or a self-centered person lives for himself, but suffers from atomization, alienation, apathy and loneliness.  His pleasures are short-lived, and he needs to continually validate his existence through consumerist possessions and by manipulating other human beings.

In contrast, a balanced human being has both inner and outer goals.  He has meaningful relationships with other people, and uses his energy in ways which benefit his environment, while also having a strong inner emotional core that can withstand adversity and tragedy.

Understanding this, let us reflect on societal and familial expectations.

In India, community life is very much alive and potent.  Kids live with their parents till their late twenties (unless the college or university is in another city).  Parents therefore comprise a very large space in one’s emotional being.  This attachment to one’s parents can wreak havoc when it is time to make important life choices.

At those times, an Indian man comes under intense pressure to become a conformant member of the society: to live according to the expectations of his parents and his extended social circle.  From education to career choices to even one’s marriage, there is intense pressure and emotional manipulation to choose what others want you to choose.  The expectation is: get educated, get a safe job, get married to a girl from a similar background, and spend the rest of your life supporting your wife and kids, and your parents and your brothers and sisters.  There is nothing wrong with having a support system in one’s family in times of trouble, but these expectations of later support can quickly turn into pressures to do something or not in the present.

If you become a rich engineer, your parents feel safer about their old age, your brother and sister feel safer that you are their safety net.  On the other hand, if you become a world-class rock-climber, what will they get out of you?  So, for their future, they will try to manipulate you in the present.

Someone who follows the dictates of his family and society is considered a “good man”, and someone who seeks to chart his own path might be name-called as “selfish”, “ungrateful” or “disrespectful”.  This internalization of equating goodness with fulfilling others’ expectations is a serious neurosis, and we have seen many men fall prey to this and finally succumb to getting on the traditional bandwagon.  We believe that goodness is when you are fulfilling your full potential, and that can have myriad forms.  Since each successive generation is presented with more knowledge and awareness of the world, and since the world is changing so fast these days, it is quite likely that the expectations of your parents and elders are archaic and make little sense and will thwart you from fulfillment.

Wise parents try to see what their child is capable of, and encourage him to become the best that he can.  Unwise parents try to force their paradigms, prejudices and beliefs on the child.

If you have a natural talent for and wish to become a mountaineer, a writer or a musician, your family might protest that these “career choices” are risky and won’t pay.  They are usually comparing abstract rewards of meaning and fulfillment of such a path to the money and status that comes with following an established path.  New, untrodden paths are risky, and Indian society is extremely risk-averse.

In India, due to poverty, a long history of subjugation and a highly dysfunctional set of institutions, safety, survival and prosperity have attained extreme importance, to the detriment of creativity, exploration and enterprise.

In such an environment, you will be all alone if you want to do something “different”.  You will have to be very strong to withstand the onslaught of criticism and to disobey your parents, and see them in tears or worse.

One of the strongest expectations is for Indian men to remain virgins or limit their interaction with the opposite sex, and if they have a girlfriend or a live-in partner, to get married to her.  After all, a man who explores his sexuality, the strongest instinct of them all, might also explore other ways to live his life.  This creates a nation of betas (no Hindi pun intended) who are cockblocked by their own families.

In this blog post on ReturnOfKings, an Indian man describes his struggle with these expectations.  His post is titled “Taking the Red Pill Destroyed my Family“.

His parents desperately wanted to marry him off in his twenties, for their own reasons.  When he resisted, all hell broke loose.

On a fortnightly basis my very traditional mother did her best, ringing me to ask if I had a girlfriend and why I wasn’t looking. She’d know of  ‘some girl’ who is ‘only’ between 26-29. At 25 I had just started ‘game,’ but as that year went on I immersed myself more and more into the real reality of dating and what my value as a man was. Now I started to understand what I needed to do, with marriage nowhere on my list. Slowly I started to find more women interested in me compared to my barren years in my early 20s.

I got tired of my mother’s bitching, the woman whose siblings’ children were all getting married and having ‘fairytale’ Indian weddings. I knew that my mother wanted a wedding for herself in Indian culture, a status-showing occasion more for parents than an actual celebration of the marriage. She wanted to buy all the glamorous sarees, jewelry, and clothes. She wanted to pretty up a couple of banquet halls and show off my old man’s wealth.

He stuck to his guns, even enduring his father “disowning” him.  And in the end, his family buckled.

One day I sat them all down and sternly explained why I made the choices I made. I told them I would not yield. My father reluctantly accepted what I said while my mother put on a strained smile that showed her pain in having to let go of the magical wedding. My brother? He was just happy I was back and now “in charge.” I’m in charge? Yes, somehow I’m now king of my tribe. My mother is pacified and my father is going on about he’s happy if we’re happy. I thought taking the red pill caused me to lose my family for good, but the values it taught me helped me get them right back.

But there are many stories with an alternate, tragic ending, wherein a man or a woman got married or made a career choice just to keep their parents happy.

Never live your life on the emotional whims of another.  Be a useful an upstanding member of society, but have a spine, and do not betray your own intelligence and potential.  Resist emotional manipulation, and be willing to stand alone in your manliness.

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