We started this advice column as a space to hear and attempt to answer questions that our readers may be struggling with. While this column mostly focuses on dating, love, and sex, we will take a crack at answering any Sikhi related questions! These are all tough topics to handle alone and not all of us have friends or family to turn to for advice. We hope this advice column can begin to fill this gap!
I’m in my twenties and seriously dating someone of a different race and who is agnostic. I love him and could see myself spending my life with him, but I’m worried about backlash from my parents and family, and also about how we would raise any kids we might have one day given our religious and cultural differences. I can’t exactly ask my parents for their thoughts since they don’t know that we’re dating. Any thoughts or advice? He makes me so happy but I’m worried that I’m being naive.
Thank you for your question. We can only imagine what a tough spot you must be in — to care so deeply for someone, yet to not know whether they are the life partner for you. It is important for you to know that, despite what the community or your parents might tell you, there is no ultimate, objectively right or wrong decision. There is only what may be right or wrong for you, and your relationship to Sikhi. It can be hard when you have butterflies in your stomach or if you consider your partner your best friend. We are glad you are giving yourself the opportunity to grow and understand what values are most important to you. We are sure you already know how impactful a life partner can be, in terms of various aspects of your life. Time and reflection are central to ensuring you know what your values are and what you want your future (and present) to look like.
We have divided this article into large subject areas from which you can think about the decision in front of you. Under each section, we have tried to provide a variety of perspectives from fellow Kaurs, as well as questions to ask yourself. In reviewing each section, try to identify your non-negotiables. What are your core values? What are values you are more willing to compromise on? Making a list – first by yourself, and later with your partner – might be helpful.
Sikhi and Your Relationship
From a Sikh perspective, a good relationship is one that helps you connect to the Divine and where the Divine is at its center. That being said, there is no guarantee that a Sikh person would support you in your journey to connect with the Divine, nor that a non-Sikh person would not.
Here are a few helpful anecdotes from fellow Kaurs about their experiences with dating Sikhs and non-Sikhs:
“During my time dating a person who was not Sikh, I learned more about my views on spirituality, society, and relationships. I realized that my ethos is deeply rooted in Sikhi — ideas of liberation, love, community. I was committed to working in roles where I pushed the envelope to create a more just society. My partner didn’t share my vision of a more just society, or care to work to creating one. I eventually realized that our relationship had an expiration date. It took a lot of emotional work to come to this conclusion. I had to do a lot of self-reflecting on my individual long-term goals.”
“Personally, I am so happy that I’m in a relationship with another Sikh. It’s one more sphere in life where the two of us can bond together. My partner is a central part of my Sikh journey and challenges me with Sikh history and Gurbani. They support me when I veer off track.”
“One of the reasons my interfaith relationship worked for me is that I found that my non-Sikh partner actually pushed me to be a better Sikh. We learned more about Sikhi together and he kept me accountable to doing paath regularly. I believe the Guru brings people into our lives for a reason, and I saw the value my partner had in my life in making me a better Sikh and centering myself in my Guru.”
“My friend dated a white man for two years. They loved each other, but ultimately she knew she wanted to end up with a Sikh man, so they broke up. Having a Sikh partner was a non-negotiable for her. Do you know whether it is a non-negotiable for you?”
Questions to think more about: What do you want your spiritual practice to look like? Do you want your partner to be a part of your spiritual practice? Is this a value that matters to you? Do you and your partner connect in a way that will help you learn and grow spiritually? When you are going through Sikh-specific struggles or triumphs, is having a Sikh partner who understands the gravity and importance of these things important?
Sikhi asks us to be spiritually and civically engaged. Guru Hargobind Sahib gave us the concept of Miri-Piri to remind us of this dual commitment. What elements of the Sikh lifestyle are most important to you? How do you want your partner to participate alongside you in those elements? Is accepting Amrit one day an aspiration you have? If so, do you have a plan for how your partner will support you in that? Do you want to have a Sikh Anand Karaj? If yes, the Rehat Maryada says that only those who accept the Guru as the center of their lives can do so.
Lifestyle and Values
Culture, religion, and lifestyle have to do with the activities with which you choose to engage and the community with whom you do these activities. This includes going to Bhangra nights, going to Gurdwara regularly or occasionally, what food you eat, and makes you feel at home.
Fellow Kaurs weighed in on how their Sikh and non-Sikh partners affect their lifestyle:
“I was fine with my partner being of a different religious background, but it was important to me that he’s South Asian so we could speak in Hindi to each other, watch Bollywood together and celebrate similar holidays. I know those are little things, but to me, they added up.”
“It is not okay for your partner to be ‘willing’ to engage in a practice that is foreign to them if what you ultimately want is someone with whom you can share your faith and spirituality. Religion and culture run deep, so asking someone to adopt your practices can be a lot. That’s why they should be not only willing but also enthusiastic. If it’s feeling like a burden already, that is something you all should talk about.”
“My great-uncle came to the United States in the ‘60’s and fell in love with a Mexican woman. They live alone and keep to themselves mostly. They love eating Indian food together. Every Sunday, my great-uncle still goes to Gurdwara, but his partner never goes. I think it works out that way. He gets to do his thing and she does hers. They found a system that works.”
Questions to think more about: How important is sharing culture, language, or heritage with your partner? Is it important for you to participate in certain cultural or religious activities? Is it important for your partner to join? Are they willing and excited to attend? Are you willing and excited to do the same for them?
You mentioned you might want to have kids someday. It is worth spending some time thinking about how you want to raise them, especially if faith and culture are important to you. Like with any other major decision, it is important to discuss potential tension points around the intersectionality of raising kids, culture, religion, and any additional factors before taking the next step with a partner.
Here are some thoughts from Kaurs regarding raising kids and interfaith relationships:
“It is very possible to celebrate and raise kids with each parent’s different cultural background. My (non-Sikh) partner and I discuss which cultural traditions are important enough for us to participate in and pass down.”
“Having seen the intricacies of interfaith families in my own household, I knew it was very important to discuss certain issues with my partner. Growing up, I had seen the points of tension that come up when parents raise their kids with two different faith traditions. I realized that it’s very difficult to raise kids with two faiths because there are rules and prayers and customs that may oppose or contradict each other. It’s also confusing for the kids when it comes to identifying with a community, building their own spirituality and, frankly, memorizing all the prayers of two faiths.”
“I thought hard about how I would want to raise my kids. I realized that in the future, I want to raise Sikh kids because I see Sikhi as a gift that I would want to give my kids. To be transparent, I discussed this with my partner when our relationship was first developing. He did not grow up very religious so he was comfortable with having Sikh kids, but he didn’t know how to raise them. This meant the emotional labor would fall to me. I would have to take the lead, not only with typical duties that are imposed on mothers but also spiritual duties. Still, I was willing to take on this work if we ever had kids because our relationship was important to me.”
Questions to think more about: What do you want your future to look like? We fully realize that as a twenty-something, it’s hard to know sometimes. The truth is that at this age, we are still changing and growing so much. Sometimes it is hard to know what we ourselves will want in 10 or 20 years. Is it important for you to raise your children Sikh? If so, is your partner willing and excited to support you in your choices? Are you willing and excited to adopt any religious or cultural preferences your partner may have in raising your children? How much labor are you and your partner willing to put in to make this happen?
Family and Community
We believe you should be able to marry and love whomever you want. That being said, families can be intense. Some parents come around to the idea of their children marrying outside of the community, but others never do. The stress of unhappy families can extend into one’s relationship. It is important to remember that choosing to love someone through it all is a choice. Likewise, setting yourself and someone else free is also an equally valid choice. It is important to have clear expectations of what you are getting into and to know what lengths you are willing to go to fight for the relationship. We believe that love conquers all, and also that love sometimes has to be practical and logical.
Questions to think more about: How might your family react to you taking the next step with your partner? Are you ready for the emotional labor that this might take if your family is not supportive? Is your partner ready to support you through it? Are you willing to support your partner if their family is not supportive of your relationship? Is your relationship strong enough to take on this sort of long-term stress? How much are you willing to fight for your love?
Thoughts on Talking to Your Family
You mentioned that you can not go to your parents for support because they do not know you are dating. We are not sure what your relationship with your parents is like, but we imagine that eventually, you will have to talk to them if you chose to move forward with the relationship. We know that this can be tricky. Since most of our parents do not know what dating in the West entails and may not have explored the same questions you have, there may be a gap between what your parents want for you and can understand about your situation. We suggest starting the conversation only when you feel ready to handle the heavy emotions that the dialogue may come with. Be prepared with lots of empathy and patience and a game plan for something light-hearted to do after.
Also. Sometimes our parents and loved ones can surprise us. You know best in this situation, but your family might actually be able to help you think through what feels good for you and why. Starting a dialogue may even be an opportunity to discuss your values with your parents and what is most important to you in life. Know that if you choose the start the dialogue and things feel unsettled, it is okay. Like so many things in life, a dialogue about breaking social and cultural norms can be emotionally triggering and take time to come to terms with. Trust your gut on this one–if you feel like it is important to talk to them, trust that things will also work themselves out when they are meant to.
We wish we had all the answers and that this process could be simpler. While ultimately you have to do the hard work of asking yourself what you want for your future (regardless of who your partner is) know that you are not alone. A number of us have been in similar positions. We are here for you in spirit, somewhere across InternetLand. Know that if you are brave enough to ask yourself the questions you have been hiding from, then the truth and answers are not far off. We will be thinking of you as you continue to think about your future.
Some Sikhs with Some Thoughts
The advice offered in this column is intended for informational purposes only. Use of this column not intended to replace or substitute for any professional advice whether it be psychological, financial, medical, legal, spiritual, or other professional advice. If you have specific concerns or a situation in which you require professional, psychological or medical help, you should consult with an appropriately trained and qualified specialist. This column, its authors, Kaur Life, Kaur Life’s affiliates, and the publisher are not responsible for the outcome or results of following any advice in any given situation. You, and only you, are completely responsible for your actions.