By Simran Randhawa
This past month has been marked with many sentiments around love: Valentine’s Day (the obvious), my own anniversary, and Netflix’s Love is Blind, to name a few.
Watching reactions to Love is Blind unfold over social media over the last week has also meant reading numerous opinion pieces on the reality of dating as a woman of colour. on the show both Shake and Deepti mention having never dated an Indian before, and Shake was pretty insistent on letting Deepti know that not only does he “only dates blondes” (read: white girls), but also that he wasn’t physically attracted to her - a rejection I have faced from brown men all too many times. This obviously speaks to beauty ideals and media but, as a brown woman, navigating dating white men also comes with its own challenges. From fetishisation (‘I love brown girls’) to potential community shame, dating and love as a brown girl isn’t the most straightforward of paths.
‘The birds and the bees’ was never a conversation I had with my parents, let alone anything pertaining to sexual health or healthy relationships - any conversations related to dating was usually shrouded in shame. To spell it out, the shame stemmed from an idea that I needed to only date a certain type of person from a certain background as this was deemed ‘acceptable’ and what was ‘best for me’. These specifics didn’t add up to the reality of a young girl living in London, being exposed to different people from different backgrounds. When the time came for my first boyfriend - who was not Punjabi - all hell broke loose. The trauma and anxiety surrounding that experience shaped and informed my attitude towards dating moving forward.
Representation in the media is one thing, but what about when romance is missing from your reality too? For too many years I didn’t know anyone who experienced the romantic ideas reflected in my head, those of worthy love, respect and admiration. If anything, many of the girls and women around me shared parallel experiences. Those of abuse, disrespect and tension. So, how do you emulate what you don’t see?
For a long time in my community a woman taking any agency over her love life, body and sexuality was something that was frowned upon. However, standing up for yourself doesn’t always give you the romantic escape you want - asserting yourself and finding happiness are two uniquely different things. There’s no blueprint helping young girls navigate the additional cultural pressure that exists on top of dating. The path through shame, fetishisation, taboo, rejection, ghosting, dates, talking stages, sex (and more) isn’t one we’re usually taught how to naviagte at all. But on the flip side, there’s usually no means of escape for us either in the media - there’s no TV shows in which we can escape within.
Looking back at the anxiety I lived with during my teenage years, I realize that I am so lucky to have been able to create that for myself. We are all deserving of healthy relationships, whether or not we have grown up around them.