Can we please stop calling it ‘dating’ because Indians don’t do that word

holding hands - age 10, and age 8
holding hands – age 10, and age 8 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

No, we don’t.

We claim kinship to members of the opposite sex, exchange gifts on a designated day of the year and occasionally append a ‘bhaiyya’ or ‘didi’ to their names. We hang around in bunches when we’re in college and pretend we’re not specifically there for one person. When Facebook decides that India is a big market, they’ll probably add ‘is rakhi brother/sister of’ to their relationship options.

I’m confused. I straddle two worlds, one that recognizes and lives in the above references. The other whose daily relationship landscape includes hooking up, one-night stands, living in, asking out and multiple relationships. Where does someone who lives in both worlds at once stand and what is our language for it?

This new, urban India I represent, it has an oft-used passport, it’s on Season 6 of HIMYM (even knows what that stands for) and has a favorite browser and smartphone app. But it also has a life that’s kept separate (even secret) from family, consumes Bollywood-bedecked archaic rituals and is petrified of talking about sex (only talking about it, not doing it).

Attraction – should it be acknowledged or not? We can’t say. We’re simultaneously cool and appropriate.

We don’t live under strict rules of interaction with the opposite sex (though many of us were brought up with those in childhood and well into our adolescence). We’re allowed to hang out, even solo and be friends with the opposite sex. But we don’t know how to differentiate between the friendly interactions and the ones with a definite romantic/sexual motive.

I seem to often err on this. I’m friendly and approachable so conversations, interactions and associations abound. Sometimes lines get crossed, motives are misunderstood and feelings are hurt. Relationships and conversations are complex, this is true. But we don’t even have a language for broadly distinguishing what might be what.

We need an India-friendly way of saying “I’m interested in you but if you’re not interested or single, don’t worry, I’m not weird.” Subsequently we’ll also need an India-friendly way of saying, “No, thanks. That’s not possible. But it’s okay. We’re just two human beings and we’re alright.” And until then, ‘friends’ doesn’t cut it and ‘dating’? That’s just plain foreign.

India's Paradox: Thriving Press, Stifling Inte...
India’s Paradox: Thriving Press, Stifling Internet? (Photo credit: World Economic Forum)

2 thoughts on “Can we please stop calling it ‘dating’ because Indians don’t do that word

  1. I found your blog recently when I was doing research on a situation I’ve found myself in and I was wondering if you could help with understand what might be happening with this Indian man that I know.

    He owns a snack shop on the first floor of the building I work in. He’s married with children. One day I was having a rough day. Turns out a guy I know who I was interested for quite a while was leading me on, and I found out he had a girlfriend after he kept hinting to me repeatedly over an hour he wanted to go on a date. It had been a rough run lately in the dating department, and I was feeling pretty low about myself.

    This man is very kind, and when I went down for a snack he seemed to be able to tell there was something wrong. He asked me what was wrong, and I just wanted to blow it off and I told him I was fine. Then he asked, “Something to do with your boyfriend?” and I broke. It had been a really stressful couple of days with family emergencies and work and then this… He put a hand over my eye and told me not to cry. Then, he refused to let me pay for my snacks.

    A couple of days later he gave me a snow globe. I assumed it was a gift to cheer me up. I accepted it, and thanked him, not wanting to be rude.

    When I go down I buy a snack and he often puts something extra in the bag for me. I haven’t thought too much of it until today.

    Today I went down and was holding a conversation with him. He told me he was going back to India for a little while. I told him I always thought India was beautiful and that I once thought about visiting. He told me to go with him, “I’ll treat you like a princess.”

    I politely declined and went to get my snacks. He filled a whole bag full of food for me. I tried to pay for it, but he wouldn’t let me. Then, he mentioned he wanted to take me shopping one weekend for Christmas and give me a Christmas gift. I told him that wasn’t necessary, but he replied, “I care very deeply for you. You are my dream girl.” And he covered his heart with his hands.

    I was both flattered and uncertain, and insisted I didn’t need a Christmas gift. I think he is a very kind man and means well, but was I wrong to assume that his small gifts were just kind gestures? I’m worried that he is looking for something I’m not interested in. He is much older than me, in his fifties, (and married). I’m 26.

    I did some research on Indian customs and found it is common for gift giving, but I don’t know how to tell if he is giving me a gift because he wants me to be his girlfriend, or if he is giving me a gift because he views me as a daughterly figure. Is there a polite way to refuse gifts that won’t offend him? Is there a difference in the way a man gives gifts to a woman he is interested in vs. a woman he views as a friend/daughter?

    I’m just trying to find the best approach so I do not hurt his feelings or offend him, as he is very kind and has a heart of gold. I was wondering, or rather hoping, you might have some advice for me?


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