Ignorance and prejudice crushing our relationship
I am a 27-year-old Indian female from VA with an autoimmune skin disorder called Vitiligo (milky white patches on skin) since the age of 8. I am in a great relationship with the most wonderful, caring, compassionate, honest and self-made 28-year-old man (a doctor) for the past year. He knows all about my condition, its medical relevance, my family history, genetic factors etc.
With all this, I am happy to say Vitiligo has never affected any aspect of our relationship. It has only made it stronger. In the past couple of months, we shared our thoughts about getting married, settling down, kids etc. However, we both have been aware of the social stigma attached to this condition in India. He hails from a fairly simple and traditional middle class family in India. My family hails from a city and are urban and modern in their outlook, while his parents are not. There is a difference in living standards, educational qualifications etc. Please note, all this was of no relevance to us and especially to me until now. I couldn't even bother about this before. I always knew his mother is a small town woman with very traditional notions about a daughter-in-law and very high expectations for a wife for her son (as with all mothers).
Since the day we began talking about marriage I started mentioning the fact about my condition and the consequences that may come along with telling his folks about it - that it may go either way. They knew and were excited about the fact that their son has chosen a girl, but were unaware of my condition until a month ago. When they were told, all hell broke loose. We are still reeling under the massive emotional upheaval of it. My partner, his parents, and myself I guess. I was not the one who told them by the way, my partner did. I have never spoken to them.
My mom's reaction was as knee-jerk as it could get: total and utter shock, disbelief and then a dramatic realization that genetics play a role in this. She went on an emotionally-violent spree, threatened to stop eating, drinking, disown my partner if he has anything to do with me anymore. My partner was completely unprepared for this, as he miscalculated the decision of informing them. I think he should have taken me seriously before this mess, when I kept asking him to anticipate - to some extent - as to what their reaction may be. He kept brushing it aside, saying his parents are nice decent folks.
The whole drama has been blown to such tragic proportions. I've been demonized for seducing him, deceiving him and ruling his mind. Moreover, some friend of his mom who's a dermatologist told her that people with Vitiligo should never have kids. My partner is dumbfounded as he can't believe his mother's reaction, but as every obedient Indian son who can't desert his family, he is lost and facing blows from all fronts. He was completely unprepared for this reaction as he kept telling me that his parents have always allowed him the freedom to choose in the past, so why not with us? For no fault of his however, he is hurt and embarrassed to say that his parents are ignorant and misguided people whose only aim in life now is to separate me from their son - only because of fear of the unknown. Moreover, she has made up her mind that people with Vitligo are mentally disturbed and unstable due to their condition. We are just a bunch of pitiful, sad, dejected, and lonely human beings who can't help but drown all others around them in their misery.
I know what I am facing as I had anticipated this. I have acknowledged their fears and to some extent, empathize with his mother's current state of mind. My partner does not. He is cracking under the pressure. He is gradually losing ground as his mother calls him every 2 hours from India and emotionally tortures him by crying, howling on the phone, saying she's gone into depression, taking anti depressants, sleeping pills, etc. How he can he know the difference between a real parental concern and mind control tactics?
We have decided for the time being to step back (for about a month) so that he gets the space he's desperately asking for by not talking or meeting. Is that the right thing to do at such a fragile moment? I didn't want to come across as someone who's influencing him in any way, so I agreed. The uncertainty is killing me, but it's equally heartbreaking to watch him suffer at the hands of his own family. I understand his predicament and want to support him through this ordeal.
What's the best way for us to deal with this? He's tried everything to reason with them and to convince them but he fears that his parents will abandon him if he marries me. He almost feels certain that his parents will never accept me. He has said it's impossible for his mother to disassociate me from my problem. She's so completely immersed in the fear of her son ruining his life and the life of his children, should they get the condition (mind you, she's never met me in her life). My partner, it seems, is so confused and traumatized that he keeps changing his mind. Sometimes it's "If they give me a choice between them and you, I'll have to choose them." Other times it's "I'll keep trying until they agree." He's already promised them he won't do anything without their approval, as he's afraid for his mom's fragile state of mind. She may do something extreme, being this far away.
What should we do? We know we love each other and had consciously decided to spend our lives together. Now he's in the horns of a dilemma that he can't seem to fix. He's in a state of uncertainty, indecisiveness, guilt, and fear and I know it's natural and normal for him to. I want to be there for him as long as it takes, but I am afraid he may give in to the pressure soon. His parents' expectations are bearing down hard on him and he feels trapped. We both are at a loss to decide what is needed from us at this point. Please help.
I do feel for you and your guy. You are caught in the age-old tragedy depicted by Shakespeare in "Romeo and Juliet". The parental horror has been about race, nationality, religion, occupation, caste and Heaven knows what else.
I assume you have researched your condition. If it only involves skin pigmentation then objectively it hardly matters, does it? And yet, people have been lynched for less.
Does it show in highly visible places like your face, hands and feet? Can it be hidden by cosmetics?
Suppose his mom met a young woman who appeared to have uniformly brown skin. This young woman proves to be highly intelligent, very pleasant, attractive, so much so that mom would be happy for her son to marry the girl. And THEN, it is revealed that the girl is you. Would that break through the prejudice? This could happen if your boyfriend lets mom know that, as you say, the two of you have decided to step back from each other. He then allows a little time, and then invites her to visit him in America. Then you walk in the door to visit, and do your best to charm her without putting on any false attitudes, just being yourself.
There is of course another issue: regardless of her attitudes, should his life be ruled by emotional manipulation? I don't think this issue is unique to Indian culture. What he needs to realize is that MOTHER is responsible for her attitudes and actions, not him. He feels that he needs to choose between his family and you. But it is equally true that his mother is being forced to choose between having her son or losing him. I don't advocate reverse emotional blackmail, but this point of view could be explained to her.
What is her religion? Do Buddhist ideals have any sway with the family? If yes, that could be a very powerful tool for changing minds. In this life, you have been given white spots on your skin because you, your young man and his family all need to advance by learning this lesson. If she persists in her prejudice, this will set her back in her journey towards perfection. Acceptance and humbleness are the way to move forward.
Many couples have faced this issue before (rich and poor; Jewish and Gentile; Catholic and Protestant; local and foreigner; any number of reasons for discrimination). Some have been forcibly separated by their families, or one of them yielded to pressure. Others have defied the family and went their own way. No one can tell your partner what should be his chosen path, but either way, he will need to live with the consequences. The best solution is to weaken or eliminate mom's antagonism and horror at the imagined nature of your skin condition, by whatever means. But if this proves impossible, then there is nothing but choosing between family pressure and his own judgment.
Best of luck,
This question was answered by Dr. Bob Rich. Dr. Rich has 30+ years of experience as a psychotherapist. Dr. Rich is also a writer and a "mudsmith". Bob is now retired from psychological practice, but still works with people as a counselor.For more information visit: http://anxietyanddepression-help.com