A Single Iranian Woman, Caught Between Two Cultures

Q: Salam Shiva Jan,   

After enjoying the writings on your site, I have decided to share with you something that has been bothering me for quite some time now. I apologize in advance for my long email, but I wanted to tell you a little more about myself before asking for your help.  

I was raised in Iran until I was 19 and  moved to the States after that. Ever since I moved to New York I have been busy studying and  now, I am on my way to achieving my goals in terms of education and career. However, now more than ever I feel confused and left out in terms of relationships and culture.

I was raised in a conservative family where anyone rarely spoke about having boyfriends   or premarital relationships; in my family it was all about education, studying and how a girl should behave with certain instructions; so God forbid “hich kas posht saret harf nazaneh”. After we moved to  the United States my parents were easier on me. I guess because we were out of Iran and they did not have to worry about what other people thought or said. As I said, I was very busy studying and planning my career. In addition, despite having guy friends I rarely dated. I never thought of dating as being a bad thing but I was raised with a mentality that you only go out with the type of guys that you can date and get married to. Since I did not meet many of them, I ended up not dating at all.  

Two years ago I started talking to a guy in Iran who was a family friend and our families new each other for long time. I liked him. He was a really nice guy, he was my age and from the same family background but I still didn’t know a lot about him.  We decided that I would go to Iran and spend some time with him and eventually get married to each other.

With much difficulty, I convinced my parents to let me go to Iran to get to know the man I was hopefully going to get married to before actually marrying him. So I went to Iran with my mom. This was while everyone had already planned an engagement party in Iran. One   thing I did not mention is that my parents knew and very much approved of the man that   I wanted to get married to. Unfortunately when I got to Iran and spent about a week with him, I realized I was not ready to get married to him. I felt as if he was very young and not ready to get married. I also didn’t know him well enough to commit to him for the rest of my life, so I realized that I was not ready to be married either.

I  told everyone that I wanted more time to get to know him before marrying him, but my   fiancé, my parents and his parents tried very hard to convince me that I was making a mistake by not marrying him then and that he was a very good man. After going through   two frustrating months trying to explain to everyone, including my fiancé, that I was not   ready to be married and them not listening or understanding me, I finally had to stand up to people I loved and said good bye and left Iran to come back to the United States and to go on with my life.    

I went through tough times with my parents after my break up but I am ok now and have no regrets about not getting married then. However after coming back from Iran I realized that I am not as Iranian as I thought I was, that part of me had changed during the past 6 years in the US and couldn’t just get to know someone for a short period of time and then marry them. I decided to do some things differently. I decided to start dating and getting to know guys more and figure out what I really wanted. I am an outgoing girl, I enjoy dancing, hanging out with my friends and I do have an idea what kind of a man I would want to be married to, but I am not comfortable with the idea of dating just for the sake of dating.

It is very difficult for me to go out to meet guys without having long-term plans. I just do not feel like myself when I go out and guys come up to me to ask me out. I do not say ‘yes’ to them if I do not see them as a true candid for marriage. Even though I am not ready to be married for many reasons, including my time commitment in school, I feel like I am in many ways still that traditional Iranian girl who  sees a relationship with a man just for the sake of marriage. I am also not interested in non-Iranians, and even though I have   many non-Iranian guy friends, I do not feel very connected and interested in dating guys other than Iranians. 

Therefore, this is another reason which limits the dating pool for me because where I go to school I do not see many Iranians and the few that are around are not the right type for me. Now my question is how I go about feeling so misplaced and confused.  I want to go out to meet people and have a companion, but at the same time, deep down, I feel like I   can only be with a man if I am married to him. I apologize for my long email and I really appreciate that you share your time   and your valuable experience with each one of us.    

Thank you!

– Elham


A: Elham joon, thank you for your lovely email. I cannot even begin to tell you how much I empathize with you and your situation. You clearly have a very good head on your shoulder, so although I may not be telling you anything you do not already know, let me share a few thoughts I had while reading your letter.

First, I want to commend you for doing a very difficult thing…and turning down the opportunity to marry young in Iran. It sounds like you made a very good decision, and from your letter, I’m guessing that you have no regrets. You seem to me like a young woman who is actually quite confident and happy with herself, but who is a little confused about WHO and HOW to date. I completely understand.

One thing which you understand well is that life in the United States is different than life in Iran, especially for women, but also for men. Furthermore, Iranians in the United States are not the same as Iranians in Iran. Of course, given your cultural background, it may always feel more comfortable to date a man with some cultural similarities. This happens in all cultures. I wouldn’t rule out marriage with someone from another culture, but I also respect and understand where you are coming from.

Most importantly, I want to normalize something for you and clarify it for you and my other readers. Your wanting a meaningful relationship that leads to marriage is not an “Iranian woman thing” but in fact is a universal thing for most young men and women. Every American woman I meet says exactly the same thing. I even meet many American men who say this. This is NOT a cultural or traditional thing. The truth is that most people all over the world in their 20s and 30s probably spend the majority of their time and energy trying to find a mate. Now, having clarified this, remember that the dating or “mating” process is complex. It even gets pretty complex in the animal kingdom. Whether we find a suitable partner has to do with many things: right fit, right time, right chemistry. And I would place most of the emphasis on the timing. Both partners must be ready to mate, otherwise it just doesn’t happen. Not being ready is not related to culture. It’s true that some cultures may have stronger expectations and thus place more pressure on young people to mate early, regardless of how good the match is, but really, I think it boils down to the individual.

Try to challenge your mindset about this, Elham. Think of this in a more scientific way and less by cultural stereotyping. See if that opens up your dating life a little. Perhaps you were filtering out or filtering in the wrong men because of this narrow classification. Evaluate on an individual basis whenever possible…you wouldn’t want to be stereotyped either, would you?


-Dr. G


IMPORTANT MESSAGE TO MY READERS:  Responses or feedback provided to your posts are NOT a substitute for therapy or in any way meant to be therapeutic. While I hope my feedback will be beneficial, please understand that responses should be interpreted with caution and in the appropriate context, as often very limited information is provided. This website is for entertainment purposes, and for the betterment of and contribution to our ever-growing community of American-Iranians (and their friends).  If you feel that you are at imminent risk of harm to yourself or someone else, please go to the nearest emergency room or call 911 IMMEDIATELY. If you have been experiencing chronic or severe depression or any other highly distressing mood symptoms, or if you have had frequent thoughts of harming yourself, please seek professional help in your local area promptly. 

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