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On Love: Selfish enough to choose myself

"I know my parents love me, but they’ll never fully understand me"


Nisha is a feminist, gender-based violence prevention practitioner, yoga teacher, educator and parent living and working in Wurundjeri country. She loves sharing Sri Lankan food with her friends and family,  foraging for mushrooms and talking about all things decolonisation. 


Nisha and I have known each other for a long time. 


For this week’s ‘On Love’, we revisit some moments we’ve shared in life, how that led to who we are and why daring to love against all odds is the liberation many brown women seek.


I think of love as respect. 


I want to shift this feeling I inherited from my parents that the world is out to get me. I understand that they experienced racism; I experienced it too. But it doesn’t help to be so guarded, so angry. I want to respect people even if we disagree. I think this ability comes from firmly knowing who I am, which took a long time to build. 


I thought of that letter you wrote to me in year 8. 


[Writer’s note: I wrote a mean letter to Nisha saying she was annoying when we were 13. I have no excuse, it was exceptionally stupid, and it's a credit to her that we’re still friends]


We stayed friends, worked and partied together; you MC’d my wedding. We haven’t spoken about that letter much, but it was a formative negative experience. 


Things happen so quickly and intensely when you’re young. There’s so much toxicity in high school - it hurts, especially in female friendships. Throw in the tight-knit Sri Lankan community obsessed with maintaining appearances - god, there’s so much trauma, it takes our entire twenties to recover.


My solo trip to India at 22 was the first time I established my independence away from my parents and the community. That two-month trip felt like a year. My parents were mad at me for going, but after this trip, I didn’t crave their approval in the same way. I could accept any incoming disapproval because it felt more right in my body than anything I’d ever done. I had to move away to freely work out who I was without the pressure and expectations.  


South Asian parental love is complicated - it’s mostly telling you what to do. If you refuse to do what they say, you refuse their love. I don’t want to be loved this way; I want to be respected for my decisions. I’m inviting love differently because when decisions are made for you, you will always suffer. 


It takes a lot of energy to forge our own identities, but it’s worth it. Stepping away from the community - where everything is about safety, ease, and the known is scary. But I didn’t want the easy option. I wanted to take risks, have out-there experiences, be challenged, and be uncomfortable. I want to live on a full spectrum of colours.

 

If I’d stayed where we grew up, I wouldn’t have met my husband at Burning Man on the other side of the world. Maybe that’s what we have in common; we were both brave or selfish enough to choose differently. I do wonder about that other safe life. As comforting as it could be, it wouldn’t be true to who I am. 


Today, I know my parents love me, but I have to accept that they’ll never fully understand me. My life is so different to theirs. I aim to respect people - even if we disagree or if they once wrote a mean letter to me. Holding onto negativity or resentment hurts only me. I can only hope others can let go too.


Liked reading 'On Love'? I will be speaking with a South Asian person about what it means to them regularly for this column. If you have a story you'd like to share with me, DM me! You'll find my handle in the bio below.

 

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About the author

Sashi Perera is a Sri Lankan Australian comedian, writer and recovering lawyer. She was featured on the UK's 2021 Funny Women Awards 'Ones to Watch’ List and was part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival in 2021 and 2022. She's constantly inspired by love in all its forms and writes a regular column for South Asian Today, ‘On Love’. Instagram | @sashbomb


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