First Gen vs Second Gen: To Commit or Not to Commit?
Having been born to fresh-off-the-boat parents in the seventies, to say I was brought up old fashioned would be an understatement. My father came to the UK with his family aged 13 in 1960 as British citizens and struggled to adapt. He didn’t speak English, quit school, and my paternal family kept to themselves, sticking with their traditions. My father, who dated and went on to marry an English woman at the age of 19, couldn’t sustain a mixed marriage because of his old head beliefs that had been instilled in him. His marriage was short lived, and my grandparents jumped at the opportunity to whisk him off to Cyprus to find a good little Turkish wife. Through recommendations, my mum was introduced. They were engaged and married within months and I was the honeymoon baby. My mum left her entire family behind and started a whole new life from zero. With only her seamstress skills, she adapted as much as possible, even though she still avoids speaking English today. I was brought up very strict in the eighties, probably stricter than the girls growing up in Cyprus. I wasn’t allowed out anywhere; no school trips, no friends’ houses, no birthday parties and definitely no dating boys. I couldn’t even be in the same room as a boy. Further education was a no-go and god forbid I even considered chasing a career. I felt that my only way out was to marry a fine Turkish man as soon as possible. At age 17, that is indeed what I ended up doing.
My husband, a fellow first generation British Cypriot Turk, was brought up with the same traditions and expectations. We got married the traditional way, with görücülük (the viewing), dünürcülük (asking for hand in marriage), nişan (engagement party) and düğün (a traditional wedding), all within a year, without dating! At our dünürcülük night, upon my husband’s uncle suggesting that we date for a while in order to get to know one another, my dad sat up in his seat and responded by saying “Not in my book, if you’re looking for a girl like that, you’ve knocked on the wrong door”. My dad is still as old head today as he was then. For so many generations, our cultural traditions were that girls remained virgins, untouched until marriage. It seemed to be the unsaid rule so that girls would wear their pure white wedding dress deservedly.
It would seem that, instead of a gradual change with each generation, we have skipped time and jumped in with a hundred years’ worth of changes crammed into 20/30 years. Even in Cyprus and Turkey, most traditions seem to have gone out of the window years ago; men and women openly dating and living together in sin, pregnancy and abortion out of wedlock. Funny thing is that they’ve been living this way far longer than us in the UK but they are quick to slander us.
We have two children, our son now 25 and our daughter aged 22. My husband and I respect that changes are to be expected and we are also learning every day, not just to adapt to today but to parent grown up children. There’s no manual to parenting let alone grown up British Turkish children. We have tried to teach our children all our traditions and yet be fair in allowing them independence. I want my daughter to have a career, to have her own money, to be able to stand on her own two feet and not have to answer to her husband, instead being an equal. I wish the same for any girl that my son will marry too.
I understand that technology plays a big part in everything, but how did we get to this point in only one generation? Young people meet via social media, chat for ages, meet up, date for god knows how long, decide if they want to be officially girlfriend and boyfriend, engage in a sexual relationship for a while longer and maybe get sözlü with a lavish wedding style celebration. If you’re lucky, it evolves into an engagement party bigger than the söz night, not forgetting the wedding resembling that of a royal wedding. This, of course, only occurs if both people are actually committed and willing to work at their relationship. Most aren’t. Indeed, there are the few that don’t even make it past the dating or söz part. Now I wouldn’t call myself backward even though many others will, but this all sounds like a lot of game playing and time wasting to me. I feel that, realistically, no two people can truly get to know one another until they are living together. For me, it wasn’t until after I married my husband that I got to see him warts and all.
Youngsters today, not just Turks but the entire generation, start from the reverse end of the chain; flirting and exchanging sexual pictures of themselves before they’ve even met, having sex before any established title, claiming ownership of each other without any clear partnership. Where is the self-respect? Where is the respect to the person that you are interested in?
Namus (translation: honour)! What is that? My children have, at times, questioned my views and I, theirs. My husband and I have had to change a lot of our views in order to fit in with them. I have had many debates with them regarding reputation. They argued that the extent to which we believe in the concept of ‘good reputation’ is old head, but is it? This generation of youngsters don’t believe in it, but every youngster of this generation has a parent from the last generation. Every parent wants their son to marry a nice girl, someone you know will be dedicated, and equally a son in law that will stand by your daughter’s side and protect her. Many families that we meet nowadays have fully adapted to the modern way, whilst some have tried to merge the old traditions with the new ways, a bit like us, but it doesn’t seem to be working. It seems to be causing more confusion than anything else; find a prospective partner, date for a couple of months and promptly decide whether you want to get sözlü, which apparently is written in stone that you are officially committing to marriage, but in a few years’ time. Whereas the sözlü period was always meant to be the dating period with the intention to marry. Once sözlü, it seems that parents are okay with letting their kids sleep at one another’s houses, as long as there’s no sex. Delusional, firstly. Secondly, how did we get here in such a short time? How did we jump so far forward that we forgot all self-respect? Where does this leave my son and daughter? Realistically, finding another family with our morals and belief in traditions is unfortunately as far-fetched nowadays as a fairy-tale.
As a second generation British Cypriot Turk, raised by first gens who have fresh parents, I get it. My parents are caught in the middle, trying to please their parents, while trying to appease their children. Being a girl, I was always going to have a different upbringing and hence lifestyle to my brother – something I struggled to understand as a bratty teenager. I’d be lying if I said my upbringing hasn’t been confusing at times. You can go out, but not too far. When a suitable suitor comes along, you can date him to see if you like him, but not for too long. You can educate yourself, just don’t become too independent. I can’t go clubbing. In fact, I’ve never stepped foot inside a nightclub in my life. I can’t travel abroad without my family. And dating boys without the intention to marry is a definite no. Much like my mum, I have lived a sheltered life in comparison to my Caucasian counterparts, though I note and am grateful for the limited freedom and independence I do have. Growing up, I had always assumed that other Turkish (Cypriot) girls had the same upbringing and lifestyle as me. It was only in the last eight years that I found out that the majority of other Turkish girls can do as they please. It’s even more alien to me that girls born and raised in Cyprus and Turkey are even freer to do whatever they wish.
I’m 22, and I’ve been worrying about finding a husband since I was 16. Living on the outskirts of South East London, and being detached from the Turkish Cypriot community, I don’t have the luxury of having easy access to a network of Turks like those in Enfield. I’ve had marriage on my mind for six years and I’m still on the hunt for a suitable suitor. I want someone to take me seriously, be on the same mental wavelength as me, and be genuinely ready for marriage. I don’t want to have to marry someone ten years older than me to receive that respect and commitment.
In this day and age, you cannot expect anyone, let alone boys, to be ready and willing to get married within a year of meeting someone, and there’s no way they’ll commit to getting sözlü without having dated for a good few months. There are too many options these days; people can have all the benefits of having a partner, without actually having a partner, and they can receive these benefits from multiple people on the go without anyone batting an eyelid. Back in the day, I suppose the Turkish Cypriot community wouldn’t fall anywhere near this way of life, but the influence of the Western way of life was bound to take over at some point. You cannot change a country to suit you, so adaptation is the only way, but the extent of adaptation is where the lines blur.
I’ll be the first to call my generation out on this disgusting behaviour, motivated by a mentality I do not agree with but unfortunately, this is the hook up culture of non-commitment that we have built and nurtured. While it may still be valued amongst most of the Turkish (Cypriot) community, marriage is no longer the desired thing. I’m not sure if this comes from a place of insecurity, or an over exaggeration of what it means to be ‘cool’, but it is definitely frustrating.
While my mum states that ‘every youngster today has a parent from the last generation’, I think this statement fails to take into account the fact that these exact parents are the ones raising their children like the English. What can they expect from a son or daughter in law when their children are no different? Of course, this is provided the family are not oldhead, or very close and educated on the traditional Cypriot way of life. I personally don’t think there are many families like mine. From where I’m standing, it would seem as though North London Turks assimilated far further to the British way of life than those in South East London, which I can only put down to the reliance on their assumption that more Turks equals higher probability my child will end up with a Turk. Unfortunately, South London assimilation is not as rife, without the possibility of any reliance on an assumption that your child will likely end up with a fellow Turk.
I’m not sure if namus is even a concept that is embraced by modern Turkish Cypriots. Respect, be it self or for others, and reputation are concepts that have no cause for concern. Even those who play perfection on the outside are breaking hearts behind backs.
I have been raised to value education, a professional job, becoming a wife, and eventually a mother. I have a degree, a good job, and I know what I want from life. I am independent to a point, and I would expect nothing less than to retain my independence even once married. However, I don’t think this can be said for the majority of Turks from my generation. I feel I have a good balance of Turkish Cypriot and British lifestyles, but from experience, I am finding that a lot of Turks are either too submerged into their Turkish (Cypriot) culture, or not submerged at all. The community seem to have formed a bubble and you’re either in or you’re out. There’s no in between.
While my parents think they understand what it’s like to be in my shoes because they were also born and raised here, and in fact apparently had it harder, they actually have no clue. New generations birth new technologies, and new technologies, while aiming to solve a lot of problems, only create more. The influence of social media is undeniable and overlooked by a lot of parents. While we know that social media is unrealistic, planned, and polished, it is difficult to have a conscious mind while digesting the perfect pictures, success stories, and love lives. Superficiality rules the way, led by unrealistic social media stars and their unrealistic storytelling. Everything is done for Instagram; if you didn’t post about it, did it really happen? Speaking as a girl, I think we get lost in the fantasy of the perfect love story, the perfect celebration to mark this love and the perfect fairytale end. It has become more about image, being in love with the idea of being in love, more than real love.