Culture changes! Rather rapidly. I have been lucky enough to see how it happens in my immediate environment.
A. "Do you know Mitra has a boyfriend?"
B. "No kidding, Mitra?"
A. "Yep. Isn't that cool?"
B. "How do you know?"
A. "She introduced him to me at the Northeastern PSA's Norouz party."
B. "Was he a fun guy?"
A. "I didn't get a chance to interact with him, but it looked as if Mitra really likes him."
This is a conversation that might take place now between two Iranian students in the area. If it had taken place five years ago, it would have been:
A. "Did you notice Mitra was standing by Reza entire the event?"
B. "Yep, do you think he is her boyfriend?"
A. "How would I know?"
B. "Well, don’t you go to the gym with Mitra every other day?"
A. "You know; she is very secretive. She wouldn’t tell me."
B. "Why is she so secretive?"
A. "Well, I guess she doesn’t like people to gossip about her."
What has changed is not the gossiping part, because once you have a community, you have the gossip, too. What has changed is the way relationships are perceived by the community and also the perception of people in the relationships about how the community perceives them.
Five years ago, dating and having a boyfriend or girlfriend was acceptable on a personal level among the people I knew, but it was not an established norm in the community. That means that in one-to-one interactions, people didn't have any problem with it, but once you had more than five people together the pattern of their interaction would change. It was very common to see a guy and a girl at an event spending a lot of time exclusively together without it being clear to the rest of people at the event how those two were connected. It was very rare to hear someone introduce his girlfriend as a girlfriend! People who would start dating often would separate from the community, or if they would come to the events, they would present themselves as two separate people who met the day before. The community was not very open to non-Iranians neither. People who had a non-Iranian boyfriend or girl-friend often would leave their partner at home before going to the event.
This is changing. More and more people discover that being in a relationship is nothing to be embarrassed about. Just because people might be curious to know whether their friend dating doesn't mean they are making a judgement.
Iranians come from a fairly different culture in regard to the interaction between women and men. When they come to the West, they have to make re-adjustments. The solutions that they come up with are not unique and fairly diverse. There isn’t much right and wrong about these personal solutions. The situation for each person is unique, and he or she has to come up with his/her own solution. However, this doesn’t mean that we can not discuss the issues on the community level.
A year ago, my friend, Hazhir, set up a great workshop on relationships. About twenty people met on a Saturday afternoon to discuss relationships. There were singles, married people, people in relationships, religious, and non-religious Iranians. It was a good mix. Hazhir solicited different scenarios and questions and put them together in a handout. I encourage you to take a look at the handout. During the workshop, it was clear that many of us were dealing with questions and dilemmas that many others in our community deal with, and that discussing them helps to resolve them.
It was kind of nice to see how the community that I was part of changed to become more receptive of new types of relationships and lifestyles. I think the change happened because some of the clichés have been challenged intellectually among the Iranians either through discussions among friends or in writing, for example in websites such as Iranian.com. Change also came because of the individuals who courageously opted for new ways of life without breaking away from their own community and as a result succeeded in changing the norms of their local environment.
How is your local community?