Your parents might be able to carefully plan out your childhood, education and cultural upbringing but the one thing they’ll never be able to control is who you will fall in love with.
“I grew up in a very tight knit Armenian family,” says Nancy who gets married to Ashu on screen in the new SBS series, Marry Me Marry My Family. “I went to an Armenian school, an Armenian church and everything I did was around the Armenian community. It was expected – by my family and of myself – that I would marry into the Armenian culture.
“But love is never planned – that’s the thing. You meet ‘the one’, you click and all of these plans [for your future] go down the drain.”
Nancy met Ashu – an Indian-born Hindu – when she was living in the US in 2013. At the time, the Armenian-Australian wasn’t intentionally pursuing a forbidden love. But an initial connection with Ashu linked one casual meet-up with another. Before too long, Nancy and Ashu were an item and when Nancy returned back to Australia later that year, they began a long-distance relationship. “I definitely did not expect it for the relationship to go where it went.”
I’ve always been someone who followed the advice of my family. But this time I felt like it was just the right thing to do [to go against them] and I had to do what I was happy with
Nancy’s Armenian family – her mother in particular – was against her seeing a non-Armenian, non-Christian man. Despite the opposition, Nancy continued dating Ashu, hoping that her parents would somehow come around. “It just felt right,” she says. “Over the years, I’ve always been someone who followed the advice of my family. But this time I felt like it was just the right thing to do [to go against them] and I had to do what I was happy with.”
Ashu moved to Germany and Nancy eventually followed him. It was there in 2014 that the couple got engaged. The union had the support of Ashu’s family but not Nancy’s. Things went from bad to worse and the communication between Nancy and her family further eroded. “For me, especially given that I was so close to my family, there were some really hard times when they were just not coming around to the relationship.”
Something had to change. Confident in the legitimacy of their love, the pair moved to Australia with an optimistic plan – by regularly witnessing the how happy Nancy and Ashu were together, Nancy’s family would eventually accept the value of the multicultural relationship.
Ashu says: “I just believed that, if any parent – unless they come from an extreme background- sees their child happy, they will melt at some point”.
Patience and a tonne of faith were crucial to winning family support. The pair also decided to avoid conflict at all costs – only reacting to stressful confrontations when absolutely necessary.
If any parent – unless they come from an extreme background- sees their child happy, they will melt at some point
“And that’s how you can win over anybody,” he says. “There were times when I was weak and I wanted to explode…But we made a call to let some things go and keep ourselves calm, as it’s the words that give yourself the biggest trouble: you say things in the heat of the moment and eventually it comes back to you.”
Cultural allowances were also made. Ashu agreed to be baptised in the Armenian Christian church and the pair held two weddings: one for each culture, Indian and Australian-Armenian.
“We wanted each family to get the feeling that their kids were getting married the way that they wanted them to [regardless of the fact that they were marrying outside their culture],” he says.
It’s been one year since the couple got married and in that time, they have gained the approval of Nancy’s family. “I got gifted a whiskey bottle for my birthday [by Nancy’s parents] so I’d say they’ve come around,” says Ashu, joking.
The newlyweds are also expecting a baby. Of course having a child will bring with it a whole new raft of cultural pressures. But for now, Nancy says, they are just happy with how far their interfaith relationship has progressed.
Marry Me, Marry My Family explores cross-cultural weddings in Australia. Watch or stream new episodes weekly Tuesdays 7, 14 and 21 January, 8:30pm on SBS and SBS On Demand.