Relationships in Burma (Part 1)

In my last posts, I wrote about some of my thoughts on perceptions of skin color in the wider Burmese community. Today, I’ll write about dating and embedded gender roles in relationships, especially in the context of Burmese culture and frame of thinking. Once again, many thanks for stopping by!

I don’t have to go too far to look for relationships today, since I’m going to focus on two, which are both close to home: that between my brother and his girlfriend, and that between my mom and dad.

My brother’s been dating a woman for the past year or so and for the most part, their relationship seems healthy; they go out on dates almost everyday after work and sometimes they bring each other over for home-cooked meals! And voila! Suddenly my brother learned how to cook! Haha. However, there was something that struck my attention though. The other day, one of my friends found out that he was on Tinder (for my readership unfamiliar with Tinder, that’s a dating app. Basically you upload some pictures of yourself and you see other people’s profiles and if you like their profiles you swipe right or otherwise, you swipe left. If the other person has swiped right as well, then you have a match, and you can start chatting through their messaging interface) and my friend called him out on it, and justifiably so because he’s dating someone already and I would presume they are in an exclusive relationship because he told my friend he just wanted to check if his girlfriend’s on Tinder too. Obviously I was struck dumfounded upon hearing this, and part of the reason is because I excepted much better from my own brother, my own blood!

~Illustrations help engage the reader~

For one, I don’t think there’s as much trust and communication between the two of them, and on this aspect, I won’t talk about further because trust is something you develop over time with someone, everyone has their own pace and means of developing trust with one another, and perhaps they’re just taking it slow and steady. Which is completely fine, yet at the same time, to say this is just a trust issue is to overlook a lot of the context underneath. Therefore, I wanted to bring attention to the cultural significations of the act of finding his girlfriend on Tinder. If you have a man telling a woman what (not) to do, what (not) to wear, whom (not) to talk to, then this is considered compassionate, or honorable, or protective, even. But reverse the script and suppose a woman does the exact same actions, then it’s annoying, or controlling, or manipulative. And even though protective sounds like a positive word, it hides its true intention lurking under the guise of being caring because if you think about it, do you know what being protective awfully sounds like, both phonetically and conceptually? Possessive. Subjugating a woman in a relationship is not a sign of prowess, nor a sign of success, and therefore, there’s no reason to see it as something glorious.

This feeds well into the next point I want to make about perceptions of relationships in Burma: that it’s an interplay of the power dynamics between the two parties. It’s controlling someone before they themselves get controlled. It’s making sure one party distinctly has the upper hand. This type of thinking affects not only women, who are negatively stereotyped as whiny, but also men are also told to uphold a false sense of duty, to take care of their girlfriends and to police their behaviors. And finally, if men fail to control their partners, and by if, i mean when, society looks down on these men as weak and incapable. In the end, no one wins because the patriarchal model of relationships, that of dominance and suspicion, was never meant for a loving, trusting mode of interaction; and so we end up with a relationship dynamic which is neither satisfying, nor satisfactory.

A more substantial picture of the contrasts between healthy and unhealthy relationships

Thinking about problems is one thing, but acting on them is another important step because being reflective about my own culture which has shaped my upbringing is not enough. I have to act on addressing issues and to this end, I hope I can talk to my brother someday. His work seems busy as of now and I don’t want to pile on what he would think as “some hipster talk”. In the meantime, I’m happy with where I am because I’ve used this blog entry as a space for me to recollect and refine my thoughts. Afterwards, I’ll have a chat with Koko (this is the affectionate term for elder brothers in Burmese haha) and I’ll let you know how it goes later, how’s that sound?!

Part 2 of this blog entry will concern more about how my mom sees this relationship between my brother and his  girlfriend and will also be a place where I see how our cultural context influences the marriage between mom and dad. Thanks a million for tracing along my journey and please, please continue to visit in the future!

All hugs,



2 thoughts on “Relationships in Burma (Part 1)

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