Dating in the modern Sri Lankan Context
Updated: Dec 1, 2022
Sri Lanka is a land of beauty, culture and traditions where even dating can be a taboo subject, despite the existence of many topics such as rape and the legalization of LGBTQ rights. Against the backdrop of Sri Lanka’s history and culture, this comes as no surprise. It is in fact the older generation that is still hung up on their customs and norms. The younger generation has a more open opinion as a result of being exposed to the wider world. Therefore the way in which dating is viewed is different not only from one person to another but across generations.
Even a few years back, dating someone did not have the acceptance that it does today. Coming from an era where relationships almost always ended up in marriage or proposals were the way to go, the concept of dating is foreign to our elders. Dating one person now and another in a few years if the previous relationship did not work out, is something that they cannot fathom.
The idea of love itself is alien; how easily we fall in and out of love, how love cannot be categorized nor contained into one box and how love is different among each individual. Yet there is something nostalgic about how their “love” stories were written. We may never know the hardships they underwent but we will always listen to their (at times fanciful) retellings of the old days with keen ears.
Now the scene has taken a totally different turn. Dating someone is normal. Breaking up with them is normal. Dating someone else afterwards is normal. But when asking someone in a relationship if they have informed their parents about it, the answer usually tends to be a resounding ‘’NO!’’ or a much more impressive, ‘’Are you crazy?!’’. This stems from the idea that relationships should be stable and most often end in marriage. Strict parenting where children are afraid to step a toe out of line is also a reason for the denial.
A 16 year old in Sri Lanka is not allowed to be in a relationship. Their studies, future and humility being some of the reasons cited. If they are found to be in a relationship, not only are their parents disappointed and angry, they also have to face the wrath of their school teachers, fellow students and general society who someway get involved in the situation. Nothing is personal in this world.
The stigma against dating is exacerbated with the horror stories and rumors that crop up from time to time. There can be a story of a young girl raped by her boyfriend or another story about how an overprotective father beat his daughter’s boyfriend nearly to death. These scares prevent elders from giving the youth the freedom to date whoever they want. But on the other hand it can have the benefit of cautioning them from making hasty decisions and entering into unhealthy relationships.
Amidst all of this, the dating culture of Sri Lanka is thriving. Come Valentine’s Day, you can see many gift baskets being sent out and many a flower shop being overrun with orders. Couples always line the avenues of Viharmahadevi Park and there is never a beach without at least one couple canoodling under an umbrella. Dating is not easy but this generation of Sri Lankans are fun and innovative. They carry on the less talked about taboo traditions of the previous generations; skipping class to meet their significant other, lying left and right to their parents in order to go on a date and of course never meeting each other but watching each other from afar.
However with the advent of technology, dating, like all the other things, has become easier. Where before small ‘button’ phones were used to secretly communicate in the dark, now parents willingly or unwillingly give their child a smart phone to do with it what they will, which mostly opens up an avenue for the youth to easily communicate with their partner.
When we take the youth in their late teens and early 20s, the dating scene has undergone a rapid change. Here comes the actual dates and the commitments and the public displays of affection. At this stage, there is more expected from a relationship, be it sex or just a real connection. Things tend to get messy if a relationship goes bad, involving friends (and family if they are aware), especially if the partner is a close friend or a coworker. There is a lot to think about outside of emotional attachments when it comes to dating in Sri Lanka. Particularly in the latter part of youth. Age, ethnicity, social standing and income are some of the most important factors that are considered when a relationship starts to get serious.
When you are a teen, relationships start when you go to classes, engage in extracurricular activities in school or have a massive crush on your next door neighbor. If a 30 year old is to look back at their teenage years and think about the relationships they had, they will remember them as no more than shallow passing fancies. But being a teenager and experiencing life at this age means everything is new and exciting. For those who are a bit older, they are more aware of what a relationship entails, including their needs and their future. Dating as a young adult is hard when there are so many things that has to be considered. Dating in Sri Lanka with all its customs, taboos and societal judgment is doubly hard.
The youth are constantly criticized for their choices. But clinging on to a toxic relationship is a fatality. They must keep in mind that while love is all well and good, out there exists a whole big world for them to explore. Like all other things, love should also be in balance. So here is Pioneers Youth, wishing you luck on all your romantic endeavors.