“You look nice. What’s up?” I asked Mary. It’s a beautiful Saturday afternoon and Mary is sitting at a table with her colleagues, Manouk and Ani. Whereas they are dressed casually, Mary has arrived dressed for an evening out.
“I have a date tonight,” she responded with a sheepish grin. At 23, Mary is a self assured young woman in the first flush of adulthood. She is finished with school, her career is just starting and she has a whole life of experiences ahead of her.
Mary is apprehensive about her date because he is a little bit outside the norm of the type of men with who goes out. She is already frustrated by the whole process of dating because she feels that she doesn’t fit in the pigeonhole of a typical Armenian girl.
“But what’s a typical Armenian girl?” asks Mary. “What I get are statements like ‘You’re too much. You’re not the typical Armenian girl.’ And the best, ‘You know what you want and that scares me.’”
“Because it might not be you?” one of them quips and they all laugh.
“What kind of Armenian men are you going out with?” asks Manouk.
“I’ve dated them all,” she insists and begins to list them. “I dated a guy who’s gay and he didn’t know he was gay until after he dated me. I dated a guy who was so hayastantsi (Armenian from Armenia) I was like ‘oh my gosh what am I doing.’ I dated a gorgor Beirutsi fresh off the boat from Beirut. I’ve dated a barsgahye (an Armenian from Iran) guy who’s mom’s khoreshi (stew) is all he thinks about. Gosh, you name them I’ve dated them. I’ve lost count,” she says with a wave of her hand.
“Ok. Then which group is the one that’s in question?” Manouk goes on to ask, using his journalistic skills to draw out Mary’s story. Also, 23, Manouk too is recently finished with school and looking to establish himself as a journalist.
“All of them,” Mary responds emphatically.
“Obviously all of us being from different sectors of the Armenian tree, each one of them brings their own ideology to the situation. Everyone has closed doors; some of them have open doors. So if you’re having trouble with, for example, people saying ‘you’re too much’ or ‘I can’t handle you’ or whatever, that comes from the background. Not necessarily you.”
All three of them were born and raised in California. They are part of the new, up and coming generation of Armenians. Although all different in personality, they shared in the experience of being children of immigrant parents trying to find a balance between the culture of their birth and the culture of their parents adopted country. The most difficult aspect of this effort seems to be the area of dating and marriage. Unlike a generation or two before when there was little interaction, the new generation cannot avoid each other. In a city like Los Angeles, where Armenians from varying backgrounds now call home, the subtle culture clash of Armenian origins, in addition to the expected gender clash, plays out amongst this generation in unexpected ways.
“Obviously, although my parents are hayastantsi, my mdadzelagerbs mikich ourish a vontsvor (mentality is a bit different than) someone who’s been here ten or fifteen years,” he goes on to say.
“I’ve never delivered those standard phrases myself,” adds Manouk and laughs
“’I can’t handle this.’ That’s another one,” says Mary.
“Handle what?” he asks
“Exactly!” she says. “I don’t need to be handled by anyone. I’m not looking for someone to handle me,” exclaims Mary.
“So what have been some of your reasons for not going out with a girl?” I ask Manouk.
“I was super picky,” he responds. “It was a first date where I can’t wait to get out of the car type of thing. You don’t necessarily have to give a reason why you don’t want to further continue things.”
“So where are the nice decent girls hiding that these men can’t seem to find,” I ask of Mary and Ani.
“In the library at UCLA,” Mary responds immediately.
“By Kerckhoff (Hall). The Armenian hangout spot where the jerk-offs are waiting,” Manouk clarifies for me.
“Those guys don’t have the guts to approach the girls,” Mary comments. “The Armenian guys just sit and stare.”
“They wouldn’t because the girls are smart enough to go to UCLA and they don’t want a smart girl,” Ani adds suddenly. She has been silent throughout the discussion. At 27, she is older than the other two and much more reserved. She prefers to observe rather than impetuously jump into the fray.
“Absolutely,” confirms Manouk.
“I second that. It’s so much a pain in the ass to be in a relationship. Seriously I don’t picture myself getting married,” Manouk says. “I don’t,” he insists, trying to convince us or maybe himself. “I don’t want to get married – at this point ever – but I might be open to the idea once the other part of my brain says marriage is okay.”
The conversation is reminiscent of the one that took place for the recent column, “Where Are the Men.” There, the dialogue was amongst an older generation, immigrants themselves, whereas here the Manouk, Mary and Ani are considered part of the much more assimilated generation. But the issues facing both seem to universal.