Before Andrew Limbong went off to college, his mother cautioned him about the dire consequences he would face if he hugged a girl. Andrew grew up in a strict Christian household, and his parents are Indonesian immigrants, so they never spoke about sex at home. When Andrew was 20, he met his first girlfriend, Sam. He felt his cultural and parental influences putting “pressure on my blood vessels, not allowing the blood to go where I oh so desperately wanted it to,” he wrote in his Modern Love essay in 2011.
According to Andrew’s Muslim American friend, his fears were the result of the “ham sandwich” effect: the feeling of shame when you’re breaking family tradition. Today, we unpack this metaphor — and then we hear from Andrew. He gives us an update about him and Sam (it’s exciting), and he shares advice for others who are struggling to take a bite of their own ham sandwiches.
Modern Love has a virtual event coming up: On March 9, we’ll share love stories written by readers and read by the Oscar nominee Ariana DeBose. RSVP at nytimes.com/morningatnight.
This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Now, in a stronger than they love, you can learn from the New York Times. I'm Anna Martin. This is the modern love had cast
so every few years. Modern love has a college essay contest. There are thousands of submissions, most of them come in at the last minute, like literally the last minute, these our college students
This week's essay was part of the contest back in two thousand and eleven, and I love how vulnerable the author is in this story. I was absolutely not this vulnerable at twenty one. It's called eating
forbidden ham sandwich,
and read I Andrew Limburg.
At eight in the morning, I expected some old woman to be working behind the counter of the pharmacy, though
A person who usually gets up at six a m anyway. Instead
there was this young guy in tight genes and one of those foe fear scarves when
He asked me if I needed anything I stepped aside.
My girlfriend SAM walk up to the counter
yeah morning after pill, she said he said we have plan b
and a generic which one do you want
at me as if I would know
interface. Sam knows all too well. That said, how much is the Generic SAM asked ten dollars cheaper?
she looked at me again then said I'll. Take the generic okay
that'll be thirty five dollars,
I paid. We went home SAM, took the pill and I'm not a father all good
something felt off had that perverted
old woman been behind the counter. That morning I think I
have been more comfortable. What the
I would have been a lot less comfortable at the pharmacy, but I think that would
made me feel more comfortable about the situation as a whole, because we would have fulfilled
the archetype that I thought our story was supposed to fulfill young.
couple has sex condom breaks, they feel ashamed buying a morning after pill and no one speaks about it after, but
It happened. There was
Absolutely no shame in it at all. Everything was fine and
was joking about it later that day, but it's still bothered me.
on my first day of college, my mother took me aside.
She held my shoulders tightly and told me not to hug any girls because they'll lie say I
to them and then I'll go to jail either that or I'll get them pregnant. It wasn't the first time I was hearing this. I nodded along pretty certain that that chances of a pearl accusing me of rape, because I hugger weren't very high. I knew a lot of my mother's attitudes toward women and sex were wrong, but that didn't keep me from absorbing some of it. Both of my parents are indonesian immigrants, vague,
a strict christian household and they did their best.
part all aspects of their home culture. To me, my father never spoke
to me about sex me. Never
sat down and had the talk? That seems to only happen on television
knew we were a different kind of family from the ones I watched on a nightly basis because nobody on full house ever got in trouble for kissing a boy, as my sister once did I
Never got that far when I was younger. There was
something about girls. That scared me. This is
uncommon, but most people seem to get over it somewhere around high school.
By the time I was twenty. I still had this irrational fear of rape, jail, pregnancy, God and my mother,
It led to feeling lonely a lot, but at least
new. I wasn't alone my friend Haroon key,
this fear, the ham sandwich- affect like me
the first generation American born to a religious family, he's Muslim is
and would tell him not to eat pork, because it's evil and God will send you to Hell.
But one day he was sixteen and curious, so why not? He?
A ham sandwich ate it
and threw up.
again, though, and was eventually able to eat ham. Sandwiches, like any other American.
It was the same way with sex, a lot of people self
from the ham sandwich effect, especially.
First generation. Americans. You can reject the
culture. All you want.
The more serious the situation, the harder it is to get over and see
is very serious. I met SAM. I was twenty
she's my first girlfriend
my first sexual partner and the first girl
I've ever kissed twice
luckily for me. She was very patient throughout this whole process and it
It was a process over the
of one semester salmon. I went from being friends of friends to making out in my bed on a nightly basis,
nakedness and there was touching
but it never went any further than that because I was
felt my mother was there in my room too,
Sometimes she would be sitting in the chair across the room holding a bible
Sometimes she would just be casually standing by the wall. Next to my bed
once I even saw a vision of her in my room with my imaginary teenage son, who started using heroin because I gave him up for adoption these characters. These figures,
put pressure on my blood vessels, not allowing the blood to go where I owe so desperately wanted it to. It was like this for a month.
Sam was patient, but I didn't want.
Patients to run out so
old Haroon at this point he had
He had sex or eating the ham sandwich, as we like to say he laughed when I called
but not condescendingly. He had,
become something of an expert in overcoming the ham sandwich effects he ran off.
the people we both new and similar situations, whom he had coach through this sort of thing, his advice, breathe a lot, do some pushups and don't really think about it.
Stop thinking about her as a person he told me people or animals and having sex is a natural thing that animals do all the time he problem
we could have worded it differently, but I was comforted by the simple fact that he got over
and was now eating ham sandwiches on a regular basis that.
really my goal, but I did need
Stop thinking about it so much. I need
to distance myself from
fears my religion, my mother, SAM and
even myself so I did and it happened- I don't,
my mother for how difficult it was for me to have sex to have any sort of physical relationship with women at all. That
how she was taught and she was
trying to do her best with me. Actually
Unlike Haroon, I appreciated my mother's old school leanings for making sex so difficult
Getting over the mental block seemed like an achievement and accomplishment something worth doing
explaining all of this to her once
Before I met SAM
studying in London. My parents visited me and my mother and I took a walk around my campus. She asked me a lot about women. Apparently
she thought I went to london- to go on a wild sex romp, she seemed almost disappointed when I told her no
there is a glass e, wet look in her eyes, and she asked me if I was gay and I said no, I was just messed up
my mother certainly wasn't friendly with the idea of homosexuality
but on that walk for the first time. I knew that if I were gay, she might actually be all right with it. It was nice to know, Harun calls it the ham sandwich. I told her and I told her about the religious pressure and a constant clashing of eastern and western ideals when it came to sex. She stopped walking. So I put my arm around her
she apologized to me. She had never done that before and she's never done it since,
but that bit of progress was nice. So when the cafe scarf guy,
in the pharmacy.
SAM. That morning after pill, I think what was
sing for me was the ritual of seriousness, the sense of progress
I was doing something big.
The old woman had been behind that counter. That morning, I'd like to think I would have asked quite
at leave for the pill I would have paid
the ten dollars for the brand name
also would have picked up some toothpaste and deodorant to act as if I was just doing this casual thing. That didn't mean much to me.
I would have known
that she thought it was serious,
and that would have been enough coming up. We ve got Andrew limb. Bangs update he's in his thirty is now he's married, any still,
navigating his relationship with his parents and their values,.
I love spelling bee my boyfriend and I often play spelling bee together by together. I mean sitting next to each other playing individually and not cheating. Sometimes when I open up spelling bee- and I see that you have completed a few words on your own, I feel a little betrayed in sorry. It may have happened again today. I have one friend who I will send screenshots from spelling bee of inappropriate words that I always get nervous that I sent it to my parents or something like that when my dad was like spend time together and I wish her out. I think I got it see it J, a c k, p o t jack, but we hit the jackpot panicked, yeah, Elrond, nice, I'm same as earth sky. The digital pulses editor for the New York Times. You can try spelling bee and all our games at n, one times dot com, slash games, hey Andrew!
Anna Andrew. How long has it been since you wrote this essay?
so twenty eleven it was my senior year of college, so it had been about like ten years. How does it feel for you too,
visit the essay now.
I feel, a little cringy to me because it ten years was long ago, but it's not far,
long ago that I feel enough.
oval from that person that I can sort of look at it with distance and see like.
We're doing something buddy I see where you're going right. It's it's like short enough that it's still a part of me. You know the core of the essays, shame right and a complicated feelings about shame, and you know
I do like what it's good for, but I'm sort of used to a constant ever present sense of shame. A saucer have this like burden of like mixed feelings, about most things, including like relationships and sex. All that stuff? Okay,
said you wrote this twenty eleven I'm sure
as happened in that time and and and catch me up, are you and SAM still together here we're married
No way, congratulations! Yeah
I absolutely love the ham sandwich.
Afford that you use throughout your pc.
I promise you. I will never think of a ham sandwich the same way again and I mean their first ham. Sandwich was sex, but I'm wondering where are
any other traditions passed down to you by your parents that you had to grapple with in some way
the religion? Thing is funny,
because I've become one of those people that I used to make fun of as a kid that only shows up to church on, like Christmas and eastern type of, but I think
sort of come to terms with where I am in my faith and that, like don't really,
leave it, but I, like the dance, moves you now to me.
and a appreciate the sort of like tradition of it. Even if I don't you know,
or ab, even if I'm not one hundred percent bought in Wendy.
you feel, like you first started interrogating the faith camp,
of how you were raised.
there's an episode of Frasier where he plays his dad at chess right, and this is whole thing
a bow where they're not afraid
beats his dad Chasin Anne and when he does, he served like crushed because it's like a symbol of like love
crushing your father,
and so I remember like learning,
more about, like the Bible and about religion and asking my dad these questions that he didn't really have the answer to, and I think you know, between
You know fifteen and
eighteen nineteen. It became clear that lake, oh
have any of these- is that it is an idea. Do the answers to the questions I'm asking and
I think that was sort of like the first stood like break term
and in all of do you think,
ever be honest.
your parents about where your faith is right. Now
probably not. We don't have any kids yet
salmon. I bet we were just thinking that like if we do. I imagined my folks come down and you do that thing where they stay over for a
to lie to how to help out in some like. I am actually go to church. You know every week and
will do the dance
What are you afraid of if you,
with your parents half
it is like a respect thing right, like every Indonesian on
I smoke. Cigs re it apparently not every, but a lot of energy smoke cigarettes and everybody knows everybody smoke cigs but like when, when I'm in Indonesia, my cousins, we don't smoke,
in front of our parents cause that's like a that's like a respect thing right, you go to the back. If they're you know, if they're in there or where you go upstairs or whatever go literally anywhere else and so
maintaining this this dance that we do
because my parents asked me every did you go to Church America, yeah sure and think it'd be great
for them to not know sure, but as long as they keep their dance up,
dance up and we'll just keep dancing until forever,
the facade is sort of ad away.
Giveaway that you're, showing your love
your parents. Does that feel fair to say yeah. I think
your story is a is a lot about shed
family tradition, but I'm curious
flip side too. I'm wondering if there were things that you also kept about the way
parents raised you
I been it's hard, but I've been trying to cook more like indonesian stuff, like my mom, you know, would
It forced me to help her in the kitchen sounds like they're, eight, and so that's where I got all my basic. I'm like you know, kitchen
I you know, food traditions is something that we think about and especially you know again like I said we don't have any kids, but I've been thinking about like if we do like how Indonesian are these kids going to be, and.
Rightfully say, I was like
They're, Indonesia, this is not my responsibility. There's gotta be a you thing, my guy and I think yeah I know, but I do know dude and yeah
think food is the easiest way to like get a kid to. Like
and culture literally inside of them right and
It's something I've been trying to work on so when, when you think about you
and SAM having kids.
Tell me more about the responsibility that you feel.
having their indonesian? This I want them.
be free to make their own decisions to be interested in that right,
want to like force anything on them
I mean it's hard. You you're really see those parents where its ache and their king
cause, I got like a black flag. T shirt and the parents were like. Oh yeah, my kid loves black flags like no. They
oh come on man who you sure you if I play voter plague,
I don't want to prop them up in that sort of way,
that being said, if they were to find out if they were to later on, like really like black flag and
Newton food that sick hell, you are acts you right
a lot of kids of immigrants have their own personal,
ham sandwiches and I'm wondering what is some advice that you would give to them as they prepared
their first bites.
My advice is that it's okay, if it's heart rate and
I think one of the things I I sort of cringe at and the thing is framing this as solely an immigrant story right, I think, a lot of kids. You know who
in this age group, but like a religion or some sort of repression that repression isn't immigrants, don't own a repression story right. I think just the idea that it's it's okay,
that what seem so easy to other kids might seem might be difficult, free and that's fine,
Thank you, so much Andrew. Truly, what a? What a treat to talk to you great! Thank you. This is great. Our show is produced by Julia Botero and HANS Butoh. It's edited by Sarah Sarah's. This episode was mixed by Cory Triple and Marian Lozano Dan Powell created our modern love theme. Music. The original music in this episode is by Marion Lozano Digital production by Mahima Giovanni and discipline, and a special thanks to Ryan Wegner and autumn. Modern love was founded by Dan Jones. Mili is the editor of modern love and projects. Modern love has a virtual event. Coming up on March, ninth at seven pm, we hope you'll join us for the morning at night. A live stream event from the New York Times Daily newsletter. The morning get it the morning at night, we'll share love stories written by readers and bred by Oscar nominee. Ariana Du Bose it'll be a ton of fun. You can rsvp for free at N Y Times dot com slash morning at night, I'm Anna Martin, thanks for listening.
Transcript generated on 2022-03-19.