Two months ago, sitting in a Turkish restaurant packed to capacity on a Saturday night, one of my oldest friends told me he had found someone.
We’ve known each other longer than either of us can remember, and were partners in crime long before we ever fully realized it. In recent years, as we’ve both been searching for that elusive part of our future, the partner-in-crime thing had been thrown into even starker contrast: we’d meet for dinner or coffee and grouse about the people we’d been meeting, the “almosts” and the “snowball’s chance in hell”, and about the Jane Austen-level lamentations of our parents, who seemed to have all but given up on us while insistently wringing their hands.
Conversation moved forward: from mutual celebration of his good fortune, to my latest backfire (a wonderful man who had lasted two months), to a spirited discussion about partnerships vs. solitude as a life choice.
I wanted to show you what I saw
But it was so boring
Like talking to myself
A conversation I had before
Things I already know
And I know you don’t know it
But it was boring nevertheless
Because to explain
I have to say too much
Describe too much
And if I don’t explain
Wheat fields and corn fields carefully cultivated
Spreading as far as the eye can see
And an area where land was fallow
Because there was a dispute between two people
And the jirgah had suspended rights
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They tell you that to just focus on yourself. The instructions are to become a good Muslim. You pray and you fast. You do not talk to girls or smoke or hit the clubs. You remain virgins while focusing on your careers and education. First you get the bachelors degree because no parent wants a salary of less than $80,000 a year. Every parent you know insist that it is for the best that you save up money and get ahead in your career development.
You listen because you love your family.
Be yourself. Especially, do not feign affection. Neither be critical about love; for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass. -Desiderata, Max Ehrmann
It is that time of year when people reflect on love. Maybe it is because of the polar vortex, the unusual mass of Southern snow, or the slow tide of winter, but love occupies my mind. Most specifically, I wonder when I will be on someone’s mind; when it will be my turn to be loved, and to love, again.
A carpenter friend of mine recently commented that empty homes disintegrate quickly. “A house absorbs the energy of people in it, and if no one is there to replenish the energy, it starts to fall apart,” he shared. This seemed counterintuitive: inhabitants put wear-and-tear on a home so the logic should be the other way around. But I’ve been in enough abandoned buildings to know that what he says carries weight. There is poetic longing in discarded structures. It seems that the way silence echoes in the accelerated corrosion of empty buildings showcases a cosmic riddle. There is a layer of mystical decay when an edifice is left abandoned.
In many ways, we are like buildings; our energy is replenished through our good relationships, even with the wear-and-tear. Loneliness and emotional solitude can scuff the grandest cathedrals and the strongest souls. When we don’t receive or put affection out in the world, we meet the same fate as some of the structures I’ve trampled through.
We start to fall apart.
Our new book, Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy, will be released on February 4th. In the lead up to the release, meet our 22 contributors.
Today, meet Arif Choudhury!
An excerpt from Arif’s story, “How Did I End up Here?”:
If I was looking for the female version of me, why didn’t I date an American-born Bangladeshi Muslim girl? Because they were inaccessible. Growing up in the Bangladeshi community in Chicago, all of us boys and girls were raised as though we were siblings or cousins. One of the uncles in the community once asked me, “Do you feel as though you can’t marry the Bangladeshi girls you grew up with because you think of them as sisters?” “Exactly,” I replied. “It feels incestuous. They aren’t romantic possibilities. It’s too weird. I’ve been calling all of you uncle and auntie. If I marry your daughter I’d be calling you Abba and Amma—it would be strange to have you as in-laws.” Besides, I thought, you are all so freaked out about dating, how are we supposed to couple up? You would all know if we were going out to the movies or for coffee . . . or who knows what else.
Since our Bangladeshi Muslim parents wouldn’t let us date, we all dated secretly—some sooner than others. We found boyfriends and girlfriends from outside the Bangladeshi Muslim community who were allowed to date. Because of this, a lot of the American-born Bangladeshis—both men and women—in my community began marrying outside our ethnic group and sometimes outside our faith.
To read more, order Salaam, Love today!
Q&A with Arif