Searching for love after heartbreak

Editor’s Note: Leila’s story ‘Rerouting’ ends with heartbreak when her Italian fiancé leaves her just days before they were supposed to start a new life together abroad.

“So, well, what happened next?” Their eyes are probing, their voices full of concern and  hopefulness.  I often get this question after someone reads my story in ‘Love InshAllah‘.  I smile.  I know what they really want to ask.

No one likes a sad ending.  Especially when it comes to love.  What they really want to know is whether I found love after all.

But we must talk about our sad endings in order to heal.  It took me years before I could talk about the real reasons for my break up with Luca.  I buried the story in shame, hating to admit that they might have been right, that dating someone outside my faith and ethnicity was doomed to fail.

In the following years, I sporadically revisited my religious and cultural upbringing, seeking love.  Perhaps they were right.  Perhaps no one can understand us like our own people.  I occasionally attended prayer at local mosques, spent two months in Pakistan, and allowed my mother to set me up with suitors.

I softened my heart to the religion I had tried for nearly two decades to leave behind, finding some level of comfort on the velvety prayer rug and in the sound of the tasbih beads clicking against one another.

I drew on my unfailing love for spicy chicken curry, buttery, fragrant basmati rice, and thick, creamy lassi to open my heart to a culture from which I had been running since my teens.  I wanted to find love.

I also broke down once and called Luca.  Technically, I was returning his call.  He left me a message after he returned to Luxembourg, saying that we should talk.  I resisted calling for a week, but some bizarre sense of hope altered my will.  When I called, I expected a profuse apology, sweet and tender words of love and regret, but got none.

“Look, Leila, I need to be able to share my deepest feelings with the person I spend the rest of my life with,” he said.

“Oh, okay, so you can say xenophobic bullshit about my people?  Forget it Luca. I thought you wanted to talk so you could apologize.  Clearly, I was wrong.  Listen, until you can apologize to me for the things you said that day, I don’t want anything to do with you!” I snapped my mobile phone shut and threw it in my purse.

Five years passed.  Five years in which I tried many different routes to love.  I didn’t just return to my roots, I tried on-line dating, social mixers, volunteer work and even triathlon training teams to meet The One.  I also attended bridal showers, weddings, housewarming parties, and baby showers of friends whose lives seemed to be bursting with abundant love and togetherness.

At one point, I was laid off from my job of eight years.  I had walked into the meeting with a notepad and pen, completely unsuspecting.  “Today is your last day with the firm.”

I walked around the city in a daze, crying silently to Allah, Are you punishing me? I am 34 years old, single and now unemployed.  My work had been the one aspect of my life that kept me anchored and now it, too, was gone.

In my darkest moments, I reminded myself of something I had once read.  Everything you are looking for is also looking for you.  It will find you.

I met him on a plane headed for Honolulu.  We were seated in the same row, and he looked faintly familiar.  “Did you go to law school? I feel like I have met you before,” I asked once the plane had taken off.

“No, I’m not a lawyer.”

“Hmmm, okay, I’m sorry.”  I shrugged and returned to my novel.

“I grew up in Bakersfield,” he offered after a few moments of silence.

“No, I definitely don’t know you from there.  I grew up in Orange County.  Well, once we came to the US.” I adjusted the heavy, dark-rimmed glasses on my nose, cursing myself for not putting my contact lenses in.

“I went to UCLA,” he said as he folded his Wall Street Journal.

“Really? Me too.  When were you there?”  I was skeptical.  He looked young and my freshman class alone had had at least eight thousand students.


“No way! Same here.  That must be where I know you from.”

Turns out, UCLA was where we had met before.  We had gone out for coffee once 17 years earlier.  We figured it out during our five-hour flight as we played cards and exchanged food items on our meal trays.

Like Luca, he is from a different ethnicity and faith. Today, we are married and parents to our twelve-week old baby girl.

Leila N. Khan lives and works in Northern California. She enjoys Italian films, classical music, and spending time in her kitchen. Her favorite places in the world are Strasbourg, Dubrovnik, and Maui.

8 Comments on “Searching for love after heartbreak”

  1. SM says:

    yayy! now this is a happy ending 🙂

  2. Ananya says:

    wonderful to hear the sequel. I, too, have married outside my culture and ethnicity and quite happy. My first marriage to someone of my own culture had ended in a disaster. Ultimately, it depends on the people, not where they come from, that defines compatibility, methinks.

  3. College Insomniac says:

    Inspiring! Thank u for sharing ur story

  4. a says:

    I am with a sweet non-Muslim man. I started reading this thinking you found a Muslim guy at the end, LOL. I liked the surprise. God bless you and your family. All the best. Hope the same good ending for me!!

  5. Sarah F. says:

    Your story in the collection left me with a mixture of admiration and sadness: admiration for your sticking up for your beliefs and identity, and sadness about the ending. I’m so glad to read your update! It gives me great hope 🙂 Stay blessed and happy.

  6. Yay! I’m so glad to hear about happy endings!

  7. […] Loving after heartbreak ( […]

  8. jdeena says:

    I just downloaded Love, Inshallah yesterday. I read through many stories before I got to yours. While reading it, I saw myself. I too had almost the same exact relationship that you had, with an Italian Catholic. We met in college and fell fast in love. Initially what bound us was our love for family and our cultures. And then, just as quickly, he showed a different side at the peak of our relationship and it ended, just like that. I was heartbroken for the longest time. And now, reading your follow up I am hit with the same wave of familiarity. I did exactly what you did. I joined online dating sites, went to countless weddings, even was engaged twice to men from my faith. I’m 31 right now and recently lost my job of six years. What I’m trying to say is that I NEVER thought anyone would go through what I went through. Even writing this now I have tears running down my face because your story gives me hope. And I know how hard it is to share something so secret and taboo by our religion’s standards so I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing this. I was flailing about with no sense of direction from all I have lost, but now I have faith again. And it’s because of you and your courage to share your story. I will never be able to thank you enough.