“Arranged” MarriagePosted: June 5, 2013
I am madly in love with a good man.
Next week, I am going to marry another.
I have cried more tears this year than I have cried in my entire life. I have been brought so low that I cannot see a way out. I no longer trust my own judgment, my own thoughts, my own brain or heart. I used to be amazing. Now I am a mere shadow of who I used to be.
You read about stories like this. But you never understand how it could happen now, in the 21st century. You never imagine it could be you.
I am crying bitterly, shaking my fist at the sky, and my heart feels it will burst at the injustice of it. I am not being forced into it. Just, you know, bullied, pushed and coerced.
I know. It sounds like the plot of a torrid Bollywood film, Turkish soap opera, an old black-and-white American movie. But it’s my life.
I’m no ignorant teenager living in the mountains of Afghanistan or in the deserts of Yemen. I am an educated, worldly woman in my late twenties. I have a Ph.D. I have traveled all over the world, and I have a very successful career. I am independent and I can take care of myself.
So, how is this happening? The same old story: a family that misuses religion.
It begins as children when we are taught marriage is our life’s goal. Sure, you can go to school and pursue a career, but in the end, you must get married. Unmarried women are a burden. A shame.
People say, “You make your own money? You are fulfilled without a husband and children? Shush. What do you know? We will introduce you to good men. What? You meet good men in your workplace or during your travels? Shame. What would people say?”
You dare to choose a possible suitor, but he is vetoed if he is not of the same color, caste, nationality, socio-economic status, and/or academic background.
They say there is no such thing as love. Anything you feel before marriage is a sham and an illusion. They say God never mentioned love in the Qur’an as a matrimonial pre-condition.
Women like myself live like strangers in our homes. We spend our lives trying to balance between what our family wants and what we need. We pray for the day we get married because we aren’t allowed to live alone—we only gain our independence after we marry. So we pray to marry someone like us, although deep down we know our parents won’t approve of someone like us. They want someone like them.
But, we pray anyway.
We grew up watching Disney movies. We were programmed to think we should follow our hearts and everything will magically work out. They never told us how horribly scary taking a risk is, because the risks in the Disney universe always, always paid off.
We. Just. Don’t. Disobey. Our. Parents.
And these parents — for whom cultural and societal traditions trump religion anyway — then manipulate religion to manipulate you.
I fell in love with a good man. Because of my education, I was willing to compromise on social standing, which Islam never dictated as a criterion anyway. Islam said he must have good character and faith, and the couple must be compatible. He did and we were.
My parents did not approve. In their version of Islam, if parents do not approve of your choice, you cannot marry him. I want to be a good Muslim.
I fought, cried and found someone to intervene. I did everything I possibly could to try and get them to change their minds.
I spent a year being emotionally blackmailed and abused by my family. We fought constantly. I was forbidden to travel and from working. They made my life so horrendous that marriage became the only way to gain my independence.
So why not pick up and leave?
I think of myself sometimes as a bird trapped in a cage. I’m so used to living inside it, even though I know it’s a cage, that even if the cage door was opened, I will still stay inside the cage.
It is deeper and more complex than that: I could never shame my family. Even though they have hurt me more than anything, I still can’t hurt them like that.
What I can’t withstand is when my family plays with my head. When every single family member, old and young, tries to convince me that I have this world figured out wrong. That marriage is not about love or feelings but about good men and good personalities.
It tortured me, killed me inside, ripped me in two. I want to listen to them and make them happy. Perhaps they are right. I thought, “I’ve never been married before, what do I know? Maybe their choice will make me happy. After all, it’s worked for hundreds of years. I’m the only one who thinks this way. There must be something wrong with me.”
They slowly broke me down. But that voice inside of me still said: it’s MY life.
I turned to my faith, which preaches patience. It tells us that we never know where goodness lies. “You may hate something and it is good for you.” We are to trust in a grander wisdom than our own. If something is not destined, it will never be.
That isn’t the only reason I caved. The real reason I eventually gave in? Other women.
Women, who, like me, were in love but had disapproving parents. Women, like me, who eventually married men their parents approved of. You listen to them and hold on to their stories like a life raft. They did what their parents wanted and still managed to live normal lives. Surely if it was so horrible they would tell me not to repeat their mistakes, right?
The tragic part is I know that if they were still the same women they were before caving, they would never advise me to go through with it. They advise me to cave because caving changed them. They hated themselves and the world when they caved; when they married a man while wanting another with every fiber of their being. They thought they could never reach such a low, but they did.
The duality of living a life of emotional and spiritual infidelity killed them inside. They realized they’d made an irreversible decision. They had to adapt if they didn’t want to live a miserable life with their fiery rage. They had to lose a part of themselves, perhaps the very best part, and it is in this loss that they are able to continue with their lives. It is because of this loss that they are able to tell other women to embark on the same path.
I know their loss is the best reason not to follow in their footsteps. But I listen, and I will follow. Because they knew what they were going to lose before they caved, but they did it anyway. There is a comfort in knowing that I will be able to live a normal life even after losing a part of myself. I will be okay because I will forget what I lost.
Some days I meekly submit. Other days I am seconds away from heading out of the house and never returning. On all days I am miserable. On all days I miss the man I love with a ferocious passion.
In a couple of years, I will be advising another woman in the same position that I find myself in today. I will tell her to listen to her elders, and to follow the rules.
I am a good woman – one who has never been kissed, who has been saving herself for one man and one man only.
I love another man. I want his babies.
Next week, I will marry another.
The writer of this piece has chosen to remain anonymous.
UPDATE 6/06: The author of the piece has replied to comments.
UPDATE 6/18: A male response to this post.
Read the book “Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women” that started it all, and the sequel, “Salaam, Love: Muslim Men on Love, Sex & Intimacy“, available Valentine’s Day 2014 from Beacon Press.