Advice: Dating Newbie

Dear Love Inshallah,

At the age of 25, I am fairly new to the world of Muslim dating (or dating at all). I’ve always internalized messages from my community telling me that “dating is haraam” and have stayed away from men for the most part. Over the last few years, I began speaking with suitors, mostly via phone or email, and always with marriage as the end goal. I would always end things early if I didn’t see things working out (sometimes before I truly knew the gentleman).

For the last couple of months, I have been speaking with a new gentleman, and due to distance, our exchanges have been electronic (phone, email, FaceTime). We have set a date and place to meet in person, but this will require him to spend time and money to travel and meet me.

I have many doubts about whether he is right for me. He is older and has more experience dating, including dating women without marriage as the end goal. This was many years ago and he now is looking for marriage. His history has been weighing on my mind, and I wonder if we are too different because of our perspectives on the Islamic rules of engagement. I know there are double standards for men and women when it comes to this stuff, but I don’t want to be the “nice, virginal girl” that a man settles down with after sowing his wild oats.

Given my doubts, should I still meet him? Is it fair of me to ask him to come so far when I am unsure? I have definitely also considered that I may just be scared and looking for reasons to back out of this.

Dating Newbie

Miss Sunshine replies:

When we agree to marry, we are agreeing to take two separate lives and try to construct a new life that can be shared harmoniously. I’ve always loved that the Islamic tradition requires us to contract that relationship. Writing down our expectations in the presence of witnesses is an important reminder of the value of forthrightness and transparency.

The last thing you want is to be sitting, pen in hand, witnesses all around, still wondering if you’re doing the right thing. Be forthright. You’re a smart woman who is taking this serious decision seriously. Your concerns are valid and you should investigate them until your heart’s at ease. Tell him your concerns, and give him a chance to address them. It’s fair to ask anything you want to ask, and to trust that as a mature, adult man, he can decide whether or not he wants to proceed.

Shy Desi Boy replies:

I understand and respect your concern. Unfortunately in many cultures there is a belief that men should be allowed to do as they please but women must remain virgins until their wedding night. I am not advocating that we should encourage or discourage sex before marriage but rather to suggest that our contradictory signals is often unfair. What further complicates this issue is that many men often wear a veneer of piety when they are, in fact, quite the opposite. So how then can we assess what a man/woman is really like then when cultures often tell us to hide who we are and what we want?

In my columns I always advocate for learning from experience–but what happens when there is a discrepancy, when one person is experienced but another is not? My advice: ask as many questions as you can.

For one, how much is your suitor disclosing? In these previous relationships, was your suitor engaged in long term relationships or was he–as unfortunately many Muslim men do–just using women (often non-Muslim women) for sex? Equally important, is he still in touch with the women he once dated and does he still plan to be in touch with these women? Does this bother you? What are his attitudes towards sex and how have his attitudes been affected by his previous relationships? How would your suitor react if he found out that you had had sex before marriage? I realize that this is not the case with you but it is an important hypothetical. I know many Muslim men who spent their twenties sleeping around with non-Muslim women and as soon as they hit thirty, started looking for “nice girls” (i.e. virgins) from “back home.” I do not know if your suitor fits this category or even if this concerns you but this is something you deserve to know.

Ultimately you have to decide what is most comfortable for you. Has he learned from his experiences and become a more compassionate, sensitive, God-fearing, and gentle person? Or has his experiences made his heart hardened or his personality more callous?

My own experience is that I get so excited when I find a compatible partner that I forget to ask myself–and my potential partner–the tough questions necessary to make a marriage/relationship work. Then when we finally get around to having “the discussion,” it is often too late.

I wish you success and good luck trying to navigate this process and in seeking the answers you want.

One Comment on “Advice: Dating Newbie”

  1. JC says:

    Dear Sister,
    You have raised a number of issues, but the basic premise – that of “dating” a man for the purposes of marriage – is a dangerous idea. The reason is quite easily illustrated in ShyDesiBoy’s response – that such personal activity can easily lead to more carnal meetings, which are quite specifically forbidden in our faith.

    Thus, speaking to suitors, while an important part of getting married, should also incorporate other important people – like your parents, or siblings, or close friends. Some of the best and most rich marriages I have seen came through the involvement and referrals of people who knew the couple (before they were a couple) and may have helped set them up, or at least “moderated” their discussions. Remember that one-on-one communication can easily go in a dangerous direction.

    Consider the fact that you have been very purposeful about maintaining your virginity – and you should be proud of that – but it may be that this man has not been so protective of himself. That poses dangers to you: STDs, emotional problems, unreal expectations, lack of complete commitment, etc.

    But, as Ms. Sunshine pointed out, if you have doubts, don’t go further. Our mind points out our concerns through doubts, and bolsters our decisions through confidence. If you have major doubts right now, then bring in a friend or relative for a “second opinion” so-to-speak. Ultimately, you need to consider not only whether he’s the right man to be your husband, but whether he will stay committed to you. Men who have “experience” tend to move on after some time or are more easily drawn away to others, and you certainly don’t want that. You can certainly go forward with your meeting, but have others with you. Don’t make this a one-on-one meeting. He may be coming with certain expectations (i.e. of sampling the goods), but you need to make sure he knows where you draw the line.