A Married Woman

Eds note: Welcome our newest LoveInshAllah.com columnist, Huda Al-Marashi! Keep an eye out for Huda’s column, “Things I Wish I’d Known” the second Tuesday of every month!

huda

When I was growing up, my Iraqi-born mother responded to my requests to travel alone, consider schools out-of-state, or stay out late with friends with the same answer, “When you get married.” Once I got married, I’d be somebody else’s problem. Then, it wouldn’t be her place to tell me no. Then, it would be my husband’s job to worry about me.

Marriage, in my adolescent mind, was the only way to an independent adulthood. Western culture may have referred to marriage as settling down, but I associated it with freedom. Marriage would sanction my first relationship with a man. It would transition me from my parents’ authority to my husband’s, and I was convinced my future husband would do whatever I wanted. He  was not an individual with his own goals and desires; he was the supporting actor in my life’s script.

The bridal magazines I pored over as a teenager only confirmed this notion. In every wedding dress advertisement, the groom’s sole purpose was to gaze longingly at his beautiful bride. Clearly the bride was the star of the wedding, the most important character, and this alone made marriage superior to dating. Girls with boyfriends didn’t get pearly sets of bone china, gleaming flatware, or crystal goblets; they didn’t don flowing white gowns with tiaras, slice into towering cakes, or go to exotic destinations for their honeymoon. But if I was a married woman, I could wake up next to my husband, watch him shave every day before leaving to work in a pressed suit and tie, and then according to Sheena Easton’s Morning Train,  he’d come home and take me a movie, to a restaurant, slow-dancing, anything I want.

The two cultures I straddled, American and Iraqi, disagreed on so much, but they both agreed that marriage was a shiny new beginning. It  was a life of matching underwear, fancy pajamas, sophisticated clothes, and smooth, hairless legs. It was beautifully set tables with fresh flowers and groceries bought at boutique markets. I didn’t see these ideas as the realization of my every when-I-grow-up image. I didn’t recognize that I was falling for advertising’s promise that consumer fulfillment led to personal transformation.

When I was twenty years old, I married the son of our closest family friends in a wedding that brought my every bridal magazine fantasy to life. But after six hours of smiling for photographs, hugging family and friends, and twirling under a grand chandelier in layers of tulle, I was no longer a bride. I was a wife in a lifelong relationship with another person,  a daughter in another family. While those new ties brought with them wonderful, tender moments, I hadn’t allowed any room for the mundane in my vision of the future, and anything short of sheer fabulousness, shook me. Friday night movies at home meant my husband and I were already a boring married couple. Lazy Sunday mornings meant we never did anything fun. Quiet weekday dinners meant we’d run out of things to say to each other. Squabbles over whose parents we’d stay with and for how long meant we were too different to ever be happy together.

On visits home, I complained to my mother. “Why did you tell me I could do everything after I got married? Marriage just makes things harder.”

To this, she offered different explanations. “That’s what I was told;” “I just wanted something to tell you to keep you home and safe;” “It is one thing to let a boy go out in the world alone, but with a girl, you worry about her reputation;” “Maybe it wasn’t right, but how was I supposed to know you were listening so carefully?”

Gradually I came to see the particular, the maternal, and even the fear behind the rules that had defined my life, the rules I’d always assumed were based on my religion or at the very least, my culture. And even more gradually still, I came to understand that while I’d inherited a myriad of gender, familial, and media expectations, these ideas had  only been partially to blame for my discontent.  The truth was that simple refrain of “When you get married,” had cleaved my mind. It had convinced me of a great big divide, the before and after marriage.

What I wish I’d known as a twenty year old bride is that for all the externals that change with marriage, the nature of life is consistent. There is no fix to the angst of living, no person that will deliver you from the work of existence. You will feel lonely; sometimes when your spouse is sitting right next you or sleeping in the same bed. You will navigate your mind’s mental wilderness alone, and you will  communicate what you found there to a partner who may or may not understand. Your underwear will get holes in them. You will wear your ratty, old pajamas, and your spouse will, too. One day you’ll understand that this is not the disappointment of married life, but it’s reward―to carry on with the business of day to day living with someone at your side.

Huda Al-Marashi is an Iraqi-American at work on a memoir about the impact of her dual-identity on her marriage. Excerpts from this memoir have appeared in the anthologies Love Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of Muslim American Women, Becoming: What Makes a Woman, In Her Place,and Beyond Belief. Other works have recently appeared in The Rumpus Funny Women Column and the anthology Rust Belt Chic. Her poem, TV Terror, is part of a touring exhibit commemorating the Mutanabbi Street Bombing in Baghdad. She is the recipient of a 2012 Creative Workforce Fellowship, a program of the Community Partnership for Arts and Culture, made possible by the generous support of Cuyahoga County citizens through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.


5 Comments on “A Married Woman”

  1. Dahlia Eissa says:

    dear huda,

    i think you’ve written a piece that resonates with women all over the world. for so many of us marriage is that thing that will elevate you – free you from parental controls, society’s judgement that no one wants you, and give you the privileged status of a center-of-the-world bride one day and spoken-for wife the next. while much of this belies the realities of women’s lives, it is the fantasy of those who want escape from limitations. ironically, the options for escape are also limited.

    this is a fundamental problem in muslim cultures, for men and women – the construction of limitations based on fear. parents certainly have fears for their children, particularly their daughters, but i believe many of those fears also belie the reality of women’s lives. and so many of us enter marriage not prepared for the mundane, the sadness, the loneliness, and a myriad of other “negative” emotions that we simply don’t associate with romantic love.

    i also believe that many of those fears are fears of non-conformity – so many parents don’t want to deal with the blowback of having a daughter who does things differently – who is an outlier. outliers don’t get married, and marriage is the only thing (apart from chastity) that enables many parents to breathe a deep sigh of relief when it comes to their daughters.

    all of this makes marriage a really big deal in a woman’s life. so it is no surprise that many women want a dramatic before and after marriage. when one is kept stifled and stunted and feels as though she is bursting at the seams to come alive and be a human being who is able to fulfill her dreams, marriage is presented to her by family, society and often religious leaders, as her only option. it certainly doesn’t help that all cultures fetishize weddings and brides.

    i’ve written about my own experiences and how many women simply aren’t treated as an adult before they marry (http://dahliatellingtales.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/why-we-marry/) and i think it’s important to raise daughters who can develop a sense of self that is not confined to daughter and wife. when young women have other parts of themselves that do not depend on marriage as a stepping stone, or a bridge to freedom and can go out into the world on their own, then they won’t be sitting waiting for their existence to all of a sudden come to life when a husband comes along.

    dahlia eissa.

    • Huda Al-Marashi says:

      Thank you so much for you thoughtful reply, Dahlia, and for sharing this link. I see how many of the themes in our work overlap. So looking forward to seeing more of your work, too.

      • Idealist at heart says:

        Superb and deeply powerful -I have read both pieces and find them exquisitely articulated. These are indeed the realities that face women, especially those with a more conservative upbringing. Unfortunately, while we may have been able to realize that this is indeed the way things are, it’s still very hard to break away or even fully extricate yourself from such conditions. We can still hope and dream because that is the narrative we were taught to follow-with all it’s flaws and misdirection. It’s incumbent upon the next generation of mothers and wives to keep these well-intentioned family values and promote the virtues of marriage in addition to preparing the next generation of Muslim women to find a healthy balance and find happiness and fulfillment in her own right. She must face these challenges not with grand anticipation nor apprehension but with grace and dignity and a heavy but healthy dose of reality. Romanticizing marriage would be ideal but has damaging reprecussions and makes new brides prone to great expectations leading to problems from the get-go. Combine that with cultural baggage and it’s recipe for disaser. It has never been easy to be a woman and perhaps even more so a Muslim woman. Let’s hope it gets a tad bit less complicated in the future; )

  2. RR says:

    Great article which caught my eye due to its relevance to my life story. I vow to never facilitate marriage as a way out for my daughters – rather want them to live their lives to the fullest without being non conformists. The vicious cycle stops at my generation of wishfulness, pain and regret.

  3. I love this! I often received that comment as well. The importance placed on marriage in the context of completing a woman/opening up new avenues/adventures is silly. It is too often an easy thing to fall back on for parents rather than discussing why they are uncomfortable with their daughters doing all those awesome things. Thanks for sharing your story!