The Single Girl’s Survival Guide for Desi WeddingsPosted: October 8, 2014
It was exactly five years to the day since the wedding I wrote about in my story for the Love, Inshallah anthology, “Punk Drunk Love.” Here I was again for another Desi wedding in the same suburban Indian restaurant. Heck, I’m pretty sure I was even sitting at the very same table.
The couple was different and I was wearing a different sari, but the celebration of love was the same. It was impossible not to think of him – the leading man of that romantic narrative years ago, who had attended that wedding with me. My mind replayed moments from that night: his hand on my knee, the look in his eyes, how he had made my heart race.
I no longer missed him, but the memories reminded me of how I had once loved like that. Five years later, he was long gone, but I was still in the shadow of that memory, still single and still unable to find that permanent kind of love.
I looked at the pink, bejeweled bride with her shining smile, and the handsome groom with his twinkly-teary eyes sitting side-by-side on the Mughal-style divan. Flowers festooned both sides of the stage and light radiated around them; from them, even. This was a couple I was excited to see together – punk, Bengali, foodies, social justice-oriented. Never had I seen a more compatible pair. They brought out the best in each other.
The imam joined them on stage for the nikah, mic in hand, working the crowd like an MC. He was the local imam from the groom’s childhood mosque. After recalling memories of the groom as a kid, the imam continued with the vows and the rings.
“Let us celebrate this couple,” the imam said, “united now in the eyes of the community and completing the deen destined for them. People forget that marriage is compulsory. It’s true. In Islam, marriage is compulsory. If people are not married, and Judgment Day comes, the people who are not married will not be welcomed into the arms of Allah. He will embrace only those who are married.”
I sent a shocked glance to my friend Nadia sitting to my right, another single Bengali girl (albeit a divorcée – would her first marriage count in the eyes of this imam?). Before I could say anything, Nadia was pulled out of her chair by her uncle. She didn’t make a fuss. She stood in front of a pink wall, smiling politely into the camera with her arms crossed as her uncle clicked away. The ambush technique of biodata photo-taking did not seem to frazzle Nadia in the least. It was clear that this wasn’t the first time it had happened.
Afterward, her uncle turned to me. “Come on. It’s your turn.”
I looked at him skeptically. “Um. No. Why?”
He responded sternly, as if I was the one behaving rudely. “Didn’t you hear the imam? If you don’t get married, you won’t be welcomed into the arms of Allah. Is that what you want?”
I sighed, putting my face into my hands. As if the uncles and aunties didn’t have enough ammunition already.
When you are single and in your twenties, weddings are kind of fun. There are usually lots of other single people, you are often seated together so that you can meet like-minded people. More often than not, there are cute singletons to flirt with, or even get set up with.
But, if you are single and in your thirties, weddings are absolutely miserable. People in your age bracket are coupled off, and you are stuck at the singles’ table with people a decade younger, all of whom are taking selfies to snapchat and whatsapp to each other. Being the token “old” person at the table, the conversation eventually involves my giving “the youth” grad school suggestions, how-to-deal-with-parents advice, and other when-you-become-my-age wisdom.
If, however, you are seated at a table of people in your age bracket, the couples’ conversations revolve around mortgages or the best cream for nipples chapped from breastfeeding. As soon as they figure out that you are single, the wives clutch their husbands’ arms, and, of course, mete out unsolicited dating advice.
There are only three ways to stay sane at a Desi wedding in your thirties:
First, avoid areas where nosy aunties and uncles may be: the buffet line, lingering in front of bathroom mirrors, or gazing longingly at the dessert. Fill your plate quickly, and then try to blend in with the twentysomethings at your table.
Second, if you are cornered, deflect. When they ask why you aren’t married yet, shift the blame. “Nobody wants to marry me.” “I’ve tried time and time again.” “Men just aren’t attracted to successful women.”
This will undoubtedly garner sympathetic nods. If they persist, insisting you just need to put yourself out there, tell them truth about your most recent worst date. “After my last date, I had to call 911 because he sent pictures of himself slitting his wrists after I told him I just wanted to be friends.”
Third, take a date.
Sure, taking a date to a Desi wedding carries risks. As a perpetual single, the bride and groom usually won’t send you a wedding invitation with a “+1” option. It’s cheaper for them, and understandably, they don’t want a lifetime celebration to include your latest guy of the week. While this may be understandable in your twenties, it’s infantilizing to not allow plus ones for guests over thirty.
The bigger issue is, of course, arousing the auntie and uncle gossip mill. Without an engagement ring on your finger, bringing a date to a wedding could elicit an endless string of thaba thabas.
But if you can get around those two issues, I guarantee that a fake boyfriend works wonders in making weddings enjoyable.
Trust me – I’ve done it twice.
“So, I just want you to know…that I invited your Ex to our wedding,” Arshiya said, shooting me a guilty look. “And, he’s bringing a plus one.”
Arhsiya was in California on business but had squeezed in a meal with me. For years, she had been my Muslimah sister in singlehood, endlessly brunching with me in Santa Monica on Sundays. In a few weeks, she was finally tying the knot and I was flying to Chicago to read a sura during her wedding.
“Are you serious??” I exclaimed, dropping the burger I was about to take a bite out of. “How could you do this to me? He and I haven’t spoken since our blow-up two years ago!”
“I’m sorry! I didn’t think he was going to come. And now that he is, and he’s bringing a date. I wanted to let you know.”
“But the wedding is in two weeks! In Chicago! And I’m going alone!” The manic version of me took over. “Can I bring a plus one? You have to let me bring a plus one.”
“I mean, sure, but… for this to be plausible, you need to bring a ‘boyfriend.’ Or at least someone who can pretend to be your boyfriend at the wedding.”
“A fake boyfriend? Done. I don’t know how, but it will be done.”
“Okay then. Would it be awkward if I sat you at the same table as your Ex?”
“You can seat us at the same table. It’ll be fine as long as I can find a date.”
Like any modern woman, I took my dilemma to Twitter. “Crap, I need a fake boyfriend for this Chicago wedding, asap!!! Any suggestions?” and, “Promise I’m fun if you are down for an adventurous, improv, food-filled evening.”
Within a few minutes I got a response: “Adventure? Food? I’m there.”
I looked at my phone skeptically. It was from a guy with whom I’d had a magical first date the night before. We had gotten coffee, driven around knocking things off my Bay Area bucket list, had our first kiss under the glow from the orange lights of the shipyard, and shared goat tacos from a food truck. Did I mention it was Valentine’s Day and he had made me a pop-up card?
He made my knees buckle. It was by far the best first date I’d ever had. But, did I want him to fly out to the Midwest to be my fake boyfriend at a wedding in two weeks? It had only been four days since I’d met him at the Love InshAllah book reading. What kind of guy would do something like that for a girl he had just met?
But then again, what better candidate to be my fake boyfriend than a guy that I actually had sparks with? He liked to travel, was spontaneous, quick-witted and charming. And, he was a Midwest boy. He could hang out with his friends after the wedding. I would only need his services for that one night, three hours max.
I texted back, asking him how serious he was. He responded that he could be persuaded. A few days later, he forwarded me his flight itinerary. I had my fake boyfriend for the wedding.
The plan was simple: act “coupley.” If people asked us how we met, stick to the truth as closely as possible. After that, deflect, turning questions back on the other person.
The afternoon before the wedding, we even role-played potential questions and practiced our responses.
“You’re going to have to pretend to be really into me,” I teased.
“That’s not going to be a problem,” he responded.
It snowed the day of the wedding. I was wearing a white sari and he was in a suit. I held his arm as we walked into the hall, heading straight toward my friends. Everyone gave us curious looks, but no one questioned us. They were used to the randomness of my life.
And there was my Ex, standing amongst my friends. We gave each other a polite hug followed by small talk. I introduced him to my date. As I stood there awkwardly, I realized that the Ex had shown up to the wedding alone. I felt oddly triumphant at this fact, and unfazed by his presence. I was on such a high from the romance in the air that the Ex kind of just faded into the background.
That is, until we had to go to our table. There were only three seats left, one of them being next to the Ex. Naturally, I grabbed the seat furthest away from him. Thus, in a weird turn of events, my Ex and my date were seated next to each other. Was it awkward? Yes, especially for my fake boyfriend. But, he was game, reaching back casually behind my seat, engaging and charming as ever.
“He seems like a great guy,” the Ex said, later that evening.
I nodded. “Yeah. I know.”
I had never enjoyed a wedding more. Having a date alleviated all the explicit and implicit single girl pressures. As a couple we could have conversations with other couples. No longer was the wife clutching her husband possessively; instead, we could have a genuine conversation. When there were lulls, I wasn’t a wallflower anymore. I had someone to talk to, someone to dance with. And, finally, I could get two different desserts without looking weird.
As we got on our respective planes back to California at the end of the wedding weekend, something had shifted between us. Maybe it was the romance in the air, maybe it was the snow – but somewhere along the way the lines between pretend and real had blurred. I was pretty sure that the “fake” could now be dropped from in front of the word “boyfriend.” And, I decided that I would never go to a wedding dateless again.
A boyfriend – fake or otherwise – made the ordeal way more fun.
“When is it your turn? Don’t you want to get married?”
I had been cornered by an auntie armed with invasive questions. You know this type of auntie, the one you spend the entire party trying to avoid eye contact with.
I was sitting alone at the wedding of the wonderful, social-justice-oriented couple. Single and alone at an empty table – probably with two desserts in front of me.
“I do. But I’m too old now. All the good ones are taken,” I said, implementing my evasive maneuver.
“No! Look at you. You look so young.”
“But I’m not. I’m 35.” She looks shocked. I can see her doing the mental math as I continued. ”That’s not an attractive age for men, and then there’s power issues, gender issues. It gets complicated.”
“You don’t look 35. Don’t tell them your age. Always go a year younger to whatever they say they are. If they say they are 29, tell them you are 28.”
“That’s an interesting strategy. So you want me to lie the first time I meet someone I may spend the rest of my life with?” It wasn’t a totally terrible idea, I ruminated.
“Are you scaring them away? Is it because you are educated and that is intimidating?” She was leaning forward, uncomfortably close.
“I don’t know, auntie. Maybe. There are lots of guys, but none of them want to get married.”
“Oh, you should never tell them you want to get married the first time you meet them! You should only bring your intentions up later.”
“But I’m not -“
“And you need to have engaging conversations. Ask them questions. Wait for them to answer. Don’t make it about you, but talk about them. You know, talk to them and get to know them.”
“I. Know. How. To. Have. A. Conversation.”
“You need to try. Are you trying? You have to keep trying.”
“Oh auntie. If you ONLY knew,” I got up from the table. “Do you want some dessert? Let me get you some dessert.”
When all else fails, deflect.
Read more columns by Taz, here.
Tanzila “Taz” Ahmed is an activist, storyteller, and politico based in Los Angeles currently working as the Voter Engagement Manager at Asian Americans Advancing Justice – Los Angeles. She was a long-time writer for Sepia Mutiny, and was recently published in the anthology Love, Inshallah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women and both zines from Totally Radical Muslims. Her personal projects include curating images for Mutinous Mind State and writing about Desi music at Mishthi Music where she just co-produced Beats for Bangladesh: A Benefit Album in Solidarity with the Garment Workers of Rana Plaza. Taz also organizes with Bay Area Solidarity Summer and South Asians for Justice – Los Angeles. You can find her rant at @tazzystar.