Good EnoughPosted: October 8, 2015
My parents were visiting. My mother and I had previously discussed love and relationships while traveling together to a conference because surprisingly (not really) Indigenous activist/academic women in their late 20s and early 30s are very likely to be single. In fact, there were presentations on decolonizing love and dating while Indigenous. The conference, which featured hundreds of Indigenous academics, activists and students, made it obvious to my mother that I would have a very hard time finding a partner.
Why? Because being an Indigenous woman who has an education, a job and anti-colonial feminist views is not popular these days, even among Indigenous men with the same qualifications and opinions. Then, throw Islam and the immigrant experience into the mix.
As we finished dinner my stepfather asked me if I was seeing someone. Well, yes, I had been seeing a few people. Serious? No. Potential? Who knows. Both my parents cringed a little as I described some of my dating experiences. Sometimes my stepfather was incredulous. Sometimes my mom showed hints of pain.
“I just want you to be with someone who is good enough for you,” my mother said.
I squirmed. What does that even mean? At the end of the day, my last partner, the one who was there for almost eight years, had never been good enough.
I moved to Canada eight years ago. It was a “rushed” decision. If I had had it my way, I would have dropped out of university, but my father would not let me go anywhere unless I planned to study and enroll in something useful. Thus, I got a leave of absence from my university, and my mother put me in ESL classes in the hopes that I would improve my English and perhaps like Canada so much that I would decide to stay.
In between logistics and my anxiety over moving in with my mother and stepfather after years of not living with them, I do not remember much. I do, however, remember that at my farewell party, my aunt said, “I am so glad you are going to Canada, that way you can find a Canadian boy to improve the race of this family.”
By “Canadian” she meant white. By “improving” she meant whitewashing. Ironically, this came from the Indigenous side of my family.
Being the obedient girl I have always been, I showed up in Mexico three years later with Saad. Arab, Muslim, dark-skinned, and from a lower-class family. Some jaws dropped, some dismay happened, and some shame was in order. Everyone had an opinion.
Grandma was confused. Where the hell was Saudi Arabia?! She had never heard of it. For my aunt he was too dark. He was neither an racial nor economic “improvement”…perhaps he was even a liability! For my parents, he was too religious. They imagined him kidnapping me and taking me to Saudi Arabia, where I would be forced to dress in black drapes and would be chained to the bed. For my father, he was a threat to my secular upbringing. For my mother, he was the archetype of Eastern patriarchy.
Today, I wonder how Saad put up with me and my family. But I shouldn’t. I was never good enough for his family or friends either. For his context I was “too Western,” “too secular,” “too liberal,” “too dangerous” and “too feminist.” The difference was that I was never given the chance to prove to them that I was good enough. On my end, eventually my family understood that he was not going anywhere and decided to make the best out of the situation.
I travelled to see my parents. It had only been three weeks since we had last seen each other and my mother had mentioned the “good enough” thing. But in that short span of time tons had happened. I had met someone with potential. I don’t know how we met, but we ended up talking. We bonded over bad dates and our experiences with different Muslim communities. The first time we met it was not a date, but I was extremely impressed by him… something I had not experienced in months. Eventually the exchanges had become more frequent and the meetings more anticipated.
I went to my family to celebrate my birthday, the constant yearly reminder that a couple of years ago I had envisioned myself married and settled with Saad, starting a PhD and generally happy. It is one more year, and I am nowhere near those dreams that now seem so unreachable and somehow naïve.
At lunch my mother could not help but asking me about my dating life, again. I sensed a tint of worry.
Unlike other parents mine are not concerned that I may be too old, or that I may end up alone. If anything, these days they seem to think that I am better off alone that with someone who is not “good enough.” While my mom worries about me ending up with the wrong guy, my dad is certain that I will pass on to posterity like many other feminists have… accomplished, but alone. His excuse? The world is not ready for women like me.
To ease my mom’s concerns I told her I had met someone with potential. But I also explained to her that I was still skeptical, and I was being cautious. After all, I already got my heart broken in the past year by a guy who could not make up his mind and three days before being deployed to Afghanistan he showed up to tell me he wanted to keep in touch and wanted me to wait for him. I laughed. I was over it and not willing to revive the uncertainty and the discomfort.
Key to the new “relationship,” if it can be called that, is the brokenness. In between the pain of losing someone, the broken hearts, the difficulties with families and the search for something that feels right, we have built a somewhat transparent relationship. Will it last? Who knows! Does it feel like home? It certainly does. But if there is something I have realized is that I am not 18 anymore, and have learned the hard way that just wanting something does not mean you are entitled to it. So I am gauging where I stand in this relationship and the reasons why Allah may have placed me in such a complex but fulfilling arrangement.
As we finished lunch, my mother went through the common questions. What does he do? Where is he from? Where did he grow up? What baggage does he come with? What did he study? What are his future plans?
After the interrogation she repeated what has become her “good enough” cannon. I listened quietly.
I know that as my mother’s only daughter she sees me as a wonderful person with tons of potential. She likes to think that she has a lot to do with my accomplishments. I also know that she worries since she saw me hit rock bottom after Saad’s passing. And I know that, in her mind, I have the chance to “do it right…” I could find a well-educated man of colour (I don’t date white men either), who has a job, is open minded, is secular, is into activism, knows the decolonial struggle, respects feminism, appreciates Indigenous peoples, etc… etc… etc.
But the reality of things is that what has defined me in the past few months is my brokenness and my attachment to Allah’s plan. Some days I am angry. Some days I feel Allah owes me. Some days I sit in prayer begging for clarity; others, I just ignore my prayers all together. And in this process of putting myself together and hoping to understand what Allah is doing with me, I have come to the conclusion that “good enough” means very little. “Good enough” does not acknowledge my pain, my anger, my journey or my healing. “Good enough” does not acknowledge the sleepless nights asking Allah for guidance. “Good enough” is not good enough.
I wish I wanted more right now… but all I want is happy and simple. I have been through unhappy and I have been through complicated. And these days that’s nowhere near what I can handle. I can have all the expectations in the world and I can work towards putting myself together in the way in which my family envisions… but still “good enough” won’t cut it because I feel, very unorthodox and selfishly, that Allah owes me happy and simple.
Read more from Eren on our site, here.
Eren Cervantes-Altamirano is an Indigenous-Latin American convert to Islam. She is currently working on her MA in Public Administration (supposedly). Eren’s blog Identity Crisis focuses on her multiple identities and how to reconcile them when they are at odds with each other. She also blogs at Muslimah Media Watch. When she is not writing, Eren can be found baking, knitting and sewing and oh yeah… dating. Follow her at @ErenArruna.