Dylan and I sat in the well-worn cushions of the black pleather love seat in our counselor’s office, the three of us wondering how I’d respond to Dylan’s marriage proposal.
“Well?” Dylan asked, his gray-green eyes locked on my face.
“Yes! Oh my god, yes,” I said, but my up intonations gave away my uncertainty. “Of course! It’s what we’ve been talking about! Of course I want to get ma-mar—engaged!”
I winced at the shrill sound of my own voice. The pleather groaned as I shifted and sunk into my seat.
The rest of the session I was Woody Allen in “Annie Hall.”
Eds. Note: Please welcome Salaam, Love anthology contributor and LoveinshAllah.com’s newest writer Ramy Eletreby with his column 99 Names (and Queer is One)
I have a confession to make: I LOVE being single.
I really do. This is not some mantra I repeat to convince myself. I really, really love it.
That is my unadulterated truth, and I am swimming in it. Take a picture.
Many of my friends, usually the straight ones, ask me if I’m dating anyone and when I’m going to settle down.
My response is, “Why do you want to condemn me to that life sentence?”
That shuts them up, for a little while. I’m a constant reminder that people need to check their assumptions. We do not all desire to be in relationships.
Whenever I accompany my husband to a work dinner, someone invariably asks me, “And what do you do? Are you also a physician?”
Like many writers, I struggle with claiming that title, so I rarely mention it. I almost always quip that I’m employed by our three kids, or simply state that I’m a stay-at-home mom.
The reply is often, “That’s the most important job in the world,” or “Sounds like you have your hands full,” as if I’ve just confessed something that begs for affirmation. I’ve often wondered what it is about mothering that calls out the inner cheerleader in people. I’ve never once regarded one of my husband’s colleagues with wide eyes and said, “I bet that keeps you busy!”
I started this column a few months ago with a reflection on a failed shot at romance. That post told you everything you need to know about my life in the last few years: new convert unable to stop dating or shake off commitment issues, barely repentant scumbag, honest to a fault and confused about what Romance While Muslim may mean.
Since then, I’ve explored these issues in more depth, wandering through my psyche without a clue of where I was heading. And yet, suddenly I’m here, and it seems my destination was inevitable all along.
I met someone.
The first time I encountered J, she was tweeting that if President Obama was a secret Muslim, it showed in how he was a good husband and father.
J wasn’t Muslim herself, but her father had converted to Islam when she was young and she bore the West African last name he had adopted after researching his probable family history. It was a tribute to the history of Islam in West Africa and to the probability that his ancestors had been Muslim prior to the Atlantic Slave Trade.
J was proud of her heritage and had a number of Muslim friends both online and offline, primarily Black American Muslims. I came across her on Twitter through a mutual follow. I was intrigued by her rather unconventional take on the president and started following her.
Two years later, perpetually frustrated by the same contrarianism that had once drawn me to J, I ritually unfollowed her across all my social media accounts – modern life, right?! (I should mention that this wasn’t a romance. I don’t fall in love (never have), and I don’t do romance. It was a squish.)
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 groggily grab my phone. It’s 3 am, and I’m on a business trip to Chicago. I have a missed call from my little sister. I call her back immediately. I can hear that she is scared to tell me, to be the messenger of bad news. She tells me that my Nana has died. She knows how I hate to be told about deaths over the phone; I was told of both Mom and Nani’s death in similar late night calls. She says that he died in the ambulance going to the hospital from his home in Dhaka.
“Okay,” I respond, unemotionally. I check myself: no feelings. Just empty.
On some level, we had been expecting it. He was 87 years old and his health had been deteriorating for the past few years, ever since my Nani died. They were married when he was 21 and she was 16. He had lived for her. Without her, his mind unraveled.
When I went to Kathmandu to care for him in the summer of 2013, he was in the beginning stages of Alzheimer’s Disease. Of course, my family had not told me this at the time – they had just said he was a cantankerous old man. Overwhelmed and alone, I pieced it together after reading the labels on the boxes of pills I was administering to him daily. Those two weeks alone with him in that dark cold house were easily one of the most traumatic, mind-spinning periods of my adult life.