9th August 2011 - 6 mins read
Growing up as an Arab girl meant one thing: My parents’ ultimate goal in life is to see me married. Even the more “modern” parents live and breathe every second of their lives in preparation of marrying their daughters off. Other factors, such as character development, education, career and achievements are equally important, but secondary to marriage. The ultimate win in life for an Arab parent’s daughter meant her getting married. Nothing else matters, not even closely.
While this is a noble objective for parents to have for their daughter, I don’t understand the obsession with it. It’s true that in a way the purpose of life is to find a partner, get married and have children to promote the continuation of the human race, but I just don’t understand why it is an absolute must. There are many women who don’t get married at all and live great lives and others who do get married at a very late age. But this societal obsession with getting a woman married ends up shaping her life from the age of 0 to marriage.
We’ve all experienced the baggage that comes with being an Arab girl. “Daughter, sweetheart, you’ve got to be beautiful so you can find a husband. Lose weight because a man doesn’t want a big woman. Gain weight if you’re skinny because a man likes a woman with some meat on her. Always dress your best, even if it means being uncomfortable in the clothes you’re in and you’re falling all over the place in heels. Don’t let a single hair be on your body without waxing it. Make sure you don’t have black knees and elbows! THAT WILL BE THE DEATH OF YOU…” And these are just a few examples of the constant advice our mothers give us throughout the years in order to ensure we “find a husband.” For some girls, the mothers encourage them to date for the sole purpose of finding a husband and for other girls, they must sit at home waiting for a man to come and “choose her.”
Anyway - I could go on ranting forever and a day about this, but I’ll discuss more of it in later posts. The point here is, Arab parents are so obsessed with marrying off their daughters that they put the girls in the most awkward situations to make sure that happens. Many of these situations actually make zero sense at all. Here is one such example.
While the mother’s role is far more active in getting her daughter married, don’t think the father is without fault here. Fathers do a lot of the work, just behind the scenes. Once in a while though, my dad will throw something my way about marriage, and it is always the most awkward conversation I have in my life. I always feel like I want the ground to swallow me up for the rest of my days on this planet. My dad, knowing it is excruciatingly awkward, has developed a certain mechanism in discussing marriage with me.
Father: “What are your plans for the future?”
Depending on what stage of my life I’m in, my answer always differs. In school, it was “Finish school, go to college then work.” In college, it was “Finish college then work.” When I graduated, it was “Find a job.” And now, it’s always, “…… Continue working, and maybe write.”
Father: “Do you not have plans of getting married?”
Me: “Dad, this isn’t something a person can plan for. Marriage happens when it happens. I can’t go to the supermarket, put a husband in my shopping cart and proceed to checkout.”
After that answer, my dad always follows up with some form of twisted advice like, “Well if you plan on getting married, you need to start adjusting your life from now. You need to learn to spend more time at home,” OR, the dreaded follow up, “Well, I have a suitor for you, would you be interested in meeting him?” I’ve learned in my years that it’s always better to say yes than to argue. Besides, I’m not completely objected to the idea of arranged marriages because who knows? It might just turn out to be a decent guy. (I said might.) One of the times that this happened to me with my father was four years ago, on our trip to America. At this point in time, I had moved back to the Middle East from America and had no intention of moving there again. I was in the middle of my university education in the Middle East and in fact, one of the biggest reasons we had moved back to the Middle East was because my mother thought I had become “too Americanized.” Besides this, my mother felt that I had no real chance in meeting an “good Arab man” in America that I could marry. So when my father and I went that year, we had gone purely to visit.
On the last day of our trip, my father approached me with his epic, “What are your plans for the future?” After the same back and forth conversation we had, he told me, “There’s a guy interested in you. Do you know who?” I knew very well who he was talking about. It was a guy who was a family friend of ours, who lived in America. How did I know it was him? Because a few days before that, my father had INSISTED that I come say hello to him and the guy at the mall.
Me: “No dad, I have no idea who it is.” (I played stupid to avoid the current situation getting any more awkward that it was.)
Dad: “It’s Ahmed. He sort of approached me a few days ago and told me that he’s interested in you. What do you think?”
I wondered for a few seconds how I could answer this question. I knew nothing about Ahmed. I had only met him once over a family dinner, in which we spoke nothing to each other. I had never spent any time with him and the extent of my knowledge on him extended to his name, his age, where he studied and what he did for a living. Likewise, I couldn’t believe he was “interested in me.” He knew nothing about me. In reality, it seemed like he was more interested in my father. I absolutely hate this type of logic that says, “if you know a girl’s father and he’s a good man, it must mean that the daughter is a gem.” THAT MAKES NO SENSE. Besides, assuming he was prince charming and the most incredible man this planet has ever seen, how did he or my father propose we got to know each other? We didn’t live in the same country. I wasn’t planning on moving to America nor was he planning on moving to the Middle East. So, what was the solution? An online engagement and a Skype wedding? As I wondered what I could say back to my dad, I couldn’t help but feel that this was absolutely absurd.
Me: “Dad, he seems like a nice guy but I don’t have the chance to get to know him. We live in different countries.”
Dad: “Well in any case, he’ll be dropping us off to the airport later tonight so you could speak to him then. Just see what he’s like.”
I had no energy to argue any further so I dropped it. I thought to myself that a ride to the airport with a man who has clearly expressed interest in marrying in me couldn’t be that bad. Little did I know, a disaster of awkward explosions awaited me that evening.
At around 6:30 p.m., Ahmed and my father passed by my friend’s house to pick me up. I sat in the backseat as we made way to my dad’s friend’s place so my father could say bye to his friend. No one said a word to me the entire ride. When we got to my dad’s friend’s place, my dad very conveniently said, “I’ll be right back,” and stepped out of the car, leaving me and Ahmed alone for a few minutes. After my dad stepped out, the car turned into a silence the world has never seen before. Ahmed got straight on his phone completely ignoring my existence. I couldn’t believe this man supposedly wanted to marry me. Was he not intending on even trying to speak to me? Why was there this awkward silence looming in the air? Why couldn’t he just say anything to me? This couldn’t be any more awkward. A few minutes later, my dad called me and asked us to come in to say bye to his friend. THANK GOD. After saying our goodbyes, my dad, OF COURSE, told me that his friend was taking him to the airport and that Ahmed would take me…. all alone. Oh, God.
I got back in the car, in the front seat this time, and we drove to the airport in complete silence. When we were taking the highway exit to the airport, Ahmed finally broke the silence and asked me one question so insignificant that I can’t even remember it now to save my own life. This was his idea of bonding. I got out of the car, shook his hand and ran all the way to my airplane seat. Okay fine, I’m exaggerating but I was relieved to be out of the car. And I was even more relieved that my father never spoke to me another word about Ahmed again.
I haven’t seen Ahmed again in four years except for one time when I was visiting America again two years ago. But it makes perfect sense that we should’ve gotten married, wouldn’t you think?
Kisses and hugs,