When my cousin decided to drop by and teach me how to properly make warak diwali, aka chat about why I’m still “single and unmarried,” I was less than excited about it. As she began to roll the grape leaves, I realized that she was here to talk about more than why I was single but why she has been married for the past thirteen years to a man she got into an arranged marriage with.
“At first it was tough,” she said, referring to her marriage as she placed a small amount of rice and ground beef into a grape leaf. I knew that my family had put her up to this. They believed that not only was I putting my expectations too high, but also that my fear of making a mistake by marrying a man I’m not in love with was a sure sign that I would remain forever SINGLE! This talk might put my fears to rest and in turn make me say, “I’ll marry anyone you bring,” in the hopes that I made the right decision.
“He was so romantic in the beginning,” she continued.“He really tried to win me over and prove to everyone why he should marry me. Truth is, he liked me because of these,” she said, pointing to her massive breasts that look like two flotation devices.
We both laughed as we continued rolling the grape leaves–hers perfectly, mine rather plump and nowhere near her picture-perfect finely rolled lean ones.
“He tried every way to make me happy and show me that we were perfect together, but after we married Faiza everything…. Everything changed.”
“How so?” I asked.
“He didn’t try anymore. He had me. What did he have to make an effort for? Nothing! But that wasn’t the worst part.”
“Tell me,” I said, putting another one of my imperfect grape leaves next to one of her finely rolled ones in the large pot.
“We started getting to know each other.”
“Is that bad?”
“When you don’t like what you see? Yeah. Very bad! He was different. He walked around the house in his boxers all the time, burped at the dinner table, peed all over the seat, watched nothing but the news all the time. Only talked about politics– nothing else. Well, politics and soccer. That’s all.”
“So what did you do?” I asked, wondering exactly how two people that seem to be so different could make a marriage last for thirteen years. She and her husband looked incredibly happy. I wondered, was this all a charade?
“Well, you know divorce isn’t an option,” she said, noting the fact that divorce is not something that is tolerated in my family. “… but I thought about it the first year. I thought about it all the time.”
“I even went home to my parents a couple times and said I couldn’t go back to him. He just got to a point where he disgusted me. We were so different. We had nothing, I mean NOTHING in common.”
My anticipation grew. I wondered how the hell did two people who were this different stay together for thirteen years?
I was confused. If nothing had changed, how did this marriage last this long, aside from the obvious fact that divorce is not an option? This is a couple who neither showed any public displays of affection nor showed any displays of discontentment.
“We learnt to accept each other for who we are.”
“Acceptance,” she repeated. “That’s the key to a successful marriage, Faiza. Learning to accept each other for whatever and whoever you are. You might not get along at first but you’ll learn to accept each other and by doing that, you’ll learn to love them.”
How could a ten-letter word be so incredibly hard for some people to do? At the point when you’re wondering if this is actually someone you want to spend forever with, between the friction and misunderstandings, when you ask yourself, “Is this what I want? Can I live with someone who thinks, acts, or speaks that way? Should I accept them for who and what they are, or should I look elsewhere?” For a couple to go the distance, how far are we willing to go to accepting each others “faults” or “imperfections” and learn to stop expecting the impossible?
For two days the question haunted me, considering the fact that Hani and I had called it quits because neither of us were willing to accept the other for who they were. I was unwilling to accept the fact that Hani was not romantic and that he didn’t support my writing career, and he was unwilling to accept me for who I am. I wondered if he and I were wrong to call it quits or was it the best decision for the both of us. Although, any thoughts of reconciliation were incomprehensible considering that Hani had made it abundantly clear that we had no future.
I decided to take advantage of meeting Khaled that night to get his opinion on the subject, considering the fact that he was engaged to a girl he claimed was his complete opposite.
“It’s tempting to want to change someone into the partner you really want to spend the rest of your life with, but that doesn’t work, does it?” said Khaled, hinting to my relationship with Hani that didn’t work because I did feel he was trying to mold me into someone that I’m not as opposed to accepting me for me. “Damn, I wouldn’t ask someone to change who they are for me because then they’ll want me to change things about myself and I’m not willing to do that.”
“Even if it makes the other person happy?” I asked.
“Depends on what it is.”
“Opening the car door?” I asked, regarding Hani’s stand on not doing so. You have your own hands, you can open the door, he’d say, followed by a laugh. I can never understand people who have problems with traditional gestures. Now, I understand that there are Arab men like Hani and my father who argue that Arabs are just not romantic by nature, but I think Arabs like Khalil Gibran, Nizami, and Nizar Qabbani, and countless others including my friend Khaled, prove this theory wrong.
“Opening the door for a woman is just common sense. It’s not a big deal. Get the fucking door,” he said followed by an apology for using profanity in front of me.
“Thank you!’ I said. “It was as if he thought that opening the door for me made it look like he was hen pecked or less of a man when in fact it actually makes a guy look polite which in my opinion makes him look more masculine.
“Might’ve thought it made him look like a chump and you know how much Arabs cling to their pride,” said Khaled. “Ehh… you’re better off without him,” he said.
Was Khaled right? Was I better off without Hani? Or should I have learnt to accept his lack of chivalry?
“I guess what my cousin said got me thinking if maybe I was being too hard on Hani. Maybe it didn’t mater that he didn’t open the car door or that he didn’t believe in getting me flowers or any other romance clichés.”
“But you want the man you’re with to do those things for you, right?”
“Well, yeah. Of course, but…”
“Then why would you be willing to settle?”
I was about to answer when Khaled interrupted by saying:
“Would you accept him wanting you to stay at home and support him and his career while you take care of the kids, the house, and everything else he wants? Sure you’d be happy to be with someone you love, but what about your happiness? You shouldn’t have to sacrifice who you are for anyone, unless they’re willing to sacrifice some things for you too. But I’d wanna find someone who’s gonna love and accept me for whoever and whatever I am. There comes a point where you’re sacrificing too much for someone and that’s the point when you look in the mirror and you have no idea who the hell is looking back at you.”
That night at exactly 3:45am, I decided to accept the fact that my thoughts weren’t going to let me sleep and so I should just allow myself to think freely without forcing much needed rest that would not come. I grabbed my Mac and wrote out the words Acceptance and Sacrifice on a blank Word document. If acceptance means sacrificing things about who and what you are along with things you expect in a relationship, what should we be willing to sacrifice about ourselves all for the sake of not ending up old maids? Our dreams? Aspirations? Goals? Values?
When you accept your partner’s “flaws” and “imperfections” are you doing away with the “Shoulda, Coulda, Woulda,” and instead saying, “It’s ok that he’s not romantic.” “I’m fine with my husband never complimenting me,” or “It’s alright that my husband doesn’t get along with my family, because it’s just the way he is.” If so, when does acceptance become detrimental? That that acceptance made you sacrifice far too much of who you are and the things you expect from a relationship in order to say, “Ehh… that’s just the way that he is, but I love him.” Is that love? Can you love something you wish was different?
I believe there are certain things one should be willing to sacrifice in a relationship. That sometimes a boyfriend, fiancé, or husband’s request to alter something of yourself can actually come to your benefit, but there are other things that I believe deserve no alterations. A woman’s dreams, her aspirations, goals, job, and her love of heels. No man should ever want nor expect a woman to accept his want or hope that she’ll, quit her job, change her goals and dreams, or lock away her Macy’s card. A woman should ask herself before making any alterations to herself, “Would he do the same thing for me? Does he know what I’m giving up is a sacrifice? Can we negotiate? What’s his motivation? If those questions can supply good answers, then perhaps it’s worth considering.
Now, as far as Hani and I are concerned, I would have been more than willing to accept the fact that he would never open the door for me, that he would never buy me a rose, or carry me up a flight of stairs because my feet hurt after wearing five inch stilettos all night long, but the cost was high and the victory would surely be hollow. For the price would entail my losing contact with my male friends, sitting at home to “raise a family while supporting” him and his career, putting my dreams of becoming a successful writer aside, no traveling because he had already traveled the world and was “bored and not entertained by traveling” anymore. My acceptance would undoubtedly leave me unfulfilled and unhappy, never mind bitter as hell.
The more I weighed out the pros and cons, the more I realized that not only did I make the best decision in agreeing to walk away from the halal relationship Hani and I were in, but that he too had made the right move. Love is about accepting, but when that acceptance turns into an abundance of sacrifice to the point when, as Khaled said, you no longer know who you are anymore, that’s not “Happily Ever After,” that’s “Wish I Had Never!”