My recent trip to Los Angeles found me with exactly enough time to meet Lily, a twenty-nine-year-old girl who is originally from Indiana. Although her trendy street fashion says LA, her personality remains that of a Midwest girl. As we walked down Canon Drive to view all the high end clothing boutiques and hair salons, Lily asked me all kinds of questions about what I’m currently doing and if I’m still having to meet guys introduced to me by my family. Although I was rather embarrassed to tell her that my family had sort of lost hope in my getting married, I was happy to report that they were so distracted with my sister’s wedding to insist on my meeting anyone as they normally do.
“I’m so tired of the dating scene,” said Lily, obviously frustrated. Lily went on to tell me how she had been on over twenty dates in the past year, had two relationships that didn’t last more than two months, and the longest lasting relationship she’s had in her twenty-nine years was the one between her and Dash, her eight-year-old Rottweiler.
“You complain about arranged marriages and all, but seriously girl, I would LOVE if my family did that for me,” she said. I couldn’t help but stop mid-walk and just look at her perplexed.
“You want an arranged marriage?”
“If it means getting married to a guy my family trusts, have kids, start my fucking life, yeah girl… I want an arranged marriage.”
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Here I was writing about the things I hated about having my family try to arrange my marriage after way too many bad meetings set by them—nevermind my father arranging my first attempted arranged marriage to my cousin that was unsuccessful.Yet here was a Christian Irish-American girl tired of the dating scene and wishing her family would arrange her marriage. I had to know more.
“You mean to tell me that you would trust your mom and dad to find your husband?”
“Why not? Our parents aren’t that different from us,” she said, adding a very valid argument.
“Well, I loved my dad to death—God rest his soul—but let me assure you that our opinions differed drastically,” I said. “The guys he thought I should marry weren’t exactly ’til-death-do-you-part kind of guys. Trust me!”
“So, you hit a couple of bumps along the road. Pick yourself up and keep going,” she said. “I’m serious. I’m fucking tired of going on dates, dinners, drinks, clubs, and all that shit. I want a serious guy and I trust my family to find that guy for me, if they did that sort of thing.”
I couldn’t believe my ears. There I was causing quite the stir and getting quite the following from complaining about the Arab practice of arranged marriage and here was a non-Arab, non-Muslim girl wishing—no, desperate—for her family to do exactly what I was doing my best to run away from. There’s nothing to put your thoughts into perspective than a moment like this. It makes you question your stand on whatever it is in your life you’re currently fighting against.
“Having an arranged marriage,” began Lily, “…would mean that I would be guaranteed a husband. I wouldn’t have to worry about going on pointless dates anymore, or hoping he calls back, or that his family likes you,” she said, only adding more shock and awe to my current disheveled thoughts.
“We need to sit,” I said. “ I have to seriously get your clear opinion on this because this is becoming a blog entry,” I said to Lily.
“Yeyyyyyy… I always wanted to be an entry,” she said, laughing harder this time.
We grabbed iced caramel macchiato’s, mine with extra caramel that drizzled over the side of the cup, and took two seats outdoors.
“So let me get this straight,” I said. “…you wouldn’t mind having your family sit you down and say, ‘hey honey, this is who you’re going to marry, period!?”
“Oh hell no!” she said. “I want the same process you’re having. Your family arranges these meetings with a guy they want you to marry and you still have a choice. I mean you have a choice, right?”
“There was a time I didn’t, but then I did. I mean, I didn’t get to say I didn’t want to meet someone. I had to meet him. Period! But could my dad force me into a marriage to one of them after my engagement fell through? No! He wouldn’t have done that. But was I forced to meet guys I didn’t want to meet? Yes!”
“Well, I mean you meet how many guys?”
“I lost count,” I said before taking a sip of my magnificently caramelized macchiato.
“And you’re still single?” she asked, shocked. “I mean, come on. I would be married by now.”
“Well, maybe we should switch places. I’m looking for love.”
“That’s overrated girl. After dating for years, let me tell you that that is so fuckin overrated. It doesn’t exist. We just find someone we could live and grow with and love comes in time. It doesn’t happen initially. Trust me!”
“I don’t know if I believe that. I believe true love exists, you just have to wait for it to come to you.”
“We’re twenty-nine. When is it going to happen? If it hasn’t happen yet, it’s not going to happen!”
“You’ve become cynical since I last saw you,” I said to Lily who was once a girl who dreamt of having a fairytale wedding, meeting prince charming with a beard—she has an infatuation for men with beards—and living happily ever after.
“I’m just done with looking. I want to get married. I want to start a family. I mean, I have a good career,” she added. Lily had just accepted a position at a top social media company and was in a position where she could comfortably get married, knowing very well that were it unable to work, she was an independent woman who can take care of herself. “If my family found a guy they believed could make me happy and they do a background check on him and make sure he’s not some rapist or serial killer, or a two-timing dick like my last boyfriend, then yes Fai, I would consider marrying him. It would make things so much easier knowing my family trusts the guy and his family and if I ever have any complains about him, I can go to them.”
“Oh, I agree with that. Our families are like our own private detectives. They can find out everything about the guy and his family before ever considering him. Of course you have some tools that slip under the radar, but I trust that who I meet comes from a good family and that regardless of his less than appealing personality, he’s a good guy for some girl… just not me. But, my point is that yes, having our families arrange these meetings, does avoid our having to run around dating guys and figuring out which one is marriage material. Obviously if they’re meeting you they’re ready to settle, and aren’t there to play any games. If you two like each other, then the planning begins.”
“See… I LOVE that! I want that!”
“Well, you don’t have to be Arab for that, Lily. Why don’t you talk to your parents about getting involved in the process of helping you find a husband?”
“They won’t! They’ll say that they don’t want to get involved because if they do, and the marriage doesn’t work for some reason, they’ll be to blame.”
“I wish many of our families saw it that way. They’re never to blame, the women always are!”
“Yeah, that’s not fair,” she said. “But I do love that your families help you guys out like that! There are probably less single women in your culture than in the entire American one.”
“I’m sure you’re probably right, but we singles make up a good number. Trust me!”
“Yeah, but if you want to get married and aren’t so picky, you would be married all because your families care enough about you and know how important it is to get married and settle down, that they help you find someone. My fuckin family would never do that for me and that sucks. Here I am at twenty-nine, still looking for someone to marry and having such a shitty fuckin hard time finding anyone.”
I wanted to argue that I wasn’t picky, rather that I had standards, but that point didn’t seem to matter at this moment. A bigger picture had been painted and its interpretation, or rather the debate on both sides, equally understandable.
There we were, both single, both looking for love, one tired of the road she was on to find Mr. Right, the other trying escape the restrictive road she and her family were on to find her Mr. Right. I hate that my family believe they know exactly what I’m looking for and play such a huge part in making that decision as to who I’ll meet, when I’ll meet him, and how, and yet there was Lily wishing for exactly what I complain about constantly. She had the freedom I as-well as so many in my religion and culture wish we had: The freedom to meet and get to know anyone you want before involving your family. The freedom to choose that person and the freedom to make the mistakes made in a relationship without any repercussions from your family, your community, your religion or culture. Yet Lily seemed to want exactly that—nothing forced, but the strong hand of her family firmly placed on her meeting a man, even if it meant that she would no longer have to date around and find out that the man she’s fallen for is either unattainable, noncommittal, or a major dick! That’s not to say that Arab men in these processes are not major dicks, because I have met my fair share and one would think that the presence of your family would change that, but as you can tell about the many I’ve documented here, that doesn’t exactly change for some.
Lily went on for the next hour about the many bad dates she had been on. The dreaded walk home the night from the date as she replayed the entire date over in her mind, trying to figure out whether or not he was interested. How she waited for phone calls that would never come. The way she would be so happy to find herself in a relationship only to realize that the guy would suddenly begin to act hot and cold, limit his texts and calls, and eventually tell her that it’s not working out without explaining exactly why.
Although I explained to Lily, infatuated with arranged marriages, that many of those things did happen in our communities as well, she argued that it didn’t matter how many bad relationships any Arab Muslim kid was in or had because they were guaranteed a life partner and that’s what she was looking for. She wasn’t guaranteed a husband, and although I argued that neither are Muslim Arab kids, using myself as an example, she once again said that were it that I was not picky, I could be married tomorrow. This I could not argue. It’s not to say that I’m a narcissist, but rather I could find a husband tomorrow were my future plans to just be married, but just being married isn’t what I’m looking for. I’m looking for love. Real love. Not love that you hope comes in time, or one that grows on you, but one that’s there. A spark, a connection, a feeling that tells you that this man is the person you’re going to spend the rest of your life with. But I couldn’t help but wonder how many more women like Lily, envied my position, no matter how unfortunate I might consider it. How many women were tired of waiting for love to come and instead ready to settle and wishing that they could have their marriages arranged? Was I being too harsh on my culture? Was the marriage process more fulfilling than I believed it to be? Was I not giving it a chance? Should I give the arranged meetings more of a chance and stop waiting for love to come to me? Was Lily right? Was that all overrated? Unattainable? Was I wasting my time by waiting for love—for something that was never going to come my way? And in that case, was settling for an arranged marriage something to highly consider if it meant being guaranteed a life partner?
I could understand Lily’s argument and it haunted me as I boarded my flight that was going to be a whooping four and a half hours home where I was displeased to be seated next to a couple who initiated conversation with me about their newly-wedded status and how she was playfully upset with her husband for not changing his relationship status on Facebook from single to married. I didn’t care much for their story, but she told it to me anyway. She was thirty-four and had spent years working on her career to make up for the fact that she was single and not having any luck finding Mr. Right.
“Friends, family, co-workers all tried to arrange someone for me,” she said, catching my full attention with the word arrange, a word I hard struggled with since meeting Lily. “But, I just believed that love wasn’t something that could be arranged by anyone other than God.”
“Love can’t be arranged by anyone but God,” I repeated.
“That’s right she said.”
“What a great line,” I said.
“It’s the truth. He knows best. Nobody here does. He knows when it’s going to happen, how it’s going to happen, and at exactly what time,” she added with a smile. “Are you single?” she asked me.
“I am,” I said.
“You look very young,” she said before adding that I have plenty of time to find someone, although little did she know that my expired ass was being disguised by my youthful appearance. “One day when you least expect it, he’s going to come walking into your life. Out of nowhere. That’s what happened with us,” she said.
“So arranged marriages, what’s your opinion on that?” I asked tapping into my journalistic side.
“I think arranged marriages, like most things arranged in our lives, can sometimes work for the best and sometimes not so much. I think it’s a roll of the dice. Some get lucky, some don’t. Some find love and others find heartache. It’s all about luck. That’s what love is, you know. Took me years to see that, but that’s what love is. You get lucky to find that special someone who you were meant to walk this earth with. The only problem is those that think they’re unlucky. They’re the ones who are missing out. Because we’re all lucky, you know. All of us. We make ourselves believe we’re not because some of us think we deserve love and others think they don’t.”
It was the first time in my life I had ever been happy to take such a long flight next to anyone. Her words hit me hard and they rang true. I know that I am trying to escape the iron-fisted rules laid fourth by my culture as far as marriage is concerned. Although there may be those like Lily who envy and even wish to be in my position, it’s never one you truly understand until you’re in it. I am lucky to have a family who cares about me enough to want to see me happy, but truth is that they don’t really know what that is. At times, I don’t think we ourselves really know for certain. I do know that of all the things in this world, the one thing worth waiting for is love. No matter how frustrating, difficult, heartbreaking, and tormenting the process may be—it is worth the wait. This stranger on a four and a half hour flight made me realize just that.
“What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Hope,” she replied.