California is the place where you come to soak in the sun, enjoy the million-dollar homes and outrageously awesome fashion, and forget about the guy who questioned your morality. Okay, maybe that’s what I was there for, but I couldn’t help but find little pieces of myself coming back to life. I was happy, carefree, and comfortable, and everything seem to make sense here. My friends were fawning over me like the last piece of tiramisu and I was overwhelmed with joy to see them again as well. “I deleted all of his videos and pictures from my phone,” said Noor, a twenty-nine-year-old heartbroken model. Noor’s boyfriend of six months, David, had suddenly gone M.I.A on her after she dared to say those three words: “What are we?” She hoped his response would be “We’re dating” or, more assertively, “You’re my girlfriend!” Especially since the two had been going out consistently for a month.
“Why?” I asked.
“Because I need to get him out of my head.”
“By deleting his pictures and videos?” asked Rachael, a thirty-one-year-old talent agent who believes in two things: making money and apple martinis.
“Yeah, that way I won’t remember the stupid, corny moments we had because it’s all deleted.”
“But, there’s one place you can’t delete him and that’s your memory,” I said, knowing very well that no matter how hard I tried, I would still reminisce back to moments Nidal and I shared despite what he did to me.
“I mean how the hell was I suppose to know that you shouldn’t ask a guy that question?” asked Noor, adjusting her Armani sunglasses.
“I never asked Terry,” said Rachael, referring to her boyfriend of two years. “He asked me, Would you be my girlfriend and I said yes. How do Muslims do it?”
“They don’t!” I joked before explaining the fact that Muslims aren’t allowed to date. I mean the word dating doesn’t even exist in Islam. Although today you do have what many are calling, ‘Halal Dating’ where a boy and girl can get to know each other without participating in any intimate interaction with one another. That means no holding hands or kissing, and sexual intercourse is a no-no.
“So, what are you and that Hani kid?” asked Rachael.
“I don’t know,” I said. I hadn’t given that question much thought as of late. I knew that I was interested in getting to know Hani more as a prospective husband candidate. But, I couldn’t decide if I was okay with getting to know him more while being comfortable with the D word, a word that has always made me feel like a log for hell fire: dating. I comforted myself in knowing that this would not be something I had to worry about just yet because Hani and I had just started hanging out and it was much too early to ask the three-word question Noor was now regretting having ever spoken.
“I don’t think a woman should ever initiate that question,” said Noor.
“Then why’d you do it?” I asked, curious as to what her answer would be.
“Because it felt right,” she said sincerely.
At that moment, I wondered why women tend to persecute themselves for feeling the things they feel, saying or doing the things they do? In my case, I was condemning myself for allowing Hani to put his arm around me and for me having put my head on his shoulder. I knew that, as a Muslim girl, I shouldn’t have been where I was, doing what I had done, but just as in Noor’s case, it felt right. Yet, there I was, feeling like it was oh-so-wrong. So, the question lingers: why do we women condemn themselves for acting on our feelings?
That night I spent most of my time sitting on the patio, my laptop staring me in the face, yearning to be written in. But I couldn’t write a word. My mind was racing with thoughts from every direction, and no matter how many sentences I began to type, I eventually deleted them. Noor’s comment lingered on my mind more than I wanted it to. Even three thousand miles away, my guilt for having acted on my feelings just got deeper and deeper. I felt not only like a bad Muslim but a bad daughter and a disgrace to my parents’ good name. I did my best to try and clear my mind. I felt like Luke Skywalker when Obi Wan keeps telling him to clear his mind, but instead my guilt replaced Obi Wan with The Emperor who wasn’t as comforting. He’d say, “Let the discomfort and guilt flow through you.” I decided that staring at my Mac screen wasn’t going to do me any good and so I shut it down and went to bed. My intention was to sleep, but as three thirty rolled around the corner, I knew that three thousand miles wasn’t enough to separate me from the incident I hoped the distance would help with! Apparently, running away from your problems isn’t exactly the best thing to do. No time, or distance is going to remedy that.
My trip went by much quicker than I thought and before I knew it I was sitting in the airport skimming through the latest Fall Fashion in Bazaar magazine. I heard the call for my flight that was just about to begin boarding. This is usually the most frightening moment for me when I travel: waiting in line to board my flight, praying to Allah (SWT) that I”ll make it home safe and sound, hoping this isn’t the last airport I see or that the fat guy standing to my left isn’t the person I get stuck sitting next to. I can’t tell you how many horrible flying experiences I’ve had. From sitting next to a grandmother who wants to show me all the pictures of her grandkids and tell me her life story–to perverted men pretending to sleep so that they can act like they just so happened to put their head on my shoulder by accident. Or the worse passenger to be seated next to–the fat guy with the oversized bag of Ruffles that he eats the entire flight and no amount of sound can block out.
After everyone had boarded, I was astonished to see that for once I had been lucky enough to be seated all by myself. I said the fatiha before we took off and as we flew over L.A., I realized that I wasn’t going to miss California, but that I was in fact happy to be returning back home to the not-so-sunny, mostly cloudy, windy city of Chicago.
That Wednesday I found myself home again and with a text from Hani asking if I had returned home and if we could meet. I knew we had to. So, there we were on a beautiful Friday evening, having dinner at a quaint Italian restaurant. I planned on telling him after we were finished eating, but Hani’s charm and wit somehow made me forget what I wanted to discuss with him. The night just seem to fly by and before I knew it we were taking a walk through the park like a modern day fairytale, except you’d have to add a hell of a lot of awkwardness. I decided that if I wanted to clear this whole thing up between us, I would have to take the initiative right there and then.
“Why don’t we sit for a bit,” I suggested. Hani agreed and so we took a seat on one of the available benches. I was happy to see that the park was nearly empty, since we needed our privacy.
“You said something to me last time that was really insulting,” I began, my eyes lowered.
“Oh geez! What was that?” he asked, using his charismatic nature to lighten up the situation.
“We were looking through the pictures you had, remember the ones from your travels and you, you now, you put your arm around me and so, well, I put my head on your, you know, your shoulder and well…” I was so upset with the fact that I was stuttering when I had rehearsed this over a dozen times and every time I did, it went along so smoothly. “…well, anyway, I felt like you questioned my morals. But, more than that, because truthfully, as I break it down, I see nothing wrong with dating, or that Muslims who have dated are immoral, because I don’t think that they are, I just have never dated before, but my point is, that I felt like you questioned my sincerity more than anything. I pride myself in my honesty.”
“Faiza, I didn’t mean to make you feel like I was questioning anything about you. I was sincerely curious. Do you think that I think you’re a liar?”
“I can’t presume to know what you’re thinking. I can only speak as to how you made me feel and yes, you did give me the impression that you weren’t believing me.”
“I’m sorry if I made you feel that way. I didn’t mean to. I just didn’t want you to feel that if you had dated before, you had to lie to me because you thought I would see you any different. If you say you haven’t then I believe you,” he said before smiling.
I believed him although I did worry about the question arising again in the future were we to continue on in whatever the hell we had started here. After about a fifteen-minute walk, I went against all my better judgment and said those three words: “What are we?”
The moment they came out of my mouth, I felt a sudden urge to regurgitate. But, if there is any other person who should be asking that question at this very moment in time, it’s me. For the Love of God, I’m an expired Arab girl whose family is moments away from throwing me into a marriage with some fifty-seven-year-old Palestinian guy whose fourth wife just died overseas (and not three days after burying her literally he called my uncle to say, “I heard you have something for me,” as if my uncle were holding some long lost Abdel Halim Hafiz CD for the guy). Not only am I expired but I’m Muslim–and the D word doesn’t exist in our religion. He knew this.
“What are we?” he asked, stopping mid-track.
My heart raced. I wondered if perhaps I would share Noor’s same fate and never hear from him again.
“Well, I guess we’re dating, right?” he said.
I should have been satisfied. Noor would have been. Yet I just furrowed my brow and looked at him with that look that Antonine Dadson gives the camera when he says, “We got your t-shirt, youda’ lef your finger prints and all, you are so dumb! You are really dumb! Fo real!” I couldn’t get it around my head how I felt about that word: dating.
“How did we go from seeing each other to dating?” I asked, not really aware of what the difference is between the two–if there is one.
“Well, we’re getting to know each other, right?”
“So, we’re dating, but like halal dating?”
“I’m not comfortable with that word, Hani,” I admitted.
“Dating?” he asked.
“Yeah. I just don’t feel comfortable with it. I feel like a bad person if I say that I’m dating someone. That’s not what my intentions are,” I said, looking him square in the face.
“Well, how do you expect to know your husband before marrying him?”
“I’ll get to know him before like I did with my ex.”
“Well, technically, you two were dating,” he said.
I couldn’t help but feel that our parents are one hundred and fifty percent right when they take these matters into their own hands. This is by far one of the most confusing, time-consuming, energy-sucking conversations I’ve ever had in my entire life. If my dad were here and had met Hani, it would be pretty easy: “Either you’re interested in getting to know my daughter more for the purpose of marriage, or not. If you are, great. If not, hit the road!” But there I was, determined to take control of my own life, and I didn’t know how to ask that question without feeling like a marriage-crazed woman that men should run from.
“I have to ask you this Hani because we’re not like everyone else. Dating is not something we’re suppose to do and I’m not sure how I feel about the whole halal dating because, to be quite truthful with you, I don’t even know what the hell that is…” I began. “But, you know that my family is trying to marry me off and my intention in getting to know you was to see if perhaps you could be someone that I could potentially see myself being with in the future…” I had suddenly gone from taboo subject to just plain old, somebody take out a gun and put this poor girl out of her misery. It just seemed strange coming from me. Yet another reason, I think it’s GREAT to include your family in these matters. Sure, the guy has met my mother on EVERY SINGLE OUTING WE’VE HAD–and I couldn’t meet him unless my brothers approved of my outing which normally went like this:
“Hey, Hani asked if…” I would begin, only to be interrupted with loud and angry voices.
“Who the hell is Hani?!” Kamal would interrupt.
Of course I would go on to explain that I had asked permission for the previous three outings to see the very same guy that they knew all about.
“What does this guy do?” Anwar, would come in. I tell you, having two brothers that not only have the protective nature of an Arab, but also an Italian, equals one thing for a girl like me: Hell 101! “What does he do for a living? Where does his family come from? Does he pay for dinner? Does he open the door for you?” Then comes the Godfather-ish statements that I can see being made over Chinese food with a five millimeter on the table: “If he lays a finger on you, I’ll chop his damn hands off!”
My point is that I’ve included my family in this entire endeavor. I’ve tried to stay as close to my traditions as possible. I can meet him on my own, but I’m not allowed to take the car or a cab. I have to be dropped off and picked up by my mother. And believe me, it doesn’t get any more awkward than that!
But, was he serious about me, the way I was about meeting Mr. Right? I, like most Muslim Arab girls, am use to our families taking control of this matter. I have heard many stories about girls meeting a guy they’re interested in getting to know more, telling their parents, who in turn contact his, and set up a meeting and if all goes well, you’re looking at a possible engagement. Here, I didn’t know what the hell we were looking at.
“I just don’t want to be another girl you’ve dated,” I said, referring to his experience on the subject. “…I need to know that if we’re doing whatever it is we’re doing…..”I said.
“Ateing?” he joked, removing the ‘D’ from the word I felt guilt-ridden for the most. I couldn’t help but smile. He was good at that!
“Hani, seriously, I can’t. I need to know that you’re going to be serious about this. Now, that’s not to say that I want to be married tomorrow, or that if you proposed to in six months that I would accept, but I can’t continue seeing someone that’s not on the same page as me.”
“Let’s take it a day at a time, Fai.”
I was all for taking it a day at a time, but it wasn’t the answer I wanted from him. I needed some sort of validation from him.
“Listen, when I first met you, I was like I don’t know if I want to see this girl again or not…” he began. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted. “The second time, I was like I want to see her again. The third time, same thing, fourth time, same thing. Now, I haven’t felt that way about a girl in a very long time. So, that has to say something. Just because I’m not jumping the gun and asking you to marry me, like every other Arab Muslim guy does when he meets a beautiful woman, doesn’t mean I’m not serious about getting to know you and seeing if this something we can make last.”
I couldn’t argue that. It was in fact what I was looking for as well. I didn’t want to jump into a marriage only to regret it later and deciding on whether or not Hani was Mr. Right for me was not going to happen as quickly as our parents expect it to. I’m not going to lie, having my father, hell even my uncle, involved in this process sure took a lot of the stress of it all off my back. I had no idea it was this difficult to (d)ate someone, even if it is halal. I knew now I couldn’t turn to my mom to ask his mother a certain question I wanted to know about him. Or that my dad or uncle would be able to get to uncover his character as much as they could for me. I was on my own. But, that is what I wanted all along, right? I wanted to be in control of whom I’m going to marry. But, now that the power was in my hands, my first instinct was to toss it aside like a wet rag.
I couldn’t help but think that Noor would have been more than happy to have heard what Hani just told me. That’s exactly what she wanted to hear from David and what she was still sitting by the phone waiting for. I decided to text Rachael with the answer to her question. “He says we’re dating! Halal dating to be exact.”
I immediately received a response, “How do you feel about that?”
“Scared!” I answered.
Welcome to the real world kiddo!” she texted back.
There I was, in the real world of halal (d)ating.
It’s said that there’s suppose to be an overwhelming emotional outburst when a girl gets what she wants, but this girl is excited, fearful, intrigued, and yet scared shitless.