Monday, February 27, 2012

Love and Marriage (Part 2 of 3)

Amr is from an affluent family of good pedigree. He has just graduated, secured a good job, and is looking to marry. His mother runs in the same circles as Sarah’s mother, and she has seen Sarah around in various events. Amr’s mother liked what she saw. She asked around about the potential bride and also liked what she heard, as did Amr. His family approached hers, and proceedings went on. What they didn’t know was Sarah’s heart wasn’t in it. When she was hesitant about Amr, her parents could not understand why, and she couldn’t very well tell them. Without a valid reason, they saw no reason to refuse this suitor who in their eyes was a ‘catch’. Sarah was eventually coerced into this marriage - more or less. They began to get to know each other and her feelings had not changed. Simply put, they were not compatible. Amr sensed she was distant at first, but he assumed she was holding back and playing the blushing bride. Not seeing this as sufficient grounds to call the whole thing off, the pair continued with this charade, and eventually were wed. The honeymoon was far from romantic, almost robotic. The two of them were civil to each other, neither was cruel or harsh but there was no love. Things were done out of obligation, till that is precisely what their marriage became; an obligation. Their lives were lived somewhat separately, they merely shared a home. Never did one wrong the other, they both fulfilled their marital duties, but they didn’t love each other, there was no connection, there never was.

Those who are a bit old-fashioned would like to believe there is nothing wrong with that, or that love would eventually grow. I beg to differ. A connection would exist over time, it could be respect or perhaps admiration, but it won’t be love. If that does happen, it is very very rare. Is it fair for this young couple to settle for such a marriage and never experience sharing their lives with someone they love?

Without that kind of bond, how would it be like for their children? They would grow up in a household that lacks love. Their parents will love them surely but not as much as they could. Part of the reason why parents love their children so much is because they are a culmination of their love for each other; each parent would see a part of themselves as well as a part of the person they love, and hence love their children twofold.

Also, marriage that lacks love puts the couple in a dangerous situation where they might search for it elsewhere. Let’s not be presumptuous, let’s say they found love elsewhere later on in their marriage, would this not pose a threat to the stable, civil life they have built together? In such situations, some people may be decent enough to sacrifice their happiness along with that love for the sake of being decent and doing ‘the right thing’. Even that slim minority might not be strong enough to avoid resenting their marriage as well as their morale for such a fate and feel forced to keeping up appearances. Dare I say, it might reap some hate within that resentment? What super-human marriage could survive that?

However the reality of the situation is what the vast majority would do, divorce and/or remarry. I do not condone polygamy nowadays, but with similar scenarios, when you look at the big picture, I can’t help but think he is being half-way decent for not kicking his first wife to the curb. It is such scenarios that bring to light the issues with traditionally arranged marriages. I’d love to blame the parents for being pushy but it’s not all their fault, those actually doing the marrying should know to put their foot down and say “sorry, I don’t see myself with you”. With arranged marriages, there should be no beating around the bush, there's not much time for that. It may be rosy and romantic at first but eventually the couple must be open and honest to see if they have a future together. A lot of the problems with arranged marriages is that more often than not, the couple is too immature to address the relevant issues and see it as a teenage dream they are finally allowed to live. They dedicate love songs to each other and call each other morning, noon and night. They are on cloud nine. Until they are put under one roof and the love turns into war.
Bottom line, love is a very important component in a marriage, but love comes in so many shapes and sizes. Perhaps one might envision a certain kind of love in their heads, tread the world with high expectations in search of that envisioned love and never find it. Some people want it so bad they may start to hallucinate loving someone when they are too excited to be honest with themselves and realize there is no love. Don’t anticipate how you’d feel; when you find it you will know. Also don’t go hunting for it or forcing it out, it will come to you in due time. I am a strong believer in that. 

One love :) 

Monday, February 20, 2012

Love and Marriage (Part 1 of 3)

'....Go together like a horse and carriage. This I tell you brother, you can't have one without the other'. Couldn't have said it better myself Mr. Sinatra!

And now, onto pillar number one: Emotional.

This is a pretty obvious one. Love. No marriage without love. Now I’m not talking about the blind, Cinderella, Romeo and Juliet, fairy tale type love. Let’s set the record straight from the get go and point out that it doesn’t exist, at least not in my books. This is the real world people, welcome!

More often than not, infatuation or even lust is sometimes mistaken for love. When you’re young, it’s easy to confuse either of them for love, but it doesn’t even compare. Infatuation, lust, or even mere fascination are fleeting emotions, they rarely ever stick and in no way provide any stable foundations for a relationship. We need to be honest with ourselves in order to tell the difference and accept it. It’s definitely not an easy thing to do, I suppose it takes a lot of strength and time.

I’m talking about having that unique emotional connection with your significant other. It is worth mentioning that with that unique connection comes a myriad of emotions in addition to love. There is compassion, tenderness, caring, respect, affection, trust, understanding and even passion. Granted not all of them could be labeled as ‘emotions’, but you get my drift. There must be a mutual emotional connection between husband and wife. I would love to dwell on it further and start describing that beautiful, special connection (not really), but that connection differs from person to person – it’s unique to every couple. As long as it is there among the two people involved, in whatever form they are comfortable having it in. And just as a marriage is not likely to survive without it, a marriage cannot be built on it alone.

Layla and Majed are now married. They knew each other prior to marriage. They were Arabia’s own Romeo and Juliet; star-crossed lovers. When they were younger they dated for a while, still seen as a taboo among many yet most of our youth still pursue it whether their respective families approve or not. Before getting married it was simple, they loved each other, enjoyed each other’s company and wanted to marry, simple as. Initially their families disapproved for, let’s say, tribal reasons (to really Arab-ise Romeo and Juliet). This is all too common in our culture, refusing marriage based on the family name or status of either or both parties. However some couples ‘fight for their love’ and eventually the families, worried their kids will never get the chance to marry after this, give in. Our star-crossed lovers are elated. So first came love, now comes marriage. Throughout the long and grueling process of wedding preparations, the two neglected to actually address certain issues they might face as a couple, assuming with their relationship before all this, they knew each other well enough. A few issues sprung up here and there such as the type of wedding they would have (Layla’s family being quite conservative, they wanted a small segregated wedding whereas Majed’s liberal family wanted one that would rival Hollywood celebrities). Regardless, the show must go on and these issues have been resolved for the time being (more on the relevance of such issues later). Finally married, with a few hiccups here and there, the couple came back from the honeymoon and now they live under one roof. A month into the marriage, they can’t stand each other. Layla wants to stay home with her husband and cuddle when all he’s been doing is going out with his friends. During major family events on Majed’s side, Layla is taken aback at how his family socializes and resists going every chance she gets. Consequently, Majed’s family dislikes Layla for being such a prude. Likewise, Layla’s family dislikes Majed for corrupting their child and exposing her to something they have tried to shield her from all her life. Neither one of them thought or expected that living together would ultimately change the dynamics of the relationship. They had different versions of ‘happily ever after’. Slowly but surely, they begin to drift apart. The emotional connection they chose to build their future on began to weaken as time went by.

Now I’m not saying that with these precise set of circumstances, that’s how the marriage will end up. Nor am I limiting this topic to those set of circumstances. This is merely to draw a picture of a possible scenario that is all too familiar to me, and to merely point out how love isn’t always enough. As idealistic as one would like to be, a marriage is not likely to survive on love alone. Love is such a powerful emotion, sometimes uplifting and sometimes destructive. So it is important that when one finds love, to handle it with care and respect but also one must take care not to be blinded by it. When all you have is love with everything around you trying to destroy it, you could begin to resent that love and it could grow into hate. I am a believer that the feeling of hate evolves out of love somehow. When you truly dislike someone, you shouldn’t waste your feelings on such a strong emotion as hate unless it stems from love. If you see someone hurting the people you love, or someone you love has hurt you, you feel hatred.  You never truly hate someone because you find them annoying or unappealing. Therefore one must truly be careful with love, to not fall victim to, or be a hostage of love.

That said, with these exact same set of circumstances, things could go brilliantly because in the end, it is all down to how each party chooses to approach the situation they are in and how they choose to deal with it. It all boils down to how they agree to compromise between themselves to salvage that love and make that emotional connection stronger. All it takes is a little bit of foresight with that love, and a whole lot of compromise on both ends, and the love could very well survive if not flourish. If the couple managed to resist their families' influence on the decision of marriage, they should be ok to resist their influence on how the marriage should be, it ultimately remains between them. So to those of you who are super-conservative and believe no marriage can work following a non-marital relationship, that’s not necessarily true, and that is in no way what I’m getting at here. To prove it, let’s look at the flipside of that scenario….next week J

Monday, February 13, 2012

My 5 Pillars of Marriage

So far, everything up till now has been one long introduction, this post being the final part of the intro.

As a young Arab female, the topic of marriage was always a topic of heated discussion with similarly young Arabs, male and female alike, of various backgrounds and cultures. Within the Arab world there are differences in the tradition of marriage and finding a partner. However the process is very similar among everyone, as well as the concerns that this generation has begun to have towards how we are expected to choose a partner. As this realization becomes stronger, surrendering to the customs and traditions of marriage in our societies becomes more difficult to accept or even circumvent. Consequently social expectations have limited our choices of a suitable partner.

It is from these various discussions among friends that my ‘5 pillars of marriage’ were developed and became my personal view on the important factors one should consider when approaching marriage, especially in our culture. I have come to believe that many people fail to address a lot of important issues, getting lost in the excitement of it all. When I saw that there was agreement among many on the importance of these factors, I was encouraged – by myself and others – to write it down and share it with a wider audience. These are all things I find fairly obvious, but in the context of Arabia greatly neglected. Although I lack the professional qualifications to preach on such matters with credibility, nor do I possess the proper skills to write such a thing, I still feel what I have compiled has bearing on the topic of marriage in our culture. This is what I learned from the school of life; not that I myself am married or have been in a relationship of any kind, but I have observed much around me, heard what has been said, shared stories with various people from countries all over the Middle East and beyond. This is marriage as I see it, and what a complicated web I see.

Since this has come about discussions with friends, I will share this message as if I am discussing it with a friend, and address you as a friend. It will be full of hypothetical situations and rhetorical questions. But in all fairness it will be a one-sided discussion but you are still free to agree and disagree. These are in no way set in stone, they are mere thoughts always subject to change. Who knows, maybe once I am part of that marital league, all this will change. Even if I remain a spinster forever it could change. But for now, I believe in this with all my heart. People like to picture their perfect partner, perfect wedding, etc. I tend to imagine things like: how will I know if the person I’m marrying is someone I can live a relatively happy life with? What questions do I need to ask to really figure out the truth behind the man? What characteristics can I live with, and those I cannot live without? Will that person accept me as I am and vice versa? Is this person someone I can put up with for the rest of my life (and honestly, can he put up with me too)? I know, how romantic of me. But there will be room for romance later. No point investing in something emotionally if I’m not sure it is going to last! You want romance? You bloody well should prove you deserve it…!

Now onto the not- so-long awaited ‘5 pillars of marriage’. Each will be discussed separately in a dedicated post or two, with an additional one on compromise – the most important factor of all. Compromise is not a pillar on its own because every aspect of a marriage must include compromise, it is the common thread throughout. The pillars are as follows:

Emotional – Mental – Physical – Financial – Life

That’s all you get for now. Stay tuned for more…

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Let's make babies!

Some humor to start with (apologies, it is in Arabic, couldn't find anything translated or with subtitles)

It’s not all society’s fault though. It’s human nature to want to get married. Our animalistic instinct is to find a suitable mate to procreate. However, what sets us from the animals is (supposedly) al’aqil – our intelligence. We are civil beings and therefore have monogamous, committed relationships in order to procreate (actually, we have polygamous relationships too but that is something which in my personal opinion is a bit more animalistic). So that urge to settle down and start a family is only natural. Even without starting a family, it’s natural to want to share your life with another.

It does become a problem when people are so hell-bent on satisfying that urge, no matter what the cost. It also is a problem when trying to fight or suppress that ever-so-natural feeling. However people still manage to procreate without trying to satisfy, fight, or even acknowledge the urge, but I digress.

Hence fulfilling that urge is only natural, but it takes time and patience to do it right. If you feel the need for a life partner, make sure you carefully select the one you can actually share your life with, and you are at a point in your life where you are mature enough to do so. If you are dying to have children, make sure it’s with someone who can care for and raise them with you in a way you would like to see your children raised. These aspects are often neglected in our society, settling for generic qualities of ‘a good partner’ when you must search for YOUR good partner.

Denying that urge is equally problematic. People tend to deny it when the limited options available to them is not exactly to their liking, and the powers that be – be it family or society etc. – would not accept anything other than those options. People may deny it believing they are better off without it, or refusing to settle. More often than not, those people who do deny it are likely those who know what they want in life best and refuse to settle for anything less, knowing that in doing so could possibly sentence them to a life of unhappiness. Is it fair for them to remain alone simply because the qualities of their partner have been set for them, and it is not what they want?

I have come to believe that our misconception of marriage and how we go about doing it has immense consequences. People have been settling to be unhappy, something that is relatively not a huge disaster if you compare it with all the woes of the world. But…it’s still not okay though. Being unhappy affects your conduct with the people around you, affects your performance at work, affects your ability to parent and raise children. Before you know it, someone in an unhappy marriage turns into a bitter, miserable person. Take that bitter and miserable person and give them children to raise. These children sometimes pay the price for their parents’ unhappiness, until they grow up to be bitter and miserable themselves and do the same with their children.  If people insist to stay in an unhappy marriage to save face or for whatever reason, I do not comprehend why they bring kids into the equation. People assume it makes things better, I don’t believe it ever did or even could. One of the reasons I believe finding a suitable partner is so important is to allow for a stable household to have children in. If the adults are having issues, how on earth can an innocent child be expected to fix it?! 

Monday, February 6, 2012

"Where's That Ring?!"

“…..First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes baby in a baby carriage”
-          Children’s playground song                      

Society plays a huge role. For some reason we are fascinated with other people’s lives; who they married, what do they do, where they’re from, family name, where they got married, how much they spent, where they spent their honeymoon, where they’re living, what they’re driving, what they’re wearing, etc. Somehow all this becomes a measure of a good match, completely neglecting the compatibility between husband and wife. If they ‘appear’ to be a good match from the outside, that’s enough for marriage. Whether directly or indirectly, there is always that social pressure to get married. Directly, the pressure can be in the form of constant questions from family and friends about getting married, parents constantly bringing up the topic, making suggestions of this person from the lovely family or so-and-so’s child followed by their curriculum vitae. If you’re lucky you can even get pictures to sweeten the deal!

Society dictates our lives indirectly with the common pattern in which we have been conditioned to believe should be followed. It kind of goes like this:

School – Higher education – Work(men)/Marriage(women) – Marriage(men)/Work(optional – women) – Children (yes, multiple) – Repeat cycle with next generation

So for those who don’t have nagging parents, being part of the society we are in automatically puts pressure on us. Some people may refuse to acknowledge such pressures and choose to live their life the way they see fit. But all it takes is that one moment of weakness; that one moment when the solitude becomes loneliness, when the void inside is screaming out for a partner, when the need to share life’s simple pleasures with another grows, that one moment that could possibly turn that carefree life around forever. Before you know it, this eternal bachelor/bachelorette has succumbed to social expectation of marriage. In that weak state, one could feel desperate, rushed, and not having given marriage much thought in the past, settle for the wrong partner. You can see how this sort of scenario can easily lead to marital problems, possibly leaving either party or both to turn to infidelity, because just like marriage is a huge social pressure, we are pressured into staying married.

Any sort of pressure to marry could lead to very similar scenarios. The minute we cave to the pressures around us, and feel rushed to marry, it stops becoming about you and becomes about pleasing others, worst of all when these ‘others’ are people we don’t even really know, just faceless, nameless members of society. And one side effect of this is infidelity. Being unfaithful becomes a way to cope with an unhappy marriage. Before you know it, this becomes a common way of life and people feel that in their situation, it’s ok to cheat. I know it may be a bit blunt to say it that way, and not all roads lead to infidelity. But with high divorce rates these days coupled with widespread infidelity - which has almost become a standard - it’s clear that there’s something wrong in the way we go around choosing our partners. Different people have different views on the matter, as to why it is how it is, and this is my view.

Personally, I don’t like the idea of compromising on how I want to live my life simply for the sake of being a stranger’s potential wife. Yet my sentiments aren’t shared by many, especially the older generation. In their minds’ eye, if they put up with it, so should we. But the way I see it, why continue with this silly charade which leaves us stuck in this cycle, generation after generation. When did appearing to be happy become more important than actually being happy?