Monday, April 30, 2012

With a Little Help from Marvin and Barry (Part 1 of 2)

Upon making the marriage official, and all the paperwork is done, the cleric turned to the husband and said:
ستكون أقرب إليها من أبيها
(Translation: You will be closer to her than her father)

Pillar number three: Physical. 

We come to the third pillar. I have a feeling this is going to be brief because I want to keep it PG. In a nutshell, in addition to the emotional and mental connection, there must be a physical connection (altogether I believe they form what is referred to as 'chemistry' between two people). If you are not physically attracted to the person before you, soon to be your wife/husband, there could be problems. If you don’t, at some point(s), feel the urge to rip each others’ clothes off and just pounce, then there is no attraction. If you don’t have that urge, don’t think it is civil or respectful of you, not each and every thought that crosses your mind has to be decent, and don’t try to convince me otherwise. Parts of marriage are, let’s say, indecent and that would mean you have less than decent thoughts when thinking of your other half (not all the time though, that’s a whole other problem altogether). Our culture has always deemed this issue indecent, something people don’t normally discuss openly and we don’t see much of it as they do in the West (don’t get me wrong, that’s a part of our culture I actually like!). The downside however is because of lack of exposure people tend to feel it is indecent or ‘aib and never get over that notion, always feeling shy or embarrassed when it comes to matters of pleasure. It is more than natural; people have been doing it for centuries. Your chance has finally arrived, just enjoy it!

"There's nothing wrong with me loving you. And giving yourself to me could never be wrong if the love is true." - Marvin Gaye

(WARNING: This song may result in pregnancy)

It’s only logical that one has chemistry with their partner, to me that is a combination of emotional, mental and physical compatibility. And that physical compatibility is a physical manifestation of the emotional and mental connection between two people. By physical compatibility I don’t mean that you look good together (although to me that is a must, but that’s just me being superficial), it’s that you have that attraction that makes you gravitate towards each other. You feel this magnetic pull towards one another.

In my eyes, this aspect of marriage is by far the most difficult to determine until the marriage is done and dusted. All you have to work off of is a feeling of attraction and nothing more. Whether or not that chemistry will meet each person’s expectations, there’s no way of really knowing. I admit, that is scary. Because what a huge bloody let down that would be, eh?! In all seriousness though, it is tricky to detect. This physical connection is an extension of the love you share and therefore vital to the relationship, it will bring you closer. And this is what makes marriage such a unique relationship; since this is a closeness you will only ever have with your other half. This is something that shouldn’t be embarrassing to think about or even talk about between the two of you. You have to be open about what you like and what you want. If you don’t get it out of your marriage, where else can you get it? (Again, this is another driver for infidelity.)

This aspect of marriage is often reduced to 'making babies' or perhaps it is the marital right of the male alone; just wham, bam, thank you ma'am. Now that's unfair, and fairly primitive if you ask me. We ladies need some lovin' too, we have needs! Things like this make me understand how one could believe man came from monkeys. Then we have the opposite end of the spectrum, porn-addicts. As far as I'm concerned, no good can come of it. It completely warps and deforms one's expectations and with time it could make one desensitized (figuratively and literally). Excessive porn leads to a more behavioral addiction which in my view is worse than substance addiction. From a very insightful (albeit lengthy, still well worth a read) article in The Guardian on the subject, it seems the effects are more deep-rooted than one would care to admit:

'....the user of pornography is also psychologically on the run...."People who use pornography feel dead inside, and they are trying to avoid being aware of that pain. There is a sense of liberation, which is temporary: that's why pornography is so repetitive - you have to go back again and again."' Men and Porn by Edward Marriott, The Guardian

Now that the awkward subject is out of the way, I want to talk a bit about physical appearances, but I'll get to that later.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Khalil Gibran on Marriage (from "The Prophet")

An excerpt from The Prophet by Khalil Gibran. It rang so true the first time I ever read this, when I was only a teen, and it still does today. I hope it does the same for you. If there was ever a formula for a successful marriage, this would be it. 

Next week, we're gonna get physical....Enjoy! ;) 

Then Almitra spoke again and said, "And what of Marriage, master?"

And he answered saying:

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.

You shall be together when white wings of death scatter your days.

Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.

But let there be spaces in your togetherness,

And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another but make not a bond of love:

Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.

Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup.

Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf.

Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,

Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping.

For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.

And stand together, yet not too near together:

For the pillars of the temple stand apart,

And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow.

Food for though: A man feels ready to marry, he asks mommy to find him a wife if he had trouble finding one on his own. But what happens when a woman is ready to marry?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

The Coffee Mug and the Tea Cup

An addendum to the previous ‘pillar’ before moving on to the next one. A more nonsensical rant than usual.

Last week’s post got me thinking about what it is about Arab males and females that sets them apart from the generic battle of the sexes. It seems the location of the battlefield in this case could be changing the rules of the game.

I'm not really a feminist in the sense that I do not agree that men and women should be totally and utterly equal in every and any way, shape or form, but that we are equally capable. This clip from the musical Annie Get Your Gun better explains my position on the matter.

We are different beings, created differently - anatomically, physiologically, mentally, emotionally - it is unnatural to be equals. I like to compare it to a coffee mug and a tea cup; no reason to discriminate between the two although they are shaped and formed differently. They seemingly do the same job and are both fully capable of doing so, but one is better at holding coffee and the other completes the tea experience, in the end they are both vessels in which we pour hot liquids, or even cold liquids. Hell, they both can contain anything possibly containable. I believe that men and women may complement one another, but it should be considered blasphemous to consider them equals. They are both fully capable of doing whatever it is the other does at the same or even higher level of proficiency. But in the end, a man should hold the door open for a woman, not the other way around. A woman is the one who carries a baby inside her for 9 months (hands down that is enough to prove women are superior to men, but I digress), something impossible for a man to even comprehend. So how can we simply ignore that men and women are in fact not equal? This is not to say one is better or more capable than the other. As the Egyptian religious leader and activist Moez Masoud put it: Men and women are not equal, they are mutually superior.

Arab men are such strange creatures to me. They are one big walking contradiction. They are the physical embodiment of the phrase ‘do as I say, not as I do’. The Arab ego I found is unique in comparison to the average male ego; they believe with every fibre of their being that they really and truly are ‘the shit’. Needless to say our culture is one which lends itself to male dominance; more is expected of the Arab man in any case. The entire household falls on his shoulders. He is expected to be driven, focused, stern, and in control. Society expects him to treat all women with respect as if we are all his sisters (a bit idealistic, I know, but you’ll be surprised how deeply instilled that notion is, so much so that sometimes they don’t even know they have it in them). I strongly believe that if chivalry is dead elsewhere, it probably came to the Middle East to die. Chivalry still exists here, I wouldn’t say it was alive and well but I see it from time to time. A lot is expected of the Arab man, and he knows it. There are those who crack under this pressure and take their failure to fully meet this expectation out on everyone around them. There are those who partially meet that expectation within reason by allowing themselves to let go a little. And then there are those who don’t meet this expectation by miles and, frankly, don’t give a damn. Let me be clear and say that the expectation to become the quintessential Arab man is impossible to reach; it was possible once upon a time but that breed is extinct, but only because times have changed and such roles have been re-defined.

Likewise, a lot is expected of the Arab woman. The difference being men seem to be sticking to the traditional role set out for them whereas a lot of women nowadays are doing all they can to break free of that pre-historic, pre-defined role. And that just leaves men massively confused. Men have been wired to take charge, but the modern woman will take orders from no one. However, some women of today seem to be taking it a step too far, giving birth to a special kind of insolence. Can you blame them, though? Middle Eastern women till today struggle to assert their position in the world, and they strive to do so. Fed up with being in the background, the modern Arab woman stops at nothing to prove to the world she is here and she means business, and she doesn’t take lightly to anyone or anything that stands in her way. I have never met women as driven as Arab women, and I wish the Arab world would acknowledge and even exploit that more. They come in extremes though; either extremely driven or extremely....not.

Just when the man reaches the point in his life where he wants to slow down, the woman jets off! To her, life begins now. Having to hold off on a lot for the sake of appearances (as to not jeopardize her chances of marriage), once married she feels she has done what she had to do and now has to answer to no one! 

Oh contraire, don’t forget the poor schmuck otherwise known as your husband!

This is where I find a split in Arab men. Some take it lying down and just don’t stand in her way – whether he actually supports her or just to shut her up – and accept the fact that they got screwed in this deal. Others won’t have it, they turn into this controlling monster they never knew existed and make Miss Independent (now Mrs.) regret ever using marriage as an ‘escape’ for the sake of freedom and independence. How could you possibly expect independence from a marriage when you are entering it with another person? This isn’t a marriage anymore, it’s a power play where nobody wins.

In the Middle East, to some life is what happens while you’re waiting to be married, but you’re too busy waiting to do any living. To others, life is what happens before you get married, after that you’re on death row! I can’t help but feel that societal expectations and/or restraints on both genders just aren’t doing anyone any favors. All it does is further complicate an already complicated situation. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

Let's Talk (Part 3 of 3)

A mental connection between two people has a lot to do with understanding one another. It is not only a case of understanding what one says, but also being able to read their actions and read beyond the mere words spoken. One of the greatest obstacles known to humankind is the battle of the genders. To this day, men and women struggle to understand each other. That is in part due to the fact that men and women are wired differently and they simply refuse to accept that fact. Allow me to refer back to Mark Gungor here with one of my personal favorites (quite lengthy but well worth it!):

I do hate to generalize like this but safe to say, two brains of any gender rarely work the same way anyway. After coming to terms with the simple fact that our brains don’t all function the same way, you’re still not completely out of the dark. Understanding how the opposite sex thinks is one thing, understanding how the person before you thinks is what really matters here. Knowing how they think, what they like/dislike is a huge part of the relationship in my eyes. It shows that you know who they are…as they are. It shows that you made the effort to know what matters to them. It does say a lot because it truly does require effort to pick up on certain things that could be quite subtle.

Let me give two examples to illustrate how this could translate into a relationship. This time I won’t tell you a story, I’m gonna give you a rare first-hand experience here!

The first example is about one simple word. I have my own theory about the world’s biggest lie; the word ‘fine’. I believe no one has ever told the truth when using that word. I don’t mean the ‘damn she fine’ kind of context (I guess fine art doesn’t apply here either, although that could be debatable). I suppose I can safely say it is every other context.

‘How are you, how are your exams going?’……….’Fine’……….LIE
‘Sweetie, you’re sobbing hysterically, are you okay?’……….’I’m fi-i-i-ine’……….LIE
‘We haven't got Pepsi, is Coke ok?’……….’No, it’s ok, Coke is fine’……….LIE
‘We’re not going to be here for your birthday’……….’Yeah that’s fine’……….LIE
‘Sir you just fell and landed face first onto the concrete, are you okay?!’……….’Yeah, ignore the blood, I’m fine’……….LIE!!!

I know these are all petty examples, but honestly look back at all the times you or anyone else has used that word……….do you see it yet? Regardless, to me personally, the word is a lie. So if someone asks me how I’m doing and I reply with ‘fine’ although I’m the furthest thing from it, I am lying. And vice versa, if someone is clearly not fine and they are trying to convince me that they are, I don’t buy it! This is something I’ve only recently noticed I believe in so strongly (and have been avoiding the use of the word as to not blow my own cover!). I’ve always reacted that way to the word or treated it as a lie but I never actually realized that was my automatic response to it every time. When someone actually did pick up on my ‘Fine is a Lie’ theory and for the first time defined it for me, I was actually quite flattered that this person had noticed it. Not only that, this person knew I was not fine at all when I said I was, and was able to be there for me even when my pride wouldn’t allow me to ask (this theory is supposedly an effect of my alleged pride issues, supposedly). That’s what it means to know and understand a person, to be able to reveal the complex layers we hide ourselves in and go beyond just talking.

Another example is ketchup. I hate ketchup. In fact, I think I have a phobia of ketchup. I hate the smell, the texture, the taste, the sound, the movement, how the bottle always has nasty dried up chunks on the rims or in the cover, how it either plops out onto a plate or how it gets squeezed out. If someone asks me to pass the ketchup and I do, I refuse to believe that there has ever been more self control exercised than at that moment. Anyway, I suppose you get the picture. Now I do not doubt that my father loves me, but I am in my 20s, and yes my palette has matured as I’ve grown but the one thing that has never changed is my strong dislike of ketchup. Every time we have any sort of ketchup-friendly meal, he passes me the ketchup bottle or asks to put it on my plate. He sometimes gets me food with ketchup, completely forgetting how the thought of it makes me gag. I have to say, I know he’s my dad but it does hurt a little that my own father doesn’t know or bother to keep tabs on my ketchuphobia. He’s my father so it’s slightly different than in any other case.

This may sound silly but assuming he wasn't my father, yes these details do count in a relationship. If the person you share your life with can't seem to remember that you take your coffee with no sugar after having coffee together on a daily basis for at least a good few years, it can get a little frustrating, insulting even. Knowing how your partner likes their tea, knowing their preference of music, knowing the particular kind of books they like to read if they like to read at all! These things are pretty obvious sometimes so what matters are the not-so-obvious details. Knowing what to do when they are down, knowing how to put a smile on their face, knowing what annoys/upsets them and NOT doing it are vital to make the relationship stronger. Even when they have done or said something to hurt you, knowing when it was said out of anger or when they decide to take their anger out on you and forgiving them for it is huge. These mistakes happen with many people in many situations, not just marriage. We do tend to hurt those closest to us, and it is because we hope they know us well enough to understand where it came from and forgive us for it (this doesn't mean you should allow yourself to abuse those close to you, you won't always be forgiven).

Some marriages in our region happen so quickly that couples don't feel the need to win each other over with such efforts, and once married the goal is supposedly achieved. Men would like to think these things matter to women more than they do men. Nu-uh! It may seem so because women are usually the ones that pay attention to these things so they bake the cake you like or get you tickets to see your favorite team play in whatever sport. They do this expecting the same in return only to be disappointed that he’s so preoccupied with the game tickets to realize they were an anniversary gift. And you would be surprised how simple it is to please a girl in this respect, especially when most of the time all you need to do is just be there for her and God forbid actually listen to what she says. Yes, these things matter. The tiniest effort could make a world of difference! 

I tried to avoid this but I simply couldn't resist, another Mark Gungor video humorously explaining how couples 'keep score' on such things.  It's more or less and extension of the first video, but it shows how just paying a little attention and the simplest gestures every once in a while could help even out the playing field....Enjoy!

Monday, April 2, 2012

Let's Talk (Part 2 of 3)

So we've established that it just might be useful to be able to converse with your partner, but that's not all.

Having that mental connection also does mean you do share similar views on the world, or shall I say values. I wouldn’t say it was a must if you don’t exactly see eye-to-eye on certain things, but it does make things a hell of a lot easier. For example let's say one of you thinks it's OK to steal apples from your neighbor's apple tree while the other strongly believes that all forms of stealing - without exception - is wrong, you can't expect there to be much mutual respect there. You very well could lay in bed at night wondering how you can possibly share a bed with someone so dishonest/ridiculous. Such values are very important when raising children. Without children, the marriage just might survive if the love is strong enough. However, when children come into play, they will be massively conflicted. These are things that need to be addressed before 'I do'. Where do each of you stand within the school of life? What are the values you share and believe in strongly which you both would like to instill in your children?

If you differ on beliefs, morals or ethics, it could very well be problematic. This does have a lot to do with faith, and let’s face it, not all people of the same faith are equally faithful, and obviously those of different faiths altogether are a whole other ball game. I’m in no way suggesting people who marry must be of the same faith, same sect and share the exact same beliefs. As long as wherever it is they both stand in that matter, their stance does not clash or contradict each other majorly (I'm trying to get a delicate message across here without being too direct, but I feel like I'm only complicating it further). I don’t want to dwell on it too much because this could get slightly controversial. However it does shock me how some people do neglect this point. Here's an example of when couples may clash on such issues and how it could affect them:
Deena is a prime example of what I like to call a ‘neo-Muslim’, somewhere between liberal and conservative, although she would never admit there is anything conservative about her. Nawaf is a Muslim by descent, and by that I mean a cultural Muslim who inherited the title, not much else. He drinks, smokes, and does not pray, unlike Deena. But being the neo-Muslim she is, she decided to be more liberal and not let that affect her decision to marry him. It wasn’t really much of a problem at first, she always thought he was going through a phase and felt she could influence him slightly. But the years passed and Nawaf remained the same, very much set in his ways, whereas Deena’s faith grew stronger. She would pray for his 'salvation' every day. 

The couple had a child, Rayan. As the mother, Deena felt she had the chance to influence her son more. Nawaf couldn’t care less, he was merely there to ensure his son became a man and that included a lot of distant tough love. As Rayan got older, Deena would encourage him to pray. His dad wouldn’t take him to Friday prayers at the mosque and she ashamedly asked her brother to take him every week. She was adamant not to let Rayan turn into his father. It was hard enough to see the man she loved so conflicting with her own beliefs, to see her son that way would be too painful to think about. Alas, the older Rayan grew, the more inquisitive he became; how come the rules don’t seem to be applying to his father? 

And with very little effort from his father, Deena’s nightmare slowly began to come true. There doesn’t have to be any direct influence, Nawaf simply being there was influence enough. As the days went by, Deena saw Rayan slip through her fingers, and she resented her husband for it. The guy did nothing, he did not actively influence their son, but Deena spent her days passively punishing him for it. The tension continued to grow, her heart continued to break.

That, that right there made me sad. Religion is a touchy subject, but I tried to get the point across as best I can and hopefully without making any insinuations. I simply tried to explain what each 'character' is feeling from their particular standpoint. It just goes to show how something so basic that doesn’t really affect how you feel about each other could greatly affect your life together. Such a household does not lack love, but someone is still left heartbroken somehow. This goes back to the idea that love isn’t enough to base a marriage on, sad but true. I didn’t mention it much in the previous posts on the emotional aspect because every other aspect will do the explaining for me. Yes love is important, but so is everything else, and I mean everything.

Love is a temporary madness,
it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. 
And when it subsides you have to make a decision. 
You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together 
that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. 
Because this is what love is.
Love is not breathlessness, 
it is not excitement, 
it is not the promulgation of eternal passion.
That is just being "in love" which any fool can do.
Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, 
and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. 
Those that truly love, have roots that grow towards each other underground, 
and when all the pretty blossom have fallen from their branches, 
they find that they are one tree and not two.