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the perils of being unattached.

March 22, 2011

I’ve been meaning to post this story for two weeks but just never got around to it…until now! So here’s the deal.

A couple weeks ago, my neighbor M and I went to visit some friends across town again. While we were there, Rana’s cousin Abeer (whom I’d previously met) and her mom came over as well, and the evening turned into a full-out ladies’ night–the curtain was drawn between the salon and the rest of the house, and the women relaxed in each other’s company while the man of the house hid somewhere on the other side. So there we were, sitting and chatting away when the topic of marriage came up. Not exactly unusual in this kind of company. It started with A’s mom–a big woman with a boisterous laugh–joking about finding her husband a second wife so he could get a green card to stay in America. It moved quickly to her asking if we knew any nice girls who would marry her son, an engineer in Texas. And then she zeroed in on me.

“So, do you have a fiance in America?”
“Um, no.”
“Do you have a boyfriend?”
Nervous laugh. Contemplate lying. Can’t bring myself to do it over a silly conversation. “…No.”
“Well, I like you! You should marry my son. Here, this is a picture of him, but his hair is different now.” She whips out a photo from her wallet, like magic. “He’s very smart.”
“Wow, um, mmhm.” This is starting to get weird…
“Auntie, it doesn’t work like this in America,” Rana interrupts. “They believe you should love someone before marrying them.”
“Well, that’s silly. And this isn’t America. The way we do it here is better–love before marriage is shameful! Shame on you if you love someone before you marry him. You can fall in love with him after you are married. Here, mothers pick their sons’ wives for them. This is better.”
Me: “Umm…”
Now Abeer interrupts, elbowing her mother in the side and murmuring, “Khallas, Mama. Enough. Leave her alone.”
“What, what am I doing? I’m not doing anything!”

But she dutifully dropped the subject at that point and we all moved on, to my relief. Fifteen minutes later, we were on a completely new topic (smoking, I think) when some of the women got up to bring dinner out. My friend M left to wash her hands in the bathroom, and all of a sudden I found myself alone in the room with A’s Mom, our plates in front of us. “I don’t like this food,” she announced to me, pushing it around with her fork. “I don’t think I’ll eat much of it.”

Then Rana returned, and A’s Mom gestured her over. They began a rapid, whispered conversation that I couldn’t follow even if I wanted to, so I didn’t bother trying. A few seconds later, Rana turned to me with a sheepish smile. “My aunt wants you to know that she’s serious. Biddik?”

Problem: that little word “biddik” means “you want.” And, well, I thought we were talking about the food in front of us, which A’s Mom had just rejected a few seconds earlier, right? Confused, I answered, “Um. Yes, I want. Of course I want. Why wouldn’t I want?”

I realized my mistake a few seconds later when Rana looked surprised but promptly told her aunt, “Okay, but I really think you should let them talk to each other first over email before anything is settled. Got it?”

Whoa. Wait. What? All I wanted was to eat this delicious dinner! What is happening?!

Then came the inevitable moment of waffling. Well, I already told them yes. What harm could a little emailing do? I can figure out a way to turn this down later, right? I’m sure there will be an opportunity somewhere along the way to say no.

But that was overcome by a final moment of deep inner strength and determination…the kind I very rarely display, to be honest (as anyone familiar with my can’t-say-no personality could tell you). STOP IT. Don’t you dare let this go any further, or you will seriously be married by this time next year. What is wrong with you?! Suck it up and tell them the truth.

…And that was followed by one of the awkwardest moments of my life. Dying of embarrassment, I managed to interject, “Um, actually. Wait. I’m sorry. I…no. I’m sorry. Just no. I didn’t understand what we were talking about. But no.”

Rana was fighting off laughter by this point (did I mention she is a fierce and happily single woman way “past her prime” by local standards?), but A’s Mom went stiff with indignation.

“Why! What is wrong with my son?”
“Nothing. It’s just…we’re so different, you know? We come from different countries, different cultures, different religions. It would never work.” Whew, nice save.
“Tatiana and her husband come from different cultures and religions but they’re perfectly happy,” she pointed out, just as the woman in question walked into the room, the very picture of contentment.
Darn it, there goes that argument. “Well, it would still be…too difficult for me. I’m sorry.”
“Fine,” she finally relented, clearly unhappy with me. “But he’s an engineer.” Translation: You’re missing out.

I’m okay, thanks.

Next time, though–I think I’m just gonna go with the lie. “Are you engaged?” “Yes.” End of story.

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Daniel P permalink
    March 22, 2011 2:14 am

    i called it. she will wear you down soon enough. he’s an engineer, steph! how can you turn that down?

  2. dad permalink
    March 23, 2011 11:59 pm

    i said, only a prince will qualify, Stephanie, only a PRINCE!
    with lots of money, so he can pay for your school loan ^^
    an engineer will not do.

  3. Brian permalink
    March 27, 2011 3:57 am

    HA! I’d like to have read your next Jordan Update if that had gone through.

  4. April 8, 2011 3:11 pm

    Asalamu Alaykom from Egypt,

    Being single—a single American mom no less–in Egypt was just as weird for me. I wrote about it here Eventually, I did marry but I chose someone who wasn’t pushed on me. Having an eligible bachelor shoved at you isn’t very appealing.

    I applaud you for putting a stop to it right away. You have to be very firm in this part of the world or you live your life for someone else. Keep on being yourself and maybe the right man actually is in Jordan—but he’d be the type to make himself known (not have his mom broach the subject). Best wishes for whatever you do!

    • April 8, 2011 7:15 pm

      Wa aleykom asalam, Yosra! Thanks for sharing your story with me! You’re definitely right about the need to be firm around here…Wise words. Best wishes to you as well.

  5. Susan Yoon permalink
    April 20, 2011 2:12 am

    HAHA! Oh, you heartbreaker.

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