A few weeks ago I was invited to the launch of a Muslim marriage course. The panel discussion was awesome, covering all sorts of things from communication issues between spouses to how and where to meet a potential spouse. The questions came flying at the panelists until the night was over, but one I found particularly interesting was on ‘the spark’ and whether we should be looking for it. In response, a Shaykh on the panel recounted a story about a man he had once counseled. This man, being a pious Muslim, had sought out and married an equally pious woman, but the catch was that he didn’t find this woman particularly attractive. Several years down the track and after some difficulty with the intimate side of things, the marriage ended in divorce. The Shaykh then concluded that chemistry/the spark/whatever-you-want-to-call-it is important. The other Shaykh on the panel agreed.
I must admit, I was quite surprised by the turn this discussion took . Perhaps it was just ignorance on my part, but I’d always associated ‘the spark’ more with teen movies than with Islamic teaching. But that doesn’t mean the concept doesn’t fascinate me. It fascinates me precisely because it is so hard to pin down and reconcile with the things you’re supposed to look for in a partner. I couldn’t tell you what ‘the spark’ is, but I think I can suggest a few possibilities:
a.) Physical attraction
Let’s not discount the potency of this simple factor. If you find someone repulsive at first sight, chances are there is going to be no ‘spark’ whatsoever, despite the fact that they’re nice and intelligent and all that other sensible stuff.
b.) That space between tranquility and anxiety
You know what I mean, right? That sense of comfort and ease you get around a person you barely know. ‘Oh, it feels like we’ve known each other for years!’ That’s what people often say about the way you’re inexplicably drawn to someone. But then there’s the flip-side, the heightened anxiety. Every word, every glance, takes on a world of meaning. You remember the half-smile they offered you when you made a lame joke, the way they tilted their head before taking a sip of water. Every tiny gesture they make, even down to their body language, can become the subject of analysis. When they’re around, the world takes on a sense of heightened clarity and focus; you find yourself carefully observing your own actions as well as theirs whenever they’re in the vicinity.
I find it really interesting to consider how ‘the spark’ comes into play in a traditional set-up style meeting. How attracted to someone can you feel when you’re surrounded by relatives and put on show, knowing everyone is watching? Some might say you can’t feel much at all, that this type of arrangement facilitates the type of love that grows after marriage. In fact, I’ve heard several people claim that the advantage of being set up is that you remove emotion from the process, at least initially. You base your decision to proceed on whether the person ticks all the boxes, whatever those boxes may be. I can see that this approach has its virtues. After all, you can be very attracted to someone who you’re not compatible with whatsoever. But I can’t help but feel that this type of approach is more suited to buying a car than to acquiring a life partner. If I were buying a car, I’d have a set list of features and a price range ready to go, and I’d inspect it dispassionately based on those criteria, but it’s certainly not how I’d go about meeting a partner.
I understand that for many people, ‘the spark’ is just too fluffy a concept to incorporate into the serious business that marriage undoubtedly is. If reason and rationality work for them, then I say go for it. One of my dearest friends has this exact approach, and I saw her negotiate the minefield of arranged meetings with confidence and calmness because of it. But my expectations of marriage are a bit different to hers. I know, I know, chemistry doesn’t pay the bills, nor does ‘the spark’ sort our your underwear drawer. But I don’t think that the mundane nature of everyday life renders ‘the spark’ irrelevant. In fact, I feel it makes it even more important, because if life comes down to a series of school pick-ups and hurried microwave meals, there needs to be something special to keep it together. A bit of playfulness. A bit of mystery. A dash of unspoken understanding. I understand that these things certainly can grow over time, but I don’t think there’s anything wrong with looking for it from the outset either.
So by all means, look for the person who ticks your boxes. Consider compatibility and how many kids you want to have and whether you want to rent or buy. But if you think ‘the spark’ is important, it’s not just because you’ve watched too many Disney movies; there is some discussion in Islam about souls meeting before physical life and this explaining why people are instantly drawn to others. If you’re not looking for it, that’s fine. But to all those who are, I hope you find it. InshaAllah.