Category Archives: Marriage

Why do married people disappear?

I haven’t written anything in months. My Facebook profile, never the most active, has all but died out entirely save for the odd article about inequity in the housing market or tropical fish. After all I’ve written, all I’ve tried to speak about and observe and document, I can’t help but ask myself: have I become the old cliche of the married person who disappears?

The answer is a lot more complicated than I’d once thought. Having seen many friends get married before I did, the pattern was almost always the same. When they’d meet someone special, the details would be dissected and analysed with the whole group. Together, we’d chart the highs and lows, sharing screenshots and mugshots and soppy midnight text messages. When things turned serious, we’d get together and plan the parties and the dresses and make tasteless jokes about their entry into the mysterious realm of physical intimacy.

But once the parties were done, the money stuffed into envelopes and the honeymoon pictures circulated, things were never quite the same. Messages became few and far between, the details of their new life scarce and vague at best. Outings had to be planned weeks in advance, often slotted in around their partner’s absence. ‘Let’s meet up on Friday night, my husband will be out at a class.’ They often seemed to want to consolidate their formerly individual friendships out of convenience, which meant it was difficult to ever spend time with them one-on-one.

I used to get annoyed at these people. I’d wonder what it was they were doing that was so significant and time-consuming. When I got married, I thought I’d finally figure out their secret, only to find out that the big secret was something so glaringly obvious: there’s simply less time to go around.

The reasons for this are simple. You have a new housemate, partner and friend all rolled into one, and for the relationship to have any chance of success, there needs to be at least some investment in the way of quality time. Assuming at least one party works or studies full-time, this leaves only nights and weekends. Depending on the couple, you might want to have at least a couple of nights a week or free slots on the weekend allocated to spending time together. This already cuts into your time, but you then also have the additional responsibility of scheduling in family time.

As a single person, you often live with at least some members of your family, which means you get to see them incidentally as you all go about your daily business. But when you move away from your family, the incidental contact disappears. You suddenly go from seeing your parents every day to seeing them once, maybe twice a week at best. That means at least one night out of every seven will be spent visiting your family. But wait, there’s more! Now that you have a second family to factor in, you’re down another night in the week, and if either you or your spouse have large extended families, your time is squeezed even further. (If both of you have huge extended families, it’s pretty much game over.)

What this means is not that married people stop caring about anything outside of their partner, but simply that things get pushed down the priority list. If it’s a choice between spending time with friends or family, family will usually have to take precedence.  If it’s a choice between a gathering with close friends or a party with a bunch of acquaintances, close friends will of course take priority. There are only so many hours in the day, and naturally some things will fall by the wayside. Some people may be more efficient than others, but for most people, it seems that something will need to take a hit when they first get hitched, whether it be volunteer work or attending as many social events.

Of course, everything mentioned above is subject to some caveats. I’m certainly not suggesting that single people don’t have obligations and responsibilities of their own, or that it’s somehow justifiable for people to simply dump their friends once they have a partner. Many of us have felt the sting of a married friend who seems to have viewed friendship as a dispensable commodity. Some of these married friends have even been guilty of dishing out the same tedious relationship advice they would have abhorred only months before. (‘When you know, you’ll just know’.)

But singletons have also been guilty of doing a preemptive dumping of their married friends, assuming they are less available before they even get a chance to say otherwise. Married people may feel they are no longer as relevant or sought after by their friends. There can also be the assumption that your partner will take care of each and every one of your emotional needs, when in reality a married person may need their friends more than ever. Very few people take it upon themselves to really ask someone how their marriage is going, leaving the onus on the married person to reach out if they’re floundering.

As people get married later and later in life, they will come to the marriage with a more established set of social relationships, which may mean their friendships will hold up better post-marriage. Even those who ‘disappear’  may not necessarily do so because they’re Halal-drunk on newlywed bliss; they may also be struggling to adjust and cope with their new lot of challenges. The same, and a whole lot more, goes for friends who have children. While these friendships can seem like hard work because parents are limited in their availability, it’s important to reach out and check in to see how they’re doing, even if just with a quick message.

Some people make juggling different priorities look easy. But if you’re anything like me, this feels less like juggling and more like dropping two balls for every one picked up. It’s extremely difficult to give each and every commitment its due right, and in every single relationship there is the potential for one party to feel like they’re getting less than they’re giving. If this is perennially the case, it may be worth confronting the person, but if you can see that they’re just going through a particularly busy period, try to cut them some slack and wait for them to reappear when they’re ready. Or even better, try to coax them out of their Halal high (or low, or tedious median) into a well-overdue reappearance.

The 10 Rules of Muslim Love: Part 1

I’ve been writing about Muslim relationships for sometime now. In doing so, I’ve never claimed any kind of special expertise. I’m not a ‘relationships guru’, nor am I at all detached from any of the issues I write about. I talk to a lot of people, and I listen to a lot of people. I’m constantly re-evaluating what I hold to be established truths and am constantly surprised by the outliers of the general human experience. But undoubtedly, over the course of the hundreds, maybe thousands, of conversations I’ve had with people about these issues, several themes do emerge and I don’t feel that I’m being all that presumptuous in sharing them. As always, I stress the diversity and complexity of individual experience, but now that I’ve added that disclaimer, here goes my first five rules for securing love in this lonely, hash-tagging, notification-buzzing world of ours:

1.) Strike early

This is something I’ve observed again and again: people getting trapped in endless rounds of flirtatious banter and sharing of YouTube clips, without ever defining what the deal is. These very frequently fizzle out and go nowhere. Therefore, your best chance for something to actually happen is early on, before anyone gets too comfortable/bored/sick of trying to figure out what the heck is going on.

2.) Keep your distance

This sounds somewhat counter-intuitive, but here’s another observation I’ve made time and time again: friends of the opposite sex very rarely get together. This is why you see circles of guys and girls, all eligible and of a similar mindset, but all scratching their heads as to where they are going to meet someone. Again, if it happens it’ll usually happen early on, but if you stay slightly outside of the circle you won’t run the risk of people you may be interested in getting just a bit too comfortable and overlooking you in the marriage stakes.

3.) Don’t push your luck (but do try to encourage!)

Most of us have been guilty of this at some point or other: trying to ‘convince’ someone to be interested in us by pushing, whether by continually trying to get their attention or extending conversations way past their expiry dates. Don’t do it. The best thing to do is to respond in a reciprocal and receptive manner. If they ask questions, ask one too. If they write a three word response, resist the urge to respond with an essay, but don’t necessarily jump to the conclusion that they hate you and never want to talk to you again.

4.) Don’t project!

Another thing many of us are guilty of is projecting our perception of events onto the other person. Consequently, if we like someone, a polite greeting from them becomes laden with hidden meaning. If they don’t reply right away, they’ve ‘lost interest’. An offhand comment will be dissected within an inch of its life, a stray glance given far more significance than it warrants. It’s so easy to fall into this, but at least attempt to stop reading your own script constantly and give theirs a go.

5.) Get used to a little romantic overlap

Let’s face it: we, the Western Muslim diaspora, form a great big spider web. There are all kinds of connections between people who’ve never met and a lot of the same names get bandied about in particular circles. If you want to meet someone, you have to be prepared to get your hands slightly dirty. The person you like may have been seeing someone you know. You may have been seeing someone they know. It’s just one of those icky things you have to get used to.

Do you have any rules you devise for yourself in the pursuit of love?

 

How’s Married Life?

As a newcomer to the world of matrimony, I’ve suddenly found myself catapulted to the other side of the fence. All those times I flippantly asked people ‘so, how’s married life?’ have come back to haunt me, for I now know that there is no real answer to that question. Most people are just being polite when they ask and so I hesitate to bore them with any more than a ‘good, alhamdulillah’, but for anyone who’s interested in something a bit less generic, here’s a slightly longer answer to that question:

  • Married life = super speed change

For the average Australian couple, the transition towards married life is a slow, leisurely one. There might be a few years of dating, followed by a few years of cohabiting, followed by a long engagement and a subsequent wedding.

In contrast, Muslim couples have to adjust to so many things changing all at once. There’s the move out of the parental home and safety net, the moving into a new home with a new partner, the adjusting to another person’s favourite brand of toothpaste and washing powder and clothing line pegs. Digesting all of these changes simultaneously is a monumental, challenging, weird and wonderful task.

  • Married life = compromise

Before I got married, I had a relatively large amount of freedom and autonomy. My money was mine to spend on as many ice cream tubs as I pleased. My time was mine to spend as I pleased. If I felt like going out for burgers at 11pm with the girls, that’s exactly what I did, and if I felt like sleeping in until 12pm on a Sunday (and I always did), then that’s exactly what I did. It’s a terribly clichéd thing to say, but married life really does entail a great deal of communication and compromise. Sure, you can still sleep in until 12pm, but that means dumping all the sock folding onto your partner, and who wants to be married to a constant sock dumper?

  • Married life= learning about yourself as much as learning about your spouse

A lovely married friend of mine once told me that she hadn’t known just how mean she could be until she got married. It was hard to believe, given how lovely she is, but I can certainly appreciate what she meant. Marriage forces you into unprecedented levels of proximity with another human being, and in doing so, you are forced to hold a great big mirror up to yourself. Flaws, bumps and shortcomings are amplified in close proximity. There’s simply no hiding them, folks.

  • Married life = heaps of fun

Enough with the boring adult stuff about compromise and communication and patience. Marriage is certainly all those things, but something few people prepared me for is just how much fun you can have with your spouse. Every night can be a slumber party, you can bore them with all the details about your day at work no one else listens to and there’s always someone to split dessert with. If ever you needed an incentive to get married, you have it right there.

*Disclaimer: author has been married for all of one month. Ask your grandparents for marriage advice if you need it.

The marriage struggles of Muslim women

The process of trying to find a partner can be horribly, utterly brutal. Fumble, stumble, trip, run into a dead end-this is the thorny path of so many singles. But are all marriage struggles created equal? Broken hearts are certainly not the sole domain of women, but there are any number of reasons why the marriage process can be particularly difficult for women. This is a condition not at at all specific to Muslims, but as always, the intersection of faith and universality makes for some sad, weird and lol-worthy results. Let’s take a closer look at why it is that women are so often at the losing end of the marriage process:

1.) Time pressures

Tick tock, tick tock. Or so women are constantly being reminded. There is such a small window of time during which women are actually viewed as eligible marriage material, spanning in some circles from the late teens until somewhere around the mid-twenties. Women are forced to think about marriage at a far younger age than men are, and if they run carefree and amok (lol) through their 20s, they may pay the consequences later and remain single long after they choose to. For example, as depressing as it is, it’s not uncommon for women 25 and up to assume that their chances of getting married are slim to nil, while a man of a similar age bracket may only just be starting to think about marriage.

These skewed conditions can create a power imbalance in which women may feel compelled to ‘settle’, while men are given license to pick and choose at their liberty. Women are often told that their chances are running out, and even if they aren’t explicitly told, they can see for themselves that their opportunities may be few and far between. If we have a system in which a woman’s eligibility goes down as she gets older and better-educated and a man’s eligibility only goes up with these factors, there will undoubtedly be some nasty consequences. (Of course, men face the difficulty of the perceived need to be financially stable before getting married, which is a bit of a downer.)

Part of the reason women are forced to think about marriage fairly early on is couched in biological terms. Women are constantly being warned about how their fertility is a precious commodity by everyone from gynaecologists on TV to their mothers and aunties. Women who want the opportunity to have children know that it takes time to meet someone and get married to them, and some may even feel pressured into marrying someone at least partly to have that opportunity.

2.) Lack of suitable candidates

Let’s compare the pool of potential partners of a 30 year old man vs a 30 year old woman. It’s not socially acceptable for a woman to marry a younger man, and so she will generally limit herself or be limited to men her own age and above. If she has a good job and is well-educated, she may expect, not unreasonably so, that her husband be of a similar level. This narrows the pool even further. In contrast, a 30 year old man has a far wider pool of acceptable candidates to choose from, as he can marry a woman any number of years younger than him and not attract any censure. He can also freely marry someone of a lower level of education and earning capacity, and can explicitly filter women on these bases.

There are any number of reasons why men would choose to marry a younger and less established woman as opposed to a woman his own age, and I’m not interested in going into all of them right now. Suffice to say, we all know it happens, and it obviously creates an imbalance between the amount of men available to a particular pool of women. Frequently, there seems to be more women visible in Muslim community circles, which further adds to a perceived number imbalance. (Statistics show that women outnumber men in many parts of the world, which can’t help either, and makes for weird encounters at matrimonial events and on websites where women outnumber men.)

3.) Lack of agency

For women who do want to get married, there are few direct avenues available. Pursuing someone and expressing interest in them is seen as an exclusively male domain, and women who do try to initiate something may run the risk of being labelled as ‘desperate’ or ‘coming on too strong’. This is particularly the case where the man and woman are the same age. For the reasons mentioned above, the man in the equation will often feel less compulsion to get married, which means that the woman may invest far more emotion and energy into trying to make it work than he does. Even if he likes her, he may not feel compelled to do anything about it, simply because he isn’t under the same time pressures she is and knows he can meet someone down the track with relative ease.

Women who are interested in someone are forced to pull a Khadija and involve a third party. This can rob them of autonomy over the process and can be embarrassing and awkward, particularly when the third party isn’t someone they know all that well. But what are the other options, besides sitting back and waiting for the guy to notice them? (Admittedly, I know it’s not very fun for men to feel they have to put their dignity and heart on the line when pursuing someone, but more women would do it if it wasn’t so frowned upon.)

4.) Parental restrictions

While men are certainly not immune from parental pressures and restrictions, these often fall more heavily on the daughters of the family than the sons. Part of this is due to the perception of men as head of the household, which means that if a man marries a woman or a different culture or even a different religion, he is still seen to rule the roost. But if a woman wants to marry a man of a different culture or sect, her parents will often block her pathway entirely, leaving her with the choice of either giving up on the person or breaking her parents’ hearts.

5.) Greater impetus, more to lose

If and when women feel restricted in the home, they may seek out marriage as a means of achieving greater autonomy. But in order for her to get married, she must observe the rules of propriety and never, ever, ever (did I say ever?) sin or make a slip-up. If she does, the court of public opinion can be utterly unforgiving. Whether it’s choice in clothing or physical intimacy before marriage, things just seem to stick to women more so than men and be policed with more intensity. Many women have spoken of their frustration about men who indulge in all sorts of fun activities (cough) and then waltz back in and marry a sweet little cutie pie without too much difficulty. Women who have been in previous relationships or who have been divorced find that their options may find they are limited to marrying someone from overseas, which may or may not be an option they’re comfortable with. Some end up being forced to look outside the community and try to ‘convert’ a non-Muslim man, seeing their chance of meeting a Muslim who accepts them as almost non-existent.

None of what I’ve written is particularly controversial or new, but it’s important to recognise the very real and harsh impact these issues have on people, the hidden stories of frustration and despair, the resignation to a life without a partner or a life with a partner they ‘settled’ for. Those who end up getting married attribute it to naseeb, as do those who stay single, but no one should have to accept injustice and a life of enforced solitude as their naseeb. To love and be loved is the greatest mercy we have in this life, and it is our responsibility to ensure that each and every person has the opportunity to share in this love.

Is desegregation the answer to Muslim marriage woes?

Segregation is one of those topics people tend to get up in arms about, whether for or against. Some people prefer partitions. Some people won’t attend events with partitions. Those who oppose segregation tend to be either married couples who want to go to events together, or singles who lament their missed opportunity to mingle with the opposite sex. (Of course, there are conscientious objectors too, but let’s just leave them out of the discussion for now.) This begs the question: is segregation killing your chances of getting married?

At first glance, the answer could be yes. If there are no opportunities for people to see each other, let alone talk, it’s virtually impossible to meet anyone at Muslim events. Even when there’s no partition, social conventions often dictate minimal contact between the sexes. No one is going to escort you out of the building if you do talk to someone of the opposite sex, but it’s not easy. If you don’t know the person, it’s not the done thing to approach them and just say ‘so, isn’t this panel discussion on gender rights in Islam fascinating?’ Even if you have a slight acquaintance with the person, you usually need some pretext to strike up a conversation. This is particularly the case for females, who are often discouraged from initiating any form of expressing interest out of fear of appearing ‘desperate’.

Consequently, many people get into what I like to call a ‘locked eye romance’: exchanging glances and smiles over the refreshments table (everyone suddenly becomes a tea drinker at these things), maybe even a friend request, but not having the space or confidence to do anything further. This is typically the case in MSAs, where people may see each other every other week at BBQs or lectures but have little opportunity to engage in conversation. But this scenario plays out even after people have left university, leaving 20somethings to play the let’s-look-at-each-other-across-the-room game long after it was a fun teenage distraction. This can leave people dispirited and frustrated, and unless there’s a mutual friend who can help out, it frequently fizzles out and goes nowhere.

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The lack of opportunity to talk to people of the opposite sex has one rather hilarious side effect: incentivising volunteering. Muslims love a good volunteer session, because not only do they get to feel all warm and fuzzy inside, but they also get an added bonus: a legitimate excuse to mix with people of the opposite sex. Whether it’s helping out on a uni Shura, feeding the homeless or planting some cute little seedlings, activities will necessitate some level of interaction, and from there, it’s much easier to strike up a conversation organically. Volunteering is seen as a less confronting way of meeting people than an explicitly matrimonial event, since everything happens ‘incidentally’. Of course, it could be seen as slightly problematic that people are volunteering partly to meet a cutie with a social conscience, but others see it as the only real ‘in’ when everything else is segregated.

But is desegregation the saviour of the shoddy Muslim matrimonial scene? Well, not really. It may eliminate some problems, such as a lack of opportunity, but it can introduce all kinds of other pesky dilemmas. If people are very casual about gender interaction, it could very likely result in a very relaxed, let’s-talk-for-years-before-we-decide attitude to marriage. This could work for some people, but for others, it’s just plain annoying and not at all conducive to finding a spouse. It’s all too common for people to get stuck in the Muslim friendzone, a place where hangouts and flirtations abound but from which marriages very rarely eventuate.

The Muslim friendzone is not an entirely comfortable place to be, even for people who aren’t particular fussed about gender mixing. It’s difficult for Muslim men and women to become BFFs in the first place because so many topics are just entirely off-limits. If they do become close, one person will often decide that they want more and end up either getting rejected in spectacular fashion or pining away in secret, reading text messages dozens of times to extract hidden meanings.  Inevitably, people tend to distance themselves from their friends of the opposite sex once they get married, so some might argue that there’s not much point in investing in a relationship which is bound to die off.

I don’t have any solutions as to how to crack the code of meeting someone. Clearly, it’s not as simple as having a big fat freemixing fest. Some people may argue that it’s not the Muslim community’s responsibility to find you a husband/wife, that if you come to Islamic classes or events your intention shouldn’t be to meet people. However, some may argue that marriage is a communal responsibility and that if we as a community don’t do more to facilitate marriages, people will resort to less reputable, riskier methods. I definitely see the issue of marriage as something we all should invest in and share as a communal responsibility, but I’m just not sure how this should be addressed. The more I see, the more I think it’s simply a matter of luck/naseeb/whatever-you-want-to-call-it, of being in the right place and the right mentality at the right time. Whether you want to wait for that to happen or try to cook up a bit of your own naseeb over a bake sale is entirely your call.

How do you think Muslims could more easily meet and form connections? Does there need to be a more concerted event as a community to facilitate marriages?

What it’s like to get married at 18

by Aisyah Shah Idil

It was my first year of university, and I was missing my friends desperately. None of them attended the university I did, so I made regular trips on the 891 bus to see them. It was the midday bus stop crowd – full of bored, listless students. I sympathized – UNSW’s stairs were nothing to scoff at.

I milled about, checked my watch, looked to my right – and stopped, dumbstruck.

Him! I knew him! I’d met him years ago, at an Islamic class. We knew each other, but lost contact soon after. That I had a huge crush on him was of little consequence.

I crept up behind him and said hi. He tore his earphones out of his ears and grinned widely at me – the both of us erupting into excited catch-ups. I noticed his hands were shaking.

Half a year later, we were married.

My husband was seventeen, and I was eighteen. By most people’s standards, that’s a fairly young age to get married. It’s been two years since I saw him at the bus stop, and in that time, I have learnt so much more than I ever imagined. About myself and my husband, our flaws and our strengths – how difficult it is to assert your standing in family gatherings where you are both the youngest and just how fun it is to be in the same uni tutorial as your husband.

But being married young does have its challenges. Neither of us had jobs when we got married – or all the trappings of wealth that it came with. My wedding dress was a present from my mother, and he wore his beat-up Vans. We had no lavish buffet, no honeymoon abroad. We didn’t have the immediate aura of Adulthood ™ – but we were honest in our love for each other, and we were willing to learn.

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(Also, we’ve been accused of adultery far more than is reasonable. Hanging out at a bus-stop with my husband wasn’t exactly asking for a car full of men to stop outside and shout ‘haram!’ at us, but hey, what do I know. It seemed pretty clear to them, considering they came back three times.

Pro-tip: don’t accuse people of adultery. It will never end well.)

I always feel a little bemused when people ask me what it’s like to be married young. Young marriage is my only experience of marriage, and it’s about as strangely wonderful as it gets. When I procrastinate for my university assignments, I have my husband to hug me and tell me everything will be okay. When I realise I’ve been on my laptop too long and miss my friends, it’s my husband that makes sure I text them. When my husband got his P’s, I was the first person he told.

This is my normality. It is nothing like I thought it would be, and yet so, so much more beautiful.

When you have people mocking the idea that you, you with all your wide-eyed inexperience, your freshly framed school graduation paper, your lack of whatever adulthood is marked by, could ever love deeply enough to want marriage – could ever love deeply enough to make it last – it can hurt.

And when enough people do it, it can sound true.

But this is the thing – I believe that every single one of us is capable of immense, wondrous love. Love that is a tiny reflection of the sheer mercy and rahma of Allah, Most High. However it manifests is up to you – be it to your spouse, your friends, your parents, your teachers, your pets – or all of them! Because at the root of it, I believe love is the same throughout. It is the sincere concern for one another, the want to have the other be well, and whole, and happy and healthy. It is that longing to truly know one another, and to be truly known by one another.

And that is never bound by age.

Marrying my husband was a wonderful decision: A+ would do again. But it was still only a single decision. Far more important were the little ones – the decision to let my husband sleep in while I sort the groceries, the decision he makes to comfort me when I am scared of losing him. Loving is in action, and if you are worried that youth cannot love, then perhaps we haven’t taught them well enough.

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I’m not here to convince you that young marriages are worthy of respect. Opinions have no influence on worth, and every single person is worthy of love, respect and kindness. Whether they marry young, old, or never at all does nothing to change this. If I had married when I was thirty (as my younger self aspired to) with a career and car and savings all in hand, that would have been just as valid as my marriage today – no more and no less. No more deserving of people’s understanding, kindness and compassion; and no less of people’s condescension, judgment and assumption.

When I told the people around me that I was getting married, I took their ‘congratulations’ and ‘alf mabrooks’ with a healthy dose of surprise. Where was the ‘what are you doing with your life?’ or ‘you are far too young to make this decision’. The people I loved trusted my judgement more than I did, and that was humbling. They gave me loving advice, a soundboard for my fears and an assurance that no matter what: Allah SWT has me safely in His plan.

I got married with the quiet confidence that no matter what age I was, I would love and endeavor to love the man that Allah SWT opened my heart to. And at the age of eighteen, I promised Him to do just that.

 

Love before vs after marriage

Am I the only person who notices a recurring theme emerge in any number of people’s lives? This week’s one is definitely the place of love in the scheme of marriage: when it should be present, how much, what form it should take. I find it really interesting to observe how this debate is played out amongst young Muslims in the Western diaspora, many of whose parents may not necessarily have had ‘love marriages’. There is little precedent as to how to negotiate the complex mix of romantic sensibilities, obligation and religious propriety, the online banter, the text messages and Facebook comments. The gap between love and marriage is often the size of a chasm, and the paths to reconcile the two steep and difficult to manoeuvre.

But what precisely is a ‘love marriage’ in any case? It’s difficult to say. Often, love before marriage, if it’s ever acknowledged to exist in popular religious discourse, is characterised as frivolous, the unwelcome by-product of too many Hollywood rom coms. Very few people actually talk about the extent to which romantic love should guide our choice in partner. Very few people talk about what it means to be in love with someone before we’re actually married to them, perhaps because the simplest paradigm is that love just doesn’t exist outside of marriage, and if it does, it’s illicit or sinful. But there are so many shades of grey in this discussion. (Way more than 50, that’s for sure.) Sure, love is undeniably richer and deeper within the confines of a marriage, but how many people can claim that their decision to marry someone was entirely clinical and detached from any form of romantic feeling?

The extent to which love guides people’s decision to marry someone varies considerably amongst Muslims. There are extremes on either side of the spectrum, but a large portion of people are simply undecided and hover somewhere in the middle. For ease of reading, I’ll try to condense them into the following categories:

1.) Love comes after marriage

The people who espouse this mentality like to keep things simple. They aim to treat the search for a spouse as a ‘scientific’ process, one with set criteria and a concrete means by which to attain the person in possession of them. They try to only look when they feel they’re ready to get married, which saves them from cumbersome and distracting romantic entanglements. If they do fall in love with someone outside of marriage, in their mind it doesn’t necessarily follow that they should get married to that person, unless that person also happens to match their criteria.

When they do find someone who matches their criteria, they can often commit fairly quickly and easily. There is no giant chasm to cross, no real barriers except purely practical ones to sealing the deal: if they’re ready, they’ll just go for it. They are confident that where rationality and propriety leads, love will follow.

2.) There must be the potential for love, but not necessarily love itself

This is probably the most common mentality I’ve encountered. For many young Muslims, some sense of cultural or religious propriety prevents them from falling in love unreservedly with someone before they’re married to them. Perhaps they just don’t allow themselves to get close or intimate enough for that. But they must feel that behind the tentative explorations lies at least the potential for deep and satisfying romantic love, the kind they’re certain exists even if they haven’t personally experienced it.

If they don’t have at least some sort of romantic inclination towards the person, it will often be difficult to go plunging ahead into marriage. Whether they do or don’t make it to the Shaykh will often depend on how much they want to get married. If someone really wants to get married, they can often proceed on the smallest of inclinations, but if they’re not in a rush, it’ll often take much more to get them across the line.

3.) Love is a must or it’s a no-go

For some, love is a prerequisite. They simply wouldn’t be able to make such a huge step as marriage without it. Their love may have begun in an entirely ‘rational’ place, such as shared values and interests, but it will quickly spiral into a huge, beautiful, complex, metastasising web of feelings. Of course, loving someone is no guarantee that it will eventuate in marriage. Love doesn’t conquer all, it conquers some. We’ve all seen those couples who were deeply in love and thus triumphed over all the odds, but just as many crumble on the hard, jagged rocks of cultural/financial/timing/other obstacles.

Sometimes love aligns entirely with what’s easy, and these cases are most likely to eventuate in marriage. For example, if someone falls in love with a family friend of the same cultural background, similar levels of religious observance, similar education levels, financial goals etc., then they’re highly likely to just get married. But people often fall in love with less neat possibilities, and for these people the trek to the Shaykh can be long and arduous and filled with prickly thorns. This is why some feel love should be relegated to the back of the line of considerations: it can be a messy, messy means by which to choose a partner. To say ‘I want to marry you because I love you’ may be both the stupidest and bravest thing of all.

People may inhabit different categories at different points in life. Sometimes people try their hand at romantic love, get their heart broken and consequently migrate over to the ‘love comes after marriage’ camp. Sometimes people try to force themselves to get married to the ‘sensible’ choice and find that they just can’t do it. Sometimes people marry the sensible choice and find that they fall passionately in love with them, and sometimes they just never experience passionate love at all and are content with that. There are no rulebooks in this game, no manuals by which we can operate. Each of us makes, and re-makes, and re-makes, our own path, losing love and finding it again as we stumble our way towards a life of folding laundry and making the bed with that special someone.

Where do you fit into this equation? Do you allow yourself to be guided by love when it comes to choosing a spouse?