Category Archives: Obstacles

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?

 

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 type of Muslim single are you?

The last post got me thinking a whole lot about the life of a single Muslim. I’ve been to four weddings already this year. Last year, I went to about six. Nevertheless, I can’t seem to shake off the feeling that we’re entering some kind of weird post-marriage era, a kind of dystopian otherworld where people are staying single for yonks longer than their parents and grandparents did. This may be as often due to choice as it is due to circumstance.

As always, I insert my tedious disclaimer about generalisations being generalisations and not granite fatwas. But enough with the disclaimers, let’s categorise people now:

1.) The cynical/bitter single

This person feels that they’ve been burned too many times to even think about putting their heart on the line. If anyone brings up the topic of marriage, they’ll often make sarcastic comments or simply try to change the subject. They pretend not to care at all about getting married, and may have trained themselves enough to believe that this is the case.

How to nab them: Underneath their somewhat uninviting exterior, they’re often deeply caring and emotional. If you’re patient enough, you can draw them out, but do it slowly or you’ll scare them off.

 2.) The meh single

This person is either indifferent to the idea of getting married or just doesn’t care quite enough to do anything about it. As a result, they’re most likely going to get married through ‘traditional’ means, and they’re indifferent to that prospect too. They’re sure it’ll happen at some point, and they’re willing to sit back and wait until it does.

How to nab them: They can be quite difficult to spot because of their low-key modus operandi, but if you do, you can probably coax them into something fairly easily. (As long as they like you, that is.) They’re pretty meh, remember?

3.)  The holding-out-for-Mr/Ms-right-single

This person has most likely been in a relationship/had strong feelings for someone and as a result, is waiting to ‘feel it’ again. They feel that they’ve experienced an intense connection and as such, anything less will just be not good enough.

How to nab them: Unfortunately, there’s not much you can do to engage this type of person. They have to really, really like you for them to actually pursue anything serious, and there’s very little you can do to try to ‘induce’ those feelings.

 4.) The preoccupied single

This person isn’t averse to marriage; rather, it’s just not high on their long list of priorities. Whether it’s career or study hurdles they’re trying to get over, they have their eye fixed firmly on the prize and very little will divert them at this point in their life.

How to nab them: Once they feel that they’re ready, they will commit fairly quickly, so you just need to wait for the right opportunity. Alternately, you may be in the same field or sphere as them and catch their eye as the perfect potential partner in crime.

 5.) The I’m-not-ready single

This person just doesn’t feel ready. This is either because they’re not quite sure where they’re studies/career/existence is going, or because they know enough of where they’re going to know they aren’t there yet. As such, they feel hesitant about expressing interest in someone, worrying that they just won’t be up to the job.

How to nab them: In order for them to consider you, they’ll need to know that you value them for their innate personal qualities rather than their job title or salary package. For some, these reassurances may be enough. For others, they won’t be able to commit, regardless of how much they like you or how much you like them.

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 6.) The cute youngling single

This person may be open to the idea of getting married, but knows that it may only happen in the distant future because they’re fresh out of high school. They often have an upbeat, rosy attitude towards marriage because no one has trampled all over their heart (yet).

How to nab them: Just ask! An expression of interest is sure to get their heart aflutter.

 7.) The oft-thwarted single

This person isn’t single out of choice. They’ve been trying to meet people and may have had a few close tries, but somehow they just never make it over the line. They’ll keep trying until they get there, and are open to considering just about anybody with a full set of teeth and a heart of bronze.

How to nab them: You just need to cross paths and their interest may be sparked. From here, you really don’t have to do all that much-they’ve got it all covered.

 8.) The clueless single

This person does in fact want to get hitched, but doesn’t really know how to go about it. They may not have the connections to meet people or the social savvy to be able to know how to express interest, and they’re left scratching their head as to how it’s all supposed to work.

How to nab them: Just extend them a helping hand. If you like them and they like you, there’s no reason they won’t extend theirs.

 9.) The playing-the-field single

This person’s detractors may label them a ‘player’, but they don’t see it that way. They just want to keep their options open. They want to see what’s ‘out there’, whether because they feel they’re too young/too inexperienced/too cool to commit to one person just yet.

How to nab them: Unless they feel you’re something out-of-this world, they won’t commit. But they will get bored of keeping their options open at some point, so if you’re there at that precise moment, you may find yourself the lucky final recipient of their attentions.

10.) The precise-fit single

This person has very specific requirements for a partner, and as such has narrowed their field considerably. Sometimes, these requirements are all of their own making, but they may be related to parental expectations too e.g. marrying a person of the same culture.

How to nab them: Their openness to someone who doesn’t fit their requirements will depend on their level of discipline. Some people stick to their guns no matter what, while others will let their feelings be their guide. Or alternately, you could be the lucky person who just happens to tick all of their boxes.

11.) (you thought I’d stop at 10, didn’t you?)

The single-who-isn’t-really-single single

This person’s relationship status is a mystery. They’re certainly not married, but that’s as much as anybody knows. Whether they’re pining over an unrequited love, secretly seeing a requited love, struggling with their sexuality or preoccupied with the whereabouts of the Loch Ness Monster, nobody is quite sure .

How to nab them: You can’t pursue them until you find out exactly what their deal is, but be warned: this sleuthing may take a while. Or maybe it won’t. After all, Muslims are pros at knowing things about people we’ve never even spoken to in person.

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Why don’t people matchmake?

The very word ‘matchmaking’ tends to send people running for cover, whether it be the thought of being set up or setting other people up. In a society where individual choice and autonomy reigns supreme (thank you, modernity), it’s not hard to see why. Many people are fiercely protective of their love lives, resisting any perceived ‘interference’. But is matchmaking really the big nasty it’s made out to be?

The answer is no, it’s not. In fact, it’s all the more necessary and handy for the Muslim diaspora in the West, largely displaced from traditional support systems for finding a partner and swimming in a big sea of ineligible classmates and colleagues. The increase in online marriage sites and Tinder-esque apps reflects the confusing mesh of requirements for love amongst Muslims in the 21st century. We want romance, but we also want commitment. Some of us have families who can find us someone, but we aren’t up for that. Some of us don’t have that option at all, whether it’s because our families are non-Muslim or simply not well-connected. We want ‘organic’ connections, despite knowing that the chances of simply bumping into that special someone are slim to nil. We feel like we know most of the people there are to know, and the people we don’t know…well, we just don’t know them and we aren’t sure how we could go about knowing them.

This is where the third party referral system can step in. I call it referral rather than recommendation because I know the very idea of vouching for a person’s character puts people off matchmaking entirely. They worry that if it doesn’t work out, they’ll somehow be held responsible. They feel like they’re just not qualified to make an assessment as to the compatibility of two people, and feel it would be presumptuous of them to even try.

But what are we really doing when we matchmake? At its simplest, all we’re doing is providing an introduction. Whatever happens from there is completely up to the people in question. Whether it works out or doesn’t is immaterial because we’ve done our part: put two people in contact who wouldn’t have otherwise had the agency or courage to. If I suggest a person talk to another person, I’m not claiming to know that they’re meant to be together. I’m not claiming that it even has a high chance of working out. All I’m doing is providing an ‘in’ for them to use as they see fit.

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Of course, that doesn’t mean that we should try to set two people up simply because one is a girl and one is a guy. Some thought should be given to whether they’d be compatible on at least a superficial level, but if it’s presumptuous to think two people are compatible, it’s also presumptuous to think two people won’t be compatible. People aren’t linear; they’re jagged and complex and multi-faceted. I’d much rather give two people the chance to discover that they’re not compatible for themselves, rather than simply assume that they’re not and thereby deprive them of even the slightest chance they may have had.

I know, I know, it’s not exactly how many people picture meeting a partner, but I’m pretty sure no one fantasises about meeting a partner on an app either.  At least with the introductory system, someone can at the very least vouch for the fact that someone is who they say they are and isn’t a wanted criminal (in this jurisdiction, if not elsewhere). A guiding hand in the process, however invisible, can also be invaluable. Negotiating everything on our own, as exciting and romantic as it may be, is often a spectacular failure, given the lack of parameters or set expectations. (Oddly enough, many of us seem to prefer the spectacular failures to the perceived rigidity and constraints of letting our family or friends have a hand in selecting a partner.)

The other good thing about matchmaking is that it’s a fairly fluid sort of institution. It ranges from people being set up who don’t know each other at all to people who may have an interest in each other but are too scared or don’t know how to go about pursuing it. In the latter cases, the matchmaker is simply there to facilitate the interest. This scenario is a lot more common than people realise, but it’s fairly obvious why it happens: it’s difficult, scary, risky and potentially darn embarrassing to try to make something happen with someone we barely know, and perhaps even more so when we do know the person.

If we see marriage as a purely individual, private project for each person to determine on their own, we’ll naturally resist both the impulse to suggest people to others or have people suggested to us. Frequently, the desire to respect people’s privacy or not to offend holds us back from inquiring about their lives, their happiness or lack thereof. The burden for seeking assistance usually lies with the person in need of it, but often people are too embarrassed or ashamed to ask. After all, who’d be comfortable to ask someone to help them find a spouse? It implies we’re incapable of doing it ourselves, and no one likes that idea. But if we see marriage as a communal project and the path to it as a communal struggle, we’re a lot more likely to both offer and accept help. People struggling to get meet potential partners often share similar issues: family pressures or constraints, lack of opportunity to widen their circles, lack of time or energy to actively seek it out. If we’re all on the same journey, why not give each other a leg-up and help to spread the love as we go along?

 

Respect yourself before you wreck yourself

There are several kinds of people you should just avoid. These include anyone who doesn’t enjoy eating avocados, people who talk really loudly during movies, and of course, people who don’t want to get married but just talk to people of the opposite sex for the heck of it. (Note: by ‘talk’, I don’t mean the dude who said salaams to you out as you passed him in the hallway. He was probably just being polite.)

But should everyone just get together and throw rotten avocados at these people? Not really, although it might be a hoot. In the majority of cases, the signs were there from the beginning, if only you weren’t so silly as to fixate on signs of your own creation. People send mixed signals, sure, but that in itself is indicative that something isn’t right. If you ignore these signs, you ignore them at your own peril.

Think of making a relationship ‘official’ as similar to paying taxes. No one really likes paying taxes, but you do it because you feel that ultimately, there’s some greater good to be served. The same goes for going to meet someone’s parents, making awkward chit-chat with their relatives and forking out time and money on functions that neither you nor your spouse-to-be will actually enjoy. It’s simply the price you have to pay to get to the greater good, which in this case is getting to be with a person you think is pretty cool.

If someone wants to talk to you for extended periods of time without stating any kind of formal intention/commitment, they’re in effect dodging their taxes. They get all the fun of having someone to talk to when they’re bored or in need of emotional support, but without any of the hassle or stress of dealing with its repercussions. They get the best of both worlds: all the companionship of being in a relationship, but all the space and independence of being single. This is fine if it’s what both people want, but in many cases, the arrangement suits only one person and the other person is simply left to hope that something serious will eventuate.

But who allows this skewed state of affairs to exist? You do, of course. By talking to someone who refuses to commit, you in effect become the eternal optimist. You hope that day by day, conversation by conversation, you’re coming closer to your end goal. You labour under the illusion that you need to keep talking to the person you’re interested in and things will just magically fall into place. All you need to do is make yourself available and the rest will take care of itself.

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This line of thinking can be utterly destructive, because it neglects to take into account a simple fact: you can’t drag someone to the altar. If someone just doesn’t want to/can’t get married for reasons of their own, they’re not going to be swayed by the awesome conversations you might have with them, or the fact that you both really like talking about Russia’s geopolitical influence. You can have the most amazing ‘connection’ with someone, but if they won’t do anything about it, that very connection will bring you unimaginable heartbreak and grief.

This is why the smartest, scariest way to handle these things is the upfront approach. What this means is that a person asks pretty early on into a regular, continuous stream of conversation, something along the lines of ‘what’s going on here?’ It could be that nothing is going on. It could be that the person freaks out completely and runs in the other direction, even if they had subconsciously been harbouring the same idea. But if they do freak out, think about it this way: isn’t it better to know early on that this person just isn’t interested in or ready for marriage?

Any person who’s worth their mustard will at least respect you for not wanting to keep talking indefinitely without some kind of stated purpose. Besides, if they are genuinely, seriously interested, you bringing up their intentions only speeds up the process, and if they’re not interested enough to do anything about it, you know early on and can cut your losses fairly easily. You don’t have to do it in the first conversation, but if you’ve been talking for months on end and you haven’t even discussed marriage at all, then you have to face the fact that it’s probably never going to go anywhere.

It doesn’t matter what their reasons are for not wanting to/being able to get married, because it’s just not up to you to try to talk them into it. This is yet another argument in favour of making the move early, because if you let things drag out, you’ll start getting emotionally attached, and things will get real messy, real fast. You’ll try to hold on, they’ll try to let go, or at the very most, they’ll allow you to keep talking to them when they feel like it. All that will happen if this state of affairs continues is that you’ll fall down flat on your face, and they’ll have already run so far that they won’t be anywhere in the vicinity to help pick you up.

So respect yourself. Don’t let someone in when they’re keeping you outside the gates. If you want to get married, be open and honest about your intentions and you will attract openness and honesty in return. You’ll probably scare off a few jerks, but no one wants to marry a jerk anyway.

How do you know when someone is serious about getting married? Have you ever been in one of these pseudo-relationships?

Why people ignore the obvious (but shouldn’t)

A while back, I wrote an article about the ‘new girl/guy effect’ i.e the phenomenon whereby a person who isn’t known to a certain circle of people enters it and suddenly becomes the talk of the town. In the few months since I wrote that post, I’ve been pondering on the opposite of that: to put it bluntly, ‘the old girl/guy effect’. In nicer, more nuanced terminology, this is the phenomenon whereby people feel that they’re a bit too well-acquainted to ever be anything more than just ‘friends’. Many people have a specific rule that they will not consider someone who’s somewhat part of their social circle, as if the pools of friends and potential partners simply cannot overlap. They might ‘use’ their friends of the opposite sex to get to their friends, but the friends themselves will never be potential spouse material.

If you’ve read anything I’ve ever written, you’d know that I usually try to keep my personal opinions out of the picture. But hey, it is my blog, so once every so often I think I’m entitled to leave them in, and in this case I’ll freely admit that I find the above mentality both puzzling and slightly distasteful. As a lawyer, I’m used to thinking in terms of arguments and counter-arguments, so let’s have a go at the common justifications for this mentality and why I disagree with them:

Argument 1: It’ll be too awkward if things don’t work out, so it’s easier just to not even go there.

Counter-argument: Things are always awkward when they don’t work out with anyone. Plus, there are many bonuses if it actually does work out.

Of all the arguments against considering friends, this one has the most logical validity. I get it; there’s a lot more at stake when we know someone well and interact with them socially than when we don’t know them from a bar of soap. We can’t just walk away if things don’t work out because it’s highly likely that we’ll have to see them again and again and again…and maybe even again.

But getting to know anyone at all requires at least some point of intersection. At least with friends we have an easy way ‘in’, if not an easy way out. We know a lot of basic facts about them and can vouch for the fact that they aren’t clinically insane. Plus, if things do work out, it’s all the more beautiful: there’s already a closely-knit group of people to provide support, advice and lots of duas for both parties. If it doesn’t work out, the pre-existing friendship may provide grounds for mutual respect long after the romantic ardour cools.

Argument 2: I already know them, so if there was relationship potential I’d have known it long ago.

Counter-argument: How well do you know your ‘friends’ of the opposite sex in any case? Not all that well, perhaps.

We all know that there’s a wide spectrum of practices in relation to male-female interactions amongst Muslims, ranging from people who only interact where necessary to people who are happy to hang out in group settings or even one-on-one for a coffee or an outing. But even amongst the friendliest of the friendlies, how friendly are we talking?

For many of us, there are deeply ingrained sensibilities regarding what we can and can’t talk about with people of the opposite sex. Even amongst people we are reasonably ‘friendly’ with, it’s not very likely that we’ll be touching on (lol) very personal topics such as our family dynamics, our struggles with our nafs and especially not our romantic successes and failures. In effect, this means that we don’t necessarily know our so-called ‘friends’ very well at all. Our interactions are probably in group situations for the most part and not one-on-one, which again limits how well we get to know them. We may know a lot about their hobbies and whether they approved or disapproved of the ‘Happy’ Muslims video, but this barely scratches the surface of who they are, or for that matter, who we are, because they will only know the same of us.

This being the case, it hardly makes sense to relegate someone to the friendzone simply because they’re, well, our ‘friends’. We don’t treat our workmates the same way we treat our siblings, so why do we assume that we know what someone will be like in a relationship just because we are superficially acquainted with them on a social level? I don’t assume I know someone well because I see them at events or have seen some of their posts on Facebook, and I certainly hope they don’t think they know me based on these things either.

Argument 3: There’s no chemistry/spark. That’s why we’re just friends.

Counter-argument: Have you ever even tried to see them in another light? Or are you only looking for ‘love at first sight’? (Rhyme not intended, but meh, it’s there, it can stay there.)

I see the same thing happen again and again: someone will have any number of people of the opposite sex that they interact with regularly and get along with really well, but they’re either too busy pining after someone they barely know or looking for some magical ‘click’ to even notice. They may even lament the lack of ‘available’ people, but they know any number of singles of the opposite sex that they just won’t consider.

The problem is that familiarity breeds contempt. In a romantic context, this means that it’s very difficult to maintain a sense of mystery, a thrill, if we’re interacting with someone on a regular basis. This sense of mystery, that slight distance, is an integral part of what many people deem to be attraction. But if, for example, X is working closely with Y on a project, or they’re part of the same wider social group, they’re likely to see each other first thing in the morning. They’ll see each other grumpy. They’ll see all those Whatsapp messages with the stupid memes and hear all the jokes that don’t quite hit the mark. They’ll see them chowing down their lunch, and we all know that nothing kills romance faster than seeing someone with their mouth full. We just don’t seem to want someone who’s seen us sans mystique, which makes no sense whatsoever; the proximity of married life will very quickly and brutally knock the mystique out of the coolest of customers.

The funny thing is that the very qualities we’re seeking in someone are often the same qualities the people in our direct vicinity possess. Why else would we be part of the same sphere as them? But because they’re right in front of us, we just can’t see them. They remind us too much of our ordinary, everyday lives, and what is love but a yearning for the extraordinary? We want to be transported, inspired. Good old-fashioned conversations just don’t cut it; we want sparks and lightning bolts and all manner of natural phenomena. We don’t take note of the fact that our easy, free-flowing conversations might translate well into a romantic context, and we certainly don’t marvel at their intelligence/good looks/good character because we’ve stopped even noticing these things, if ever we did.

Of course, I’m hardly suggesting that people consider those they find repulsive or unlikeable. But if someone is our friend, how likely is it that we find them repulsive or unlikeable in any case?

Argument 4: I’m just not thinking about marriage right now.

Counter-argument: Okay, but if/when you are, you’ve probably already dismissed your ‘friends’ from the equation because they saw you precisely when you weren’t ready to think about it.

It’s the stuff of many terrible movies: someone ignores their best friend in favour of some out-of-their-league hottie, then realises their friend was the right one all along after falling flat on their face. But many Muslims seem to eschew this kind of Hollywood-esque journey. Once we place someone in one category, we seem to find it very hard to re-categorise. This tends to mean that once someone has been friendzoned, they don’t often escape from its confines. If someone wasn’t ready for marriage and decides they now are, they often feel slightly ashamed of their former self. They feel it’s easier to be with someone who didn’t see them in larvae stage; they only want to be seen as they now are, fully formed.

I don’t buy this at all. If someone has seen us progress along our journey, they ought to respect the path we’ve taken and appreciate how hard we’ve worked on ourselves to get there. We shouldn’t feel ashamed that someone has seen us at our formative stages, nor should that person feel that they have the right to look down upon us because they have. (Besides, when can anyone claim to be fully formed? A line in Shantaram describes it well: ‘The fully mature man has about two seconds left to live’.)

Anyway, that’s that. The reality on the ground means that that if we’re interested in someone and want things to work out, we probably shouldn’t try to use friendship as an ‘in’ unless that friendship is simply a transient pretext to get to the next stage. ‘Stay away, or make it happen right away’ seems to be the order of the day. (Not intended either, but I suppose it’s kinda catchy.)