‘If I get really desperate, I’ll just go to Lebanon/Pakistan/insert-country-here and find someone’.
If I had a dollar for every time I heard that statement, I’d be writing this from the Bahamas instead of my suburban couch. It’s terribly clichéd to say it, but I’ll say it anyway: increasingly, we are living in a global bubble. I often feel like there are so few degrees of separation between people that it’s all a bit claustrophobic. Social media gives us the sense, even if it’s not entirely accurate, that we have a portal to different countries, with those portals often being people we’ve never even met.
Even as we ‘connect’, the simultaneous sense of loneliness can fester. Routine and repetition can render us prone to the belief that we know everyone in our own city and that if there was anyone to meet, we’d have met them already. Put this sense of boredom together with the belief in global portals of discovery and we have some pretty interesting possibilities arising. We can talk to people in different countries and on different continents and see if there’s the potential of a shared life together, wherever that may be.
But it seems not all countries were created equal. There is often a marked difference in how people raised in Western countries view the idea of marrying someone raised in another Western country as opposed to marrying someone from their parents’ country of origin. This means someone in Australia may be perfectly fine with talking to someone in Canada, but they may not be as open to talking to someone born and raised in Iraq.
Much of this may be explained by language barriers. If someone doesn’t speak a language other than English fluently, they will naturally experience communication issues with someone whose English isn’t fluent. But it’s more than that. Many people refer to ways of being particular to the ‘third culture generation’: those who were raised in a Western country to migrant parents, negotiating their way through different modes of existence and forming their own mishmash of an identity. Those with a very strong sense of cultural identity may feel they relate well to people from their parents’ country of origin, and as such are very open to marrying someone who was raised there.
But even so, a kind of stigma is often attached to these unions. People whisper behind their hands, well, they clearly gave up and couldn’t find someone here. The perception exists that it’s easier to find someone to marry overseas, perhaps grounded in suspicion of the motives of those who don’t hold Western passports. It’s a common perception that many people are just after visas or green cards and will marry anyone to get it. ‘Fobs’ are the butt of many jokes, with everything from their broken English to their way of dressing becoming the subject of derision.
I find it all very interesting, especially from where I stand as a person whose parents and relatives overseas speak English as their main language. I’ve certainly never had anyone show any interest whatsoever in my Australian passport when I go to South Africa, and so part of me feels sceptical when friends talk about dangling their passport in front of people overseas and watching the hordes run in. I also know many people who’ve simply met someone overseas and hit it off with them, just as they would with someone here, and so I hate to think that their relationship would be attributed to a mere visa hunt by the overseas party.
I also wonder just how similar the experiences and outlooks of Muslims in different Western countries are. How different is the Canadian Muslim experience to the British Muslim experience to the Australian Muslim experience? Of course, migration patterns differ between these countries, which results in different demographic mixes and community dynamics. For example, the migrant US Muslim community is known to be particularly affluent and well-educated. Friends I know who’ve mingled extensively with people from the US Muslim community comment that they seem more ‘liberal’ than people in Australia when it comes to relations with the opposite sex, which makes for interesting international love conundrums. Even here in Australia much is made of the distinction between Muslims in Sydney and Melbourne, and within cities all kinds of different communities and sub-communities exist.
Where is this all going to go? What kinds of identities will the children of Muslim Australian-US-Indian-Somali parents ascribe to? Will these apps and sites, created to foster country-wide and global connections, achieve their aims? I’m not sure. There are too many variables involved, too many factors at play. All I know is that the world for me has simultaneously contracted and expanded as I’ve gotten older. I’m more conscious than ever of all that lies beyond the city of my birth, but am also more conscious of how modernity and globalisation is condensing and eroding culture and difference into one soupy hot mess. I wonder about all the people who are getting left behind as people like me, the privileged, well-travelled, well-educated elite, continue to do our global dances from retreats to conventions to conferences, meeting more and more people just like us.
Would you marry someone from another country? Would it matter which country they were from?