Category Archives: Marriage

Do people actually want to get married?

The other day, I was interviewed by a journalist about the topic of Muslim ‘dating’. At one point in the interview, she asked me if there is a ‘marriage crisis’ amongst Muslims. I wasn’t quite sure how to answer that. In previous posts, I’ve discussed reasons why it may be that people are finding it difficult to meet a partner (see the ‘Why Can’t I Get Married’ post, for example). But this discussion always assumes that people actually do want to get married, an assumption I’m coming to question the more people I see and talk to about this topic.

It’s easy to see why this assumption exists. Being in a relationship is seen as a default state for many, whether due to social conditioning or some innate primal instinct for companionship. For Muslims in particular, there seems to be a whole host of reasons why people would be keen to get married: religious dictates, prohibition of physical intimacy before marriage, familial pressures. But is it safe to assume that every unmarried Muslim is actually looking to get married?

The short answer is no. The long answer is, well, let’s-take-a closer-look-because-things-aren’t-exactly-what-they-seem. One thing to note in this discussion is that there often seems to be a discrepancy between the genders when it comes to this issue. The perception exists, whether true or not, that Muslim women are keener to get hitched than Muslim men. If this is true, there are some fairly obvious explanations as to why this may be the case.

Firstly, when we speak of people not wanting to get married, this is often a case of not wanting to get married right now, and there are many more reasons for Muslim women to be aware of the right now factor than Muslim men. For one thing, there’s the ever-present, oft-reminded ticking of biological clocks. A 35 year old single woman may be staring down the barrel of never having children, while a single 35 year old male is still looking forward to this possibility.

Another reason why it may appear that Muslim men are less keen to get hitched right here, right now is that they associate marriage with a high degree of responsibility. This may be both an expectation they impose on themselves or one imposed by women and their families. This being the case, it’s easy to see why some Muslim men may feel that they just don’t have it together. They’re not working full-time. They may still be studying. These aren’t prohibitive factors to getting married in a practical sense, but for some they form an insurmountable mental obstacle.

But wait, there’s more! There also happens to be the perception that women may attain more autonomy in marriage than they currently have as singles in their parents’ home, while men may associate marriage with a loss of autonomy. These men may be working full-time and have their finances sorted, but they’re keener to spend their dough on trips with friends and just ‘enjoying life’ than mundane, married people things like paying rent. In contrast, some Muslim women, even when working full-time, are simply not able to do the things their brothers can. They may not be allowed to travel on their own. They may have parents imposing curfew on them. For them, getting married may seem like an automatic ticket to adulthood and independence.

Of course, there are many reasons why people might not want to get married, male or female. Sometimes the thought of a lifelong commitment is just plain scary. As Muslims, it’s not like we can live with the person before getting married to them, so there are always going to be certain blind spots. Sometimes a history of heartbreak and failed relationships can render people unwilling to try again. Sometimes, people are just content with the lives that they have and feel no compulsion to complicate it with the introduction of another person.

Something I often think about is whether there will be a whole bunch of people who will just never get married, and not necessarily out of choice. Again, this seems to be more heavily skewed to the female side. This is perhaps part of the ‘marriage crisis’: people who want to get married, but simply can’t. Often, this seems to be a question of timing. At different parts of our lives, our desire to get married may be greater than others, and if we meet someone when we’re just not that keen, we won’t give it our best shot. But then we may find that in a year or two, when we’re actually seeking a partner, none seem to present themselves. This is why the funny little phenomenon of marrying someone almost as insurance for later comes into play i.e. people getting married partly out of fear that they won’t be able to find someone later.

Despite this rather grim little discussion, I still conclude that most people are at least open to the possibility of meeting someone, and if they like that someone enough, will do their best to commit to marriage. Everyone, from the broken-hearted to the happiest of singles can be coaxed gently into love and marriage. Our capacity to love and be loved is surprisingly strong, even against the odds, and there are many, many, many odds, so many that it seems wondrous that anyone even makes it to the altar. (Or masjid, to be more accurate.) But therein lies the very reason why we keep trying: the wondrous, frustrating, dynamic, amazing institution that is marriage.

The most annoying things you can say to your single Muslim friends

Like pretty much everywhere else, the Muslim community can be a cruel and inhospitable landscape for singles to negotiate. If you’re too overt about wanting to get married, you’re seen as some kind of insecure, hormonally-charged weirdo. If you don’t seem all that interested in getting married, you’re seen as self-centred and are told to ‘grow up’. People are seldom shy about offering their ‘advice’ about what you can do to change or reconcile yourself to your relationship status, but this frequently descends into cute, well-meaning but rather hilarious clichés, as demonstrated below:

1.)    It’ll happen when you least expect it.

This is so incredibly clichéd that you can’t help but roll your eyes every time you hear it. What if you’re always expecting it? What if you’re not expecting it, but it just doesn’t happen either? Can you synchronise the moment you stop expecting it with the moment it actually happens?

2.) You’re just too picky.

This translates to ‘just marry the first dude/gal who isn’t certifiably insane’. Or, ‘marry your second cousin, it’s not like it’s your first!’

3.)    You gotta put yourself out there more!

To a certain extent, this is true. You’re probably not going to meet someone if you’re sitting at home and twiddling your thumbs, unless someone happens to pass by your front door and think your thumb-twiddling is really cute. But this begs the question: why is it often the most active and ‘visible’ people in the community who remain perennially single?

4.)    It’s because you’re too into your career/too opinionated/have a brain

This one is most often thrown at those poor Muslim women who are seen to be ‘intimidating’. Basically, the take-home message is this: alter your personality, lifestyle and values entirely, and then someone will love you for who you are.

5.)    One day, someone will come along and you’ll understand why it didn’t work out with all those other people.

This is one of those quotes everyone posts on Instagram in cursive writing against an ocean backdrop. Ah, the mythical Prince/Princess Charming who’ll redeem you and restore your broken trust in humankind…*tumbleweed blows*

imagesXI0ST7WP

Image from gossipaunty.com

6.)  Being single is awesome, enjoy it!

Any state you’re in is awesome if you feel it’s one you’ve at least had some say in. But if you feel as though you’ve been relegated there and have no way out, that’s when it tends to feel like you’re a mouse in some really trippy and unethical cosmetics experiment.

7.) Don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll be your turn soon.

Marriage is not a carousel ride with an orderly queuing system, folks. There are no ‘turns’ and no way of knowing where your place in the ‘queue’ is. The simple fact is that some people may never get married at all, and that’s fine if they’re fine with that reality.

8.) You just gotta have tawakkul, man.

Obvious statement is obvious. Besides, would you tell someone not to bother applying for jobs and just have tawakkul that one will shimmy its way over?

9.) Don’t worry, you still have plenty of time!

Time is all you got as a single person, baby. Nothing but time to hug your cat, water your cactus and get into Facebook fights with people you’ve never met.

10.) Maybe you’ve left it a bit late.

Ok, good. Now will you stop talking about it?

Seriously though, duas and love (of the most Halal version) to all the singles. If you’re searching, may Allah swt bless you with the best partner if it’s best for you, and if you’re happily solo, maybe, just maybe, it’ll happen when you least expect it. Now there’s one you haven’t heard before.

Reference checks

Pardon me for the unromantic analogy, but in many ways the process of meeting a spouse is comparable to hiring a new employee. You put out feelers when you’re looking, whether through word of mouth or outright ‘advertisement’. You cull people along the way who just don’t match the selection criteria. When you have a candidate in mind, you may just do some reference-checking to ensure that they’re not wanted for suspect offshore holdings in the Cayman Islands.

Of course, if it’s done the ‘traditional’ way then the reference-checking part is easy. You meet their family from the get-go, a third party will give you the lowdown on the person in question and there’ll usually be some kind of tenuous link between your family and theirs, even if it’s just that your third cousin’s husband’s son knows their great-aunt’s nephew. (By ‘knows’, I mean were at the same wedding with 500 other people ten years ago.) But when you’ve met someone ‘organically’ or are trying to meet people, how do you go about making sure that they actually:

  1. Want to get married
  2. Are single
  3. Aren’t wanted for suspect offshore holdings in the Cayman Islands.

The ‘single’ part is usually the easiest one to find out. While people don’t tend to broadcast their relationships before they put a ring on it, it’s not that difficult to do a bit of digging to find that information. Someone usually knows something, even if it’s .0001% of the truth. At this stage, you can then bow out gracefully and turn your attention to the next candidate/cry into a pillow/wait around to see if they become single.

But suppose they are single. How then are you to determine whether they actually want to get married? It’s foolish to assume that merely being single equates to possessing an active desire to get married. This is the mistake many people make when they either consider X, or consider suggesting X to Y: all they know is that X is single, and they don’t bother to dig any deeper.

It sounds obvious, but I’ll say it again: just because someone isn’t in a relationship doesn’t mean they’re looking to be in one. They could just enjoy being single for the time being. They could be recovering from a broken heart. They could be trying to make a bit of money first…or shunt it all to the Cayman Islands. Or like many people, they could just be waiting to ‘feel it’. Therefore, before you go launching heart-first into something, it’s worth asking either the person in question or the person who has suggested them: does X solemnly, sincerely and truly have the means and desire to get married? (Apologies for the legal-speak, but you get the drift.)

If the answer is yes, then this is where the character checks can come in. Of course, it’s hard to know: how much weight do you give to people’s testimonials? If you like the person, chances are you’re not going to heed a ‘bad’ character check anyway. Besides, just because someone has a ‘past’ doesn’t mean they’re going to make a poor spouse. This is one of the biggest, if not the biggest, flaw in the character-checking process: having a few relationships can render you a ‘player’, a silly Facebook post becomes an indication of your intelligence or lack thereof. The court of public opinion is often unkind and unforgiving.

The other problem with asking around about someone is that it’s really hard to be discreet about it. If you’re getting to know someone or considering getting to know them, you probably don’t want people to know about it. But it may be that the information you want or need can only come from someone you don’t know very well, so you may then have to get your friend to ask their friend to ask their friend, and of course, the information will either not come back to you at all or come back to you in some garbled form. (Obviously this could all be avoided if people were more open and honest and if that openness wasn’t treated as ‘desperation’, but that’s a post for another day.)

Of course, many people will tell you to just ‘trust your gut’. But again, this comes with all sorts of complications. Feelings can blind you to the obvious. If you want to be with someone, you may ignore serious warning signs. Sometimes it just feels right, and it is right. But sometimes it feels right when it’s oh-so-wrong, and all the Istikhara in the world isn’t going to cut it if your mind is already so fixated on the one goal.

As always, there are no hard and fast rules with the process. Much of it is determined by context. If you have lots of mutual friends with the person, you probably don’t need to do any kind of background checks. If you meet them and get to know them in a non-romantic context first, you probably know enough about them to just go with your gut. If they’re some person you’ve never met who adds you on Facebook, you probably want to hire a private investigator before you go there.

Do you ask around about someone you’re interested in? Do you ‘trust your gut’ when it comes to a potential partner?

 

Guys, man up

*The identity of the author has been kept anonymous.

I am a young man and I have a bit of a problem with the males in our community. In fact, saying that it is a “bit” of a problem may potentially be an understatement – I have quite a problem with a certain issue that I see in the community and I think that we, the males of the community, are largely to blame. Before I get into what the actual issue is, I want to put out a disclaimer; I have nothing against the Muslim community and in fact I strongly believe that there is abundant goodness in us. I’m not one of those Muslims who likes to bash the community at every possible occasion and I get thoroughly fed up with such antics. However, in saying that, I do believe that there is a glaring problem before us that we need to face. My problem is the treatment of our sisters.

I’m not talking about individual cases, I’m talking about wholesale and general attitudes. The problem is that we push sisters into a dark little predetermined corner. We expect that they will only ever speak about or address “womens’ issues”, that they will only ever think about matters of hijab, marriage and raising children. We tend to, whether knowingly or not, relegate sisters to being secondary members of the community, not primary members. They are forced, through the pigeon-holing of males generally, to occupy a thoroughly limited standing in our community. I have a very big problem with this.

Our sisters are literally half of our community but we relegate them to being secondary, if even that? To be quite honest, that is simply ludicrous. Our sisters should be an active, vocal and central part of our community. By all means tackle women specific issues, but for goodness sake they should be addressing and thinking about far more than that! It is not as though our sisters exist in some kind of vacuum where they only ever have to deal with that very limited range of issues. They live in the same society that we males occupy and they will most likely face similar, or the same, issues. So yes our sisters should be politically aware and active, they should understand issues of ideology and society, they should have input in the direction of this community and have just as significant a say in our affairs as the males. They should be doctors, lawyers, teachers, academics and whatever else their potential may allow for them to be. To push our sisters into a metaphorical corner where they are to only ever cook, clean and have children is wholly unjustifiable and would only be to the detriment of our community.

I do admit here that I am speaking generally, so there will definitely be exceptions. I find few things more refreshing that seeing young, articulate, confident, outspoken, vocal, principled and intellectually charged Muslim sisters who defiantly push against pressures and expectations. They rock the boat and they rock the community as much as they’d be rocking a cradle. Such sisters are treasures of our community and their ambitions and aspirations should be facilitated, not nipped in the bud. In saying this, don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that sisters should abandon their Islamically enshrined roles, responsibilities and duties that come with being a wife and a mother. There is no doubt that these are obligations and most all sisters are aware of that and don’t plan on neglecting them. However, just because they must adhere to these obligations does not at all mean that they should be limited to child rearing and household cleaning. Apparently women are brilliant at multitasking, so it shouldn’t be a problem for them to be engaged in community affairs whilst taking care of their personal responsibilities.

Brothers, I’d say the problem in this equation is us. We are unfortunately the ones who tend to impose these expectations upon our sisters. This may not be active, but we all know that we make kitchen jokes. We all know we make cleaning jokes and four wives jokes. We’ve almost got an ingrained perception that we socially strangle our sisters with. It is stifling to them and really not conducive to having our sisters be pillars of our community. I’m going to tread delicately here because I don’t want to step on the (pedicured) toes of our sisters but sometimes I feel that our sisters have come to accept and internalise this relegation. Not only accept it, but even sometimes give it justification. For example, at some community events sisters will not want to be vocal or visible because that is not seen to be Islamically appropriate. Allah swt reward our sisters as they are incredibly active behind the scenes in our community and they are the hands that get things done, but they aren’t in front of the scenes enough! I know personally that it is quite difficult to get sisters to be focal points in certain events and initiatives and often that is because the sisters themselves feel somewhat uncomfortable with the proposition.

It is unfortunate, but I feel as though the brothers have pushed our sisters into that little corner so consistently that some sisters now think that’s where they belong. A very real problem that arises from all of this is the ramifications that it has on our community from a marriage point of view. Brothers want a sister who will occupy that little cooking and cleaning corner and don’t really want a sister who is going to challenge him or push him. They generally don’t seem to want to marry a sister who is opinionated or assertive. I personally find that very odd – there is almost an assumption that being opinionated equates to insolence. I know that some brothers think that a wife who has a backbone might be a bit tough to “manage” and they’d prefer a sister who is easily compliant and effectively mothers him. Again, there are always exceptions but it appears to me as though brothers are intimidated by sisters with brains. To that I say that with marriage comes a partner, a personality, another human being, not a robot that might have an opinion every now and then but not enough to really bother you.

Brothers, honestly, in this regard I think we really need to man up. A sister with a brain is not a threat, she is a gift, if only we knew. Those exceptional sisters who aren’t satisfied being thrust into a pram and apron stereotype are the ones that we should ideally be pursuing, because they are the ones who will challenge us as individuals and as a community and thus force us to grow. Unfortunately, because of that intimidation factor brothers tend to go for the sisters who aren’t seen to be too confronting and when this occurs the whole cycle is perpetuated. The brother has a certain mindset and the sister falls into that and that is precisely what is going to be passed onto the future sons and daughters of that household. It has reached such a ridiculous juncture now that some sisters who are generally seen to be outspoken have to moderate or “dumb down” themselves so that brothers are not threatened and they become more viable “options” for marriage. Honestly, that is so tragically saddening.

The brothers in this community seem to have become anchors that pull down our sisters and when you pull them down, you bring the community down with them. I’m not going to claim to have answers, but what I can offer is a word of advice – to my dear respected brothers, for the sake of yourselves and the community, don’t have your standards set such that you want a sister who is effectively a glorified carer. To my dear respected sisters, don’t accept to be relegated and forced into positions that are simply not appropriate for you. Push yourself and the community and if you do so, hopefully we will take notice and realise your worth.

 

Money Money Money

An article by Rabia Chaudhry titled ‘Give Muhammad a Chance’ has been doing the social media rounds lately (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/splitthemoon/2014/04/give-muhammad-a-chance/). The 100+ comments on it ranged from giving the author a huge pat on the back to accusing her of being heartless and having a ‘superiority complex’. If you haven’t read the article and can’t be bothered clicking on the link above, the key argument the author makes is this:

And ladies, I ask you to please, don’t overlook the young men who may be struggling with studies, with finances, who may not have a house or even a car, who don’t necessarily have all the material trappings or the pedigree of a dream husband. 

We all know that Islam imposes certain obligations on a male when it comes to marriage. By default, he’s entrusted with the responsibility of supporting his wife; his wife has no obligation as such to contribute to the household finances. But in today’s rather awful real estate market, in practical terms what usually happens is this:

1.) If both hubby and wife are working, both contribute somewhat equally

2.) Hubby is much more well-established than wife due to the norm of men marrying younger women, and so does the lion’s share of the contributing

3.) Hubby and wife are both working, but hubby insists wife doesn’t pay anything towards the household expenses

But let’s take a step back for a moment. Before you even get to thinking about who’ll pay the electricity bill, the real question for the ladies is this: would you even consider marrying a guy who, as of right this second, can’t pay the electricity bill? (Or the internet bill for that matter, because let’s face it-who wants to be without WiFi?) The question for the guys is this: would you even consider someone for marriage when you know you can’t pay the electricity bill?

Question number 1 can only be answered with reference to a number of variables. The first is the stage of life the lady in question occupies. If she’s a uni student, it’s unlikely she’ll be turning down a guy simply because he goes to uni too. This makes little logical sense-after all, where will they get money from if neither of them have a steady source of income? But if they’re both facing the same challenges at the same time, she’ll know that to expect him to have it all ‘together’ when she doesn’t would simply be unrealistic.

If, however, our lovely lady is enslaved in some form of stable employment, things will either go one of two ways. In Scenario 1, she’ll refuse to consider anyone who isn’t employed. This will again have less to do with logic (she’s working-she is in no real need of his income) and more to do with a perception that a guy who isn’t employed just isn’t in the same stage of life as her. She may even deem an unemployed guy of her own age bracket to be distasteful, a ‘loser’. A 19 year old guy being unemployed may be somewhat acceptable in the eyes of the society, but it’s doubtful that society would be as forgiving of that same guy being 29 and not having a job.

Scenario 2 is where things get a little more interesting, and is the kind described in Rabia Chaudhry’s article. In this scenario, we have a gainfully employed lady who decides she really doesn’t care that much if her Prince-Charming-to-be has a job or not. She has one, and this is enough for her. She’s willing to make an investment based on the potential she sees in him, but is well-aware that at this stage potential is all that he has to offer in material terms.

This scenario naturally assumes that the lady in question is completely autonomous in her decision-making. Often, this is not the case. Now, let’s not get carried away and assume that a lack of complete autonomy equates to being under the thumb of some scary male authoritarian figure; the simple fact is that marriage is not a decision many people, male or female, make independently. Nor should it be, necessarily. The input of family and friends certainly has its place, and often that place is embedded with certain values, such as a woman not marrying a man who isn’t at least her ‘equal’ in education level and/or income at the time they get married.

Understandably, the fear of not being able to support a wife scares many men off from even thinking about getting married. They feel they don’t have it ‘together’ enough to seriously approach a girl, knowing that in many cases either her or her family will have serious misgivings if he doesn’t have at least some kind of job. Many parents will also forbid their sons, whether expressly or implicitly, from thinking about marriage before at least graduating from uni. But should this be the case? Well, not entirely. Obviously, some thought should be given to the practicalities of marriage, the logistics of how-much-will-that-cost and where-on-earth-will-we-live-if-this-works-out. But the answers to those questions can really only be determined by asking: how much are we both willing to forego?

If you’re the kind of guy who thinks you need to do everything and pay for everything and sort out everything before you can even think about getting married, you’re going to be waiting a while, especially in this current climate of economic uncertainty. If you’re the kind of girl who wants all the trimmings and wants them paid for, you may also be waiting a while. This is fine, as long as you’re fine with it. I pass no judgment whatsoever against people who want the house and the car and the big function centre wedding with 500 guests. These are deeply embedded values for many people. They simply cannot comprehend doing things another way.

But there is another way. You can opt to have a small wedding, or even no ‘wedding’ at all besides the obligatory nikah. You can choose to honeymoon locally, or even not honeymoon at all. (Gasp!) You can live with his parents, or yours, at least temporarily. You can live in a tiny studio or a granny flat. You can both study part-time and work full-time. You can both work part-time jobs and make enough to survive. Neither of you may have a job, and you can still find a way to make it. There is always a way, as long as you’re both practical and very, very determined.

So ladies, should you consider a guy who doesn’t have his finances sorted? You don’t have to. You have every  right to say no on this basis and no one should label you as being a gold-digger. (Stupid Kanye.) But if you want to, know that you can make it work together if you’re both committed. As for the men, should you stay away from all things marriage-related if you’re not financially stable? Not necessarily, as long as you have a plan. Don’t pre-empt the ladies and assume that you shouldn’t even try simply because of your lack of financial stability. Have faith that if you sincerely want to get married, there will be someone who can look past your tiny bank balance and see the many other things you have to offer. (But don’t label a girl who rejects you based on your finances a gold-digger, because that’ll just make you a jerk, and no one wants to marry a jerk.)

Guys, where do you stand on this? Ladies, would you consider a guy who doesn’t have his finances sorted?

The Muslim Relationship Status Dilemma

I remember seeing an advertisement for a party in first year uni and being slightly scandalised at the time. The rules of the party were that single people were to come in green, maybes in orange and ‘taken’ people in, you guessed it, red. As crass an idea as this is, Muslims could really do with some kind of system for knowing when people are actually single  and looking to get married, and when they’re just not. Instead, people are often forced to ask around, looking for mutual connections to tell them whether the person they’re interested in is already otherwise engaged. (Lame, but I couldn’t resist.)

The problem is that people generally don’t make it known that they’re getting to know someone, at least not initially. This is understandable and perfectly reasonable, because it often goes no further than the getting-to-know-you phase. You don’t want to be telling every Hassan and Hussain when you meet someone for the first time. It’s just not feasible, nor does it serve any real purpose for any of the parties involved.

Let’s say person X is getting to know Y. They could seal the deal within a couple of months, seal the deal in this case meaning progress to an official, publicised engagement. If this happens, X and Y are reasonably safe. It’s unlikely that people will ‘catch’ them in the act of getting to know each other, and even if they do, it doesn’t really matter. Things will progress quickly enough for tongues not to wag or for X and Y to have define their relationship in social terms.

But if there are complications and things don’t progress as quickly, X and Y are in a bit of a bind. Technically, they’re ‘in a relationship’, as the Facebook status goes. But Muslims just don’t utilise the relationship status option on Facebook. In fact, unmarried couples tend to try to keep their relationship secret, or at the very least, an open secret. Their friends and acquaintances might know, but the information doesn’t always trickle out evenly.

This is where things can get really sticky. Some people might know about X and Y’s relationship, some people might not. Z doesn’t happen to know, and develops feelings for one half of the couple in question. Is it Z’s fault? Or the person’s for even talking to Z in the first place? Or can the blame be attributed to this weird state of affairs amongst Muslims, where hearsay has to be used as evidence (a big no-no, as my fellow lawyers can appreciate) and no one wants to actually have the hard conversations because deep down, they’re just a big ball of confusion?

This cuts to the very heart of the problem: people may be keeping their options open. They may be talking to one person without having defined the relationship, and as such they feel like they have license to be talking to other people simultaneously. Even if they’re actually in a relationship with one person, they may be feeling uncertain. This uncertainty combined with the fact that very few people know about the relationship may lead to icky situations, like two people thinking they’re getting to know the same person. (An extreme example, but certainly not unheard of.)

The line between friendships and romantic relationships isn’t always easy to ascertain either. This is a universal issue, but is compounded by the fact that different Muslims have different boundaries when it comes to the opposite sex. This leads to all kinds of weird pseudo-relationships popping up, like guys and girls who are constantly talking but haven’t defined their relationship. Often both people like each other but are afraid to admit it, but sometimes only one person has any kind of romantic interest and the other person is simply enjoying having someone to talk to without the hassle of actually being in a relationship. (Or maybe they just genuinely like talking about photography/philosophy/video games.)

And then there are those who are secretly pining over someone who they know will probably never reciprocate their feelings. They get stuck in a waiting game, hoping the tide will turn but acknowledging that it most likely will not. These people are technically ‘single’, but are about as available as a change room at the Boxing Day Sales. The sad thing is that the object of their affection could actually be in one of those secret relationships mentioned above, which means that their efforts are doomed from the outset and may in fact bring them great embarrassment should word get out. The other common scenario is that the person they like just isn’t looking to get married, and so liking them at the present moment is just a waste of energy.

All of the above scenarios are a result of the lack of transparency around the whole issue of marriage. No one wants to admit that they want to get married for fear of looking ‘desperate’, but nearly everyone does. No one wants to admit that they’ve been in a relationship, but nearly everyone has been. No one wants to be the one to put their heart on the line and have the are-we-just-friends conversation, because they know it’ll be just awful if the answer is yes. (And if you’re afraid to ask, it’s often because you know the answer is ‘yes, we are just friends’ and you don’t want to face up to it.)

I don’t claim to have solutions to any of these issues except to very humbly suggest that personal responsibility is key. Sensitivity to the feelings of others is key. Talking to someone may mean nothing to you, but it could mean the world to them. (On the other hand, assuming every conversation with someone of the opposite sex is romantic in nature is just a recipe for disaster.) A little tact and discretion never goes astray, but excessive secrecy and vagueness can lead to unnecessary complications for all parties concerned. Human dignity should be preserved in all cases, even when you don’t care an iota for the person in question. If you know categorically that you’re not looking to get married, don’t let your guard down with the opposite sex, and if you are looking to get married, make your intentions clear at the earliest opportunity.

Do you consider yourself to be ‘single’? What’s the best way to avoid dilemmas about a relationship status?

 

How important are looks?

A dear friend of mine was recently at an event. Following the event, she was told that a guy had expressed interest in her and wanted to get to know her. Given the fact that she hadn’t exchanged a single word with the guy in question, the only thing his interest could possibly have been based on was her looks.

Anyone who is (un)fortunate enough to know me will know that the concept of beauty has always intrigued me. I’ve bored any number of friends to death with my forays into the issue of how looks influence perception. While I don’t claim to be some sort of professional commentator on all things aesthetics, I do find the issue fascinating. Is beauty really in the eye of the beholder? Well, studies have shown that this adage is largely untrue and that particularly in this globalised age, representations of beauty are becoming more standardised. Do good looks get you places in life? Studies have shown that yes, good looks are an asset, even in the workplace.

I won’t bore you any further with the academic stuff, but instead I’ll turn my attention to the more interesting, anecdotal stuff. It’s obviously impossible to quantify the extent to which looks are valued in the world of relationships, but I’d hazard a guess that they’re fairly valuable. How often do we see some old billionaire with a series of young models on his arm? Without casting any aspersions on the character of billionaires (I’m sure they’re lovely people), it isn’t too difficult to conclude that looks are an asset in the game of love.

This issue is particularly interesting when examined in the context of the Muslim community. The little example I mentioned above is repeated again and again, with some girls getting asked about practically every time they attend something. This is a strange by-product of segregation. Because people often aren’t given the opportunity of speaking with members of the opposite sex at Muslim community events, they’re in effect almost forced to assess people based on their looks. I’m certainly not attacking segregation on this basis or suggesting it should be dismantled, but it’s an interesting thing to ponder: if there was more space for contact between the sexes, would personalities be given more of a centre stage role as opposed to looks?

Of course, the answer may simply be no. As a friend put it, if someone doesn’t meet your looks threshold, many people simply won’t consider them regardless of how amazing their personality is. People often won’t admit this to themselves, of course. They tell themselves that they just don’t see X in that way, or that Y is awesome but just ‘not for them’. The sad truth is that many of the people who get friendzoned immediately are those who aren’t conventionally good-looking. People may be happy to befriend them and may have a great deal of respect for them, but they just don’t consider them in romantic terms. (‘They’re nice, but’…)

I say that this is sad, but I understand that attraction is certainly important in any relationship. But here I’d like to make a quick little distinction: good looks and attractiveness are not necessarily the same thing. X could appreciate that Y is conventionally good-looking without feeling any attraction whatsoever, and A could find B attractive while rationally appreciating that B isn’t conventionally good-looking. But this is perhaps where the question is asked again: if you don’t have much contact with people of the opposite sex, how can you feel attracted to them on any basis other than looks?

The funny thing is that while looks are undeniably important to many people, anyone who’s too overt about this being a requirement of theirs gets blasted. A guy who specifies that he only wants a skinny girl (it happens) will get hated on, even though many  may secretly share this sentiment. A girl who says she only wants a tall guy will be branded as ‘superficial’, while many others may filter out guys on this basis without even admitting it to themselves. The guy who asks about a girl after seeing her at an event is often rejected by the girl in question because she feels objectified, but perhaps he’s simply more open about it than others.

A related issue is that of clothing and style, which again is particularly interesting in a Muslim context. People may sometimes have preferences as to the clothing of a potential partner and depending on their level of conservativeness, an outfit choice may attract or repel. Wearing skinny jeans may be a no-no for some, while others may find it funky and attractive. Others may simply not care at all, as long as it looks good. Some people consciously modify their choice of clothing depending on the scene they’re in, which suggests, rightly or wrongly, that people may make judgments based on whether they wear a skirt or a dress, or pants as opposed to shorts for men. I wrote a post about hijab being a must for some and a repellent for others, and this certainly factors into the debate on outward appearance.

At the end of the day, perhaps much of the assessments we make of the looks of others may be in fact linked to our assessment of our own looks. Someone who considers themselves to be good-looking may make a point of seeking someone who is also good-looking, just as a person who considers themselves to be intelligent may seek a person they consider to be of a similar level of intelligence. If looks trump all else, then that’s frankly a little depressing given the advice of the Prophet (saw), but it’s not something that can be easily altered without some open and honest conversations.

How important are looks to you? Have you felt that people place a disproportionate emphasis on looks when it comes to finding a partner?