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.

 

The complexities of Muslim gender interactions

Recently, I happened to be in the same vicinity as a couple of Muslim guys. We’d just left the same event, but I was now on my own with some time to kill. After a short and somewhat stop-start conversation, the guys promptly walked off in the opposite direction without so much of a backward glance or a parting salams.

For some reason, I found myself reflecting on this incident more than I probably should have. I’d initially found their behaviour discourteous and unnecessarily awkward, but I was also annoyed at myself for not knowing precisely how to interpret it all. Maybe I’d just expected too much. Maybe I was being a bit of a weirdo to have even made conversation in the first place. Maybe I’d just been around too many non-Muslims, old people and hipsters lately.

Modernity is a game of unintended consequences. My interest has always been in the place where politics and religion meet the personal, that grey fuzzy mess where no one is quite sure how things should work anymore. How people interpret edicts such as ‘keep it to what’s necessary’ will depend very much on factors such as their religious leanings, their family and community expectations, their cultural sensibilities and their innate personal habits and character traits. Let’s examine some of these issues in more detail:

1.) Boundary-building

As mentioned above, there are any number of variables when it comes to setting boundaries. Certain environments have their own pre-established boundaries, such as classes with physical partitions down the middle, but in other places the boundaries are not quite as defined. For example, at some Muslim events men sit on one side and women on the other, but the space outside and around the refreshments section is unsegregated. Some MSA members are friendlier than others with the opposite sex, but MSA events are often heavily segregated. Someone who you see at an Islamic class may ignore you completely, but then if you see them in a different context will be super-friendly.

I find the minutiae of Muslim gender boundaries fascinating. It’s definitely not ‘necessary’ to like people’s posts on Facebook, but a lot of people do. It’s not really ‘necessary’ to add people of the opposite sex, but a lot of people do. In some circles it’d be completely normal for a Muslim guy to offer a girl a lift home, while in others it’d be seen as odd or even offensive. Some friend’s husbands are fine with having a chat, while others will run for the door if you enter their house.

If you stay in one, maybe two, social or community spheres, you tend to know and observe the rules of those spheres. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with observing the conventions of the environment you’re in or even modifying your behaviour to respect its confines, but switching in and out of modes of being can lead to interesting and unexpected consequences, which brings me to my next observation.

2.) Switching in and out

Part of the complexities of gender relations is a type of dissonance, a little two-step, between the spheres constructed by Muslims and those constructed by non-Muslims. Immediately after my little encounter with those Muslim guys, I went into a (women’s) clothing shop to kill some time. The male sales assistant approached me and started a brief but friendly conversation, asking how my day had been and what I’d been up to. The exchange barely lasted two minutes, but I couldn’t help but unflatteringly compare the behaviour of the Muslim guys with this one.

 Of course, this is hardly a fair comparison to make. The sales assistant probably just wanted me to buy that shirt I’d been eyeing, but more importantly, the sales assistant wasn’t Muslim. The bizarre condition of the 21st century Western Muslim is that we’re often far more certain the conventions of how to behave around non-Muslims of the opposite sex than we are around those of our own faith. We’re more relaxed, less guarded and watchful. I’m not saying these are good things, but we’ve all either done it or seen it in action. (I’ve heard many complaints about Muslim guys being a lot less ‘cool’ than their non-Muslim counterparts, so take that as you will.)

3.) What goes on behind the screens

I find a type of behavioural convention particularly common in the uni crowd: awkward in person, chatty behind computer screens. Some people won’t even say salams in person, but they’re happy to comment on your Facebook status or send you a private message. I find this somewhat irritating, but I do understand that for many people, online spaces seem safer, more ‘natural’.

The problem with this is that online interactions can be misleading. People may talk to you on Facebook chat for hours on end without wanting to pursue a serious relationship. People may seem really cool and funny based on their social media persona, but in person may have all the personality of a wet firecracker. You might think someone is interested because they interact with you extensively online, but they could also be doing the same with several other people of the opposite sex. It’s so easy to say things behind a screen that you’d never say in person, which is problematic for any number of reasons.

4.) Overthinking overload

The complexities and blurry grey lines of Muslim gender interactions leads to a type of second-guessing, a paranoia about being misinterpreted or judged. If I say salams first, will he think I’m being too forward? If I send her a message about something, does she think I’m interested? Was that joke I just said inappropriate or kinda hilarious? Am I really just being friendly or do I want something more here?

Of course, some kind of internal auditing system is desirable, probably even necessary. But it can be exhausting to constantly take yourself to account, to constantly read subtext beneath subtext beneath subtext. This is compounded by the fact that you’re never quite sure who’s single and who’s not. If you know someone isn’t single or isn’t looking, you’re bound to interpret their friendliness in a different light. There is so much unspoken that it’s no wonder the spoken space can become so fraught with difficulty, awkwardness and unease.

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Some people I’ve spoken to about this issue find it easy to navigate between different social circles, to maintain a consistent demeanour and manner of engagement. Others give the matter little to no thought whatsoever and just say and act however they’re feeling in that particular moment. Sometimes I think people should just plainly state their boundaries (i.e. no, I will not meet up for coffee with you because I don’t do that sort of thing, or yes, we can talk about Game of Thrones without it leading to a proposal), but then again, maybe half of the fun lies in the unknown, in the guessing games and the carving out of parameters. Or maybe not.

10 Reasons Zayn Malik left One Direction that only Muslims get

While the world cries over Zayn’s shock exit from One Direction, Muslims knew this day was coming (inshaAllah) from the time their very first track was released. The clues were there, if only you knew where to look. I know, I know, maybe you’re not as familiar with 1D’s back catalogue as I and my fellow Zayn Malik fangirls. (For evidence of said fangirlery, please see below for an image of my 1D concert buddy in her 1D socks.) For the uninformed, I’ll lay it out for you here:

1.) He finally figured out that the song ‘Kiss You’ wasn’t referring to the private life of a married man and woman in the confines of their house and ran the other way in embarrassment.

2.) The song ‘Midnight Memories’ wasn’t about praying Tahajjud-the only thing any good Muslim would be creating memories of at midnight.

3.) He was bored because he already knew the answer to ‘Where Do Broken Hearts Go'(straight to the masjid, of course.)

4.) He noticed that the song ‘You and I’ had the lyrics ‘not even the Gods above can separate the two of us’. (Polytheism AND blasphemy combined, astaghs.)

5.) ‘What Makes You Beautiful’ didn’t have a single reference to hijab, niqab or burqa.

6.) The ‘Little Black Dress’ in question was just a bit too little for his liking. (Only floor-length abayas do it for Mr Malik.)

7.) ‘Steal My Girl’ just didn’t make any sense to him. Ain’t no need to steal anyone’s girl when you can have four wives of your very own waiting at home.

8.) The ‘One Thing’ in question was something other Allah.

9.) The dance to the ‘Best Song Ever’ wasn’t a dabke to the dulcet tunes of Sami Yusuf or Maher Zain.

10.) He didn’t want to ‘Live While We’re Young’, he wanted to ‘Give While We’re Young’. Zakat, that is.

This may be a sad day for many people, but for us Muslims, it’s a day of great celebration. Zayn, your creeping Sharia days may be over for now, but I have no doubt that your many talents will be put to good use, like single-handedly increasing attendance rates at your local masjid by about 5000%. Welcome home, brother.

On modern life

Wake up, press snooze. Press snooze again. It’s ok, the alarm is set for ten minutes earlier than I know I need to get up for this exact reason: to maintain the illusion that I’m getting a bit of extra sleep.

But my body doesn’t buy it. I drag myself through the morning rituals to make my face slightly more fit for human company, pulling on the clothes I ironed the night before. Spray, rinse, brush, pin, tie up, belt and button, and I’m ready to go. I mutter a goodbye to my mother, father. Even though I won’t be in the company of someone I love for many, many hours, I’m far too tired for upbeat pleasantries, and I know they are too.

I stand at the same door to enter the same train carriage on the same train I catch every day. That same bearded guy in the too-short pants who reads Quran on his Ipad is sitting a few seats down from me. He doesn’t look up. Why should he? Everyone knows that deliberate eye contact is something only freaks do on public transport.

I do a little experiment on the second train I have to take to get to work and try and catch someone’s eye. But even the guy who is barely 50cm away from me wants none of it. (This is one of the paradoxes of modern life: we’re all forced to compete for increasingly tight spaces, whether on trains or in the housing market, but we barely acknowledge the existence of the person next to us.) The woman on my other side has smudged mascara on her eyelid. I think about telling her, but she has headphones in and so do I, so why bother?

Ah coffee, that wonderful, socially acceptable drug. One, two, three, however many it takes to still the dull ache in the temples and the ever-present threat of stress and boredom. It’s also one of the few legitimate excuses to leave the office. To say, I’m going to go outside so I don’t crawl under my desk and bore a hole into it with a drill, is to invite mental health audits and polite concern, while to pop out for a coffee barely warrants an upward glance from our double screens.

Keep snacking. Just keep snacking. Buy that eight dollar cold-pressed juice. Buy that ten dollar salad. Throw half of it away after it sits out next to the keyboard all afternoon and gets wilted and soggy. Get up and go to the bathroom just for the sake of it, even as the emails flood in. Pray in the corner that the Muslim guy in IT used to pray in. (There’s always a Muslim guy in IT.)

Spend time with friends and family, going to festivals and events and cafes we’ve seen on Instagram. Many people are on their phones at these gatherings, not wanting to miss a moment of capturing these ‘memories’. We’re so busy all the time. I need to schedule my catch-ups days in advance, weeks even. I have three email addresses and am part of about seventeen Whatsapp groups. I’m ‘connected’, accessible to just about anyone who feels like talking to me, except most people don’t.

Is this what people dream of when they’re children? To work in jobs with nondescript titles like ‘Accounts Supply Chain Executive’ or ‘Client Project Officer’ and revert to banal phrases like, I can’t believe it’s only Wednesday, every single Wednesday? To spend all our daylight hours around people who don’t care about us simply to pay for things for the people who do? To scramble for space, attention, just a moment of someone else’s time before they lose interest and stop replying, even though Whatsapp helpfully informs us that they’re still online?

I cannot think that this is what it was all for, the migrant dreams of our parents, whose blood and tears poured into our homework, our white coats and practising certificates. And yet we are the lucky ones, the ones whose only real challenges are prosperity and excess. We are safe and comfortable and our bellies are full, but so many of us are under-stimulated and tired and constantly plagued by the question: is this it?

If and when I ask this of anyone, the answers are often pragmatic, straightforward. Do some online shopping. Go out more. Just be grateful. Get some more hobbies. Book a holiday. Find a job you’re passionate about-as if to suggest that there are enough jobs for everyone (see this Four Corners story), let alone enough jobs for every single person to have one they love. Move to a different city, a different country.

My passport is well-liked almost everywhere, so why not? The UK will have me. So will Canada or New Zealand or just about anywhere where English is sought after, which is just about everywhere. Borders are not closed to me with fences and patrols, unlike the majority of global ‘citizens’. I can do a third degree, retrain as a midwife or a zoologist or an animation designer. Sure, I don’t have the inexhaustible privilege of a 40 year old white man, but I have enough of it to do many things with my time and money.

But all these answers merely disguise the fact that something is fundamentally wrong with the neoliberal foundations of our greedy, lonely society, and many of us realise it without realising it at all. I remember all too vividly a discussion in my old workplace in which several people admitted that they either needed to be planning a holiday or have one booked to get through their working weeks, but within minutes we were all back to our desks and clicking on  Bruce Jenner’s face on the Daily Mail.

So many of the issues which plague us are related in ways we barely think of, let alone understand. Our obsession with anti-ageing creams, stretching the confines of what constitutes youth as we stretch our skins. The swiping of screens just to meet someone new.  The posting of selfies and videos of dogs doing tricks and the obligatory something about human rights abuses. The loneliness which has reached chronic levels (see this article in the Guardian) and the shortening of our short attention spans, satiated by memes, clickbait articles and Candy Crush. There’s the soar in housing prices and the arms race and the weddings which now cost us $28,858 on average.

Those who are persistently troubled by such things often move to places like Jordan or Yemen, in search of a life centred around worship. Some schedule in doses of spirituality in ten minute spurts and do the occasional spiritual getaway in an attempt to keep it together. Some pursue passions in academia or the community sector and are happy enough for a time, but later find themselves crushed under the wheel of grant applications and ever-increasing casualisation. Some seek temporary solace in getting lots of likes on Facebook or cake-decorating classes or hourly news alerts, and some are just fine with the way things are-just as long as there’s another holiday on the horizon.

What is the life of this world but amusement and play? but verily the Home in the Hereafter,- that is life indeed, if they but knew.

 

 

 

My husband is Shia

The ‘Muslim community’ (if such a thing can be said to exist) is highly divided and segmented along a variety of ethnic, sectarian and intra-sectarian lines. Sectarian divisions have been increasingly exacerbated by recent political developments, and as such,  the Sunni and Shia communities have largely conducted themselves as separate entities.  Of course, this doesn’t at all preclude individuals from either communities closely mixing on a regular basis, both as friends or potential partners. I’ll expand on the issue of differing religious practice within a relationship in a follow-up post, but I decided to get a first-hand account on what can happen when two people of Sunni and Shia backgrounds meet and fall in love. The following is an account from an anonymous author on her marriage to her Shia husband, and the trials and tribulations they faced along the road to marriage.

I love my husband with a love so fierce it is often overwhelming. It is an intense love, and when one has such intensity in love there is equal, if not greater, intensity in the hurt that comes with it. Marriage is a constant battle of love and forgiveness and sadness and happiness and everything in between. I love my husband, but our relationship has not been easy, for one main reason: he’s Shia, and I’m Sunni.

The start of our relationship was tumultuous, to say the least. It was filled with hurdles and blockades, all of which we overcame. I saw something precious in him that I had not seen in other young men. I believe he felt the same about me.

My husband and I met at University. He immediately proposed coming to my house to speak to my father, but I was hesitant. I knew they would not approve. I was right.

My mother was mainly concerned with public opinion, and the effect it would have on our family’s reputation. It was a very difficult time for her. Her siblings shamed her for allowing us to marry and were cruel and relentless, despite all of their imperfections. For some, I remain the she-who-must-not-be-named of the family.

My father also feared the public backlash, but more importantly was concerned with the development of our religion and the raising of a family.

Image from topics.fusion.net

 

Despite their concerns, my parents allowed us to make the life-changing decision to marry, and were and continue to be supportive of our marriage. They have an amazing relationship with my husband, who they love and who he loves dearly. My mother loves his complimenting of her food. My father loves to joke with him. And my husband loves them and craves their approval.

Our marriage has been happy and filled with love, and like any marriage, also filled with arguments and disagreements. But our disagreements have had nothing to do with our religious ideologies. We argue the way any married couple would argue: due to a lack of communication, different needs, emotions, work, etc. We have taught each other to love all Muslims, regardless of their beliefs and to respect the ideologies of others, although we may not agree with them.

We don’t have children yet, but if and when we do, we plan to raise them with the best of both of our traditions. I know that my husband’s parents probably assume that our children will be raised to be Shia, but we have our own ideas of how to combine the best aspects from both sides.

If you’re going to go down this path, make sure you have supportive families and friends and remember that it will be a difficult path. People may or may not get over it. But most importantly you need to have the same overarching beliefs with your partner or it won’t work. And be in love, because when you’re in love, arguments are easy to overcome.

International Love

‘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.

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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?

 

 

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?