Sometimes you find love in the comfort of a four-year-old friendship, but not the romantic kind.
I was sixteen years old when I first met Aarav*.
We were both going home from school, and we rode the seven train subway amidst our friends and acquaintances. I had probably seen him around before, but I most likely overlooked him as I was too busy trying to get the attention of senior boys, and not trying to attract guys in the same grade as myself (every desi girl has been told by her parents that she’s to wed guys older than her). Also, I was more about fitting in with friends outside of my two-floor school that served as both a high school and an early college.
These friends, in my sixteen-year-old perspective, were the epitome of “cool.” They smoked hookah inside the Arab restaurants on Steinway Street of New York City, and everyone in the young South Asian community of Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and Indians wanted to fit in with them. And I, too, was a part of that “everyone” looking to fit in with the group.
(Disclaimer: I probably didn’t know back then that not everyone wanted to be like my “Steinway” friends).
Nonetheless, we engaged in a conversation about our class schedules and made small talk. We were the last two to be left on the subway. Aarav explained that he was a vegetarian, and a Hindu, and belonged to the Brahmin society. I made jokes about being a Muslim carnivore, and accused him of eating plants that too were once as alive as the ground beef my mom used to make kabobs (clearly, my sixteen-year-old self hadn’t been taught to filter my thoughts that well).
Aarav was big on crude jokes, and laughed along, and had comebacks of his own.
Fast forward to a few weeks later, Aarav wrote to me on Facebook, as he needed help with a biology lab that was due the next morning. I explained that I was absolutely the worst person to ask for help with that, being practically brain dead when it came to the sciences and mathematics.
This was much to the dismay of my Bangladeshi parents who had hoped, when I was a kid, that I would become a doctor, but had settled down with the hopes of me being a lawyer instead.
We began to message back and forth and agreed to meet up the next morning to ride the subway together to school.
Over time, Aarav became a huge part of my life. Our rides to and from school became a daily routine, along with conversations via Aim, Facebook, and every other form of technological advancement. Aarav spoke about his curiosities regarding politics, religion, and finance with me. I munched on onion rings and honey mustard while listening. Our views mirrored each other’s, despite the fact that he was raised a Hindu, and I was raised Muslim.
Aarav made it very clear from the beginning that he was attracted to me, and I made it very clear that dating him wasn’t on my agenda, considering that he was a year younger than me, along with the fact that he was Hindu.
A possibility of dating someone who I could never marry never crossed my mind, even though at age sixteen, most girls that I had known didn’t even think about marriages.
I told myself that I wasn’t like most girls, and certainly not like most teens.
I had refrained from alcohol, drugs, cigarettes, hookah, eating haram meat, and I tried to pray regularly. Islam was embedded in my psychology, and even though I didn’t feel religious enough to cover my hair or to not date boys, I vowed abstinence until marriage.
Aarav was fine with being platonic, although whenever a Muslim love interest showed up, he was always reluctant and found it difficult to be friends with me.
He stuck around throughout all of my failed relationships with Muslim guys, and sympathized with the fact that some of them failed to understand that I was serious about the “no sex before marriage thing.”
He, too, discussed morals and righteousness with me, and always told me that I deserved to be with someone who could respect my values. I explained to him that aside from wanting to be abstinent due to the teachings of Islam, I truly found it logical to not advance sexually with someone who I may or may not have a future with, and I didn’t feel mentally prepared to deal with contraception.
Despite being liberal enough to know that sex before marriage isn’t a bad thing, and some people do find ways to go about it healthily, I realized I personally didn’t wish to engage in it.
Throughout our years in high school/early college, we remained extremely close. We were attached by the hips, and even our instructors paid attention to that. Aarav defined Islam for me through his actions. He was patient, he honored his parents, he tried to be honest, humble, and most of all he never hesitated to help anyone out.
How can a Hindu boy define all the values of Islam? I realized that you don’t need religion to be moral and righteous; although you could use religion to be both morally righteous and good-hearted, good people didn’t have to belong to a particular faith.
I slowly started to develop a strong affection and love for Aarav when we got to college. I explained to my mom that I was falling for him, and she advised me to not fall for someone who I couldn’t marry, as she and my father would never accept him.
I questioned myself – if Allah created all of us, how can I be punished for loving his creation? Aarav wasn’t any more or any less of a human than I was. I decided that maybe I could convince Aarav to be Muslim. Maybe I could really show him how logical Islam is. In my head, we both had the same moral code and political perspectives, how difficult would it be to sway him towards Islam?
So many people convert when they meet someone of a different faith.
Reality can be painful when you have been a permanent resident of Utopia. I thought to change Aarav’s faith and making him stop drinking would allow us to have a blossoming relationship. However, I didn’t realize that we were that very thing we had always been destined to be: best friends.
Our companionship and our friendship have always been unbreakable. And now I realize that you can’t ask anyone to change their faith for you because they wouldn’t be the same without it.
Surely, Aarav will make a great partner to anyone he falls for, and I, too, hope the same is true for myself.
Despite the fact that I have accepted that being with someone who isn’t from my faith is a bit of a challenge for me, I realized that trying to change someone isn’t just a challenge, but is flat out wrong.
*The name has been changed to protect anonymity.