Ours was a love marriage.
Growing up in a relatively traditional Hyderabadi-Muslim household, I never thought that would ever be my reality. When I was younger, I often overheard stories of how married couples in the family had met. Most were arranged by their elders, as my own parents and sister were.
“Love marriages” – called this simply because they were outside the norm – were much rarer.
An arranged marriage guaranteed that your child married someone of a similar background and social status. Love marriages, however, eschewed those very things, being based instead on the couple’s personal compatibility first and foremost. I always liked the idea of a love marriage but accepted early on that it was just not my lot.
My siblings and I weren’t even allowed to have friends of the opposite sex! And I never broke this rule.
How does a girl like me then end up marrying the man she fell in love with?
“My Adventures in Husband Hunting,” as I call them, took place over a period of six years after college. As a good Hyderabadi girl, I went along with everything my parents did or suggested. I exchanged countless biodatas (basically, marriage resumes that list a potential suitor’s education, job, and most importantly, lineage). But after a few years of fruitless exchanges, my parents had to resort to less traditional methods.
They had me create a profile on Shaadi.com, a South Asian matchmaking site. I signed up for ISNA’s Matrimonial Banquet (i.e. Islamic speed-dating). We even hired the services of a “professional” matchmaker who went by the name of “Diamonds are Forever!”
I guess those diamonds aren’t.
[bctt tweet=”How does a girl like me end up marrying the man she fell in love with?” username=”wearethetempest”]
Fast forward six years and I was still not married, living in Hyde Park with my older brother, and finishing up my Master’s degree. This much-needed respite, however, was only temporary. With graduation looming ahead and my “very advanced” age of 28 finally hitting me, I too had begun to panic like most everyone else in my family.
So I decided to do something drastic… with my parents’ blessing, of course! I joined HalfOurDeen.com, a matrimonial website for Muslim singles. Unlike Shaadi.com, this was very much my initiative from beginning to end.
The first month was a total bust.
I considering quitting not just the site, but the whole idea of marriage. “I could start my own Muslim version of a nunnery – that would certainly put my Master’s in Religious Studies to work!” I thought.
But after one last perusal of profiles before permanently deleting my account, I happened to come across a profile I had not seen before. This guy had a really detailed bio (and I’m not talking pedigree or professional credentials like those biodatas either!) and some really silly photos (another bio data no-no!). There was one of him in a Batman costume, another of him wearing a hat that said “Canada” (he’s not Canadian, but I am!), and one of him just smiling and lying down on the grass. From what I could gather, he was incredibly goofy, sensitive, sweet, interested in Sufi Islam… and not too bad-looking either!
He wasn’t Hyderabadi, but at that point, even my parents had given up on that requirement.
Normally, I’d wait for the guy to approach me. But this one seemed too good to be true, so I “liked” his profile. I knew if I didn’t, he might not have ever seen mine. I couldn’t take that chance.
[bctt tweet=”Normally, I’d wait for the guy to approach me. Not this time.” username=”wearethetempest”]
To my excited surprise, he messaged me the next day. After a few weeks of going back and forth in writing, he suggested we chat on Skype. I was, of course, hesitant.
In addition to being extremely shy, would my parents be okay with this? But they were! My dad, of course, made an appearance early on just to let this dude know that we Hydro and this is how we roll.
About a month after that, he came to visit me in person! The evening of his arrival I was a nervous wreck. I still remember walking into Midway Airport, half-jokingly begging my brother to hold my hand. I really liked this guy, but what if he didn’t like me in person? Or worse, what if he was ugly in person?
(FYI: He was even cuter than in the photos!)
Later that evening, we went to Connie’s Pizza. It was packed; there was a Sweet Sixteen party going on. And you should have seen this boy, so giddy, jumping in his seat, singing “Happy Birthday” as if he knew little Carmen. My brother and I both looked at each other: What was this creature sitting in front of us?
Deep down inside though, I felt a sense of relief. Those past six years of heartbreak just dissipated. I didn’t know for sure then that this was the guy I would end up marrying, but I knew he was something different, something special.
Nothing about this guy fit the traditional mold. Maybe that was okay though. Honestly, I never wanted a biodata marriage but accepted that fate because that’s all I knew.
Perhaps this was just the beginning of a new phase of my life? Was I going to say ‘no’ out of fear?
Or instead, accept that maybe God wanted me to have the life I always wished I could have, but thought was impossible?
We were engaged four months after that initial visit and married three months later. With just three months to plan, it wasn’t your typical Hyderabadi wedding. But seeing my dad’s tears of happiness that day, I don’t think anybody cared about that anymore!
Rafia was finally married.
When I reflect on our relationship, a smile forms on my face. I had a very untraditional courtship (which I refuse to call “dating,” because I am a good Hyderabadi girl after all) to a very untraditional Pakistani man. Maybe I am one of the lucky ones because I didn’t have to choose between my family, my cultural heritage, or my personal happiness like I once thought I’d have to.
I guess that’s what you get for playing by the rules… 99% of the time!