Culture, Gender & Identity, Love, Life

4 things I didn’t expect about Pakistani society when I moved there for love

Welcome to a whole new world.

If any of my friends had been trying to do what I did, I probably would have tried to stop them. Two weeks is not long enough to get to know someone. And three months is definitely not long enough to plan a wedding.

But, for the most part, everyone’s concern was less about the time frame of events and more about the fact that he lived in Pakistan, while I had spent my whole life in the U.K. He lived with his parents, while I had lived alone for the last six years.

I convinced myself that, no matter what happens, I’m getting married for love. He is my soulmate. And so, I moved to Pakistan to begin my new life, leaving behind everything I knew and had grown up with to be with him.

Except for my dog. I took him with me.

The ‘getting married’ part wasn’t actually hard. But, as I soon found out, marriage isn’t just about you and your partner.

Especially in Pakistani society.

And when you’re not only adjusting to a new life, but also a new country? These are just some of the struggles I faced.

1. There’s social pressure around everything

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[Image Description: A gif of two women leaning in and saying, “Get Pregnant.”] Via Giphy
Pakistani society, as I soon found out, is very fashionable. And everyone is interested in everyone. Suddenly, ‘dress to impress’ became part of my daily life and everyone I saw was in designer jeans and shoes and wouldn’t be caught dead out in public without makeup.

I realized there were some traditions in Pakistan that were a bit misogynistic and downright impractical. But no one seemed to see any issues with it. It was just an accepted part of societal pressure.

But it isn’t just superficial.

Social events and family gatherings are about leaving the right impression. Hardly one month into our marriage, I was questioned about when we were going to have a baby. It was subtle at first, sure, but it’s becoming harder and harder to come up with excuses. How to do you explain that, actually, there’s nothing wrong with us, we just don’t want one yet?

2. Working is fine, so long as everyone approves of your job

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[Image Description: A gif of a scene from Gilmore Girls with a mother confronting a girlfriend about her desire to work.] Via Giphy
Before I got married, my family in Pakistan were discussing my options with me. Do I want to work? Do I want to raise a family and be a housewife? I, personally, wanted to continue working. I especially wanted to get back into the circus. Maybe start my own gym?

No.

That’s an absolute no because decent, well-groomed women don’t have jobs in gyms.

But that’s not for them to decide. So, after I felt settled enough in my marriage, I discussed the idea with my husband. He was very supportive of my passion, but it’s not my husband’s approval I need. It’s my in-laws’ approval because this is Pakistani society. My father-in-law is a businessman, like my husband. He believed that, if you’re going to work, then why not be your own boss? “Great!” I thought, “So, can I start a fitness studio?”

“No, you should help expand the family business.”

Oh.

I really tried to get involved, but honestly, I wasn’t interested. My husband could tell, so he never pushed for my help. And I never pushed to offer it.

3. The religious pressure

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[Image Description: A gif of a pressure gauge going into the red.] Via Giphy
One of the weirdest things to adjust to was all the religious references in everyday life. And everyone just expects you to make the same references. I hide in my room when everyone else gets up to pray, so they don’t ask me to pray with them. I nod silently to family lectures citing Islamic hadith for every problem in life. And I desperately avoid Islamic gatherings, in case someone asks me to read some Quran with them. Every single person, whether they truly are or not, at least pretends they’re extremely religious.

Just because it’s expected.

Even something as small as requesting a prescription for birth control suddenly made me a terrible person.

And that judgment wasn’t from my family. It was from my gynecologist. Her advice following the prescription was, “Don’t take this for more than one year. It’s not appropriate in our culture to hold off on having children for so long.”

Right. Because that’s your decision?

4. Making friends

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[Image Description: A gif of a woman waving at someone.] Via Giphy
Really, how do adults make friends? You move to a different city and you’re all alone, how do you deal with it? I realized the error of my optimistic ways when my only friends for the first six months of my relocation were my cousins.

People don’t tend to socialize outside of their immediate circle here. You have your work friends, your school friends, and your family. But what do you do if you don’t have any work friends or school friends?

In the end, I realized that, if I was going to make this new life one worth living, I needed to work at it. Just like in the U.K., nothing comes handed out on a silver platter. Sure, it’s different, but I have the love and support of my husband to help me. No one else was going to make the adjustments here for me. I needed to make my mark.

So that’s what I did. Welcome to Pakistani society.