Wow, it’s been a hot minute since I have posted anything.
I’ve had many things happen in my life since my last post. I have at least one half-written blog post that I may never, ever, publish. And that is okay. At least that is what I tell my inner perfectionist when she comes knocking at my consciousness.
Since September 2016, I have had many experiences: I finally quit a bad relationship that was as unhealthy for me as eating sausage for every meal. I came to terms with my major depressive disorder. My best friend had a baby. I applied and received acceptance to a Master’s program at Michigan State University. I made some new friends. I adopted a cat. I got a new job, and quit my old one. I moved from Colorado to Michigan to start life as a Spartan.
Oh, and I met and fell in love with the man of my dreams.
And I don’t say things like that lightly.
I am not usually the super mushy type, especially when it comes to my personal life. However, I feel that I need to share my story.
My love story began like many others, with both of us meeting through mutual friends. He was shy; I was not. When I first met him, I didn’t know what to think. He had some of the most amazing green eyes ringed by the thickest lashes imaginable (ugh, why are perfect eyelashes “wasted” on men), but I don’t think he said more than two words to me when we first met. However, our mutual friends got him to start talking to me, and I found out that he was sweet, kind, cherished his family dearly, and had a fierce love for his country. His smile lit up the entire room when he chose to show it. It still lights up the room.
And this is where I get to tell you his name: Sameer.
Sameer is from Pakistan. He is here in the US earning a Master’s degree in Structural Engineering.
Sameer is also Muslim.
I fell in love with Sameer almost by accident. I always enjoy making new friends, especially those that are very different than I am. I also enjoy good food and mentally stimulating conversation. That is how I made friends with two of Sameer’s roommates who also happened to be my co-workers.
“The Boys,” as I affectionately call them, were always having me join them for food (ohmygosh can they cook) or chai when I would visit. We would often hang out until rather late at night, me pestering them with questions about their homes and where they came from, and them likewise asking me about my life as an American.
They were all a breath of fresh air after the (mostly self-inflicted) emotional ordeal I had been through in the previous year.
The Pakistani culture itself is alien to my American upbringing in many ways. For example, there is no concept of dating in Pakistan. Family members still arrange many marriages. Men and women do not commonly intermingle in a social context. Even with all that cultural difference, these boys were some of the warmest, most open-hearted people I had met. One of them came over and cooked food for me once when I was sick, but after he lectured me about not having onions in my house (sorry, I don’t currently have any as I type this either…) We had many fun adventures going to the grocery store and even hiking.
Now back to the story of Sameer and I.
I started considering dating Sameer after we went on this silly adventure around Fort Collins trying to find him some mango juice. Apparently, mangoes found in American grocery stores are crap. We went to about five different stores and had at least seven different mango drinks before the night was done. I think by the end of the night we were both suffering from sugar highs. We laughed a lot, and he talked with me about his shenanigans with his friends during his time in University, and about growing up in Pakistan. I wouldn’t realize it for a while, but I was smitten.
I was reluctant to tell my family that I was considering dating a Muslim. Most of my family is pretty conservative, and I feared their judgment. My mother had once warned me that “terrorists” try and recruit people by being nice. I was terrified to tell my vocal, Trump-supporting, gun-toting father. So I kept mostly silent about the delicate, unexpected relationship developing between Sameer and me.
In Sameer’s culture, dating is considered haram (forbidden). He still chose to date me. Our first date was at an Afghani kabob place in FoCo. We walked in, and he stopped and closed his eyes. When I asked him what that was about, he pointed upwards and told me that the music they were playing was just like what they played in his province. When we got our food, he was visibly emotional and said to me that it tasted like home. Seeing how happy he was at that moment warmed my heart.
We went on other dates. Sameer had me watch what might have been the worst movie I have ever seen. We went out and saw the Disneynature Born In China film for my birthday. We would go on walks together with my dog. I asked him to go to Michigan with me during his spring break, so I could meet my future advisor in person and find a place to live. And he did. Through a hellish snowstorm, crappy hotel staff, and me getting quite cranky, Sameer stayed positive. I don’t know how he did it.
Through that trip, I realized that I could see myself marrying him. And I couldn’t help but wonder when I fell so head over heels in love with this hairy Pakistani with a weird sense of humor. But that was the reality: I was hopelessly, helplessly, in love with Sameer.
He proposed to me on a beautiful spring day during a hike. I said yes. Then reality set in.
I had kept the seriousness of my relationship with Sameer mostly quiet. Now I realize it was out of fear of being judged by my friends and family. Then, I thought I just wanted the privacy.
Sameer told his family that he wanted to marry an American girl. A white American girl. A white American girl who was not Muslim, but had been baptized. They weren’t pleased. Up until then, I was an unknown to Sameer’s family because he was flat-out terrified of the judgment of his family. What if they decided they were not okay with his life decision and called him back to Pakistan? Since they were (and are) paying his tuition, that was a genuine fear, one that would come to hang over us like a thundercloud.
I told my mother, and then eventually my father. I don’t think either of them knew what to do with the news. There was a lot of concern over the fact that we were getting engaged so soon. I had people flat out ask me if I was pregnant. I had concerned family calling me and asking me if I knew how Muslims treated their women and asking if he was going to beat me and telling me that they heard that I was quitting school and everything and moving off to Pakistan, never to be heard from again.
Each of these things hurt me, but they were like daggers straight to Sameer’s heart. My family was living up to my worst nightmares. I knew that a lot of my family was conservative, but surely this was exceptionally narrow-minded.
Sameer’s family had their issues. They had decided that we should be married NOW so that Sameer wouldn’t ‘sin.’ Sameer protected me from most of the pressure, but I started hearing things from his younger siblings through WhatsApp. There were even thinly veiled, passive threats about marrying him off to some other girl if he wasn’t serious about marrying me. And the thundercloud grew.
From either family, we heard opposite things. Get married get married get married. Call it off call it off call it off. I had had it in my head that we would have a long engagement, followed by a wedding sometime after Sameer had graduated.
My hopes were being turned into ashes, trampled by all of the negativity surrounding us. Sameer, bless him, was like a rock through all of this that I clung to, lending me his strength when I ran out of mine. We had many conversations that ended in tears on both sides. We bounced what-ifs back and forth until both our minds were spinning.
The only thing we could think of was doing a nikah (Islamic marriage) ceremony to make Sameer’s parents happy, so they would stop pressuring him, and the thundercloud would go away. However, Sameer was trying to explain American culture to his dad during a talk once, and when he revealed that a nikah is not recognized as legally binding in the US, his dad said that Sameer needed to do both. Plus, the imam in the East Lansing area wouldn’t do a nikah without a marriage license, on top of wanting a male relative there as my representative. The feminist in me is still mad about that.
Why was happily ever after so hard? Why was the simple boy and girl fall in love, want to be married, live happily ever after metaphor not applying to us? The short answer is that life isn’t a fairy tale. The long answer is that I (for sure) could have handled things better, talked instead of remaining silent, and, as my mother puts it, stopped trying to swallow an elephant whole without any cutlery.
But Sameer and I are stronger as a couple for all the hoopla.
Finally, Sameer and I had a “fuck it all” moment. Nothing we chose to do was going to make everyone else happy, so we decided to elope.
On an early fall day in September, Sameer and I were married by a lesbian Wiccan in a small ceremony at my barn. My horse was there, as well as the barn owner, her husband, and a fellow boarder and her children. It was tiny and a silly and perfect.
A few weeks ago, we sent out announcements to family and friends. I have since been told to pass on a message to Sameer that if he ever physically harms me that he needs to look out.
I imagine that this was well-intended, but I can’t help asking: if my husband’s name was Samuel instead of Sameer and he was from Indiana instead of Pakistan, would this person have even thought about saying something like that to me regarding my husband. And I can’t help but think that the answer is no.
And it hurts. I can’t adequately put into words how much it hurts. No one wants to face that kind of inherent bias, much less realize you share blood with it. However, I fear for the future of American society, and the world as a whole, which is why I am speaking out. You cannot define a man by his religion just as you cannot define a country by the actions of a few perverse citizens.
Enough is enough.