Here we go! Things 11-15 to Keep in Mind through the Muslim marriage process…
11. Honesty is everything.
Let’s all admit something. Teenagers don’t consider the future feelings of their future spouses when they do things. In fact, you’re lucky if they think as far ahead as tomorrow’s weather advisory. Being young and Muslim in America is all about wrestling with the American culture and trying to figure out where it fits into you and your religion. Parents might like to brag about it, but Islamic values are not always an effective vaccination against peer pressure, especially if you go through that muddy time where “being raised Muslim” is transitioning into “being Muslim.” And so some of us try things in our obligatory confused periods about which we are not proud. Some of us may have drinking in our past, or a relationship with the opposite sex. Some of us may even have those things in our present. Some of us may not be totally ready for marriage but unable to tell our parents. Some of us may have never felt a true attraction for the opposite sex or feel like ever getting married.
When it’s time to meet someone, it’s important to be completely honest about the Big Things with yourself (probably the hardest part) and with the other person, even if you’re not asked. You know what those Big Things are – think about what you would want your children to know in your situation. This point in your life is the time to own yourself: When you add each other on Facebook, make sure everything – everything – is visible, and if you’re not proud of it, remove it from your profile and your character. Marriage is one of life’s greatest responsibilities, so take responsibility for yourself by committing to disclosure and accountability before you commit to another person. Needless to say, it’s important to always be honest about the things that you are asked. Never lie – either tell the truth, or express that you’d rather wait to answer the question and accept the sequelae. We all make mistakes – don’t fear being unaccepted because of your own. You’re looking for the person who will take you as you come, past and all; someone unwilling to do so is not necessarily a bad person but rather someone who has been honest with you about what he can’t handle – that’s good, because that means he isn’t The One. But keep in mind that…
12. It’s neither a confessional nor a private investigation.
For those of you out there with a humongous guilt complex, remember that this isn’t, in fact, Confession. You don’t need to tell him about the time you held that one boy’s hand in Islamic preschool until your teacher told you to stop (He had just wet his pants and looked like he was about to burst into tears, give me a break!) or about every single crush you have ever had. Part of your job as partners will be to protect each other from trivialities that could do much harm if they’re made to matter more than they actually do. So explain those things about which you are asked and offer up important things about which you are not, but keep the bigger picture in mind.
Conversely, resist the temptation to go on jealousy patrol and ask him about every girl he’s ever liked, unless his attraction for girls is a deal-breaker (it shouldn’t be, you want that). Because those matters aren’t things over which you will end your relationship, interrogating will only make you unnecessarily worried and uncomfortable. What matters most is the people you are now and the people you will be moving forward. Ask what is important to you – know your deal-breakers – but above all, ensure that he’s the type of guy who will not do anything to disrespect or hurt you now that he’s in for the long haul, including pursue other women. Then focus on building the present and planning the future – it’s a much more hopeful thing to do. If you’re persistently uncomfortable, question whether it’s because you don’t trust him, and whether he’s perhaps given you good reason to not do so.
13. Communication is everything else.
Good communication takes practice, so start early. You should be able to easily talk to one another through this process, especially about the process itself. Remember, he’s probably new at this, too, and just as clueless as you are. Help each other by making your intentions and perceptions clear. You can avoid misleading or being misled by keeping up a direct and candid conversation about how you think things are going. (It is, in fact, as simple as, “Hey, I was wondering, how do you think this is going?”) Try not to go through your parents or a third party – they are your liaisons, but they shouldn’t be your mouthpiece. Follow the rules that the two of you set instead of deferring to cultural norms that can vary among households and cause confusion. Eastern families are excellent at garbling things in transit, and your dialogue will be one to which the generation before is not accustomed, with different ideas of what is acceptable or offensive. If you are unsure of how to interpret something he says or does, bring it up. Be gentle, be forthright, be honest. If you are able, talk to your parents and keep them in the loop so they too are aware of your intentions. Above all, if you’re interested, make it clear through your words and actions. If you’re not, end it – there is no sense in prolonging a futureless relationship out of guilt or pity; neither will last a lifetime, and the person on the other end deserves better. And when the same happens to you…
14. Take time to heal and collect yourself.
It’s natural to develop feelings for someone you’re considering. Unfortunately, as we’ve all experienced in one way or another, the attraction is not always mutual. Discovering that hurts. Rejection hurts, reframing your thoughts hurts, and letting go hurts. It’s also scary – Will the next one be as good? Will I ever find him? Am I unlovable? The pain is normal – it speaks to your innocence and humanity and tells you that you’re capable of emotion, love, and connecting with another human being. It will heal with time, and there is no epiphany quite like 20-20 hindsight. But for as long as you’re hurting, your judgment will be clouded. So make sure that before you talk to another person, you are over the one before him. You owe that time not only to yourself but also to the next person; no one wants to be caught on the rebound. Keep in mind, though, that it’s important to soon find the faith in God and in the future that will allow you to keep going, and appreciate that Islam’s prohibition on dating is partly so that the pain of a million breakups doesn’t steal that ability. On that note…
15. Don’t allow yourself to become jaded.
Talking to people who wind up not being right for you can be discouraging. You might find yourself losing the excitement and anticipation with which you began the journey of finding your partner. I hold the conviction that even outside the marriage process, people enter our lives for a reason. Every single person you consider will have something to teach you, either about the world or about yourself, if you allow yourself to learn. Be receptive to and find purpose in those lessons. Make a conscious effort to avoid negative thinking, and don’t let anyone steal your hope. Approach every new opportunity with the same sense of possibility you took into your very first meeting. A guy who doesn’t fit is not another one that bit the dust – he’s simply one guy closer to finding the one meant for you.
*Stay tuned for Part 4 next week!*