by RANDA ABDEL-FARRAH
We could have fooled around if we wanted to. There was nobody holding a gun to our heads to make sure we remained virgins until marriage. It was a choice my girlfriends and I were happy to exercise. And while we were big rom-com fans and each owned the box set of Sex and the City, our own search for ‘Mr Right’ played out in very different ways.
For starters, there was no sex. Or dating. While we had plenty of guys who were friends, we weren’t interested in having a boyfriend. Don’t get me wrong. We weren’t repressed prudes, and we didn’t subscribe to the patriarchal idea that our morality was linked to our sexuality. We were empowered and weren’t embarrassed by our conservatism.
We were all of us armed with our Mr Right wish-lists, although frankly they were wish-lists that seemed impossible to meet. Because our criteria (e.g: funny, smart, well-read, not too hairy, not a tight-arse, you get the drill) – also included wanting somebody who shared our faith.
Some of my friends were suckers for a real challenge and also wanted somebody from the same ethnic and cultural background, i.e. Indian and Hindu; Christian orthodox and Greek (some even went so far as to demand Prince Charming’s family hailed from the same Greek island as their parents).
Although I’m of Arabic heritage, I was happy with any ethnicity as long as Mr Right was Muslim. But not just a nominal Muslim. I wanted somebody with whom I could grow in faith and for whom religion mattered. It’s such a big part of my life and I wanted to share it with my partner.
But being part of a minority community means the sea in which your Mr Right swims is a lot smaller. Um, about the size of a baby bath, perhaps? There was fat chance of meeting my Muslim Mr Right in some romantic and random encounter with a man plucked from the general population.
Oh, I had romantic fantasies of bumping into Mr Eligible in the work corridors (“You’ve just joined our law firm? You tick all my boxes and you’re Muslim? How about we discuss that file – and more – over lunch?!”) But they were nothing more than fantasies. I mean, even if a work colleague/barista/friend of a friend etc was Muslim, that wasn’t exactly a guarantee that we’d click in a kind of ‘You’re Muslim and male? Wow we were meant for each other!‘ way.
It was just a threshold criterion.
But a mighty hard one to meet.
Which is why my friends and I were open to the idea of our families and communities getting involved. We were open to- brace yourself- the A word.
That’s right. Arranged marriages.
That just meant we didn’t mind the oldies setting us up with ‘potentials’, as we used to joke. It was kind of like going on a blind date. Except sometimes the people arranging the blind date were our parents or their friends. And the date could – wait for it – take place in the lounge room at home.
Our families knew about our wish-lists and wouldn’t dare introduce us to somebody who fell short. Well, not too short anyway.
And it wasn’t always a lounge-room ‘date’. Sometimes a guy would call and arrange a coffee date, having obtained my number through a family friend. Other times he would visit the family home – alone, or with his family. There were unspoken norms. Don’t bring too many family members. The guy should always call after a visit, even if they weren’t interested (it was brutal, but common courtesy).