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The First Proposal

Monday, October 5, 2020


 

I received my first proposal when I was fifteen years old and did not know who I was or where I wanted to go in life. It was the time I should have spent focusing on what I needed to do to achieve my career goals and dreams, but somehow that fell on the back-burner for a while. My mother walked into my room one evening after a lengthy phone conversation to talk to me. She did not know that I was eavesdropping during her phone call and knew what she came to talk to me about. I was not ready for this conversation. I am too young; I thought. There is no way she would spring this on me before I even graduated from high school. But here she was, standing in my doorway with a slightly sheepish smile on her face, knowing she was throwing me into deep waters with the first sentence she uttered. 


    "There's a marriage proposal for you," she said, grinning. "They want to see a photo of you so we will take one this coming Eid," she mentioned hurriedly. 


    "What do you think?" she asked, slightly concerned with the look of panic on my face. 


    I laughed nervously because I do not know how to handle serious situations without bursting in laughter sometimes. She knew I did not want this, so why ask me about it, I thought. It is not fair to put me on the spot like this, as I have no clue if considering this would be a good idea. I shrugged my shoulders at her, feeling embarrassed and awkward having this conversation with her. I know nothing about these people, who they are, where do they live, and most importantly, why are they interested in me. 


    "At least talk to the guy and see how you feel," murmured my mother before she walked out of the room.


    Well, I thought, maybe she is right and I should give this person a chance because who knows I might like him. But first I wanted to see a picture. We waited for a few days and received his photo in the mail. I was so nervous opening the envelope I dropped it because my hands were shaking. When I opened the envelope, my mother read the disappointment on my face. He did not appeal to me at all! I put his photo down and scurried into my room to hide from questions posed by my mother. I curled up on my bed and pondered on what to do about my situation. I had so many dreams and ambitions to strive for. I needed to get good grades in my final two years of high school so I could apply to the best universities for undergraduate studies. What would happen to my dreams? 


    I should at least talk to the guy, I mused. Maybe that won't be so bad. The next day, I received an email for an unknown address. Curious, I opened the email and gasped. He messaged! His email sparked my curiosity as he made me laugh and smile through this small interaction. I decided it would be best to get to know him a little more before I made a final decision. Somehow, we formed an instant connection. We would talk for hours on MSN Messenger and I would get in trouble for not focusing on my homework. He was so funny and charming. He delighted me with his stories and talks about his day, and I would happily listen. I am not a talkative person, so this was great. He gave me topics to talk about without me having to work hard on figuring out what to say next. Everything flowed smoothly.


    My mother started falling off the new guy bandwagon after several months because she was unhappy with his looks. His skin was too dark, and he was not tall enough. I gaped at her when she mentioned this because I liked him. Why did she not see this before she told me to give him a chance after looking at his photograph? I rolled my eyes at her and told her I wanted to move forward with their proposal because we were forming a good connection. She reluctantly agreed, and we set a telephone date with his parents to discuss future details. I needed to know his parents would accept my future educational goals since they would marry me off by my high school graduation. I could not compromise at all regarding my studies. His parents happily agreed to my wishes to pursue medical education and even helped me find information on how to apply. First, however, I needed to learn the language. Along with my high school work, I started spending some time learning the new language. I was eager to be fluent and not hinder my progression by the time our wedding came. My soon to be fiance was ecstatic. 


    Our parents held an engagement event in the summer before I entered grade twelve. We packed our bags and made an entire trip out of it by traveling to Amsterdam and then the last location. Everything felt surreal, and I felt I was looking at my life from an outsider's point of view. We stayed at my Phopo's (father's sister) home for the duration of my stay. My Dadi (paternal grandmother) was there as well. Little did I know, this would prove to be a deadly combination for my visit. They blatantly refused to let me attend the dinners at my future fiance's place and they would leave me alone while everybody went to enjoy the festivities. I was shocked, angry, and restless. My mother was unprepared for this onslaught but could not put up much of a fight during the time because she wanted the ceremony to go smoothly. I became bitter towards my Phopo and Dadi and refused to talk to anyone when they returned. They chalked off my grumpy attitude to stress from the proposal. I was livid. The whole reason to traverse halfway across the globe was to spend some time with this man and his family so I could feel comfortable marrying him. This would be my only opportunity to see him in person until the wedding! They stole this moment away from us for no reason. His parents came around and took me and my parents out for dinner one night, but the man in question was absent from this meeting, so that didn't help.


    The day of the Mangni (engagement party) arrived and my future fiance's family arrived at my Phopo's home to drop off the dress and doll me up for the evening. The dress was a beautiful pistachio green with heavy gold and silver embroidery running all over it. Shocked, I wore the exceptionally intricate gown that weighed half my body weight and I realized this was it. This is who I will marry. I became very nervous and started panicking a little. I was not sure if this is what I wanted but I kept moving forward with this idea, anyway. Then, one of my aunts opened this jewelry box with a beautiful 22K gold bridal set to adorn me with as a gift. I was speechless. They were doing way too much for what I thought would be a simple engagement party with the family. This was turning out into a full-blown reception-style affair. One thing I have to say is I never saw myself dolled up this way before and I looked fabulous. I was in the best form of my life from physical education and martial arts lessons that I took regularly. 


    My aunts were unhappy with the excessiveness of the event, and they made their displeasure clear to anyone who looked at their shocked and disproving faces. It was a sweet event with lots of loving families around and excellent food. I sat on their makeshift stage in a school gym the family had decorated themselves. I sat there quietly with multiple lights and cameras shining at my face. I tried to remain composed and calm but later on; I realized that gave me the worst case of resting b-- face in the history of me. The man in question came and sat beside me, and it sent butterflies racing down my spine. This was the first time I was meeting him in person, and my emotions and heartbeat were irregular and frenzied. I could not take a good look at him because the heavy veil-like fancy shawl on my head secured there by a thousand pins made it difficult to move. 


    Despite the strangeness of it all, I enjoyed myself that evening despite the exhaustion of sitting up straight for several hours and smiling at a multitude of cameras. Later that night when I messaged him, we both mentioned being happy with everything. For a moment, it all seemed okay. This could work, I thought happily to myself. Maybe this is best for me and I need to be patient and go with the flow. Everyone seemed nice and accepting. I looked young beside him, though. Age is but a number?


    As time went on, we became close friends and he became someone I could talk with about anything and everything. He knew how to make me laugh or smile, even when I was feeling low or stressed. He knew how to keep chat away about any random event and keep me fully engrossed in his words. During Valentine's day, he would send me a teddy bear with flowers and some romantic poem or other. He would shower me with gifts during Eid and my birthday very romantically. I was happy. 


    Suddenly, things took a turn for the absolute worst. My ex hacked into my email and used it to find the email of my fiance and send him a long message explaining that I was not in love with him and just using him and biding my time. He mentioned that I did not want to marry him or be with him and this was all some twisted joke. Instead of coming directly to me, my fiance showed that email to his mother who called my mother with frantic urgency and anger. My parents attacked me with panicked questions, trying to find out if this was true or not. My past was messy, and it worried them I was taking part in my ex's behaviour and perhaps encouraging him to help ruin my reputation. I fell down a deep hole during this time and no matter what I said, nobody would believe me. Why would I hurt myself this way? 


    My mother thought this was the end of everyone's reputation, and I needed to salvage this immediately. I spoke to my fiance and explained to him that this was in no way orchestrated by me and it was somebody who was trying to hurt me. He stated that he believed me, but I could tell that everything was different now. His parents decided they wanted their demands met to continue with the proposal and marriage. They wanted me to focus on having children and being a housewife instead of pursuing my education because their son would be almost thirty by the time they married us. This was horrifying and unacceptable for my seventeen-year-old self. I was not mentally ready to bear children and give up everything I was working so hard for. How could they make such unreasonable demands after allowing us to form a bond? I spiraled into a deep, dark place because I knew everything was collapsing around me. My fiance messaged me a few days later saying that our relationship will not work and he could not go against his parents' demands. The only way he could stay with me was if I agreed to their additional requests without fighting. 


    This I could not do. I did not want us to end this way, though. I really did like him a lot and could see a potential future for us. Unfortunately, none of this mattered anymore. It was time to let him go. My challenges did not end after this breakup, however, because my parents were still reeling from the events of a few days ago. They blamed me for tarnishing everyone's reputation and told me I will find no one else after this story got out into the community. I became unlovable and so deeply flawed, that any future prospects would run away from wanting a girl like me in their family. I fell into depression and lost sight of everything around me. I blamed myself for the destruction of this relationship and ruining my parents' image in front of our entire family. It was a tremendous burden to bear, and I almost didn't make it through. 


    Slowly, I came to understand that it was not all my fault. All the issues that went unaddressed did not stem from me. My parents knew I was not ready for a relationship when that phone call came, yet they pushed me towards it. I learned to compromise on what I wanted because I needed to meet cultural expectations. Another toxic aspect of our culture is victim-blaming. I had nothing to do with the email sent by my ex, yet I became everyone's scapegoat. It didn't ruin the image of the boy who sent that email in the first place but of the girl who knew nothing of it. The scorned ex got away with it because he was male. Nobody called out or blamed my ex-fiance or his family for their unreasonable requests either. 


    Although I do not regret standing my ground for my rights, I wonder what would have happened if I complied with everyone's wishes. I later learned my ex-fiance married a very well educated woman, but they ended up divorcing a few years later because of the same issues I refused to bend for. Thinking about that, i realize I made the right choice. There was potential for a beautiful and flourishing bond between the two of us, but everyone came in the way of it. 

    

Until Next Time,


Photo by Peter Hansen on Unsplash

5 comments:

  1. Beautifully written and touched my heart :(

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow what an emotional rollercoaster you have gone through.

    Girls are put in circumstances to compromise and sacrifice themselves or their happiness for others and im so proud of the Way you handled the situation.

    Touched by your journey and proud of where you are now:)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Your statement is spot on! We as females are fighting so many different battles just because of being born. But there is strength and endurance within us that helps us get through these challenges. Thank you so much for your feedback!

      Delete
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