I was going to call this post: "Marrying Outside your Culture", but I was not sure whether I had or not. For people my age (and younger – ahem) marriage seems to be the biggest personal issue to contend with. Add this to the very cosmopolitan places many of my fellow blogging sisters live in and marrying outside of your, or your parents’, culture seems to be a growing trend.
I met my husband on a trip to Pakistan (I was originally introduced to his tall, handsome, but mean cousin and had said no). The story of how we met and how I came to my decision is definitely one I will treasure forever and after a two-year engagement during which I completed my degree, we had a joyful, raucous, chaotic Pakistani wedding.
I think it is testament to my husbands mature thinking, deep-down goodness and patience maashaa’Allah, that eight years later we are still together when the marriages of more couples we know have broken down than survived. My husband’s first job was in a warehouse where almost the entire staff was Asian and the biggest chunk Pakistani men who had married British-Pakistani women. My husband was struck by the way the majority of these men were complaining about how they thought their lives would be better after these marriages but were in fact nightmares. They had to kowtow to their in-laws and they felt their wives were unable to respect them and they to understand their wives. One described himself as like a dog in his in-laws house. Others complained they were not allowed to send money home (not even £20 to a sister for her wedding in one case).
I can sympathise with these men to an extent, but I can also see things from the other point of view. How many young girls growing up with the Hollywood/Bollywood ideal of a man or growing up in a big cosmopolitan city is then stuck with some poorly educated small-town cousin who struggles to find work in the local take-away (so much for visions of the be-suited, Lexus-driving lawyer or accountant). How do their parents ever expect such marriages to work, are they really so blind?
Even when both parties do make the effort and as in our case the affection is genuine, you have to get over the cultural losses within such a marriage. Anyone in a mixed-marriage might recognise what I mean. My husband cannot see the point of Lord of the Rings, Star Wars or Dr Who (which I love all of). He would miss a thousand childhood references that inform my life as a person who has grown up in London. In contrast, although my parents tried to give me a strong grounding in Pakistani/Punjabi language and culture, I miss a lot of cultural references that hold meaning for him. In Pakistan the most romantic night of the year is Chaand Raat, the night before Eid-ul-Fitr. Our first Eid together, I painted my hands with henna and promptly fell asleep, whilst hubby sat up and sulked that I hadn’t made any effort at all.
I think that for a long time this was the thing that I found hardest. Although we shared language and faith, our culture had been very different and our culture shapes who we are and often what we aspire to. Probably our saving grace was Islaam. Regardless of our culture, it guided us in so many ways and that meant that we aspired to the same things and had similar values.
The other thing that helped is that no matter how different your culture, marriage has its own language, its own history and a home has its own culture. After a few years this language is the one that takes precedence between you (if you are not sure about what kind of language this is, think about the times you know what the other is thinking, or when they say one thing, but you know what they really mean – “What would you like for Eid?” “Oh…nothing…”).
For us the most important thing was sincerity. So many people only marry abroad because they cannot find anyone here, or they want someone they can control easily. So many people are keen to marry an English girl or an American/Aussie/Canadian girl for the opportunity to go abroad and earn enough to send bucket-loads of cash home without any thought for the person they are using. Parents need to be aware of this and check their intentions as do their children. I married my husband because it didn’t take long to see that he was such a good person and could not do enough for others (even at his own risk).
He married me because he said he never saw me not smiling and he didn’t want a whinging misery for a wife (too late now mate!!)