Many people have asked me what it’s like being an American woman married to an Arab man. Some even ‘warned’ me before making the decision to get married. This post is my little attempt at clearing up some of the misconceptions regarding the Arab/American marriages.
Perhaps I should clarify a bit; my husband is not only an Arab, but he’s a bedoin (desert) Arab. He can comfortably spend his Winter in a desert tent, cooking fresh meat over fahem, and brushing his teeth with a miswak. Yet he does own (and use) a Sonicare toothbrush. While I’m watching the Arab Ramadan shows, he’s fully invested in an episode of Daily Show or Colbert. There’s very little about him that fits into the stereotypical ‘bedoin’ mold. He’s actually more Westernized than many ‘city’ Arabs I know. His English is perfect, he’s been to America and fully understands our mentality, culture, and politics. But he also embraces the more positive things about the bedoin culture, such as how women should be treated.
Unfortunately there are a lot of misconceptions about how bedoin men treat their wives, and until you’re married to one, I suggest you don’t assume. My husband has never asked me to cover my head, my face, hands, or feet. He’s never treated me as anything less than his equal other than when it involves finances. In his culture men have an obligation to truly take care of their wives. He’s responsible for all the bills and monthly obligations while providing me anything I want without hesitation — even if it means he goes without. Having a husband like this has taught me to want very little as it’s far more important to me that he lives a stress free life and never goes without anything. We make all life decisions together… even the small ones. My opinion matters and he always asks what I think or how I feel. I don’t have to ask his ‘permission’ to do anything, nor does he ask mine. But out of respect for one another we ensure the other is always comfortable. If he knew something bothered me or caused me pain, he wouldn’t do it, that simple. In the bedoin culture men are often viewed as superior to women (by outsiders), but it’s not that way. Men are actually responsible for a woman — very different than being superior. Not only are they responsible for us financially, but also our emotional well-being. For a woman to shed a tear and a man be the cause is shameful. Fortunately my husband does fit comfortably into this part of the culture he appears to have left so far behind.
Then there’s me. The typical Southern Belle raised as an only child in America. I was spoiled, wanted for nothing, and had everything. Rarely did my parents say “no”. Mistake. My immediate family consists of 5 people. Large family gatherings happened once a year during family reunion time and even that came to an abrupt halt when my grandparents died. I never had to share anything with anyone — even my space.
Then I married a man whose immediate family consists of 24+ people. People who are very, very close. Family gatherings take place as often as daily since the entire family lives in very close proximity to one another.
Before meeting my husband he was feeling the Arabian pressure of ‘marriage’. Family members were actively seeking out prospective wives to include cousins. Yes, the bedoins often marry cousins. They have very close family ties and rarely marry outside of their tribe. My husband made clear he wasn’t interested in an arranged marriage, but instead wanted to marry someone he chose. Someone he loved. Someone he was compatible with. And someone he could see himself investing a lifetime in. That someone just happened to be me. Certainly I’m not someone his mother would have chosen for him, but she’s never made me feel that way. The entire family embraced me without hesitation. Perhaps they were just relieved he was finally getting married? Either way, this spoiled, only child now has a huge family who I love and cherish. They accept I need a fork to eat my meals and they’ve always accommodated me without making me feel awkward. I’m never left out of family events and they even go out of their way to embrace things from my culture. I experience things in Kuwait I doubt many other Americans do… but I wish they did.
I wish I could say my life resembles every Westerner married to an Arab but I know that’s not the case. Every situation is unique and some are better than others. I’ve heard horror stories of cheating, abuse, and outright disrespect. But this takes place in marriages all over the world — it’s not exclusive to the Arab man. I’m just so thankful, every day, that I married a man who is the perfect combination of East and West. Someone who embraces the best of both cultures. And someone who fully understands both worlds.
What I do find very interesting and even a bit odd at times are those who stare. We live in a very tribal area where Americans are almost never seen. When we venture into the city or the malls no one even takes a second look. But we go to the local co-op and people literally stop what they’re doing to stare. Some have even been so bold to ask questions… I respect that more than the stares, and I think my husband appreciates it more as well. My husband is very out-going and friendly to everyone. He treats everyone with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality or employment ‘status’. He doesn’t judge others and he understands why some people might ‘wonder’ about us. We’ve become quite popular at the local Starbucks… shocker.
Would I recommend every Western woman run out there and marry an Arab man? Well, of course not. I simply encourage people to stand up for what you believe in. Don’t allow others decide who you should be with or how you should live your life. After-all, it’s you who has to walk in those shoes. I can say, with confidence, if you’re in a relationship which is questionable or causes you pain, run… and run fast. Regardless of nationality, ethnicity, backgrounds, or culture.