Updates from readers?

Over the years many of you have written to me or commented on the blog and so kindly shared your experiences. Some good, others not. Some of you have been so kind as to share your photos with me, details about your vacations, or just write to suggest a morning meeting over coffee. I’ve come to adore many of you and truly value the dear friends I’ve met through the blog.

That being said, I find myself thinking about some of you from time to time. Perhaps you commented on the blog years ago regarding a new relationship but never followed up. Or, maybe you were someone who emailed intimate details of an abusive marriage you were in. Or, you were one of my readers who was so kind to share their story with others here in hopes of helping them through a situation. I would absolutely love to hear from those of you who still follow the blog. I would love updates on your initial comments. And I would love to know where you are in life now. Did you marry that man? Dump the loser? Move to the other country?

If you’re not comfortable with a follow up on the blog, please feel free to email me and update me there. Looking forward to reading comments and/or emails from many of you!

The Arab/American Marriage; many years later

My initial ‘Arab/American Marriage‘ post was in August 2012 and I’ve tried to provide an update each year since.

While reading over my original post I realize not a lot has changed other than our geographical location. We move to America in 2013 and haven’t looked back. For the first several months I’m sure I experienced far more culture shock and missed Kuwait much more than my husband did. I looked forward to the visits back and had even continued to remind him we should probably consider moving back one day. Well, that’s no longer the case.

After overcoming my missing of Kuwait (which didn’t take too very long) I genuinely started to embrace life here in America. Probably as much as my husband embraced it from the beginning. We’re both fully committed to being here for the rest of our lives and enjoying our Kuwait visits with family when possible.

At this point I don’t think we have any cultural differences to overcome — we’ve already done that on so many levels. I do still get a giggle when he occasionally mistakes the B for a P and ‘barks the car’. Otherwise, I sometimes forget he wasn’t born and raised here.

Some people have asked if my husband has changed since moving to America. I suppose we both have to some degree. I can say his love for animals, while it always existed, has really intensified. We started a nonprofit together to assist rescue animals abroad and he’s just as dedicated as I am to making a difference. He loves our pets (4 dogs and 2 cats) as if they’re our children and treats them as such. Anytime we’re out shopping together he’ll grab little toys or treats he thinks the pets might enjoy. On the other hand shopping, while one of my favorite things, is not on his list of pleasures.

In many ways I guess we’re simply the boring couple now. We spend weekends doing home improvement projects and weekdays working on business projects. We travel only if it’s convenient for our pets. He hates grocery shopping yet gladly carries all the bags into the house. We have mutual ‘couple’ friends as well as a handful of friends we hang out with independent of one another. I enjoy waking early and going out for coffee, he likes to sleep in and grab a quality brunch later in the day. We watch the same television programs, like the same movies, and have similar taste in music. Yeah, we’re just the typical married couple at this point. Best friends, one another’s biggest fan, and always displaying a mutual respect.

For those who continue to ask for advice regarding their Arab boyfriend/fiance, I would have to say the most important thing is to like one another. Forget about culture, background, religion, etc. Look at that person and ask yourself if you really like them enough to spend the rest of your life with them. If the answer is yes, then everything else is simple stuff. But if you’re with someone and think, “Oh I can change him/her down the road” get out of that relationship. Don’t disrespect yourself or someone else with such immature thoughts. Find someone you share a true common bond with and embrace them for who they are.

My husband and I were very fortunate that we both had a deep understanding of one another’s culture from the beginning. I respected his and he respected mine. There were no games or nonsense which resulted in hurt feelings. We were both honest, up front, dependable, loyal, and real. That’s what makes any marriage a strong one.

A lesson in Mut’a Marriage

UPDATE: Someone left a wonderful, well informed, helpful comment that I’ve posted for anyone curious. They have provided a great deal of information regarding Mut’a as well as offered some corrections to my inaccuracies. 

Several times a week I get emails from readers who are involved in relationships with Muslim men and are often seeking advice on religion, culture, tradition, and how the three tie into one another — if at all. Many of them are also seeking advice on marriage and whether or not he’s ‘serious’ when he asks her to consider marrying him. Obviously I don’t have all the answers and never claimed to be a professional in the field of intercultural marriages, so I simply share information based on my experience and hope that helps.

A topic I recently realized I have never covered is Mut’a Marriage. And based on a few emails I’ve gotten as of late, I figured now would be the best time to touch on this.

My experience with Mut’a is pretty much nonexistent. It’s something (from what I understand) that is practiced among the Shia’a Muslims and not so much anymore within the Sunni community. Someone please correct me if I’m wrong. I’m basing this information off of friends in Kuwait and the UAE who are both Sunni and Shia’a. Therefore, I would love to hear from any readers who have been involved in a Mut’a Marriage in hopes of helping out some of the women who might be reading this and could use that guidance.

It’s my understanding Mut’a is a ‘temporary marriage’ where a woman agrees to be a man’s wife for a specified period of time and can then participate in all things husbands and wives participate in; ie. sex. There is no dowry involved, no additional benefits, no financial gain (unless he agrees to pay her a certain amount), and no support upon divorce. Some of these marriages last as short as a few days and some can be a lifetime I suppose. As far as their legality, I know they’re not recognized in the US as our marriages (to be legal) must be documented in a court. A Mut’a Marriage is simply an agreement between a man and woman. I don’t believe there’s any paperwork involved. However, I do believe it’s a fairly common practice for boyfriends and girlfriends as a way to eliminate any Islamic guilt. You know… have sex, pretend you’re married, and Allah doesn’t know any better. No offense intended. Just keeping it real.

That being said, if you’re one of the women who have written me about your boyfriend asking to marry you ‘temporarily’ to ‘test’ out how a real marriage would be, maybe that’s not exactly what he means. It’s possible he has a strong desire to have sex with you but his religious guilt is telling him to ‘do the right thing’ and ‘marry’ you. Of course the real right thing would be to respect you as a woman and keep it in his pants. But, chances are, you’re unaware of his culture and what is and is not permitted in his religion. He can pretty much tell you anything and you’ll pretty much believe it. And of course, once he starts throwing the idea of marriage around, it makes it all that much more appealing. And, well, ‘real’ in your mind.

Do your homework, ladies. And keep your panties on while you’re studying 😉

Long weekends, home improvements, and rainy weather

Though I’m fortunate enough to work from home and set my own schedule I still look forward to the long weekends. It’s a time my husband and I can actually plan to take care of a few things we’ve been putting off due to lack of time. Vacations? Not a chance. Our long weekends are often filled with family time and home improvement projects. Sure, it might be nice to get away for a few days from time to time but with the number of pets we have, we’ve decided our time with them is more valuable than travel and the boarding them.

This Memorial Day weekend was rather rainy so there was little opportunity for outdoor time which worked out rather well considering the work we’re doing indoors. My husband, who is starting to embrace being a hands on home improvement guy, spent the weekend replacing all the flooring in our family room and my office. I spent the weekend choosing new paint colors and making numerous trips to and from Lowe’s as he remembered items he had forgotten on trip number one.

My hope is that we build a new house on our land in a couple of years. Right now it’s just the 2 of us and I feel our current house is perhaps a little large for our needs. I long for something a bit smaller with a cozy feel. My husband, on the other hand, isn’t a fan of spending the money. His theory is ‘our current home meets all of our needs, why bother with another’? Could be why he’s embracing his home improvement side. He figures if he does everything to our current home I won’t be asking for yet another one. He’s the sweetest, kindest, most generous man in the world until I ask for something he deems unnecessary.

Mexico has their El Chapo, Kuwait has its El Cheapo — and apparently I married him.

 

Different cultures = new traditions

My grave lack of interest in Christmas this year recently prompted a very serious conversation between me and myself. Not out loud, though I have been known to talk to myself.

“Wanna go shopping?”

“Nah. It’s too hot.”

“Wanna decorate and start a fire in the fireplace?”

“Nah. It’s too hot.”

I think I was trying to convince myself the two days of unseasonably warm weather we were having was stripping away any sign of Christmas spirit I could have possibly felt — the way I did in previous years. But, the more I contemplated and talked myself out of doing anything holiday related, the more I realized it was because it lacked the same emotional relevance it did as I was growing up. Or even as I was living overseas for so very long.

AB

My husband, on the other hand, goes out of his way every holiday season to make it as special as he possibly can for me which was very appreciated before moving home to the U.S. However, it recently dawned on me that his idea of a ‘special Christmas’ is doing what he’s seen in movies and on television. He never grew up celebrating the holiday and really has no clue the significance of certain things… like the ‘build up’ of excitement as the holiday season approaches. Or why things such as ‘Black Friday’ make many of us insane with joy. Cookie exchanges, gift wrapping parties, or matching pajamas on Christmas Eve. Of course when I suggest these things he’s totally on board, but it made me realize he’s just going through the motions for my benefit. 

That being said, during my intimate conversation with myself about this overall detachment from the holidays I was experiencing, I had an epiphany — new traditions!

AB2

My husband and I genuinely love one another dearly and would go out of our way to make each other happy. He pretends his way through the holiday season while I detach from it as a way to prevent him from experiencing any inconvenience. So, as a way to bring us closer together and connect on a more significant level this year, we opted to create some new traditions of our own. Such as a romantic dinner at a very exclusive (and decked out for Christmas in terms of decor) restaurant the first week of December. Black Friday shopping on Saturday at local businesses only. Christmas Eve breakfast at Cracker Barrel, and Christmas Eve night at the local Jazz club with great friends and family. Just a few small modifications that allow us to enjoy the holiday season in a way that defines ‘us’ a bit better than any Christmas movie we’ve ever seen.

So yeah, after almost 4 years of marriage we still occasionally face cultural differences. But chances of us defining them as such is pretty rare. I suppose we often just overcome challenges like any other married couple; compromise, love, and respect.

Wishing you all a wonderful holiday season filled with happiness and perhaps even some new traditions of your own.

Respect; the glue which holds a marriage together

I get a number of emails every day asking questions about what makes the Arab/American marriage really work. Some share their own experiences, both good and bad. And others are hoping for just a little insight into a very confusing situation. And though I’m certain I’ve blogged about this before I figured I would cover it again since my own marriage has grown and changed.

Of course there’s no magic answer to any of their questions though I wish there were. I like to think that every now and then I do spout something that provides a little comfort to at least one person needing some peace.

In most cases I find myself looking at my own marriage and trying to identify what really makes it work. Is it perfect? Nah. Are we always running around chipper and happy? Of course not. But are we deeply in love and share a genuine concern for one another’s well being? Absolutely. And then it hit me — respect.

*Google images

*Google images

I know I’ve said this before, but in the few years we’ve been married my husband has never once raised his voice at me in anger or called me a derogatory name. He’s still very protective of my feelings and gets bothered if something upsets me. Not as much as he was when we were first together — he’s learned I’m a bit melodramatic. He knows when I’m really upset as opposed to just being a spoiled drama queen and he reacts accordingly. Yet I always know when I really need him he’s there without hesitation. He doesn’t allow me to worry about anything and he’s always making sure I’m well taken care of.

On the same note I hold him in the highest regard. I have the greatest respect for him as a man and my husband. And though we trust one another implicitly, I could never imagine doing something (especially publicly) that would be shameful to him or put him in a negative light. Not that we care what other people think, but it simply comes down to respect. Especially in his culture. Not that culture should really matter when it comes to respecting another another in a marriage.

Since meeting we’ve faced a number of challenges that neither of us had any control over, yet we somehow seemed to not only overcome, but to come out on the positive end. Our biggest challenge has probably been adapting to life here in America. Something we were both really excited about but hadn’t completely thought through. Yes, we knew it was going to be different but I’m not sure either of us knew exactly how different. Fortunately, and after several months, we created habits and a comfort zone all while growing closer together. We were open and honest about any feelings we had and we were compassionate towards what the other was going through.

And while loyalty, compassion, honesty, and humor are all very important traits, I don’t believe they can exist without respect.

‘Muslim boyfriend’ is an oxymoron [re-post]

It’s fairly common for me to write about living overseas and marrying an Arab man since that’s my experience. But what I haven’t discussed is the far more common scenario of the couple meeting while in her home country. He’s generally overseas studying at some fabulous Western university and the lifestyle is new and exciting. Chances are this is his first time away from home.

I came across this really interesting post on Maritime Muslimah‘s blog this morning and thought I would share. She points out a few ways for a woman to know he’s just never going to marry her. I’ve only added her list of 5 things a woman should look out for, but her entire post is definitely worth reading.

1. The Parents

First things first – if he is hiding you from mommy and daddy then get out while you can. He will make excuses and tell you again and again that it’s not the right time. He will keep delaying it until he leaves. You will never meet them on skype or hear him mention you to them.

 

2. Justifies all the Haram

If you convert to Islam and he keeps convincing you to party, drink and have sex then he’s a dud. Often times he’ll be aggressive about it and call you ‘extreme’ . When you come to Islam he should support you and you both should grow and become better together.

 

3. My ‘friend’

If he calls you just a friend in front of his friends and other people and later makes excuses for it then call him out on it and if he doesn’t change – you’ll end in heart break.

 

4. False Nikah

Beware of him convincing to marry him ‘Islamically’ with the local Mosque without informing his parents or having any of his friends as witnesses. He is trying to make your relationship ‘halal’ while still committing haram (If you’re still partying and having sex).

 

5. Convinces you Not to become Muslim

He’s scared that if you become Muslim that you will ruin his experience and fun in the West. He came to escape  the laws of his country not have another mother telling him what to do.

The Arab/American Marriage — Al-Juz’a Al-Thaani

A little over a year ago I wrote about my experience as an American married to an Arab man. The post has gotten a lot of attention from women in similar situations and men looking to marry American women. But, I’ve also received over 100 emails asking for an update; changes we might have experienced as a couple since moving to the US.

So here goes…

Christmas of 2011 my husband had agreed to move to America. It was one of many gifts he had given me that year but definitely the best. I didn’t ask for it though he could certainly see how depressed I was over the holidays. I’m not Christian, have never been Christian, but have always celebrated Christmas… it’s a commercial thing. Of course I was excited and ready to start packing; it had been a very long time since I had actually lived in my home country. But his agreement to move came with stipulations (good ones, not bad), a requirement to be prepared, and took us about a year to meet the goals we had set.

It’s almost unheard of for a man from my husband’s culture to move away from his family unless it’s to study. But, from the time my husband was a teenager he was very independent. He worked when he didn’t have to, he maintained a place of his own outside of the family home (to take women? eh, don’t know, don’t care), and made clear he wasn’t interested in a traditional marriage. Yet he managed to do this without disrespecting his family. Not sure how he did it, but he did. The fact that he’s a middle son probably helps a lot as well.

Long story short, in January 2013 we were on the plane headed to our new life in the United States. We were both beyond excited and it almost felt surreal. My husband, his brothers, and his dad handled all of our bags and I managed the cats. Every single man in the family took us to the airport in 4 cars. As nervous as I was they made it feel so simple.

Upon arriving at our destination in North Carolina my husband handled everything. I believe at that point he was not only carrying the cat bags but also my handbag. I was utterly exhausted and surely not a lot of fun to be around. He slept on the flight, I didn’t. Enough said.

For the first several weeks we organized, unpacked, and made our new house a true home. It was interesting to see my husband learn new ‘American tasks’ such as hanging curtains. Yet he was more than willing and I believe it was even fun for him. Soon after we arrived he went on a power tool buying frenzy. Spring came and we planted a garden. Another first for him but he was truly enthusiastic.

Another thing I believe we both enjoyed without even realizing it was the lack of people staring. No odd questions, no funny looks. We just do our thing while everyone around us does theirs. My husband has been mistaken for Mexican more than once and our Waiter in a Mexican restaurant even spoke to him in Spanish while seating us. He replied with, “Hi Amigo” (the only Spanish word he knows) and we laughed.

Since moving to America my husband has experienced a lot of things he hadn’t before. Different people, a new lifestyle, food, weather, and even pumping our gas. Yet he’s adapted without hesitation. He’s remained the same kind soul I married. He remains patient when I’m not. And he has a way of being a calming force in my life. He’s still attentive, caring, and thoughtful. He never leaves the house without coming home with some ‘surprise’ for me. To this day he makes sure I have everything I need without asking. He really is the reason I sleep so well and wake up so happy.

If I had to list any complaint about him it would be his addiction to thrift stores. No, not antique stores — those are acceptable. I’m talking Goodwill. If we pass one while driving I cringe, knowing he’s making a u-turn. “Whyyyyyy” I ask. What is the attraction to buying used books (his primary purchase)? I think he’s just amazed people would discard so many items and he can purchase them at a 99% discount. I’m not nearly as amused. Fortunately most of our Goodwill stores are near a coffee shop or a mall… where I disappear to.

I suppose our life in America resembles anyone else’s. But I believe we’ve both grown as people. We’re more grounded emotionally and probably deeper in love than ever before. We appreciate life in a way we didn’t while living in Kuwait. We can sit outside, watch the sunset, admire the puffy clouds and green trees, and be perfectly satisfied. Nothing here is showy, shallow, or superficial and I think we embrace that. I guess we’ve become what some would call ‘boring’ but we’re definitely not bored.

While relaxing at home my husband will sometimes still wear dishdasha (I think that’s for my benefit) but he has a closet full of Eddie Bauer. I gladly cook machboos though it’s only once a week. We burn bukhoor and have Arabesque decor all throughout the house, but we also have 2 cats and a dog living in here with us — a Persian, an Arabian Mau, and a Yellow Lab (the all American dog).

Overall our lives have changed dramatically yet almost not at all. In Kuwait we lived the Kuwaiti life every day while throwing in hints of America. And in America we live the American life every day with little hints of Kuwait. It’s a nice balance and we’re happy.

Arab/American cultural challenges; what to expect.

I get a number of emails from American women asking advice about their Arab men. Each situation is unique and all very interesting. Some of the men are Arab but born and raised in America. Some of the women who write are working in Kuwait and dating a Kuwaiti. Some are living in their home country but having an online relationship with an Arab man living in his. I wish I had all the answers and could guide everyone off into a land of never ending bliss. But since that’s not reality I’ve decided to compile a list in hopes of answering some questions.

So what are some of the biggest cultural differences you should expect to encounter?

Casual relationships: This is the one where you, the American woman, think you’re dating this really nice Arab guy and it feels like it’s getting serious.

1. He says all the right things but his actions aren’t matching. This comes from not wanting to ‘bother’ a woman with things that might upset her… like the truth.

2. He still lives with his mom and dad and he’s almost 30. Perfectly normal, don’t stress. He’s not a loser.

3. Spends every night away from his home, doesn’t answer his phone, and finally calls at 6am claiming he was at dewaniya all night. Chances are he was. Get used to it, you’re always going to be less important than dewaniya.

4. Having intimate relations with you then either disappearing for a few days… or forever. This happens often and for a lot of reasons. Women in the Arab culture are highly respected and taught to respect themselves. Being intimate with a man before marriage is almost unheard of. So a woman who doesn’t abide by this rule is often seen a a woman who has no respect for herself by an Arab man’s standards. She’s certainly not marriage material. Keep your panties on, women!

5. Expressing dislike for certain outfits or style of clothing you’re wearing. He believes you should only look good for him, at home, behind closed doors.

6. Silent treatment. Not for a few hours or overnight but for days… weeks even. And during this time you’re expected to call him (though he’s not going to answer) and send endless text messages. If you don’t then he’s going to accuse you of talking to other men during this time.

7. Everything is always your fault. Don’t ask me how, but Arab men are masters at turning things around. Regardless of what he does and how bad it really is, you’re eventually going to find yourself doing the apologizing.

8. Your phone, computer, Ipad, etc. are his business. His are not your business. He will ask (or do it without asking) to look through your phone at any given moment. You’ll never have a sufficient warning. He, on the other hand, will more than likely have more mobile phones than you’re even aware of. And don’t ask to look through the one you DO know about… it’s ‘disrespectful’ and you’ll be accused of behaving like a man.

9. Checking in. My husband is guilty of this one, but also returns the favor. If you’re leaving the house without him you’ll be expected to notify him verbally, by text, or a phone call. You’ll need to tell him where you’re going, with whom, and approximately how long you expect to be gone. If he’s not comfortable with your answers he’ll simply drive you himself.

10. Bros before ho’s. Know it, accept it, and live with it. Regardless of how much fun you think the two of you are having together, he’ll choose spending time with his friends at the drop of a hat.

 

Serious relationship. This is the one where he’s mentioned marriage, or at least hinted at it. 1-9 above still apply and perhaps seem even more frequent.

1. Family member introduction. Don’t get excited, chances are you’re not off to meet mom anytime soon. You’re more than likely going to meet male cousins and maybe a brother or two.

2. Intimacy pressure. He’s going to do anything in his power to convince you that sharing a bed is perfectly natural since you’re going to be sharing your life together in the near future. Be patient. Wait for the ‘near future’. Refer to #4 above.

3. Living together. Since you’re ‘officially engaged’ according to him (you’re not, rest assured) then living together is OK. It’s not. Remember, you’re not in the typical American relationship where people meet, date, live together, share a bed, then decide if they want to get married. No no no.

4. He studied in America, he acts like an American. Yeah, he may have thrown those dishdashas in the closet and traded them in for a pair of jeans, but in no way has his mind changed. Certain Western behaviors trigger certain Eastern thoughts. Don’t agree? Throw on a bikini and tell him you want to spend the day at the beach.

5. You’re engaged! Eh, probably not. You might have a beautiful ring on your finger and a date marked on the calendar, but if you haven’t met mom and the sisters, chances are you’re being strung along. Arab engagements differ from country to country so I won’t go into great detail about the exact procedures. But rest assured, there ARE procedures. Not legal or required by law. But cultural. And if they’re not followed then in HIS mind he’s not engaged. Not to you at least.

Of course the bullet points above are from either personal experience or simply witnessing those around me for many years. I’m sure there are some out there with far more experience than me who could add numerous items to my lists.

The things above may make the Arab male seem unreasonable and make some wonder why a woman would even consider marrying one. But that’s not the case. There are reasons behind much of what they do. Not sure we’ll ever really understand their reasons, but with a lot of trust and mutual respect, the reasons don’t seem to matter.

On a positive note, when an Arab man does get married it’s almost as if he matures overnight. Yeah, he’s still protective but he’s also truly dedicated and loyal. His wife then becomes one of the women in his family. A very high honor since the women in his family are most important in his life. If a wife calls his husband and he’s in dewaniya he WILL take her call (probably step outside to do so). Unlike if a girlfriend calls. If the wife explains she really needs him to come home, or needs something from the store, he WILL leave dewaniya right then to keep her comfortable. This behavior is what keeps most of us wives from asking for very much. We know we’ll get it. And knowing a person will do pretty much anything in the world to make you happy prevents us from wanting to bother them with silly things.

Finally, all men from all cultures are completely different. So, please don’t read this and get offended. Don’t write to me telling me that I’m bashing Arab men or the culture. That’s not the case. And please, if you have more to add, feel free to email or comment. I would love to hear different perspectives.

Intercultural: Arab men, American women.

Intercultural marriages always come with challenges. Some as small as watching my husband eat things with his hands that I wouldn’t feed to our cats (eyeballs, brains, etc) while I’m slicing up my boneless, skinless chicken breasts with a knife and fork. But like I said… that’s a small one.

What about the more significant differences? How do we overcome those? I believe learning and understanding is the key.

I get numerous emails from American women wanting to know where and how to meet an Arab man. Some specifically want to meet a Saudi man, or an Emirati man, yet few have even been to the region for a vacation.  As Americans we’re often arrogant enough to believe the rest of the world is either just like us, or they certainly want to be. Neither of which are true.

My husband is a bedouin Arab (some assume this means uneducated, narrow minded, abusive, and arrogant. My husband is none of those things. He’s worldly and educated. Intelligent and tolerant. Kind and compassionate). And me… well, I’m a fairly typical American woman who was raised in the South. I’m an only child, quite spoiled, and have always lived within ‘average’ Western standards.

Though my husband and I have quite a bit in common (travel, television, food sans eyeballs, hobbies, etc), we are different on many levels. Yet we compromise, sometimes without even knowing it. But this compromise only comes from understanding our differences and where they come from.

So my suggestion to women wanting to meet/marry an Arab man? Have a real understanding for the culture. Know which Arab culture they even come from… they differ from area to area, country to country. Live among locals for a while and ask questions. Find out if the man you eventually meet has any understanding of America beyond television and movies. Trust your instincts. If something doesn’t feel right, then it’s not right for you.

In my next post I’ll cover some of the cultural differences/challenges you should expect to face as an American woman involved with an Arab man.