An insider's guide to Muslim dating
"These suitor visits – aka ‘doorknock appeals’ – initially seemed an innocuous process." Photo: Getty Images
It seemed to be going well. Apart from the receding hairline and a weird swallowing hiccup thing he did every few minutes, he was well-dressed in a sweet school teacher sort of way, and he’d mentioned a partiality to old movies. He’d also brought a tray of baklava (win).
I suppose it hinted of being a normal “date”, but the crucial points of difference were that (a) we were in my parents’ living room, and (b) we weren’t doing something substantially more interesting outdoors, like mini golf.
This suitor was refreshingly candid, but he wouldn’t leave, sending my mum’s eerie sixth sense off into the stratosphere. Suitor no. 528* had not only brought sweets – he’d also brought the news that he’s been divorced and has had a kid.
He finished his Turkish coffee and left the sweets.
Apart from some vague crushes at uni, this was my experience in “dating” in my 20s, and I use the word loosely – unless you allow me to dig into my expansive knowledge of American TV dramas. (Do guys still give corsages?)
In high school, while girls in the common room joked about who lost their virginity first, I was yet to hold a boy’s hand. If a cute guy gave me a Look from across the room at a community dinner, I nearly died. While my classmates stretched school regulations to the limit by shortening their uniforms, I wore a size too big that fell below the knees. Movies with friends were generally a no-no. Parties were off limits if there were boys. Forget sleepovers.
You get the idea, and if you’re of ethnic background, you can probably even relate to it.
My parents were protective and strict, and though well-intentioned, it profoundly impacted my social life.
Sometimes I latched on to that uniqueness – it felt safe and familiar. I subscribed to the Cultural Guilt feed and thought following The Rules would find me ‘The One’ (who also happens to be Arab-Muslim), even if it was in my parents’ lounge room.
These suitor visits – aka ‘doorknock appeals’ – initially seemed an innocuous process. They would inevitably deliver me a brooding hero who would understand that he couldn’t take me out alone for a buggy ride, otherwise my parents would freak out and people would talk, and I'd never be able to show my face in polite society again. But as my neighbours were unassuming Anglos and Greeks who didn’t even know my name, I wasn’t sure where the censure might emanate from -- yet I was mindful of it all the same.
Running parallel to doorknocks were my limited social interactions at uni. Different to doorknocks, but I didn’t “date” boys either. We had love “interests”, which could be justified because it was uni, and we had the internet, which could be justified because you were behind a computer screen. A golden time before Facebook and smartphones, we used MSN and sent long, sweeping emails that took banter to the splendid heights of a Clark Gable romantic comedy, except with acronyms, and minus the feel-good ending.
Still, nothing, including Brenda and Dylan’s tortured love story on 90210 and email flirtations, could have prepared me for the awkwardness of getting to know guys through doorknocks.
By my late 20s, I’d had enough. My self-esteem had taken a hit and I’d outgrown the process. Figuring out if I liked someone enough to consider him a life partner in less time than I’d spent ruminating over a pair of shoes at Myer bothered me.
While I saw theoretical similarities to “normal” dating, there was nothing to soften the mechanics of the process: initial assessments masked by polite introductions and small talk; beverage and snacks service (the bright spot); evening round-up (how quickly can I get back to The West Wing?).
Though there were still conventions in place, there were other ways to meet guys – friends, work, the bus stop. My parents didn’t take issue with that, even if it’s a foggy area. Dad even suggested I go online, which I eventually did, but it only led me to troll and break some poor guy’s heart when I wouldn’t marry him. I would’ve thought a username like Haloumi suggested I wasn’t being serious, but my bad.
The one time I brought someone to my parents, their protectiveness served me well – they saw the mismatch while I struggled to catch up on life and dispel fears of dying a spinster with 300 cats.
Still, while the process failed me, I’ve managed to put doorknocks at the back of my mind and focus on something different – just experiencing life, because it can be a bit wonderful when you drop your expectations.
And relationships are still a bit foggy. But I carry hopes of converting Richard Armitage, who is welcome in my parents’ living room anytime.
(One can dream.)
Amal Awad is a Sydney editor and author of Courting Samira.
*Maybe closer to no. 15.