At the ripe old age of 21, I was introduced to someone. We thought we hit it off. We hung out, maybe twice. Our families met, and all seemed right. He liked to cook, I didn’t. He liked to work out, I liked to run. We both picked Gryffindor as our house of choice. The Sorting Hat is never wrong, right? For one reason or another (circumstances out of our control) things didn't work out. I was flabbergasted. I thought we had covered all the important, right questions. I mean, aren’t all meaningful relationships founded on the facts that both people like music and Harry Potter?
Time passed, life went on, and now I look back and think - "Sadia, what were you thinking?" We got to "know" each other (one could even question if we ever “knew” each other) but never did we actually get to know each other. How we both came to the conclusion that we were compatible without ever having the right conversations - the one that distinguishes friendship from a true relationship - boggles my mind now. We never made that leap. There were definitely some greater forces at work because our two lives now, seven years later, are completely different than either of us could have imagined.
This “life experiment” and some others that followed have led me to a series of questions that I am still trying to answer. What does THE right relationship entail? When does it happen? Is it something organic? Or is it something that is going to be awkward regardless, but necessary? What are the right questions to ask? How much do you need to discuss? Do you have to have all the answers before moving to the next step? How much do you leave to the "we'll grow together" aspect? The questions to me feel endless.
I think we each have to define our own set of “right questions.” I don’t think it’s a checklist. It’s kind of like that box on Ishqr: “Things you’d like in a significant other.” It’s a box which requires us to sit down and really evaluate what we feel is important. It helps us eliminate that “deer in the headlights” approach that is contributing to this messy marriage situation in our community. It requires us to be honest with ourselves. We have to recognize that this box is more for helping us realize what we hold valuable.
Seven years ago I could not have imagined that I would be where I am today in life. Everytime I think about “meeting someone” I wonder, how do I account for the fact that neither of us knows where either of us will be in life in 1, 3, or 5 years? Things happen, global events, family crises, perspectives change. How do I account for this when I am trying to evaluate whether this relationship "works?" Maybe that’s the “jumping in and growing together” part that is so frequently talked about.
Then there's the question of honesty and vulnerability in a relationship. Growing up in a community where our parents/elders met each other on their wedding day (or not so long before) and knowing that for them being vulnerable came after they were married seems so foreign to me. They took a leap and alhamdulillah it’s worked. How do I reconcile that with how I think things should work? (Not that they have so far, but it’s a process) I am jumpy at the thought of of letting anyone know what I do for a living - just to avoid their preconceived perceptions about my profession, and using those to define who I am as a person, as a Muslim. How do I choose who I share my full story with? (my story = the uncensored, unfiltered, raw footage of the last twenty-eight years of my life) How do I decide that I know someone well enough to be let them know me as I know me? How do we get to know someone’s else’s story, like their real story, all those experiences that make them the person that we’re falling in love with now? How do we get this courage to be vulnerable in ways that have we’ve never been taught?
For me sharing my story is a scary thought. I was raised in a world where girls and women didn’t share their vulnerabilities with others. But for me I realized that even if I met the perfect guy tomorrow, I am not sure how comfortable I am with sharing my full story, simply because it’s scary.
It's scary to open yourself up to someone and not know how that person will respond, and to put yourself out there with the possibility that “rejection” is an option. But I think that’s the point, I think that’s where love develops and respect deepens. When I came to this realization I also realized that I didn’t know how to do this. It’s not easy to be that honest with oneself, let alone with someone you may potentially spend the rest of your life with.
I needed practice (it’s like yoga right?). So I decided to share parts of my story that I had kept close to my heart with others, to people who I didn’t know in different aspects of my life. And I was pleasantly surprised. While there were some reactions that validated the rationale of why doing this is so hard, I experienced something greater. An acceptance; a love that was unlike anything I’d known before. It made a place that I viewed as a transition point in my life feel like home, filled with people that took my story as just that: a series of experiences that made me the person I am today. These people became a community, my community - one for me to learn from and contribute to. Telling my story has also helped me intrinsically, to process through things, to remember to be kinder to myself. It helped me break through stereotypes that I had not recognized in my mind. It has helped me realize that I want to know the full story of everyone I meet. So until I meet “that someone” I’ll keep just keep practicing, I’ll listen to stories and share mine.
I strongly believe that Allah (swt) has a plan for each and every one of us and that sabr is a virtue. However, I think that sabr should be practiced in the context of being “being the change we want to see” - in getting to know each other, in helping each other, initiating and contributing to conversations to build a community that strengthens our old relationships and helps us develop new ones.
All I can say is that relationships are created during the process of community building, whether based on faith, ethnicity, profession, or hobbies; whether they start out in the real-world or in the virtual space. So let’s hang out and build our community, and good things will come.