بِسْمِ اللَّهِ الرَّحْمَـانِ الرَّحِيمِ
Last year, I blogged about being on a bridge between two places: crossing over from one side to the other. Well, I mentioned how I am taking my sweet time crossing this bridge, and hoping to enjoy the ride, insha’Allah.
We should try to appreciate every good thing about the phase of life that we currently find ourselves in. And what really helps one in doing that, is to pointedly recall to our minds those blessings that we possess right now, which will not be there in the future.
It could be anything — tangible or intangible e.g. extra energy, a good night’s sleep, time, righteous friends, the 24/7 company of our minor children, youthful good looks, money, or even knowledge and a good memory.
This mental exercise increases our gratitude towards Allah for all our blessings, and also makes us appreciate and love what we already have, instead of longing for that which we do not.
I try to do this whenever unschooling my children takes its toll on me. I mean, come on, every mother knows what its like to have spirited (a.k.a naughty) children around you for most part of the day.
It can really tax our mental and physical faculties. We then crave some “me-time”; a break somewhere with total peace and quiet, preferably with a good book and a cup of our favorite beverage.
At times of burnout like these, I do what I call a “mental extrapolation”. That is, I try to envision what my children & I will be like 15 years from now (if we all live to see that day, that is, insha’Allah) and what will we be doing.
And that is when it hits me: I should really appreciate this time in my life, when I am crossing this bridge, and they are here with me, before I eventually reach that time.
That is, right now my children are still so young, that the “rishta” brigade viz. the whole process involving the talk, questions, meetings, and concern for successfully navigating their marriage proposals, hasn’t started for them (and for me) as yet!
You see, *cough*, I do not recall the past time in my life when I was on the receiving end of rishta’s (marriage proposals), very fondly.
This is mainly because of the actions, statements, attitudes, and behavior of the people who do the main body of marriage-rishta-related work in my location (i.e. Pakistan).
Why the Typical Desi Rishta Process Makes Me Cringe
Even as a mother of single youngsters, just the thought of entering the rishta brigade after a decade or so, still fills me with dread. There are several reasons for this.
I think I have made it abundantly clear just how much I dislike receiving skepticism-laced, intrusive and unwelcome questions about myself and my family, especially since I started homeschooling my children.
There is nothing wrong with being asked a couple of questions that are based upon sincerity and a genuine interest to learn.
But what I can’t stand is being asked questions for the sake of argumentation, refutation, competition, debate, and suspicion.
So I scrupulously avoid any social situations where portly desi aunties can corner me and direct at me a barrage of questions about my children e.g. what they are doing right now (they demand a list of milestones), and what we plan on “making them do” in the future.
You see, since most parents in our culture are expected to tightly control their children (especially the coveted “aulad-e-nareena” — the male child), for their own post-retirement financial and emotional security, most older Pakistani parents expect me to have the same goals for my children.
Since the rishta process primarily involves interviews and negotiations between families, and the meetings are often heavily laced with interrogative questions, suspicion/skepticism, and deliberate lies to cover up any perceived shortcomings, you can well imagine just how much I must be looking forward to entering this process again — only this time, as a parent, i.e. someone who is primarily responsible for making sure that their adult child is married off right!
Red Herrings & Red Flags to Watch Out For
Every human being should learn from their past mistakes, failures, and experiences. If they don’t, they will just fall into the same hole again, hurting themselves and others each time.
I know that the rishta process has probably changed a lot in the past 15 years, since back when I was a twenty-something-year-old, hijab-observing Pakistani girl who was on the receiving end of marriage proposals.
Nevertheless, logistics aside, I know that unless there is a massive change in the cultural mentality and money mindset of the adults who are driving the rishta boat, the dynamics of the process will not change that much, even if times change.
Even with changes in nationality, location, economic/social status, age, and profession, there will be no change in elders’ cultural habits and beliefs, unless their mindsets change first.
And, since marriage involves the coming together of a male and a female, the gender-specific roles in marriage, and the perceived expectations related to each on either side, play a huge role in how a rishta is negotiated.
Below, I will list the danger signs that I think you should watch out for, based on my own personal experiences, as well as those of the Muslims whom I have counseled during their own rishta processes:
1. Red Flag: The “Helicopter” Parent
This parent of the guy or the girl is everywhere during the rishta negotiations: they are the ones doing all the talking, and all the “presenting”. They are loud, in-your-face, opinionated, pushy, and full-of-it.
They answer every query, even if it is directed at someone else in their family. They are the one who always answer the phone, even if it is their daughter’s or son’s cell phone. Their son or daughter sits absolutely mute and mousey in their presence (if they are allowed to be present, at all).
This helicopter parent does not let anyone meet or talk to their son or daughter directly, or in privacy. Even their spouse, — their docile husband or wife, — is not allowed to speak up during meetings (lest they reveal something that should be kept hidden).
They want all members of the other family to talk only to them about the rishta. Even if the exchanges are being done via email, this helicopter parent is the one directing all the communication and information-sharing from start to finish.
One word of advice for such a proposal:
Why? If they are so bossy and controlling before the marriage takes place, you can well imagine who will be calling all the shots after the marriage.
Be it a guy or a girl, if their parent exhibits this “helicopter” behavior during the proposal process, do not get into it!
2. Red Herring: The “Entitled” Lady
I have blogged openly in the past about these pampered girls/women with an entitled mentality and attitude. Be they the mother, sister, aunt, or cousin of the guy or girl who is looking to get married, or the girl who is getting married herself, they are seriously bad news.
They like to have everything their way, where ever they might be. They interfere in the lives of, and cause problems for, every one of their close family members.
So, how are they, and the damage they cause, different from the “helicopter” parent above?
Well, even after the marriage will take place, this girl or woman will always whine, in front of you, and about you (behind your back). She will crib, cry, and complain about everything: from her life, to how others are treating her (especially those whom she expects to provide her with the most material benefits, perks, and attention).
She is a constant pain-in-the-_____: hard to please, difficult to ignore, and most of all, impossible to appease — unless you act like her total slave, and do whatever she demands/orders you to do.
Those who are in her grip will forget about everything and everyone else, when she is around. It is like they are hypnotized, — buzzing around her like bees do to honey, doing whatever she desires, in a trance-like state– until she leaves to go (whimpering) back to her own home, or ends the phone/Skype/FaceTime/WhatsApp call.
If this sounds like the girl you are considering marrying, I have just one sincere word of advice for you, brother:
But if it is her (or the guy’s) mother, aunt, or sister: beware! She will cause problems for you throughout your married life.
This is because all your in-laws will probably be at her beck and call, and expect you to dish out the same slavish services to her.
3. Red Flag: Too Much Haste
This is the signature element of all dangerous rishta’s that you should be extremely wary of, especially if your daughter is the one being roped into it.
Usually, in desi culture, a well-settled family along with the guy in question who is looking to get married, are on a visit “back home” from abroad. On a flying horse, they are going around every day to several homes, looking for a bride for their precious foreign-currency-earning, foreign-educated son.
Their goal is to detect and snare the best, most ‘prime’ catch for their darling blue-eyed boy. They have very little time, and many “specimens” to inspect.
Consequently, their condescending attitude after the very first in-person meeting with each girl’s family is, “Yes or no? If no, tell us right now, because we have many other candidates to look at, and no time for your second thoughts, hesitations, or nakhra’s (airs)“.
Most of the time, a well-paying job (that grants only a limited number of days off per year) or visa issues/restrictions are cited as the reason for all the haste.
“He is only here for 10 days!”
“She has to be back in two weeks, before the start of her new semester at college..” and so on.
At other times, other family obligations or social engagements are cited as the reason, e.g. “His younger brother is getting married this month, and we want this older son to get hitched before that younger son’s wedding ceremony, so that we can tell all the guests at the younger son’s wedding that our older son is engaged too.”
At other times, the reasons cited are along the likes of: “All our extended family members are in town for one of her cousins’ wedding, and we want to get her nikah done as soon as possible, so that all of them can attend it while they are here.”
Such valid reasons for rushing through a marriage proposal, right? To save social face in front of a crowd of our relatives/acquaintances! To throw a party for all of our visiting family members?
Unless you want to live with regrets for the rest of your life, for not having investigated the family enough; not having been more patient & deliberative; for not having been more thorough in ensuring that there were no skeletons inside closets…. then sure, just go for the foreign nationality, looks, education, age, and income of this high-and-mighty girl or guy, and go ahead with it.
Chances are, your son or daughter will probably be dominated and mistreated by this arrogant family for years after the marriage takes place.
Not to mention, s/he might uncover some unpleasant secrets about their new husband or wife very soon after the marriage has taken place; monsters that they will have to deal with miserably on their own, in a foreign country. All because they wouldn’t want to “trouble you” or cause you to lose any more sleep, after you have finally heaved a huge sigh of relief for being “unburdened” of the weighty responsibility of getting them married off!
But if your selfish goal is just to get your innocent, trusting, and compliant son or daughter married off as soon as possible, without considering the consequences of your actions upon their future adult life, then you can go ahead with such a haste-based proposal without blinking an eye!
May Allah save every son or daughter from being pressured into agreeing to a hasty marriage proposal by unwise parents like you. Ameen.
4. Red Herring: An Over-Emphasis on Cooking & Food
One of the biggest distractions and logistical hurdles during any rishta process, which often deters discussion about and focus upon the topics that are actually more worthy of mention, attention, and exchange of thoughts, is the elaborate preparation of food.
In desi culture, I would consider this the one factor that has the highest “nuisance value”!
Whether it is the girl’s family (mostly) who focus on what food to prepare and present to the guy’s family when the latter visits, to the guy’s family, who seem to focus only on the to-be bride’s culinary skills as the main ingredient (sorry for the unintended pun) of her marital success as their son’s future wife, I think that cooking is a vastly over-rated factor in any scenario related to marriage.
For Allah’s sake! PLEASE get over how the girl kneaded the pastry for the homemade samosa’s from scratch, and how the herbs in the green chutney were ground on the traditional mortar-and-pestle instead of a blender, because of which it has that extra zing!
I mean, SERIOUSLY?!
Who cares how much the girl (or her mother) can cook?! What does it matter how many homemade dishes the other family served to you on a silver platter, or on the high-maintenance tea trolley, and who made each one of them, when you went to their house?
Why do we over-emphasize the culinary skills of our women? Is that all they are worth? Why do we give them value based only upon what they can cook up for our taste buds?
Be it the ladies of the girl’s family or the guy’s, just look at their character, not their kitchen skills!
Anyone can cook, with time, patience, and practice.
This reminds me of 2003, when I had a very painful experience with a particular family who had started coming to our home for my rishta.
It became very clear from the start, and very painfully so, that they were just looking for a personal chef instead of a wife — for themselves and their son.
It was extremely off-putting how the guy, his mother, and even his sister, only talked about recipes and cooking when they talked to me or my parents.
This is one of the things he said to us (see if you believe it!?):
“My dadi (paternal grandmother) was the best cook in my life! She was a PhD. Second to her is my mother: her cooking skills are a Masters. After her comes my sister; she is a Bachelors in cooking!”
And whenever his mother came over, and we laid out a lavish table-spread for them, as is the norm in our typical Desi culture, she would proceed to point to each and every edible item on the table and pointedly ask,
“Has Sadaf made this?”
Once, when she came over, it so happened that I hadn’t made even one thing, so she got a reply of “No” to her question regarding everything on the table.
She was quite visibly miffed at this!
She then proceeded to (can you believe it?) pick up one of the packaged dates that we had purchased during our recent umrah in Saudi Arabia, and placed in a plate before her.
It was, you know, one of those fancy ones from Kingdom Dates that have a piece of chocolate inside them instead of a pit-seed, and are wrapped up in fancy wrapper like toffees/candies?
Can you believe what she asked as she picked one of them up?
“Did Sadaf take out the seeds from all these dates, put the chocolate pieces inside, and then wrap them up like toffees?”
TALK ABOUT DESPERATE!!
From proposals such as these, where everything revolves around food and cooking, you can easily guess what kind of occupation a girl will be expected to have after her marriage.
Yup: that of personal chef to her husband and in-laws, and an overall domestic goddess.
Nothing wrong about this picture for those who actually want this as their life goals. Happy cooking and eating, to all of you! Bon apetit!
But is this what I wanted? Is this what you’d want for your daughter, or daughter-in-law?
So you can guess what my answer to that marriage proposal was: a loud and resounding “NO!”
And this, coming from me, back when I was at a stage in my life in which I had actually intended to become really good at cooking up delicious things in the kitchen. 🙂
I ran from them, without looking back!
And she was not pleased. 😉
5. Red Flag: Deliberate Cover-Up of Mental Illness
A major red flag regarding any marriage proposal is when the said guy or girl suffers from any stage or kind of social anxiety, mental illness, or personality disorder; and hence, their family tries to cover it up.
In most such cases, the family tries all the above-mentioned ploys to ensure that their ward can get married without anyone from the prospective in-laws discovering their mental illness.
They do so e.g. by having an always hovering, “helicopter” parent prevent anyone from the other family from privately meeting or contacting their son or daughter.
They also over-emphasize the haste factor i.e. they try to get the marriage arranged and finalized as soon as possible, by just showing a photograph of their son or daughter, without initiating or encouraging any communication with him or her in person, on the phone, or even in writing.
They can also do this by making up silly excuses about age-old family traditions viz. “in our family, engaged couples never meet or talk in person…”. Of course, I am not encouraging romantic liaisons outside of nikah, but it is encouraged in Islam for the prospective bride and groom to talk to each other once or twice, in the presence of others, without being alone together, before the proposal is finalized.
Parents of someone who has a social, mental, or personality disorder will try to prevent such a meeting with anyone from the prospective family, and instead try to hasten the final betrothal.
E.g. the mother of a girl who has social anxiety or a mental illness, will try to prevent even the women of the guy’s family from being alone with her daughter, for even one second, even at her own home!
Similarly, the parents of a guy who has lived on his own for years in some foreign country, and has since then developed some social habits/mental issues that make him hard to live with, will not give any contact details of their son to the girl’s family, so that they can contact him directly.
They will not even reveal details about the office/company where he has worked, the locality/city he lives in, the mosque he frequents, or the names of his colleagues, friends and neighbors etc. so that they can get him investigated by a third party.
The focus will be on finalizing the proposal as soon as possible, on the basis of a mere photograph and the limited, select information that they i.e. his parents, have shared with the girl’s family about him.
Any marriage proposal that has such shenanigans going on, should be dropped like a hot potato.
Remember, though, that there is a flip side of this coin as well i.e. when a son or daughter is deliberately hiding a personal issue from their own parents, since quite a long time.
In such cases, the parents are totally unaware of their ward’s personal health issues. Innocuously, they are merely (& innocently) trying to get them married off, for the latter’s own future betterment, but their ward is deliberately avoiding making any contact with all prospective marriage candidates, by making up one excuse or another.
The dead giveaway in these cases is the simple fact that, despite the parents’ encouragement and attempts, their son or daughter keeps making excuses to avoid meeting the prospective candidates or their families, in person.
Basically, the bottom line is that, you should never agree to marry someone that at least one of your parents has not met privately, in person, and approved of after having a thorough, candid conversation with.
Conclusion: Learn the Skill of Reading Body Language
The one thing that can benefit all of us during marriage proposal negotiations, is the skill of reading body language cues.
This skill is not that hard to master, actually. You can read books on the topic, to get acquainted with it, if you wish.
When the skill of body-language reading is employed with a wise and discerning eye, it can actually help us avoid many time-wasting social meetings and activities. Body language gives a lot away; it reveals not just what a person is thinking or feeling, but also the dynamics of interpersonal relationships.
E.g. if and when a member of a family openly lies to someone else in their presence, and these family members know that they are deliberately lying, their reactions, postures, and facial expressions will make it obvious that what their relative just said was a lie.
Whilst I am sure that there are many other red flags and red herrings related to rishta’s out there, especially those in desi communities around the world, the above is a list of those that I have experienced in the past (myself, or with someone in my circle of contacts).
Please feel free to share any personal experiences of yours in the comments section under this post, below. 🙂
And Allah knows best!