Sunday, January 23, 2011

Dr. Jeckyl and Mr. Hyde... Mixed marriages, why do they do it?

So, I've noticed that there are a number of young Arab men who go over to America or Canada and find nice girls to marry. Clearly, having married an Arab man myself, I have no issue with this part of the scenario. But, here's what I really don't understand. Many men who head over to the West have very precise pictures of how men and women should interact. And yet, when they get to the West, they go out and find nice, normal Western girls. And while most Western women are not the promiscuous playthings that is popular conception here, they also aren't super-conservative in male-female dynamics.

Since living in Jordan, I keep coming across couples where the fellow went to study, found a wife and then brought her back. And, very often, these couples end up in marital discord and strife. Sometimes the wife finds herself pressured by husband or mother-in-law to don more conservative clothing (you know, "Put on the abaya, it's more comfortable."). Sometimes it's a desire to know where she'll be at every second of the day. Who is she seeing? What is she doing? Where is she going? Sometimes it's about observing religious practices that aren't her own (or appearing to anyway).

And what I don't get is, why? Time and again I hear, well I'm non-practicing and he's non-practicing so I thought... It's a tad naive of the ladies, for sure. But why does the man think this is a good idea, that's what I don't get. Why go to the US, not observe prayers, not fast during Ramadan, drink and eat pork then marry a girl there and expect her to fit into your cultural paradigm when you move here? I don't have any issue with wanting your wife to fit into your cultural paradigm generally, but if it's so radically different than the life you live in the West, you should have had that conversation long before moving to Jordan, no?

Now, El 3atal is not your typical Jordanian man. His mom worked outside the house from the time he was very young. His parents visited different locales around the world nearly every year. As a result, his outlook on life is fairly atypical. When he lives in the US and when he lives in Jordan, he lives in exactly the same way. There's no difference between US El 3atal and Jordan El 3atal (he wears shorts in both places, I assure you). And there's no real difference between America MommaBean and Jordan MommaBean. I wear the same clothes and approach life in the same way. Picking out a foreign wife for El 3atal makes sense given that his outlook on life has always been a bit odd for Jordan.

So, why would you knowingly pick a woman who will be terribly unhappy if you successfully mold her into the woman you think she should be in Jordan? I have a number of friends who, like me, chose wonderful Jordanian men. They span the religious divide. And yet, to a person none of them has indicated that they were pressured by their husbands to act and live differently. I suspect that's why their marriages are successful. So, does anyone have any insight?

To me, it's a bit like getting a nice scoop of ice cream and creating a lovely mansaf topping. Each is delightful separately, but putting one on the other will ruin both. Either appreciate the ice cream for what it is or go get yourself some mansaf.

Happy mixed marriages!


At 12:43 PM , Blogger Momma said...

I love this post MommaBean!

I am an American lady who married a Jordanian 12 years ago. We moved to Jordan 1.5 years ago. Alhumdillah, we are as you describe the same people whether we are in the US or in Jordan. We have a wonderful marriage.

I am sure the thing that has made our relationship strong is that we teach and learn from each other.
We are both open enough to understand each others cultures. We may not agree 100%, 100% of the time-yet we are able to understand why each culture does certain things. My husbands ability to teach me about the Jordanian culture has helped me adjust and accept many of the cultural norms here in Jordan.

If one of us were to impose ideas without the other understanding it would be hurtful and lead to anger. Instead we teach, we learn, we understand, we respect, and IF we WANT we accept the cultural norm to become our own.

I agree, there are many men here who change once they live here. Much has to do with the influence of the cultural norms. Living a little further than upstairs from your inlaws help, having open inlaws help, and having a husband who is strongly devoted to our family as much as he is to his family helps as well!

Alhumdillah for those of us who have wonderful husbands. Keep your ears and hearts open to those who need a little encouragement.

At 12:55 PM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Momma, welcome and thanks for your comment. I agree totally. And I also agree that living in a non-family building seems to be helpful, regardless of where you're from ;). My in-laws are awesome, but a little distance can be a helpful thing.

At 4:25 PM , Anonymous jaraad said...

This is very important topic. I remember Kinzi once wrote about it. It is very interesting to know the different opinions.

I agree with you that some Arab men live in the west as westerners, not following or practicing their religion, speaking of Muslims. And it is wrong when those men marry a westerner and expect her to change her life style once they settle in Arabia. If this man didn't tell his wife beforehand how their life will change once they live in Arabia they should expect a sour relationship.

American and European women are known to be better educated and have more freedom to chose their partner than women in other part of the world. Knowing that we can't say they are not to be blamed as well.

Some people try not to ask questions when they are in love assuming the other party will compensate (i think a better word should be used) out of love after marriage. When an American woman for example marries an Arab man she should ask him questions that I am very sure are on her mind. I myself have been asked such questions without even asking the hand of anyone. "Are you going to ask me to wear a hijab?" or "Are you going to marry another woman?" there are few of tens of questions that should be asked before marriage. American and European women know about polygamy practice and Hihab so why they chose not to ask these questions before marriage?

I am not trying to defend those men you talked about, far from it. My concern is not for the couple they are old enough and they can handle it somehow but my real concern is that a man and a woman from mixed religion or culture should always think of their future children. How many child is kidnapped by one of the parents after divorce because they live in different countries.

At 11:07 PM , Anonymous loolt said...

Great post :) and an important one too! I sort of understand why some men behave totally as westerners when they are there. There is little cultural shame in it, and lets face it, fitting into a society really helps in acclimatising and makes ur life much easier. They meet a woman, they like her/love her and want to marry her. Normal. But what they have not considered is their own cultural bias, then women will change for their husbands. This seems to happen in the middle east that it may even be cultural, she will don/remove the hijab for him, stop swimming for him, quit her job for him, relocate for him etc.

Her on the other hand, has NOT asked the questions that her Arab counterpart would. She did not analyse him to determine his worth or suitability. For some reason, it is culturally considered 'weird' or even worrying (in the UK at least) to ask these questions -- it is deemed to reflect 'doubt' and doubt is apparently bad somehow, people will then suggest you think about things and possibly pressure her into breaking things off.

Often the move to Jordan occurs in the honeymoon phase, so again, either little thought has gone into their decision, or she did not yet feel comfortable objecting or questioning.

What happens in Jordan is where things can change for future generations of Arab men heading west. I have found that many women accept the changes imposed (they did in the past), maybe after some arguments, but eventually they did. So this perpetuates the image that women are pliable, even in the west. So men heading west again think it will be normal for their western wives to change after marriage. There may be something both the western wives of Jordanian men can do, in conjungtion with the Jordanians to open the eyes of Jordanians. Btw, since expectations of Arab women in general are changing men may no longer be able to really believe the perception that women can be 'changed' by them.

There is also a problem with how some women approach marriage. Maybe some women are being too naïve about the process and have romanticized marriage far too much.

At 11:09 PM , Anonymous loolt said...

oh dear, that was a long comment :( you really sparked my brain! I just remember as a kid meeting women who had married arabs, and not lucked out. Their lives changed dramatically, and even though their new life was a good one, it lacked the autonomy she enjoyed at home. These women were not happy! Women should ask questions! and Men should stop infantilising them!

At 10:39 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Jaraad and loolt, I agree. I do place responsibility with the woman. However, culturally in the West, non-practicing typically equates non-believing. My hope is more women will stop and think this through. And frankly, that more men will. This is not solely a problem with Muslim men. I have seen this situation with a Christian couple as well. The young man assumes that his bride (or bride-to-be) will act exactly the way a Jordanian (maybe his mom) would act. She'll sit at home unless he has time to take her out and give up some self-reliance that she may be used to.

Still, I just don't quite get why they ask for trouble in their lives... I personally think that cross-religious marriages are so difficult as to be nearly untenable. I managed to find a wonderful Arab man who was not only Christian, but also from the same denomination as I am (what are the chances of that?!). I'll keep thinking about it though.

At 7:20 AM , Blogger Sharon said...

Don't overemphasize the religion. I married someone of the same faith and whoa! We get into some *problems*... After all the exotic guys I had dated, I thought I had signed up for a Sure Thing. Think again!

25 years ago in college I fell in love with a guy from the other side of the world. Different language, religion and culture (not ME for the record). He made it clear we had limits because of this. He was in the U.S. to get his degree and take over the family business. He was above-board about. Unromantic for me.

He invited me to his wedding and has now been married 20 years to someone from his culture who has worked 20 years in his business. I meanwhile, became a Flight Attendant and have now been to 50 countries, later married and we each have three children, on other sides of the planet.

We're still friends.

This was not love Western style but we both got what we wanted in life. This is difficult to see when you're young and in love, no matter the culture, the language or the nationality!

At 5:36 AM , Blogger MommaBean said...

Sharon, actually I tried to be clear that this is not a religious thing. It is a cultural thing. While I think that any cross-cultural relationships require patience and communication (and how!), there is something very different with young men from the middle east. Some, I think, don't even think through their expectations before marrying someone and expecting to move back home and have their wife become just like mom... That's something most of these young ladies never signed on for. Sigh.

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