Not going to lie, dating is quite hard for me. I’ve never really been the outgoing, super-confident bloke that could pick up a girl whenever he wanted to. Basically, I was a single pringle that was struggling to mingle. Needless to say, the day I found myself a precious one was a pretty good day for me (I hope for her too). She was white and I was me. I was from here and she belonged there. Some people can find it fun or even exciting to be dating outside of their community. What it brought me ? Sugar-coated stress and never-ending anxiety.
Growing up, I was always strongly advised to marry in. Doesn’t sound familiar? Don’t worry, let me 101 you through it. To cut it short, it basically means to date people from the same culture, ethnicity and sometimes even faith as you. “Why” do I hear you ask? That’s the main question. For loads of reasons, all quite silly if you ask me. It can go from trivial sectarian ones to relatively more understandable ones, but that’s not the hill I want to die on today.
Freshly 18, I was living life with my boo. I was out and about living love at its fullest with all these questions and concerns pushed to the back of my head. They were there, I just didn’t want to look at them. And as the relationship grew more serious, so did they. I had met her family a handful of times. Nice people. A bit odd at times but I tried my best to not focus on it too much. I had thought that some of their reactions towards me were honestly weird. Why did I have to go through a whole police investigation each time I was around or tried to go on laid-back baecation? Why was I always feeling looked down upon, frowned at constantly. I remember feeling that I was never enough. As if everyone was waiting for me to break up with what was once my other half.
At first, I didn’t want to fall into a victimary trap. To point at myself as the figurehead of the western world’s prejudice towards people that look like me felt like too obvious of a conclusion. It was a long period of doubt and questioning. Why didn’t they like me? Why didn’t they treat me like the partners of the older siblings? I ended believing in this whole narrative of me just being mediocre whilst having completely erased the potential bias the family might have had against me.
Did my girlfriend meet my family? No, not at all, of course not. It was this huge massive secret that I had a girlfriend. And every single day that went by made it more and more difficult to break the news to my own parents. Why? Because I thought that dating out was going to be a big no-no. I was blindly falling into the orientalist trap of white families being open and for Arabs to be closed. It was such a burdening weight. For me as much as it was for her. Maybe it was also by fright of her being treated the same way her family was treating me. And we all know that if I gave her family the benefit of the doubt for not being racist or backwards, no one would have given any to mine. I’m talking from experience. We are always one mistake away from being labelled as religious fanatics or short-sighted peeps.
Eventually, I had to own up to my Dad and walk the talk. Tell him about the hidden part of my life. And you know how Arab families are, these topics aren’t the easiest to bring up. To my complete surprise (or not, I don’t know anymore), he was completely fine with it; even asking when he could meet her. We really need to address these stupid taboos and apprehensions because they really are no good and not relevant anymore, give your parents a chance guys!
Sometimes. If you can.
Anyways, back to the main story. Fast forward a bit, we ended up breaking up. Never out of love but because of everything surrounding us. I remember the countless petty arguments we had about whether we’d celebrate Christmas or not, have a tree at home and a whole festive moment with presents and all. In its essence, I really wouldn’t mind but it’s just that that’s not me nor the culture I grew up with really.. What faith would our kids be? Would we marry in a church or a mosque? How would we deal with both of our cultures and so on… So many headaches and life long decisions to commit to and make at such a young age; clearly my shoulders were not fit for the task at that point. Oh, and it was the pandemic too.
It really hurt for a long time before I bumped into a family friend of hers who didn’t know of me. One of her mum’s former students who despised her for most reasons why students hate their teachers, but also for a motive I wasn’t expecting to hear. She was known as the underlyingly racist teacher of the school. The one with the white saviour complex that would take kids to Zimbabwe to feel better about herself.
From there things changed, it wasn’t so much about how good or bad I was to their eyes. It became personal, I could’ve basically done anything and they still wouldn’t have been satisfied. As if that even mattered to begin with. My whole perception changed, I was in denial for so long and put myself through this whole psychological trouble for this? This whole time being scared of my family to be the close-minded ones when it was them this whole time. I did feel a bit bitter. For having been exposed and not protected from this abject behaviour and quite frankly I still am confused on who to love from now on.
Is dating out really that bad? Maybe, I don’t know anymore. What should you do? Try your best. At what? Loving true and truly.
Illustration: Still from Shéhérazade, Jean Bernard Marlin (2018)