Written by Anonymous
Arab-American. Muslim-American. Living two lives in one world. It’s hard. Unless you live through it, you will never understand it. Being born and raised in the United States while being under the same roof as a father and mother who instill the cultural and religious roots of being a Muslim and a Palestinian, is difficult. My goal? To get the best of both worlds.
High school was a time when I began to push the boundaries. It was a time when I experimented a bit more with the social norms that surrounded me: smoking, drinking and relationships. Out of those three, the relationships were always the most important to me. I wanted a boyfriend. I needed one. Everyone had a someone, except me. Sophomore year was when I began to seek one out.
The Practice Boyfriend
Brandon* was a year older than me; we had band together. He was a trombone player while I was a flutist. There was nothing remotely attractive about him. He was tall, fat, pale, and pimply faced. What did I like about him? His humor, I guess. I think what I liked the most was that he found me attractive. I wanted a boyfriend. Here was someone throwing himself at me, so I jumped on the opportunity. We never went “out-out,” it was a secret phone and in-school relationship. That didn’t last long though. After a month, I got bored and we ended it. He moved away and I haven’t heard from him since.
The First True Love
I met Anthony* while working on the costume crew for the school musical. He was also a year older than me. He was the stage director and we started talking randomly which led to us becoming acquaintances. He was also tall but handsome, funny, and had amazing hair. We spent a lot of time together after school because of the musical we were working on. Sure it wasn’t just us by ourselves, but we could hang and talk. The flirting started on his side. He pursued me. It began with him tickling and hugging me— the usual high school, “I like you” hints. I started developing a major crush on him. After the opening night of our show, we were the last two to lock up the stage since I was working the boys’ side dressing room, as costume manager, and he was working the same side as stage manager. He called me out onto the stage to show me something. When I got to the middle of the stage, he smiled, and then kissed me. That was my first “real” kiss which resulted in the start of our relationship. We were the hot new item in the school, and I was ecstatic because I finally had a boyfriend. I had someone to hug and hold hands with in the hallway. Someone who walked me to class. Someone who did all the boyfriend-y things that typical American girls were supposed to have in a boyfriend. I was in heaven.
He pursued me.
Our relationship, of course, had its ups and downs, like any relationship would, but we were in love. We were the perfect match for each other. We made each other laugh and smile and we talked endlessly for hours. We spent so much time together after school and when I could sneak away with the car on the weekends.
After a year and a half, our relationship came to a hurtful end. I’m not going to lie, it was all my fault. I was sad and lonely at school without him after he graduated. I didn’t have anyone there for me anymore. He was in college and not around like he used to be and I couldn’t deal with that. But before I ended it with him, I found a new guy at school. And when I did, I ended it with Anthony.
The Jock Mistake
Luke* looked like Kevin James as Paul Blart in the movie, Mall Cop. No joke. He caught my attention while I played in the pep band at the first football game of the season. Luke was wearing the number 72, the same number as a friend of mine who graduated the year before. Because of this, I was curious as to who this new student was. I quickly learned that this lineman was a senior transfer from a suburban area high school. He was new to the school and knew absolutely no one. It was my mission to make sure he knew me.
My best friend at the time, Jack*, was also on the football team. He didn’t really want me to pursue Luke at all, but I didn’t care. I wanted a jock boyfriend. I wanted to wear his jerseys at the games. I wanted to be able to say, “Yes, I’m dating someone on the varsity football team.” It only took about two weeks before we had a “song” (You and Me by Lifehouse) and were officially dating. And just like that, I was back in the limelight, dating the varsity jock.
Luke was an ass. He was cocky, annoying, and selfish. But I “loved” him anyway. I had to love him. I left my true love for him. Yeah sure, our relationship was rocky, but again, it was a high school relationship. Senior year was tough on us. A lot of people got involved in our relationship— typical high school drama. We graduated in 2006, continued dating on and off for the next year until I realized he was cheating on me. I couldn’t let him get away with that though so to end it with a bang, I found “the other girl” and told her the whole story – and the two of us went and broke up with him, together. His face was priceless.
At this point, I was kind of sick of the relationships. Anthony and Luke took a toll on me. I didn’t really know how much my heart could take. Luke and I broke up in June of 2007. I was lonely but OK. I just kept busy with work. It wasn’t until October 2007 that my next romantic interest came to light.
Josue* – his name was so fun to say. I was working at a local restaurant while attending college. School wasn’t a great place to meet guys (probably because it was a private women’s college) and I didn’t get out much, due to familial restrictions because of cultural issues, so I met him while working.
I was a hostess and he was a line cook. I started working at the restaurant in August of 2007. I didn’t talk to him until October of 2007. He used to stare at me whenever I walked through the kitchen. He would literally stop whatever he was doing on the line and just stare at me. I was a lot shyer back then, so it freaked me out and I would always race back out to the dining room. Whenever the managers would open the door for a smoke break he’d be out there, leaning against the wall with his hair cap and white apron, just staring at me. He never spoke to me until October. One day, we happened to be leaving work at the same time and he said a simple, “Hi.” We started to chit-chat, me trying to understand his Spanish accent in the midst of his broken English. Sometimes, I misunderstood and would smile and giggle for his sake. He seemed to have enjoyed our conversation because the next day, he brought me a bouquet of roses to work and asked me to be his girlfriend.
Now, this is my first relationship after the atrocity that was Luke. This guy was ten years older than me, barely spoke any English, and had stalked me at work the last few months. Wasn’t he skipping a major step of friendship or taking me on a date? Maybe that’s not how it worked in Mexico? Am I really supposed to reject him or accept him now? Oh, who cares, I’m leaving the country in a week for vacation, I’ll probably come back married or something. I didn’t want him to feel bad, so I agreed.
Who knew that this man would become my life for the next 3 years?
This was what “adult love” felt like. We went out to dinner. We spent time together. We talked on the phone. He made me laugh, smile, and always talked sense into me. He taught me to appreciate the beauty in the world when the ugly was staring me in the face. There was one thing that constantly caused an issue in our relationship: my family. He wanted them to accept him when they knew nothing of him. At this point, I knew what I was doing to the both of us, based on my cultural and religious familiar values, was wrong. But I didn’t care. He was the absolute love of my life, and he felt the same way about me. He’d rather have me in secrecy than not have me at all. When he gave me the ring in January of 2010, I knew that I would need to make a decision soon. We agreed that once I graduated college that May, I would leave my family and marry him.
May 2010 finally rolled around. I graduated. My family surrounded me, glowing with pride and joy. Josue couldn’t be there obviously. How could I explain this random Hispanic guy who wanted to hug and kiss me to my family? He was definitely upset about missing that milestone in my life. But I had a decision to make, so I made the one that was best for me.
I chose my family and said, “adios” to Josue.
My heart was completely broken. But I knew I had made the right choice. I started to reevaluate my life. What the hell was I doing? I mean, Brandon, Anthony, Luke, and Josue were never going to really end up as my, “happily ever after.” I knew that. At least, I know that now. Maybe my teenage brain thought, “Fuck culture and religion and my family, I do what I want.” But my adult brain knew better, “Blood over everything.” I knew I had to find an Arab.
My First Arab-American-Muslim Boyfriend
Never in a million years did I think I would ever find one of these. Any Arab guy who dates an Arab girl always thinks of her as a “bad girl” in the end. At least, that’s what I’ve always been taught. Not long after the fiasco with Josue, this random guy named Ali* messaged me on Facebook. Long story short, he gave me some bogus story of him being new to Salt Lake City and just looking for friends. Little did I know he had been searching for me since a wedding I had gone to months earlier.
Any Arab guy who dates an Arab girl always thinks of her as a “bad girl” in the end.
Ali turned out to be a family friend. He was tall, dark, handsome, young, and he drove a BWM M3. He was hot all around and I fell for him immediately. We started to meet secretly after my shifts at work or my summer school classes. We would go to eat, hang out in his car, go driving, or just hang in the parking lot of the mall. Our relationship, I thought, was amazing. He even talked of building us a home in South Carolina because that’s where the rest of his family lived. Two months later, he stopped talking to me. I’ve seen him at weddings since then but I’ve never spoken to him again. I guess the stories of being seen as a “bad girl” were true.
My Arab-Arab-Really-Muslim Fiancé
Ali broke my heart. Here I was completely in love, and with an Arab guy for once, and this jerk drops off the face of the earth. I think they call it being “ghosted” today. Between my heart breaking with Ali and Josue, I fled the country in September 2010.
That’s when I met Laith*.
Laith was another family friend I met while visiting my aunt in Lebanon. He fell in love with me, he claimed, because I was “real” and “funny” and “smart.” He fell in love with me even after seeing me at my worst, vomiting and all from some bug I caught while I was there. He had to take me to the hospital. After about a week, he asked my father for my hand in marriage. My father asked me if I agreed.
A permanent boy-toy? Should I or shouldn’t I? Josue? Not possible. Ali? Gone for good. Laith? Smart, kind of cute, nice enough. Uncertainty overwhelmed me, but I took it as a sign of fate.
I agreed to be his wife.
In February of 2011, I flew back to Lebanon to have my engagement party and sign my marriage papers, the normal customs of an Arabic and Islamic wedding. He was now my husband. I wanted to stay with him in Lebanon but couldn’t until I came back in July to have our wedding. I wanted to be able to hug him and kiss him and spend all my time with him. This one hour talking on Skype every day with an ocean and 6,000 miles separating us was not OK. But patience was a virtue, and I waited.
In April of 2011, the engagement was called off. I never received a full explanation from him, just a lot of yelling. But it had something to do with him thinking I was spoiled and dumb. His family said the real reason was he had no money. His loss, not mine. So instead of getting married in July 2011, I went back to Lebanon and filed annulment papers.
Now I have been in constant relationships, with the exception of a few months here and there, for the past five years. I decided to focus on my career at this point. Sure, I probably had a few flings here and there, but no one serious enough to remember. Honestly, after the issues with my ex-fiancé, I didn’t want to deal with any male ever again.
My New Arab-American-Muslim Boyfriend Whom I Hope Will Be My Husband
It was a cold night in January 2013 and I was bored. I created an account on a random dating site and forgot about it. A few days later, a ping comes to my phone saying I had a message. That is how I met Ammar*.
Ammar was 32-years-old, Palestinian, Muslim, good-looking, smart, funny, caring, and sweet. We started talking online through e-mails first, then on the phone, and eventually through Skype. In May, five months after talking for the first time, he visited for three days and we hit it off even better in person than we did over the phone or the computer. He was my new world. Ammar was everything I ever wanted in a husband. At 25, I was really itching to begin settling down and having a family, and I felt like Ammar was it.
We had some bumps in the road. We would argue, stop talking for a few weeks, and then come back to each other. Since January 2014, we have been amazing. I went down to Texas for my brother’s engagement party which allowed us to hang out— in secret of course— for three days. Those three days solidified our decision that we wanted each other. We understand one another without having to say a word. He’s the epitome of the stereotype of finding“your other half.” He’s the one I wanted to marry. But guess what? We didn’t marry. Because my family said no. That’s it. Romance over.
Fast-Forward and Pause
I got married. To an amazing man who adores and loves me for me. And guess what? He isn’t like any one of those men from my past. And guess what else? I’m never going to be 100% happy. And I have come to terms with that. But the ironic thing is that my family is not always happy with him or me or our relationship either. So maybe this relationship, this marriage, was all for nothing. Don’t get me wrong, he’s my husband and he treats me well. And I love him. But is he my other half? I can honestly say no, he’s not. My other half, Ammar, was given a red flag and thrown out of the game three months prior to meeting my husband. My husband is the sub. And that’s OK. For now.
Looking back, I make it a point to never regret anything. Looking back, I realize the one commonality between all of these men was that I thought it would last forever. Everything happened for a reason, and each of these men has made me the woman I am today. I may have had what I thought to be the best of both worlds through my relationships with all of them, but I wasn’t truly ever happy until my family was OK with what I was doing. But now they aren’t OK with what they “gave me” and I’m having second thoughts. Time will tell if my fairy-tale ending comes true. Today, I’m OK – for now.
*All names have been changed to protect the privacy of those a part of the author’s story.