Originally posted on NouPop
“Wait, I thought you got engaged already? Didn’t that happen way before Thanksgiving?” Cara asked. “Well, yes – technically. But he didn’t propose, or anything,” I answered. “So what do you mean you’re engaged if he didn’t propose? I am beyond confused,” huffed Sasha. The confusion took over her face. I giggled lightly, but continued to explain to my American friends how exactly he proposed twice.
Growing up Lebanese-American, I was always faced with the challenge of intertwining two very different cultures. My parents wanted my siblings to learn dabkeh (Middle Eastern style of river dancing) while my friends blasted Backstreet Boys – and you can’t dabkeh to that. My parents insisted on making me labneh (yogurt/cheese spread) sandwiches for lunch, while all my friends enjoyed their grilled cheese on perfectly toasted toast. I was envious of their lunches, to say the least.
As I enter my almost late twenties, I have slowly – and I mean slowly – come to appreciate all that my parents taught me while growing up. I realized that I am so lucky and even privileged to have experienced the beauties of two amazing cultures that have shaped me into the young woman I am today. But these two cultures weren’t always easy to intertwine.
“Baba*, I don’t get it. He won’t give you your engagement ring until he surprises you? Yaani, you want a proposal like the Americans,” asked my dad. “Baba, I am American,” I answered. “OK fihimna (I understand), but you’re already engaged. He came and asked for your hand in marriage from me, your father. That means more to me than any ring or proposal,” my dad answered back.
In that moment, I knew he was right – but I still had a fairy-tale proposal in my mind. That westernized idea of a man getting down on one knee, and pulling out a shiny, beautiful diamond and asking the precious words of, “Will you marry me?” I took a deep breath and decided to let Mohanad (my not, not fiance) figure it out for himself. Maybe it was silly to have a proposal, or maybe it would be everything I ever dreamed of. But regardless, my dad was right. I was already engaged and a ‘proposal‘ wouldn’t change that.
My toulbeh (a formal ceremony) had already taken place in early November. Afterwards, Mohanad and I discussed the details of what I liked and didn’t like in an engagement ring. We never went ring shopping because I trusted his taste, and knew he would do an incredible job at overseeing the process. He actually hung up on me when I asked how it was coming along. Thanks, babe.
I was already engaged and a ‘proposal‘ wouldn’t change that.
I fell in love with Mohanad’s heart before all else. He had this willingness about him that was refreshing. The willingness to ensure I was always smiling. The willingness to do whatever it took to keep me happy. I knew that when it came time, he would make my proposal extremely special – even though we were technically engaged. The idea of a proposal to an already engaged couple still makes me laugh, but Mohanad pulled it off.
It was a cold Sunday afternoon as my cousins and I pushed through crowds of people on 59th street by Central Park. Yasmine, my younger sister was adamant on going around the block, when I knew the Woolman Ice Skating Rink was the other way. “Nour, it’s THIS way. Let’s go!” she yelled. “Geez, relax- I’m freezing too,” I mumbled, trying to catch up with my cousins. As I ran up to the crosswalk, I came to a sudden stop…and that’s when I saw it. A huge sign…
“Nourhan, to the bench,” I read as I stood on the crosswalk waiting for the pedestrian light to change. Wait a minute, that’s me! I am Nourhan, I thought. I look around to see my sisters and three cousins smiling at me with their phones out, recording my expression. My smile lights up from ear-to-ear. I knew exactly which bench he’s talking about. When Mohanad and I first got to know one another, I sat on a bench waiting for him so we could have a picnic in Central Park. His Jersey instincts thought it would be cute to scare me from behind the bench, and my New Yorker instincts were to jump, ready to defend myself.
We walked up to the bench to find a single, pink rose with a pink note attached to it. The note read the sweetest words with instructions to turn right and keep walking. The next five to six steps were a complete blur to me as my eyes swelled up with tears, barely being able to pick up the next rose. If I had thought the first note had sweet words, it was evident the second was even sweeter because the tears were now streaming down my cheeks. This continued for seven roses, until we got to the hill where we picnicked “back in the day”. We always mentioned this date and how perfect it was. The weather, the food, the scenery and especially the company. While marching up the hill, my girls were behind me recording my every emotion. Once we had all made it up the short, but steep hill, Mohanad jumped up out of nowhere (literally, nowhere… I could not spot him whatsoever) and got down on one knee. “What do you say?” asked Mohanad. I smiled and laughed, “You didn’t even ask me!” I answered back. We laughed together as Mohanad took out the ring, put it on my finger and said “Marry Me.”
I hugged my sisters and cousins who helped make this all possible. “Where’s my mom?” I asked, as my cousin Zeina answered, “She couldn’t make it, she’ll see you at home!” That’s odd, I thought to myself. What could she be doing? We quickly decided we should still go ice skating to celebrate. We all walked to the Woolman Ice Skating rink and that’s when I lost it.
Everyone considered close to Mohanad and I, chanted us on as we walked closer to where they all waited with a sign #TheRealNourAndMohanad (that’s a blog post for another time LOL) I immediately burst into tears as my mom and grandmother ran up to me. I cried so much I hid my face for at least 15 seconds. I opened my eyes to see my best friends, and sister-in-law and so many more faces that I adore surrounding us. At that moment, I knew that starting a future with this man was the best decision I have ever made. He was sensitive, selfless, thoughtful and most of all, unconditionally generous with his love for me. He did it all and then some.
It was an evening filled with laughter, joy, and boomerangs. All twenty of us continued onto a Belgian restaurant to celebrate with warm pretzels and burgers. Mohanad and I did it. We so gracefully meshed two beautiful worlds and made them our own. We took two opposite cultures and curated the perfect Middle-Eastern American blend. His family stayed true to our traditions and came into my family’s home to ask for my hand in marriage – while he stayed true to my dreams as a young American woman, and got down on one knee. Mohanad indeed proposed twice, and both times will forever stay near and dear to my heart. It is so fulfilling to be able to experience two different events yet so alike in their outcome of happiness. Both events prove to a woman that she is valuable and highly praised – and that no matter what, the right man will do anything and everything to please you. As a young woman who struggled to maintain a healthy balance between cultures, both worlds have given me a little slice of perfection in their own ways.
*Baba: the Arabic equivalent to “daddy”. Some Arab parents refer to their children by the endearing names their children call them.