Dating in the Muslim world is disastrous. There’s seldom a dependable source of information about dating habits and culture as our generation boasts an abundance of issues causing insecurity, ego, tension, misunderstanding, and selfishness. Our issues are made exponentially worse with the pressure of feeling that we can’t openly talk about any of our experiences. We anticipate judgment and punishment from our community over compassion and understanding. The following is the first leg of a project that examines our dating culture, one marred by ugly, unspoken biases within the Muslim community.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of finding someone cute on Instagram and thinking, “this person seems great, amazing, and totally right for me!” But the actual obsessiveness isn’t over the person; it’s for the digital avatar drawn from a slideshow of truncated information. We aren’t only responsible with sensationalizing our lives on instagram, but also idealizing the lives of others. This behavior creates a hyper-romanticized version of the person behind the profile, all before any communication or contact. We fantasize a life of being with our own perfect creation - our own personalized Galatea.
That person doesn’t exist. Real people - our dating prospects - have flaws in the same way we do, and our ruined fantasies are often treated as validated disappointment. We should advocate the complexities of real interactions, personalities, and behaviors over the convenience of conjuring up the perfect complacent partner that we can only imagine in our heads.
2. The Scarlet Zina
There is a severe imbalance between what is deemed permissible between men and women within our community, and one of the most critical components is an individual’s history. A woman with a dating, sexual, or irreligious history is branded as undesirable, with information and truth about her past having an implicit, built-in form of blackmail against all future relationships.
The same threat or bias of zina (زِنًى) - a gender neutral concept - is not applied to men, who are often applauded for having an adventurous history. This double standard and hypocrisy hurts the health of our relationships with one another, and we need to advocate for a community free of blanket judgment towards our women.
3. Prison Henna
We suck at dating. We can’t talk to one another, we can’t be friends with one another, we can’t date each other, and we gossip anytime we see two people sit next to each other. Yet we are all supposed to get married. For the sake of keeping up with cultural traditions, marriage is the absolute focus in our adult lives. The pressure to have it as such creates a race to the finish, making marriage feel more like finality than a choice. Do we engage in relationships for the sake of ourselves, our parents, or community appeasement?
Marriage, to the unfortunate few, can evoke the same tendencies of a prison, with premature, rushed commitment feeling more like a life sentence. The artistic beauty of our history - our garments, jewelry, and henna - can have underlying implications, symbolizing a warped future of discontent, akin to the symbols attained while a prisoner’s time is served.
It takes a community to solve this issue, and it takes each of us to understand how we contribute to someone else’s stress. Do you see a muslim couple dating before marriage? Mind your own business. Do you think men and women shouldn’t talk to each other? Mind your own business. Should women get married young? Mind your own damn business.
4. DM Culture
I’d like to present some tips on how to slide into girls’ DMs: Don’t.
When we were receiving stories of problematic issues happening within the community, DM culture came up with horrific frequency. It’s not so much the innocuous attempt to make contact with someone you want to meet off of Instagram, but the entitled behavior that follows - exercising frustration through degrading harassment after receiving zero or minimal attention in response. “Hi” feel safe, right? I’ve been told that “Hi” is barely trustworthy anymore, because “Hi” can quickly devolve into: “Why won’t you answer me.” “Just give me a chance, I promise I’m not a douchebag” “Send me pictures of your feet? I know that’s a weird request haha” “Are you married?” “Do you want to marry me?” “Fucking knew you were too good to reply.” “HELLOOOO” “We’d look great together.” “Are you the girl in green?” “Please answer, I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”
Recognize that your introduction is surrounded by dozens to *hundreds* of attempts by others. From your perspective, you’re being charismatic, bold, or just simply friendly. Additionally - you’re different, you’re not harassing, you’re not saying anything problematic, you’re just trying to start a conversation. However, the other side is a person who has become the epicenter of all efforts trying to do the same as you. We think we’re “the normal one” - not the random “frandship-seeker” from abroad. Not the fuckboy. Not the creep. Not the dejected loner. We are all suspect, because we all contribute one message at a time.
This is not a public service announcement to ban all DMs across Instagram - I’ve developed my own important friendships strictly due to this platform - but rather an expression to be more responsible with the way we abuse these free, private channels of communication, and not resort to digital catcalling.
5. Platonic Relationships
This is not a photo of a couple. It feels like we are told that men and women can’t be friends, and it’s highly likely every one of us has lived through a situation that’s enough proof. There are even articles that suggest that men and women are incapable of friendship. Should we feed into them? It is possible to be friends with the opposite sex without considering them as a future option, using them as an emotional crutch, or keeping them around for attention. It often feels like we trap ourselves - we get close to someone, make ourselves emotionally vulnerable, and fall out of the platonic sphere in a one-sided manner, preventing us from learning how to understand relationships as a whole. This is even more severe in our community - we have such a sensitive barometer to opposite-sex behaviors towards us due to years of sheltered protection from one another. Any semblance of attention or familiarity is affirmation of flirtation and romantic intent.
The difficulty resides in motive - being unsure of your own and more skeptical of the other person’s. Our dating culture has created an immediate, binary framework when we introduce ourselves to each other - is this person someone I could date, or is this person not worthy of any priority? The less pressure we put on ourselves and the less ulterior motives we put behind our developing friendships, the more likely we are to learn about each other. Perhaps then, we can be more equipped with romance - not taking our cues from theories, ideas, and Bollywood, but being more grounded with each other’s realities.
One of the most significant motivations for looking for a relationship is the fear of not being in one. Loneliness is such a tremendous force in our own psyche that we will suffer boredom, abuse, frustration, violence, and a life devoid of fulfillment in lieu of solitude and silence. Loneliness distorts our ability to rationally assess relationships, our own self-worth, and our means to grow independent of communal thought and processes.
It’s sometimes a paradox - how we can be surrounded by others constantly yet still feel suffocated by our own fears about social and romantic connectivity. Of course, this is not an issue solely present in the Muslim community - it is, however, an issue exacerbated by men and women scarcely interacting with each other in their adolescence only to later be expected to find a life partner in their early 20s. When they don’t, the fear of being “too old to be noticed” sinks in, the cage becomes smaller and smaller, and standards shift lower and lower. Our loneliness can, instead, be our time for growth; a time for introspective understanding, a time to develop ourselves purely meant for our own happiness and not the means to appease others, and a time to understand that being single is inconceivably better for one’s health than settling for a dangerous or unfulfilling relationship.
Part two of the series coming soon.