Arts & Culture The Marriage Issue

My forbidden love story

How family background interfered with my marriage.

By Nessren Aljuaili

Image: Shutterstock.

When I was a child, my mother enjoyed documenting our lives, taking photos of us every year as we grew older. She captured moments reflecting our innocent smiles, and took snapshots of us acting silly. She passionately collected these rectangular shaped images, and carefully aligned them bilaterally on pages of hand-crafted scrapbooks that she created for my siblings and me. One particular scrapbook never fails to evince a feeling of joy and happiness in me no matter how old I get, as it contains handwritten love letters exchanged between my mother and father when they were newly married. Deeply in love, my mother found pleasure in compiling the letters in a resplendent album with colorful, flowery paper cuttings that she took her time making.

My mother would tell me stories of how it was tough for them to get married since it was outside the circle of convention. Going opposite to society’s flow of norms was frowned upon, unfavorable and unwanted. In my parents’ case, getting married was a challenge because my mother wasn’t Arab.

I couldn’t help but ask her one day, “Mama, how did it all work out in the end?” She replied with a shy smile, and said in a subtle voice, “love moves mountains.” Her words were so powerful to me, and gave me a sense of vitality and hope that were deeply engraved in me. For the remainder of my life, I truly believed that love did not know discrimination.

“Serendipity is finding something good without looking for it.”

In an unforeseen encounter in the least expected place, our paths crossed. That’s how I met him. It began as a friendship, that swiftly turned to a mutual realisation that our souls had found their mates. He was a mirror to my moral values, and a fitting opposite to my introverted self. I was the dreamer and he was the realist. I wouldn’t say he completed me, but I know he embraced all of my imperfections, and I felt the same way towards him. He was my serendipity, and it didn’t take us too long to get our parents involved.

But my father did not accept him. To this day, I am baffled by the workings of life and what it has in its basket of surprises. Here I was thinking I was a daughter to parents who believed that love knew no barriers, and yet here I was witnessing history repeat itself.

“I truly believed that love did not know discrimination.”

I remember sitting on the edge of the bed in my room after they broke the shocking news to me, helplessly staring blankly at my pear green walls. My eyes were swollen from the endlessly descending tears, and my thoughts raced back and forth between memories of the scrapbook of love letters, and the hard slap I had just endured from reality. My brain couldn’t fathom what had just happened. So, I decided to get some answers to the questions that were rushing through my mind.

I got up, wiped my tears and washed my face. The tingles of cold water that touched my skin were just another painful reminder that it was all real. I took a deep breath, and whispered to myself, “compose yourself.” I let my feet guide me out of my bedroom. Once I stepped out, I heard my father’s voice, his painful words, and my gut told me that he was talking about the man who had just come with his family to ask for my hand in marriage, and the reason why he rejected him. My ears tried to steal few words of what he was saying, but it was too late. He ended the call. I went downstairs to where he was, with my mother in the white living room, the same room that once gave me peace of mind and clarity.

“Why did you reject him? Why are you ignoring his calls now? Did you ever consider my feelings?” I found myself screaming at the top of my lungs.

“His family,” my father said, “his family  belongs to a clan that your uncles won’t accept.”

For a split second I looked straight to my mother, who I knew understood how I felt. My eyes were silently screaming “why?!” at her. Her gaze interlocked with mine, and I quickly realised that she had already talked to my father and couldn’t get through him. My uncles, who I barely see or interact with, had already dictated the situation. Although we both came from a Khaleeji (Gulf Arab) background, they decided that “traditionally” and according to society’s standards, he was not a suitable fit for me.

“My story is just one of the many stories out there in which two people desired to be together, yet didn’t get enough support from their families because of the erroneous, hubristic belief that certain backgrounds, nationalities, or tribes are more superior to others.”

I stood in disbelief, and reminded my father that, once upon a time, the same people had refused my mother because of who she was. But I never got a satisfactory reply from him, and the illogic and double standards of it all still frustrates me to this day.

My story is just one of the many stories out there in which two people desired to be together, yet didn’t get enough support from their families because of the erroneous, hubristic belief that certain backgrounds, nationalities, or tribes are more superior to others. In the end, it’s just all labels and tags created to decide for us where we should belong.

But mine represents just a small section of a wide spectrum of difficulties and challenges lovers can face today. And I can only urge families to think twice, and truly evaluate the basis on which they make their decisions when it comes to matters of marriage. Making commitments and getting married is already difficult. Parents and family members, don’t make it even more difficult than it is by setting unnecessary standards and barriers on your youth.  After all, we live in a world where everything is readily accessible, if we didn’t get the support the proper way, it’s easy to drift to the wrong path.

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Nessren Aljuaili is a biracial Saudi who was born and raised in the UAE, which she also calls home. She’s an NYU alumni living in New York. Nessren is a lover of diversity, and she expresses her vulnerability and self-growth through writing and storytelling.