Monday, September 8, 2008

Dating In The Casbah

**Editors' Note: This guest post came to us all the way from the Middle East from a friend who'd prefer to be known as Saddam Marmapuke. Thanks Saddam! Good luck with the new wife!**

I was born in the US. My mother is American, but my father is from a small Middle Eastern country, which I'll refer to here as Arabistan so as not to sully its international reputation—a crime for which the country's constitution allows capital punishment. When I was young, my parents divorced and it was settled that my life would take place in the US. I visit my dad's country almost every year, but I have always strongly agreed with my parents' decision to keep me in the US, mostly because I think Arabistan is a socially backward shit hole.

I like visiting my family and friends in Arabistan and I enjoy getting out of the States every so often, but I was never willing to stay there for an extended period of time until last year when I graduated from college and moved there to work and settle in for a while with the hope that I would learn to love my father's unfortunate little country.

Almost immediately upon my arrival in the nation's capital, my stepmother, her sisters, her mother, my paternal aunts and every other female member of my family and extended family launched their campaign to get me married to a "nice girl from the village," which translates more directly as a first cousin (preferably), highly trained in cooking, cleaning, and rabbit-like reproduction. It was the first of many identical conversations with my female family members and I learned to laugh and divert their probing questions and outrageous suggestions with my own questions ("What is your favorite color?") and suggestions ("I really think you should see a doctor about your multiple sclerosis.")

Eventually, I found a job disseminating the most vulgar propaganda for the corrupt, dictatorial government, I started smoking heavily, I spent hundreds of dollars every month buying large quantities of Qat (an intensely stimulating drug that Arabistanis use almost every day), and I found myself a non-Arabistani girlfriend. My father's family was thrilled that I had so quickly adapted in Arabistan, but they were irate about the girl. Addicted to drugs? So are we! Coughing your tar-filled lungs out? Join the chorus! Aiding and abetting the criminal dictator? Our love for him is pure! But dating…and dating a non-Arabistani girl? You are spitting in our faces and stomping on our hearts.

"Listen," my father said to me one day while we sat alone digesting lunch. "I know you have a girlfriend, and I'm happy for you. But people here don't do that—they don't date like you do in America—and it's causing a major stir. People are talking about it and you know what that means." He explained that his wife had reported rumors circulating in some female circles of the city that my girlfriend was either a Zionist spy (a totally irrational, but major fear in the national psyche) or a con artist trying to steal my family's savings.

"Fucking retards," I said. "Goddamned hooded beasts."

"You're the one who's been acting retarded," he shot back, surprising me.

"Excuse me? By dating a girl?"

"You're living in one of the most conservative cultures on the planet. If you're going to have a girlfriend, you need to do it secretly."

For an hour he tried to tutor me in the art of having an illicit relationship, a talent he claims to have gained as a young man. I listened attentively, imagining trysts in dark alleys, trying to picture myself sneaking into windows and wearing disguises.

Eventually, he said, "Or there's the other way…."

"What's that?" I asked.

"You could marry her."

I met this girl through mutual friends about four years earlier while I was visiting Arabistan. Every time I returned to the country we would occasionally see each other at gatherings and have friendly, but brief conversations. It had only developed into a sleepover relationship about a month prior to my father's suggestion that I marry her. I liked her a lot. I thought I was falling in love with her, actually. But I was not about to marry anyone after one month, and the idea of societal pressure being the driving force behind a marriage proposal disturbed me. I was sure she wouldn't be interested in going native to that extent either.

"It's not like she's knocked up," I said. But I understood that there were two options and that pregnancy wasn't the issue at hand. It was the general idea of premarital relations that Arabistani society feared, despised, and strictly guarded against. Quickly, I scrambled to promise my dad that I would play the game of secrets, that I didn't want to cause anyone any trouble, but that I'm not used to this kind of thing and it may take a few days to develop a strategy. He'd have to bear with me a little.

The next day while I was at work I got the first text message. "CNGRTS ON UR WDDING, CUZ!!!!!!" I thought my cousin had mistakenly sent it to me, so I ignored it, but several calls and text messages from family members followed throughout the day. Apparently, my father didn't believe my assurances and his lack of faith in my ability to secretly date a woman had led him to choose plan B on my behalf and on behalf of my girlfriend/wife. He had told everyone—his friends, our family, his wife's family, and all the neighbors—that I had secretly married my foreign girlfriend, who he could now confirm is not and has never been a spy, a con artist, or a Zionist. So, I was married to a girl who didn't know she was my wife.

Breaking the news to her was not as difficult as I had expected. After a period of silence and introspection while I stared at her, anticipating panic and anger, she said, "So does this mean we'll be living together?"

"I think it means we have to live together," I said.

She paused.

"Do you know how to cook?" she asked.

"Sort of," I said.

"Do you know how to make the bed?" she asked.


"Do you know how to do laundry and iron?" she asked.


"Then I have no problem with this new, bizarre, arrangement."


Serial Monogamist said...

Your dad seems pretty smart.

dkgoodman said...


Hopefully she's a wife with benefits. :)

dreashu said...

Fabulous. I am glad it worked out...but now I want to hear more of the story...come on then!