Arab Women Talk About What They've Done to Avoid an Arranged Marriage
"He said he hated the smell of cigarettes, so I took up smoking."
Photo via Zainubrazvi
This article originally appeared on VICE Arabia
In some Arab families, it's seen as a parent's right and duty to decide who their daughter will marry. And if those daughters don't see a life for themselves with the husband chosen for them, it can be tough to get out of the arranged marriage – a process steeped in tradition.
I spoke to four Arab women about what it took for them to avoid getting married to a man their parents chose for them. They told me about catfish attempts, a faked marriage certificate and a sudden smoking habit.
Mary, 25, from Syria
"After my parents' divorce, I moved into my aunt's house with her husband and their three sons, who were like brothers to me. When I turned 19, my aunt suddenly decided that it was time for me to get married. She chose her middle son for me, who was a year older and went to the same university as me. Of course I was against it, because it felt like marrying a brother, but my aunt wouldn't listen. Meanwhile, her son, Amjad, didn't want to marry me either because he already had a girlfriend, but at the same time, he found it hard saying no to his mum.
"I tried to convince my parents to intervene, but they wouldn't listen. I was on my own. I felt I only had one option – to tell my aunt that Amjad had secretly married his girlfriend. That girlfriend was happy to go along with it because she loved him and didn't want him marrying me. Together, we faked a marriage certificate, which wasn't very convincing, but his mother fell for it. She then insisted on meeting his girlfriend, who impressed her by playing up our culture's idea of how a wife should act. Amjad had no idea about any of this until his mother confronted him. Fortunately, he was cool playing along, too. I moved out of my aunt's house a few months later to live with my mum, while Amjad and his girlfriend got married properly, partly thanks to me."
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Miral, 26, from Palestine
"When I heard that my parents had found a guy they wanted me to marry, my first instinct was to make sure to get dumped by making him hate me. He told me that he hated the smell of cigarettes, so I started smoking cigarettes and shisha. He said he loved long hair, so I cut mine short. He went on and on about how much he loved classical music, so I compiled loads of playlists full of pop songs and forced him to listen to them. When he said he wanted to have a big family, I told him that I hated children. I would go out with him to weddings and on dates in deliberately inappropriate and revealing outfits.
"But frustratingly, despite all this, he wouldn’t break up with me and kept reassuring me that he loved me for who I was. His attitude made me suspicious; it felt like some kind of trap. Like his acceptance was just a front, and after we got married he would try and iron out everything he didn't like about me. I had to find a way to immediately end it once and for all. I activated an old Facebook account under a different name, and filled it with photos of a Romanian friend who worked as a model. I then started using the account to send him flirty messages. My fiancé messaged back almost immediately, quick to bitch about me and talk about how he was just waiting to find his dream girl.
"After I collected enough of his comments, I confronted him and told him that I had found the messages on his phone. I kept in touch with him as Emma for a while after we broke up, but my alter ego suddenly disappeared when he asked to video chat."
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Asma’a, 35, from Jordan
"I was born into a large, traditional family of two girls and four boys. Growing up, I had a difficult relationship with my mother – she was strict, ill-tempered and didn't seem to approve of anything I did.
"When I finally got to leave home and go to uni, I made the most of my new freedom by partying a lot, joining political groups and getting a younger boyfriend. It was after my parents found out about my relationship that they decided to marry me off. One day, my mother and sister took me out to dinner to meet a woman who was looking for a bride for her rich son who lived in America. My mother got so angry when I refused the offer – she accused me of not being a virgin anymore and said that was the only explanation for turning down such a good offer. Sadly, my father believed her, and they banned me from going back to university.
"It eventually took my brother to get me out of it. He told my parents that he had met the guy they wanted me to marry two days earlier, and said that he was drunk and abusive. It was a lie, but my mother bought it and dropped the idea of marrying me off to him. But they still weren't happy and wouldn't let me go back to university. After my boyfriend from university graduated, he proposed to me. My parents initially rejected his proposals several times, but eventually gave in."
Dalia, 32, from Egypt
"My father was never really that bothered about my love life, but my mum was always trying to set me up with someone. I always had a reason to say no – he's bald, he's too old, he wears green socks. Whenever I gave her the real reason that I wanted to finish school and enjoy my youth, she would bring up the importance of tradition.
"I thought that, after I started university, things would calm down and they'd realise that I was an adult with my own mind. But my mum surprised me one day when she said she had found me a husband, and that his family were coming to meet me that evening. I was furious and felt humiliated, but after arguing for an hour, my mum wouldn't back down.
"I eventually agreed to meet him and his family, but I was determined to teach my mum a lesson. When the groom arrived, I walked into my room and asked myself what the heroine in a bad romantic comedy would do. So I opened my wardrobe and put on a mashup of the worst clothes I could find. There was a multi-coloured blouse, an old pair of jeans and some bathroom slippers. I put on make-up like I was five years old. I looked ridiculous.
"Moments later, I walked into our living room, which was now packed with prospective in-laws, carrying a tray with a few of the most disgusting cups of coffee in the history of the world. My father's face flushed as he tried to hold back laughter. My mum began nervously rubbing her hands together, displaying a fake, ghostly smile that I knew all too well. My sister quickly excused herself from the room, but before she was barely out the door she burst out laughing.
"After a few minutes of silence, I looked at my mother and said, 'Excuse me while I leave you all to discuss adult matters.' After the groom and his family left, I went straight to my father, who laughed and hugged me when I asked him to protect me from my mother. My mum was absolutely furious, but my dad told her to leave me alone so I could focus on my studies. That was the end of it."