Back in the day, before this blog, I used to say that I'd never met another person in my situation. I even wrote that a few times in the first year of posting here, and mentioned how wonderful it had been to find a whole community of people who knew and had experienced some of what I had experienced in navigating an intercultural relationship. It can be hard to find someone who knows what it's like to introduce your partner to your family and then turn around and explain to them why you'll likely never have a future with this person because of his or her cultural baggage. Or try finding someone who knows what it's like to travel to the developing world with all of their own cultural baggage in tow and stay there for a month without stepping on any toes with "well, in America I'm just not used to seeing children working. Those kids should be in school..." Anyway, it can be strange to relate these kinds of experiences to people who haven't experienced them. But I was wrong, I HAD had a few interactions with people in my situation before, I'd just forgotten about them.
First, I've written about it before, was the wife of one of M's acquaintances. I think the acquaintance was a friend of a friend. However he knew of him, M remembered that he knew a Pakistani guy who had met and married a white American girl. After he'd proposed and I'd accepted and we were in the midst of wedding planning, he sent an email to the acquaintance and asked if his wife would mind reaching out to me since we were soon going to be in a similar situation. M had already cleared it with me and I'd been eager to talk to this woman. But when her email came, while it was friendly, it also made me feel weary. She told me to ask any questions I might have and congratulated me on coming to Islam and suggested links for if I wanted to learn various headscarf tying methods. My own personal shyness coupled with the fact that I didn't cover my hair meant that I never did contact her. Opportunity wasted. After a year or two I'd wished I had - since I felt so desolate at the prospect of never meeting another person in my situation - but it felt like too much time had passed. Later I stopped using that email address and lost her contact information entirely.
Another one of my first resources into intercultural marriage has been around me all my life, I just hadn't realized it. My grandmother's very very close friend had married an Iranian guy and all my life I'd known her and her children. After we were engaged, I'd asked my grandmother to tell her I wanted to speak with her about any insight she'd have into what my future would be like in an intercultural marriage to a Muslim man. A few weeks before our wedding, M and I met and talked with her during Thanksgiving. She has been one of the best resources for me and I thank God for her being in my family. Some of the things she's said have really stuck with me and I've adopted into my life. One I remember in particular is that she said over the years her family had a coping mechanism with her mother-in-law living with them for many months of each year and for years at a time throughout their own green card acquisition process. She said they had a master bedroom and seating area upstairs and that often, maybe even every night, they would retire upstairs to bed with their kids and watch a little television there together while the mother-in-law retired to her own room for bed. This way, they'd get some time with just their own nuclear family. I think that's been really helpful to me. In a multi-generational living environment, my own upbringing of "just parents and kids" can feel stifled and overwhelmed at spending ALL of our time all together in a larger group. In finding ways for our own little nuclear family to be together it strikes a good balance for me that makes me better able to interact as a large group the rest of the time.
Another great benefit to having this close family friend has been that even when I'm not around to explain or defend the things my own family finds strange, she has been there whispering rationality into my grandmother and other family members. So when my family says things like "Are you really sure you want your children having identifiably Muslim names in this day and age?" she was right there to reply "My kids all have Iranian names and they grew up during the Iran-Contra times and they were fine, so her kids will be just fine!" Or if they worry about what it will be like for me to have my mother-in-law living with me, they can think back to her mother-in-law. This elderly woman in her billowing black clothing running around a tiny southern town gathering up secondhand jackets to take back to her country. Then when I talk about my own mother-in-law shopping for gifts, they know something about that, it's not completely and totally foreign to them. She's an example of what a successful and happy intercultural marriage can look like and since it's been around them for thirty plus years, it's something they have always accepted. It would have been so much harder for my family to understand some of these things if they hadn't. They may think that Muslim in-laws living with you spells disaster but they also know that can't always be true because here's this happy half-Iranian family and they've been married forever and have these happy, healthy, uber-successful kids and grandkids. It makes my job of helping my family understand my life choices exponentially easier.She also knows me well and thinks highly of me so she's able to tell them not to worry so much about me, I have a good head on my shoulders and I'm not going to go off the deep end or anything.
My last example is of a meeting that came after M and I were married. I think about a year after our wedding, M met a guy at our local mosque. I wasn't there so I don't know or don't remember the details of their meeting. All I remember is that he told me later he'd met a white convert who was married to a Pakistani-American girl and they'd talked about getting us all together for dinner. I was on board and he made the arrangements and one day we drove off on his motorcycle to the local mall to meet at a Chinese restaurant together. It was lovely. They were also newlyweds, neither of us had kids yet, and it was the exact opposite of our situation. It was one of the most enjoyable dinners ever. It was the first time I'd ever gotten to spend a good chunk of time just dishing with someone else about the things most people find strangest about my life. I think that evening has been part of the reason why I'm so fascinated by the "desi girl, pardesi guy" version of intercultural marriage, it's just so interesting to me to see what it looks like from that angle.
Those are three of the pre-blogging experiences with other people in similar situations. Three small tidbits of a feeling of community, a feeling that other people were out there blazing these trails right along with me and thankfully, ahead of me as well.