Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Courtship at “Home Sweet Home”: Consumed By Love

By Chiara

Murtadha, of the excellent blog Saudi Alchemist, is a 22 year old, 4th year student in Finance and IT, at Portland University, Portland Oregon. Among his inspiring posts on Saudi Alchemist, was “The Beauty of Pain”. While the rest of us waxed philosophical on that theme, a woman in England sent a private email to a Saudi man she perceived as understanding and compassionate, and whom she entrusted with her most painful story, in order to seek an explanation for her Saudi love’s behaviour. She later agreed to let Murtadha post her email on his blog, under the title “The First Step Into the Unknown”.

* Since the original postings there and here, and despite taking comfort from the comments left on both blogs, Consumed by Love has requested that Murtadha delete her post, which he has done. I wish to respect her privacy as well, while dealing with 2 important topics she raised; so I have edited out a couple of details from the original posting here, and provided an extremely reduced anonymized summary of her story as follows.  Murtadha and Consumed by Love have agreed to this edited version of the original post continuing to appear on Chez Chiara, for which I sincerely thank them both.

Consumed by Love, who is neither Saudi nor Muslim, began a relationship with a Saudi classmate who had pursued her. Both were in their late 20's. Over the course of their 2 year relationship they began to live together as if they were married, although he always protested that love and marriage were 2 different things, and that he had no intention of marrying anyone anywhere. During this time she became pregnant, and he persuaded her to have an abortion, which was against her values. She was 8-9 weeks pregnant at the time of the abortion. Later he returned to Saudi Arabia, accepted an arranged marriage, and was engaged to be married when she last heard from him--after he threatened to change his number if she continued to phone daily, whereupon she reduced her communication to the occasional desperate call or text. She has suffered extreme pain and confusion from this relationship, all the more so as she cannot rely on her family's support, has gone against her own conservative morays, and has trouble believing that he is/was a bad man.

As I commented on the original post, the writer has suffered a double loss, that of her Saudi love and that of her pregnancy. In fact, as she is also struggling with her sense of her self as behaving differently than she would ever have expected, she is suffering a 3rd loss, that of a former self--but not her Self. She faces these life altering losses without the benefit of her family’s support, yet fortunately she has friends, and she chose wisely in reaching out to Murtadha, who has shown such care and compassion with her feelings.

The original comments below (November 4-8, 2009, reposted on January 17, 2010), on the original of this post, were by commentators who had read the full post, and the comments on Murtadha’s blog Saudi Alchemist, before commenting here. None of their comments reveal any more detail about her situation. Please feel free to add your comments based on the summary above, and analogous situations of which you may be aware.

What impressions do you take from this story?
What positive suggestions do you have for “Consumed by Love” or “Writer” (as many comments addressed her)?
What lessons should Saudi men studying abroad take from the stories of Sad Girl and Consumed by Love?
What lessons should women having relationship with a Saudi, or any man, take from these stories?Does the heart necessarily rule the mind? To what extent?
What is the long term impact on someone of having experienced such a disappointment?


Anonymous said...

Sallams and hello to everyone.

It's very sad what happened to this young woman.

One thing I can tell you about Saudis is that many, many of them are tribal and their thinking is that way as well.

So for many of them(accept the courageous ones of course), will tend to stick to tribal customs, in all aspects of their lives. Family ties are VERY close, for the most part(amongst traditional families), and valued amongst each other. Many times you will find a 'group thinking' mentality amongst families.

These are the type of expectations, peer pressures if you will, that these families face amongst each other.

This might be part of the problem. I'm convinced it's a very big part actually. Of course it doesn't justify, such behavoirs on the mans part.

What else can one expect though. When a young man, that is not religiously committed goes amongst an (open and free?) society, where promiscuity is accepted and even encouraged and there are temptations EVERYWHERE.

Also where women, do not have mahrams to protect them and look out for their interests at heart.

Then you will find many, many scenarios like what this poor young woman has gone though.
November 4, 2009 9:00 PM

Ellen said...

Wow... God I feel so sad for the writers of these stories. I can't help but be thankful that I didn't end up in the same situation... I really do want to say though, that if Saudi men are not committed to these relationships (and that means actually telling their families) then they should not go there at all. It is not fair at all to the women who are left behind to pick up the pieces.

I don't think that women should have lessons... but perhaps just remember that the man who (may or may not) loves you now has the same commitment to his family that you do. If you had to against your family in order to be with him, it would be extremely hard - so remember that he can go through the same thing.
And if he hasn't told his family... seriously, unless there is a good excuse that you can trust, then leave or tell him that you are considering leaving. Marrying non-Saudis is much more common that he might think so women need to be aware that many families will actually accept them. Some might not, yes that's true - but many will.

I think there is a really massive impact on women who have suffered like this. Because it's more than disappointment - like "Writer" said, the relationships with Saudis can be 100% like marriage so when it ends I'm sure it would feel like you've been divorced and all the confidence has been drained from you.

Really, I hope that Saudis and other women take these stories to heart.
November 5, 2009 4:42 AM

Nikki said...

This was absolutely heartbreaking. The part about the abortion hit very close to home, with my 1 year old son snoring softly in the next room.

I was fortunate enough to find a Saudi who is not tribal. This does not mean, however, that family is not important. We talked about marriage from the beginning of our relationship. I don't know, however, if he would have been brave enough to stand up to his family on my behalf if it wasn't for our son. Prior to the pregnancy they knew about me, but would still ask him when he was getting married (to a Saudi!?!). In other words, when are you going to leave your fun fling overseas and settle down with a nice Saudi girl who will never know about the whole affair.

I know so many Saudi guys who have relationships here one month, and then the next they are back home getting engaged and the Saudi wife never knows that she's not the first one he's a) had sex with or b) had feelings for. It breaks my heart. These women become my friends when they bring them back and I feel like such a liar not telling them of their husbands shameful past behavior.

If it weren't for my son, I'm afraid my own husband may have been pressured into marrying another woman. I would have had to watch him bring her back and pretend that I didn't exist. My pain for both the western women left in these situations and for the new wives who have married into a lie is terribly great.

Even now, with an Islamic marriage, and a son, my MIL still sometimes laments about my husband not finding a "nice Saudi girl."

I think Saudi men really need to man up. I love my husband, and am one of the lucky ones who actually got a marriage out of the deal...yet he has his flaws. He thinks it's perfectly acceptable for his friends to lie to their wives about their relationships in America. His own sister, my wonderful, loving SIL, doesn't know about her husband's prior relationship. Her husband is my husband's best friend. My husband knows many intimate details about this previous relationship, but thinks it's in his sister's best interest to keep it from her entirely.

Sorry, I've gotten away from the woman's original lament. I feel absolutely terrible for her, and it grieves me to say that I think she should give up on her love for him. He was not man enough to stand up for her, he was not man enough to father her child, and I'm fairly certain he won't be man enough to ever mention her to his new wife.

Grieving a lost love is hard, it's true, but what's even harder, is grieving a lost life. I wish the abortion had not happened. Of course now it cannot be changed, but, but... it's worthless to rehash now. Insha'Allah healing will come to everyone involved in time.
November 5, 2009 8:05 AM

Caraboska said...

Every Saudi man knows that his religion forbids him from being alone with a woman who is not his mahram. And every non-Saudi woman who receives a proposition to be alone together - at all - with a Saudi can therefore know immediately that his intentions are not pure. The first question if he asks to spend time with you is, 'Who else will be there?' And if the answer is no one, then you don't accept the invitation. You cut off contact with the guy. Period.

Then there's the question of what to talk about during the meeting. Every Saudi man knows that his religion forbids him to chitchat with women. So there are three possible acceptable topics: 1) legitimate business, 2) religion and 3) marriage. Any non-Saudi woman who is with a Saudi man who proceeds to talk about anything else can therefore know that it is time to end the meeting and not permit another one to occur.

Every Saudi man knows his religion forbids him to touch a non-mahram woman. Therefore any non-Saudi woman who receives a proposal of touching of any kind can know that the man's intentions are dishonorable and that the right thing to do is cut off contact with the man. Forever.

It is so crucial to know what the rules are about male-female relationships are in another person's culture before you undertake any interaction at all. You don't ask the other party. You ask a third, disinterested party. You read. You insist from the beginning that the person follow the rules.

And of course you follow the rules of your own culture and religion. If your religion forbids you to maintain non-platonic relationships outside of marriage - and nearly every religion does - or to marry outside of your religion, then you tell the person that your religion forbids these things and that you cannot maintain contact with them.

Of course, the rules can end up being different with online contacts. But even then, you make it clear that the relationship cannot be non-platonic, and do whatever you have to to make sure it stays that way. You stick to honorable topics. You do not meet in person except if the circumstances are permitted by the principles of both parties' religion and culture.

That's the lesson to be learned from all these tales of heartbreak.
November 5, 2009 8:50 AM

NidalM said...

By seeing someone in this manner while abroad, the man in question has obviously already rejected his cultural and tribal affiliations. And yet he returns home and cites the same traditions as his reasons for his not getting married.

That's just hypocritical. Your traditions should be dictated by your own sense of identity, not where you the country you find yourself in. A Saudi man, close to home and family, yet ready to get into a physical relationship should be suspect.

Sadly, this is the story of a 'typical' Saudi male. Conservative and highly family oriented at home, and yet take a trip to Bahrain, Lebanon or the various beach towns around the world and you see them do things that make your head boil. I don't want to sound condescending towards all Saudi men, but even the good ones know what I say is tragically true.

I can't believe this guy actually had the audacity to ask a girl he's wronged to get an abortion. And he tried to bring religion out on his side to convince her to?! I'm sorry, but this is a terrible, terrible thing to do.

S, if you're reading this, I understand if you can't see him as a bad man. And perhaps he's not. Perhaps many of the things he's done he feels were necessary because of the constraints of Saudi culture. But there is no doubt that he has hurt you. And hurt you deeply.

By keeping in contact with him, you only make moving on more difficult. With him telling you he still loves you, you still hold onto a hope that maybe things will turn out alright. And yet the rational part of you must know otherwise... You sound like a great girl S; but by holding onto him when he can give you no real commitment in return, you do yourself a great disservice.

I also feel concerned about the young girl he's planning to marry now. Does she know about his past relationships? How would she react if she knew her husband-to-be had sired a child and asked for an abortion. Perhaps she would accept it, but doesn't she have a right to know?
November 5, 2009 12:13 PM

Anonymous said...

Sallams & Hello,

I just realized after posting this that I didn't answer the questionaire, sorry. Just sharing personal and life experiences living amongst Saudis.

By the way I think the questionaire is a very good idea at the end of these articles/stories.
November 5, 2009 6:47 PM

Chiara said...

Anonymous--thank you for sharing your experience and insight in such a thoughtful manner. You raise a number of key points about tribal thinking, and also the pressures on the families themselves within the tribe. One thing that surprises Westerners is that family has such a key role to play in what seem to them to be personal decisions; and, that so many in the family feel they have a right to intervene. This in itself can be overwhelming to the Westerner while the Saudi may fool himself for a while that it will all work out somehow. It is also true that men raised in very traditional cultures are themselves suddenly thrown into new sets of cultural rules, and manners which can be very confusing, or leading into temptation that would be more easily resisted with the pressure of family and society at home.
The questions at the end are merely to get people thinking and commenting and are in no way restrictive or needing to be formally answered.
You may wish to use the Name option and make up a name for yourself so that we can follow your excellent comments more easily. That option just requires you to put in a Name of your choice, the URL is optional, and no email is required. Thanks again!

Ellen--Indeed, there but for the grace of God/Allah go any of us. It is true that one sign of commitment in a relationship is to be willing to let parents know the relationship exists, unless there would be severe reprisals. I do know a Moroccan who went on scholarship to France, married a French woman, had a baby, got a job in France, and then returned home to his conservative, high placed father, and announced the new state of affairs. He knew his father wouldn't approve and this was his way of protecting the relationship. More frequent though, is the "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" attitude, and friends also keep these secrets well. And I agree, the term "disappointment" was a deliberate understatement as the emotional injury is more severe. It does heal though, slowing, with time, support, therapy and leaves a scar, hopefully the least scarring possible.
November 6, 2009 12:17 AM

Chiara said...

Nikki--thank you for your comment, and you are also one of the lucky ones. You are right that the people who would normally be expected to warn both women are most likely to remain silent, and each would be hurt to know the truth. This seems to me a fundamental cultural difference of what is told, and why, where both cultures try to protect the person, but one culture does it through silence and the other through informing. Probably the safest is the one that would really do the least harm to the individual. Many religious beliefs on abortion turn on the idea of when personhood occurs, or ensoulment in the Islamic tradition. For most Muslims this is at 120 days, for some at 40, and for about 10% at conception (when sperm meets egg). For strict Catholics and some Protestants conception is also the point beyond which interfering is restricted to straight medical issues. Others hold that the time of viability, in about the 2nd trimester is more valid. These are highly personal decisions for the man and the woman involved, and one always wishes prevention was 100% effective.

As hard as it is to choose to have an abortion, it is harder where it goes against the person's own principles and they feel pressured or coerced. Ideally a couple makes a genuinely mutual decision, but if not, the woman should have the final say imo, and Western laws generally require the man to at least pay support. I do think that those in this situation need to know the exact degree of religious permissibility if that is important to them, and of course the law where they are living.

Caraboska--Thank you for the very clear guidelines based on religious and cultural beliefs, and practical advice. Everyone Saudi and non should understand what they are getting into. This can help negotiate the more troublesome parts of relationships.

NidalM--Thanks for raising some key issues. It does seem as if some people take a vacation from their core values when abroad. While this can be a legitimate sense of exploring it can also just be an excuse for inappropriate behaviour. Unfortunately many foreign students, ie foreign to whatever country they are in, behave similarly. Men are also hurt by romantic misunderstandings or thinking that a woman's behaviour has indicated a level of commitment she doesn't have. I have helped put back together male friends and patients in just this situation.
An unplanned pregnancy is a moral, emotional, and social challenge, and, as you point out, a religious failing for many. How one handles that decision is crucial, and the man's attitude can impact the woman's experience greatly, even if she wanted the abortion.

I do also hope that S is reading and takes comforts from the words here.

I wonder if the foreign women who marry the returning men, in this case Saudis don't prefer not to know--even expect they have had relationships with "white girls" but don't consider those relationships important or an impediment to the other social merits of the marriage. I'm sure they assume the white girls were lascivious, and unscrupulous, as I have seen that assumption play out many times.

Anyone else have any thoughts on this aspect?

Another question, for consideration and comment--if the Western women knew more about Saudi and more about the man's specific tribe, eg how conservative, how large, how central to the life of the man's family, would that help in making more self-protective decisions?

I hope people will recomment or comment for the first time on any of the aspects raised in the post and in the comments.

Nikki-if you would like to share your story, please send an email to chiaraazlinquestion AT Confidentiality would be maintained and you could post under a different blogonym, if you prefer. Thanks!
November 6, 2009 12:50 AM

Aziz said...

It pains me to disparage my countrymen, but alot of them are not virtuous nor do they have benign intentions when entering into such unions. They cast the gloves aside and figure such daliances will only be remembered by themselves or friends who would not break rank and air their dirty laundry. Sadly, such is the fate of men who are raised in a home where there are not many female role models for them, and even if they are, their efforts to teach are curtailed by the Patriarch, who ( depending on the education and tribal affiliation ) will hold views towards marriage that it need not necessarily be an " Equal Partnership ". Such an outlook given to young men will not only give them an idea of supremacy, rather it will serve to embolden them and give them free reign to act on their animal instincts. Added with the images that Western Television and how it depicts relationships and sexuality, this will only add fuel to the fire that Western women are every bit as promiscuous and would not bat an eyelid should the relationship come to a sour end, because, as we all know, the next one is right around the corner. This view that Western women are fickle in nature is DANGEROUS and only furthers the chaos that must be curbed. It is why I urge gentleman who do travel to study abroad and wish to become familiar with a Western woman that, should it become serious and the partner wishes for it to be more than just a long-term relationship ( i.e marriage )
that the man make provisions to live out west because that is the only way it will be a marriage that is desirable for both.

For those seeking nothing but a good time, well, Allah has smote down those who wished to act as their own agents, and if not in this life, they shall surely get their comeuppance in the next.
November 7, 2009 2:04 PM

Chiara said...

Aziz--thank you for your thoughtful comment. You make a number of excellent points. In fact many students who go abroad from whatever country feel safer to indulge in behaviours they wouldn't where they might be reported back to family. There can be a type of suspension of their normal moral boundaries. Those from countries where behaviour is highly codified have a more difficult time reading the norms of more loosely structured (though not necessarily loose morally) egalitarian societies. If one is conditioned to believe that non-tribal(whatever your tribe) don't count in the moral scheme of things it is easy to trangress.

I have also seen misinterpretation cross-culturally of social cues that even the densest of high school students has mastered by university. They include: normal friendliness, being the last 2 at the lunch table finishing a coffee together, smiling, maintaining eye contact, etc. Or as I like to tell one story that happened to me "No having lunch together doesn't mean afternoon dessert".
November 8, 2009 4:17 AM said...

A couple needs to understand their choices before getting engaged.


Related Posts with Thumbnails