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Posts Tagged ‘marriage’

Men without women

Melissa’s visit went stellar, though I confess (and have, to Fr. Carty) I had to lie and say she was my cousin from Spain in order for her to be in the apartment. I’m reminded, in such unfortunate corridors of untruths, of Mark’s observation that a lie just as much conforms your acknowledgement of their customs. Mark, who had been teaching English in Yemen for some time (3adan), was “married” to his then-girlfriend. At the time, I was also considering moving here with Melissa under the same ruse. He pointed out that doing so was just as much of an acknowledgement that of their customs’ correctness — in essence, by lying about it, you were conforming to it just as much as if you had actually been married. A thought.

I’ve encountered a lot of people who seem to point to my father’s advice: don’t get married until you’re settled. That, for my father, means forty. Or thirty. Something like that. But why? Because you’re not stable? Because you don’t know who you are? Rubbish. I point you to the wiser words of Brett and Kate McKay, whose blog you should subscribe to if you haven’t already:

The Case for Marriage at The Art of Manliness

I bring this up not because I’ve been ring shopping lately (don’t worry about dusting off the tuxedoes just yet, boys), but because two of my  dearest friends just got engaged over Christmas, and the case for marriage has weighed heavy on my mind. Especially with my father’s scoffing echoing firmly in my ear. Everyone I know (except Tom) balks at the idea of an early marriage. Here, I think, your perspective changes a little.

Here, men need to pay for everything — which means not only the wedding, the apartment, the furniture, the car, and the honeymoon, but in a Muslim wedding, the “present,” which is a ton of gold jewelry that secures the woman’s needs in the event of a divorce (in which the man keeps everything but the jewelry). Consequently, most men aren’t married until well into their thirties and spent most of their younger lives sexually repressed (as marriage is the only legitimate sexual outlet) and stuck in what amounts (in my opinion) to a freshman-year mentality regarding women.

This brings a huge gap between husbands and wives, who tend to be younger — around twentyish, opposed to the male late thirties. Late thirties! Yet it’s only then that most men accumulate enough to put up a wedding or be in a good enough position to marry.

For the most part, American men face the complete opposite stigma. You don’t need to have a house and all the trimmings to get married. You just need to have a job and “know who you are.” That’s an interesting phrase, you know; I’ve brought it up a thousand times throughout my classes, and most of my students are absolutely baffled by it. Why would you take cross-country trips on five-hundred dollars? Why would you study abroad, or live by yourself? You could save so much money if you just put all that away. My answer, most days?

“To know yourself. To challenge yourself.”

Bah, comes the response; that’s immature. I already know who I am. Why do I need to “look for myself”?

I’m not saying they don’t. But with most households existing on a hand-t0-mouth basis, the dreams of spurious cross-country travel seem immature. Instead, most of my students spend their income on language courses, computer courses, things that will make them more desirable in business and immigration to a better life on some other side of the Atlantic (interestingly, Canada seems pretty tops on everyone’s list these days). Knowing themselves? They already know that. What they want is the cash.

I guess that’s important (listen to me, says the poor schoolteacher). But with the house now empty of women (Tom’s Molly having left on Thursday), and the clouds come again to Alexandria, everything seems a little bit colder. Perhaps I’m being dramatic. I just wonder why we’re so quick to judge young couples that want to get married young. Isn’t there something beautiful about building a life together?

Two and one-half bachelors again. Men without women once more.

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I’ve settled into the comfortable routine of teaching at the new center (EACC) at 5:30 every day. It’s actually a pretty sweet deal, I think: it gives me a little leeway to sleep in and be productive throughout the first part of the morning, though (truth be told) I’ve been pretty lazy. I’ve gotten out of the blog-bef0re-ten routine and I’m trying my most desperate to get back in. Though the upside is that I’ve been pretty good about grabbing a copy of al-Shuruq every morning and perusing the headlines and trying to figure out what’s going on in the big, wide, Arab world.

I try to keep classes light and joke around with students; sometimes, classes even devolve into big round-table discussions that get everyone talking and joking with one another. And such instances allow me to really distinguish (with a little thought) who’s fluent (or approaching) and who’s not. And such questions really make you think about your own Arabic fluency, and the things that make you fluent.

For instance, embedded questions. In English, it’s more polite to ask, “Do you know what time it is?” than “What time is it?” While both constructions are possible in Arabic (technically), I don’t think that many people bother with the bedded question. Questions are questions.

One of my classes is overwhelmingly female; during one of these such breakdowns, nearly all the women were pretty vocal about men not finding jobs and how terrible it was. They were critical of how much weddings cost, how showy they were, and how the government was financing poorer couples’ large “group weddings” (when instead they should be helping the couple in their first year). Yet when the subject of their own weddings came up, nearly all of the younger, unmarried women declared that the husband should pay for everything. Everything. Party, caterer, hotel, honeymoon, everything. Dresses here run upwards of 20,000 LE, by the way. Only one student, Reem (a rather stylish hijabi with three small sons), said that she had had a small wedding with close family and friends, and that she and her husband struggled through their first year. She declared it made them closer.  I’m inclined to agree; I kind of hope to struggle a little through those first years with my wife. My parents did, after all.

Most harassment problems are actually blamed on the steadily increasing age of marriage for men: most don’t get married until well into their 30s due to financial difficulties: a man has to provide a (purchased) furnished flat, have a steady job, and support his wife in the lifestyle to which she is accustomed. That’s a ridiculous amount for the man to provide: the wife doesn’t really bring much of anything in the way of materials — except her virginity, which is apparently now under fire. Kind of ridiculous. Al-Azhar and a dozen other religious organizations apparently think that once you can’t be certain of a girl’s virginity, society collapses. Apparently every one is potentially promiscuous.

I’m not devaluing a girl’s virginity: here, it’s highly prized. And from a cultural perspective, I suppose that’s to be acknowledged as valuable. I just question the value that’s placed on it and why; it seems a little too commodified for me to be comfortable as a person. I also asked my students about divorcees, and they told me that it wasn’t typical — and that divorced women tend not to do too well on their own, although it happens. There is a stigma against it.

But that’s another rant altogether.

Time to grade papers. More later, I suppose.

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