I’m about to tell y’all a story. It has at least seven parts so far, so stay tuned. I promise it’s good.
In July 2015, I met face-to-face with a good friend of mine whom I had started to develop feelings for. We had exchanged some emails starting in October 2014, later becoming Facebook friends and communicating when necessary. When I was invited to a conference in his country, my flight being to his city, he offered to give me a tour of the city. He was also going to the conference, a few hours from his city, so we decided to take the train together.
Those train rides back and forth were some of the best hours of my life, our conversations life-giving and beautiful. I had no idea that they were the start of something that would be so incredibly beautiful it would change my life.
Whenever I talk about him to friends or to anyone who’ll listen, I always describe my relationship with him as healing, my travels with him as magical, my time with him as life-giving. But as I reminisce about my past with him, thinking only about the beautiful moments, there’s a nagging voice inside me that rolls its eyes at me for me thinking this, for still desiring him, despite the direction that our relationship ended up taking.
Back in July, he gave me the tour he had promised. We started at around 3pm and finished close to midnight. We shook hands when we first met at the train station. I asked him if he hugs and he said no, he only touches mahram women, or unmarriageable kin, so we had to observe the modesty rules that traditional Islam prescribes between unrelated men and women. He showed me everything he thought I should see, especially highlighting feminist symbols. Our conversations were in all directions, about many different topics. We talked about our favorite scholars, speaking mostly about our most favorite scholar of all times—a Muslim feminist we both admire greatly. And we even had an intellectual crush on the same person. We spent much of our time talking about feminist issues and about the many ways that patriarchy informs the Islamic tradition and especially fiqh, Islamic jurisprudence. These are precisely the conversations that I always dream about having with anyone I am romantically interested in.
I am not much into taking photos of everything I come across, so he offered to take pictures of me at famous cultural and historical sites, and I accepted his offer. At one point, he asked if he could hold on to my jacket and my little very feminine-looking purse with shiny beads and traditional Pakistani embroidery. I looked at him and asked, entirely as a litmus test to determine whether he deserved the romantic feelings I had started developing for him, “Isn’t this too feminine for you?”
“I’m very comfortable in my masculinity,” he replied with a humble tone. And he was serious.
And secretly, my insides screamed, “Oh my goodness, marry me!” They usually do when I meet a man who gets patriarchy and I feel safe with him.
During our tour, we went inside a building for him to find a secluded place where he could pray. “Excuse me,” he asked the woman at front desk. “Is there a room here where I can pray?” The woman guided him to an empty room and I went with him and watched him perform ‘Asr. His commitment to his faith, his dedication to God, his disciplined character—these were only some of the qualities I would grow to admire in him and attempt to emulate. Although I do not have his discipline, I did pick up habits from him that I believe have made me a better, more cautious, and more patient person.
I have recounted our introductory meeting with him many times. He has told me, each time, that he fell in love with me then, too. But I don’t believe him because of what happened afterwards.
I went home to my country after the conference, and we became very close friends very quickly. Within days, we had become so close that the topic of our conversations and what we shared with each other about our lives had no boundaries. We still maintained the traditional Islamic rules of gender interaction that he has always strived to honor and respect.
After many conversations with friends about him, I decided to tell him how I felt. However, that day, as I gathered the courage to tell him how I felt about him and ask if he might be interested in the possibility of a relationship, he told me that he had met someone and they were dating. I was devastated. I remember using the word “devastated” when I later told him that this news was very difficult for me to handle. I had fallen so hard for him that when I learned that he was no longer an option for me because he was now with another woman, I was numb for months. I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if I had told him back in July that I was attracted to him, or at least soon after. In my head, I played and re-played our interactions and searched for missed opportunities, moments where I could have inserted my feelings.
From then, I kept our interactions to a minimum, speaking only when professionally or otherwise absolutely necessary, besides relevant updates about our lives.
It took me more than one year of working through my feelings for him to finally let go, to move on, at least psychologically. He had become my standard for all other subsequent men; he was the best man I had ever met, so all other men after him had a lot to prove in order for me to believe they worthy of being with me.
Months after he and his girlfriend broke up, he told me he had feelings for me. By then, however, I had forced myself to let go, and in order to re-develop feelings for him, I would have to dig back into my heart’s depth and pull out the feelings I had set aside. I had fought with myself for so long to let him go that I could not emotionally afford to return to those feelings. I kept thinking, if I had such a difficult time getting over him when we had shared only a deep friendship and no romantic relationship yet, how much worse would I be if things didn’t work out between us?
to be continued …
Click here for Part 2.
Categories: Death to patriarchy