My first time was quite terrifying. I had no clue what was happening nor did I know what to expect. I was young and clueless about life—why did I agree to this? I kept thinking to myself.
I felt queasy yet there were butterflies in my stomach. I was nervous, excited, cautious, ambivalent, mistrustful, and utterly confused—but the one thing I knew I WASN’T feeling was happy.
Maybe this will go well? I should stay positive….Who am I kidding? I’ll crash and burn like I usually do in life.
I knew this was going to hurt big time, but there was no way to avoid the bruising. I was unaware of the dark downward spiral I was getting myself into. I was skeptical about my choice of diction, about my presentation and every detail of my flawed body.
Will they notice my stretch marks? Will they see the acne scars I have on my face?
I still remember I changed my outfit 4 times until everyone in the vicinity agreed on what I should wear.
“Don’t be too dressy, this is supposed to be casual… no that makes you look too young. This one looks like you’re trying too hard. No don’t wear that you look too fat! Wear heels so you don’t look so short, he’s really tall—we’ll all wear flats so you look taller. Straighten your hair so your face doesn’t look as chubby. Not too dark lipstick you don’t want to look like a wild child. Not so much eyeliner, you don’t want to look like a prostitute—simple is best!”
Of course, the outfit I ended up wearing was not the one I wanted to wear nor something I felt confident in. I hated that emerald green poofy-sleeved outfit that had me looking like a balloon of the Pakistani flag—I should have burned that thing when I had the chance. Unfortunately, everyone agreed it looked the best on me, nice and dignified without looking like I was trying too hard.
The plan was to “accidentally” bump into Them at the mall. We all jammed into my aunt’s car and had the driver dropped us off at the local mall that afternoon. I counted the minutes until they arrived.
Oh god is that them?
I was so nervous, I forgot what they looked like. At once I was called over and introduced to make small talk. I had to remind myself to stand up straight so I look taller and smile—wait too big a smile, you don’t want to look insane.
Think before you speak.
Make sure you’re speaking in the right accent and language, don’t mix up your dialects.
Don’t say anything offensive.
Ask simple questions, ask about their family, what are they all up to now?
Laugh at their jokes.
Don’t flinch when their eyes roam your body to find imperfections.
Don’t give away too much information, only answer what has been asked as concisely as possible. You never know what will turn them off.
Be friendly—but not too friendly, you don’t want to come off slutty.
Talk about your future plans and education, that’s right, show them you’re smart.
Wait, what if I’m too smart? Too open minded? What if they can tell I’m a ditzy, dumb blonde from New York?
Holy shit, did I forget to blink?
Exhale. Blink. Inhale. Blink.
Finally, I found an opening where I could easily walk away while others chatted. It was supposed to be an “accidental” meeting, right? I’ll just get back to pretending to shop.
Exhale. Blink. Inhale.
I stepped away as I regained the ability to blink and breathe without reminding myself to do it consistently. Why would people willingly do this? Why would you put yourself through this just to get married?
How has the institution of arranged marriage survived so long without young girls of marriageable age suffering from ulcers during this process?
This was the first time I “accidentally” on purpose met a friend of my eldest aunt during a 2 week visit to the Motherland when I was 21-years-old. This friend of my aunt was a very well known and wealthy woman who was looking for a bride for her eldest son, a doctor in New York City.
A commitment-phobe since birth, I’m surprised I didn’t hyperventilate and pass out during the entire 20 minutes episode. How did desi girls do this regularly? Am I the only one that feels like their world is falling apart?
Luckily (or unluckily, depending on who’s side you’re on,) this auntie liked me but she had to reject me as I was far too young for her son. He was in his early 30’s and we would have had at least 10-year age gap—one her son would not agree to—plus I looked much younger than I was.
Whether she liked me or not, this was not a process I was ready to repeat, nor would I want to ever repeat in life. I felt trapped and suffocated. How do our parents still think this is normal in 2017?
How could they possibly think that parading their child out on display for the world to judge and criticize—for someone else to determine if their daughter is of any value or if she is “good enough,” would not have any negative effect on a girl’s self-esteem? I’m baffled by the thought that people in this era believe it is so easy for the girl—she just has to show up and look pretty? How could you think she comes out of this process unfazed? Does no one care about how violated I feel? How insecure I feel? How objectified I feel?
I mean, isn’t the world cruel enough that now I have little old ladies glaring at me up and down whenever I go out, sizing me up to see if I am “worthy.” Sadly, desi girl’s don’t have the option to avoid the Rishta life.
I didn’t choose the rishta life ya’ll… the rishta life chose me.
[Gif sources: Giphy]