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How I Survived My One-Year Engagement

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Meena Malik shares the story of her one-year long engagement, and how she discovered one of the most helpful and meaningful rituals that helped her survive.

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I found myself engaged over the winter break in my last year of undergrad. I was so grateful that I would finally experience a romantic relationship after waiting and fighting for so long to keep my desires in check. I had been working very determinedly for over a year trying to meet Mr. Right because I knew I could not wait much longer. I pursued getting married like the average college student would have pursued lining up a career for themselves. Since the tender age of 11, I knew that I was missing out as I saw many of my peers – Muslim and not – exploring and relishing in the pleasures of young romances, from first kisses to first “I love you’s.”

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It turned out however that I had to wait another year for the wedding. My in-laws-to-be adamantly wanted family from Pakistan to travel for the wedding and my family was vehemently unwilling for us to have a nikah, or Islamic marriage, before that point. I was a bit relieved and disappointed at the same time. My fiancé seemed like a complete stranger to me and I was not ready for that level of commitment just yet. On the other hand, I was also eager to move forward with our relationship because I thought he was “the one.”

So…wait a year in limbo and no nikah before then. What could I do at that point? It was now up to me to find a way to survive an engagement that would last a year. I did, alhamdulillah, and it was mostly due to something I call the “love journal.”

The Meet-Cute

engagementThere was actually very little meeting and very little that was cute about our courtship. We were introduced in October through a matchmaker and got engaged in January. We were long-distance; he was in the Midwest and I was in glorious Southern California. We exchanged a few emails in which I made sure he fulfilled my handful of must-haves and avoided my deal-breakers. We had two video calls to test out the chemistry as much as you could possibly over a video call.  By November, I vetted him. The reviews were glowing. In December, he and his parents visited us. After that visit, we both were ready to decide we wanted to marry each other. My parents and I visited the Midwest two weeks later and that’s when we got officially engaged.

Sentimental moments were sparse and mostly fancified in my own mind. I could guess that we had enough of a connection to be happily married together in all matters of a serious nature. My older sister sat me down and drilled me. What’s his favorite color? Does he like going on roller-coasters? What does he like to do on weekends for fun? She was incredulous that I could make up my mind so quickly without knowing any of these things. His personality and what he was like to be around were mysteries to me but I was somehow ready to mover forward.

Ground Rules (of Engagement) with My Fiancé

I was very strict about my understanding of what type of relationship I should have with any man who was not my mahram. I could interact with non-mahram men according to the MSA West maxim which I had taken to be true. They are the 4 P’s of gender relations: keep it public, purposeful, professional, and be mindful about personal space.

Now I had to figure out how to apply that framework to my fiancé. My fiancé and I had promised to be legally and Islamically married to each other and begin living with each other in a year’s time. But whatever way I sliced it, my fiancé and I didn’t have much legal grounding on which to build a relationship, at least in my eyes.

As far as I could tell, there was some gray area when it came to my fiancé. How could we be purposeful in our communication with the end goal of being married? How could we hopefully fall in love but not have any haram interactions before we were married? What a catch-22! Some communication with my fiancé would be necessary for us to get to the point where we could get married and be somewhat prepared for it. All this interaction should happen preferably with a chaperone at all times. This much I could deduce but I was definitely sailing in uncharted waters.

I did know one thing clearly at that time however – that I could never accept him to be my emotional boyfriend. I have no other term to encapsulate this phenomenon within Muslim circles: man and woman (whether secretly dating, fiancés, etc.) have a romantic relationship within the boundaries of emotional intimacy, having little to no physical intimacy in their relationship.

Let’s be real for a second, though. Did I want him to be my emotional boyfriend?

The Struggle: He’s Not My Boyfriend

Of course! What I really wanted was a halal emotional boyfriend. On second thought, I actually wanted a halal every type of boyfriend. I was 23 years old and had stayed on the straight and narrow as an act of devotion to God. The only solution for carrying out what I truly wanted, however, would entail us having an Islamic marriage in my eyes. But that would not happen for a year.

This is where being only engaged to my fiancé became so tricky for me. I wanted to move forward with our relationship. On top of that, the prospect of getting married to him without knowing him more and creating a more substantial bond with him was terrifying to me. It literally felt like I was engaged to a stranger who was off living in another dimension. Sometimes I thought he must be a hallucination because our extremely limited contact made our engagement feel unreal to me. But there was no way I could allow myself to get closer to him because I was so adamant on what I believed Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) asked of me in our situation as just plain old fiancés. It was agonizing.

engagementLooking back on it nearly a decade later, I am astounded with my commitment to such standards. Particularly because none of my engaged friends, no matter how religious they were, held themselves to similar standards. Local couples were going out to restaurants on dates and taking adorable selfies together where their arms were definitely touching. Long-distance couples were texting all day and video calling every night. Even now, I have some younger friends who are texting guys they’re only “talking to” throughout the day on Muslim marriage/dating apps. Please do not misconstrue me as judging all of my friends for their behavior. I simply mention this because I was constantly comparing myself to them and the relationships they had with their fiancés. I felt insane because I simultaneously wanted to have video calls every night with my fiancé to the point where we had cute nicknames for each other, too, but I just could not bring myself to actually act on that desire because I believed it was haram.

This struggle was something that apparently the local imam and shaykh at my masjid, who we had mandatory premarital counseling session with, noticed as well. He privately encouraged me to call my husband on the phone and talk more to become comfortable around him and get to know him better. When I told him that I was worried that this would be inappropriate because I believed it to be haram, he made a completely flabbergasting recommendation to me. He advised me to secretly marry my husband without our families knowing (he outlined a simple plan to accomplish this). He thought that since we were a long-distance couple we wouldn’t get into any real trouble. I guess the “trouble” he mentioned was consummating the marriage behind our families’ backs. In essence, if we secretly married I could turn him into my halal emotional boyfriend.

For the record, we did not pull a Romeo & Juliet story with a happy ending – we did not deceive our families and secretly marry. I thought my imam was completely irresponsible and borderline crazy. Getting secretly married seemed 100% wrong. I will admit that I do question if my rules of engagement (great pun) were correct Islamically, healthy, or wise–but that is something I can’t answer or change now.

Not moving forward with our relationship in a substantial way during that year was torture for me. We sent about one email a week to each other and had video calls with marriage counselors about once every month and a half. But that wasn’t enough for me.

I wanted to randomly text him some days just to ask, are you really alive out there, my “fiancé?” Forget texting him, I wanted to call him as I walked to class on campus or stay up and talk to him late into the night to discover that hidden part of ourselves which only comes out in sleep-deprived, giddy conversations. More than anything, I wanted him to feel real to me and for us to actually start building something because I didn’t know how I was supposed to marry him on our nikah day and then go home with him literally the next day.

The “Love Journal” is Born

So what did I do with my intense emotions?

love journalI thought of the one thing that has always been my safe harbor for my crazed, private emotions: writing. (If you’re familiar with some of my personal essays on MuslimMatters you have also realized this). I bought myself a beautiful notebook a week after we got engaged and I started journaling. This journal captured everything I wanted to say to him but just couldn’t. On some days he filled my Pride & Prejudice-like imagination (egged on to an exponential level due to my creative writing studies). When I ached to talk to him and be with him, I’d find time to sit down and write to him within the confines of our “love journal.”

These were my first love letters to him. It’s also very on theme for me, with my Jane Austen tastes. In my first post, I wrote, “So–I don’t really know what to call this thing” and repeated that in my last entry to him the day before our nikah:

“We made it! (Well, almost.) This is a … ‘love journal?’ I don’t really know what else to call it. Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) promised us love with our spouses, and I think we’ve been so patient with each other this whole time that we really deserve it. This journal captures the undercover story of how everything has gone down in my book since our engagement.” -December 23, 2014

This became my outlet to confide in him about my experiences in the year we were engaged. I would give him updates about my life, provide him with my perspective on our occasional video calls, or embellish the moments we shared into “cute” memories. I would disclose to him my fears about getting married and frustration with the strange limbo we were locked in. All of this writing made me feel close to him, even though it was completely one-sided. There was nothing wrong with writing these letters in my mind as long as he saw them only after we were married. I truly believe that love journaling helped me not only cope with a cruel year-long engagement, but also allowed me to help grow in our relationship – even if it was just through mental and emotional preparation.

Our “Love Journal” and Maybe Yours, Too?

The “love journal” was the special gift I slipped to my husband after our post-nikah photoshoot (a highly awkward endeavor and nothing like I ever imagined holding a boy’s hand for the first time would be). I was mortified giving the love journal to him. We had lunch together before our wedding reception the next day and I nearly fainted when he told me that he immediately began reading the journal and even stayed up late finishing the entire thing. But I’m so glad that he did. He was all caught up on everything and it was a load that had lifted off my chest because it felt like he was marrying so much more of me after reading it.

If you’re single or in an engaged relationship yourself, you may want to consider trying a “love journal” of your own. It was one of the most helpful and meaningful rituals I practiced to help me survive my one-year engagement.

 

Related reading:

3 Steps To Safely Prepare For Your Halal Marriage – As Simple As ABC

3 Steps To Safely Prepare For Your Halal Marriage – As Simple As ABC

Like Tinder, But Safer: Troubleshooting Arranged Muslim Marriage

Like Tinder, But Safer: Troubleshooting Arranged Muslim Marriage

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Meena is a writer, podcaster, high school English teacher, wife, and new mom. She loves working with Muslim youth and is interested in literature, arts, and culture. She studied Comparative Literature and Creative Writing at the University of California, Irvine and has a Master’s in Education from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She briefly dabbled in Classical Arabic studies in the US and is also studying the Asharah Qira'aat/10 Recitations. Check out her podcast and website Brown Teacher Reads: the brown literature circle you always wanted to be in. (brownteacherreads.com)

14 Comments

14 Comments

  1. A Husband

    August 4, 2022 at 12:25 PM

    It is not only allowed but recommended for couples to get to know each other before marriage. The most important thing in marriage is compatibility. There is nothing wrong with going on dates, texting, video calling, etc. before marriage to make sure that both individuals are compatible. It is not haram. Countless marriages end in divorce due to compatibility issues, because couples did not spend enough time with each other before marriage.

  2. Truth

    August 4, 2022 at 1:55 PM

    I politely disagree with the overdose of “haram” in this article. In this day and age where divorce rates are skyrocketing, it is only advisable that people get to know their spouse inside out before marriage, regardless of how many interactions take place.

  3. Wael Abdelgawad

    August 4, 2022 at 3:07 PM

    Very interesting. I commend your dedication to adhering to your Islamic standards.

    Since you did not have a problem emailing, why limit it to once a week? Why not every day, even if just a short message to check in and share what was going on with your day?

    Also, I’d love to know a bit more about the love journal. Without disclosing private details, what sorts of things did you write about?

  4. Batman

    August 5, 2022 at 12:28 AM

    This article reflects the traditional cultural mindset which I do not support. Common sense must be applied in every situation. Today nearly half of all marriages end in divorce, so take the time to find out about your life partner before you tie the knot, unless you want a lifetime of misery or an ugly divorce battle.

  5. Umm Abdullah

    August 5, 2022 at 11:54 PM

    Mashallah the author did an excellent job explaining her values and how she committed to them. Based on her desire to please Allah, she found a strategy that worked and stuck with it. I really appreciate your sharing your love journal idea and hope it may help others too!

    I don’t believe various forms of dating or excessive amounts of communication prior to marriage can solve the marriage crisis. Rather, it is related to proper Islamic education from childhood, learning about values like sacrifice, commitment, and conflict resolution.

    Note that societies with the highest amount of interaction before marriage do not have the lowest levels of divorce.

    Jazakallahu khair for sharing!

  6. A Husband

    August 6, 2022 at 1:00 AM

    Umm Abdullah

    “Note that societies with the highest amount of interaction before marriage do not have the lowest levels of divorce.”

    It is true that love marriages have a higher divorce rate than arranged marriages, but a lower divorce rate does not mean success. It is taboo to be divorced in south Asian countries, where arranged marriages are prevalent. People don’t divorce in arranged marriages due to family and societal pressure. Even those couples who cannot stand each other will not divorce due to the social stigma associated with divorce. In countless arranged marriages, women are financially dependant on their husbands so they do not consider a divorce. Men who are stuck in miserable marriages are scared to divorce due to draconian laws. Even today, couples are just shown a photo of their spouse before marriage. In many cases, they don’t even get to see a photo. They get to see their spouse on the wedding day itself. Many arranged marriages are forced. Many women in arranged marriages have to live in joint families and put up with controlling mothers-in-law. A lower divorce rate does not mean arranged marriages are successful.

  7. Truth

    August 6, 2022 at 5:27 AM

    In the Indo-Pak region, divorce is looked down upon to the extent that people consider murder or suicide but not divorce, as divorce supposedly brings shame on the family. I have seen couples who cannot spend one minute without arguing and fighting, but they will not seek divorce.

    While it is true that even after dating you cannot truly tell how a person is going to turn out after marriage, dating and spending time together does reveal personality traits and characteristics, and it is better to try to find out rather than put a blindfold on in the name of “Islamic values”.

  8. Umm Abdullah

    August 6, 2022 at 12:43 PM

    I only mentioned divorce rates because some of the previous posts were implying that dating could help prevent increasing divorce rates. Divorce is definitely a reasonable option if serious issues cannot be resolved.

    Also, the author did have premarital counseling sessions and a few meetings, which was sufficient for both parties to reach a decision.

    May Allah swt reward her for aiming for a higher level and sharing her experiences.

  9. Batman

    August 6, 2022 at 2:05 PM

    A Husband is spot on. Lower divorce statistics in developing countries do not reveal the entire picture. Dating is a necessity today, and there is no need to hold back because some people think that it is haram or against Islamic standard. Islam is a practical religion that takes a lot of factors into account, especially a person’s intention. You don’t want to end up in a marriage with someone who is a nightmare to live with.

  10. Divorciador

    August 7, 2022 at 9:26 AM

    Interesting content. Thanks for sharing

  11. Spirituality

    August 8, 2022 at 10:16 AM

    As Salamu Alaikum,

    Jazak Allahu Khayran for your post! Lovely idea for those who are struggling.

    I think its a thorny issue…perhaps Sister Meena was a bit too cautious in discussing issues with her potential fiancé. She herself in the article admits that she has some second thoughts on this issue. In the end, though, from all I can gather, she has a very happy marriage. May Allah continue to bless her marriage, and give blessings and comfort to those who are struggling!

    My thoughts – I don’t think all night conversations with engaged couples simply giggling and saying “I love you” a million times is a good idea. On the other hand, its vitally important to know real facts about your partner. Its about asking hard (preferably open ended) questions and evaluating not only their answers, but, preferably, body language, etc. Reviewing the list below, for some couples, I do not think this can be done frankly and openly with parents, siblings, etc involved. Counselors maybe better for them.

    Its not about ‘whats your favorite color”: Its more about:

    Who are you? What are you values? What do you want to accomplish? What do you like to do in your free time? What do you see as your strong points? Where can you improve? How do you handle stress? What do you do when you get upset? Do you lean towards extraversion or introversion?

    What is your relationship with Allah, Islam, prayer, fasting, thoughts on madhabs, hijab, interreligious dialogue, etc?

    What is your vision for the marriage? What are your thoughts on power dynamics? What about chores (who does what? are there things you are not willing to do?) Does one party want to stay at home? What does the other couple think about that? Are you okay with having help at home? (baby sitters, house cleaners, etc?)

    Who pays the bills? If not fully one party, how are bills to be split? What are you spending habits and thoughts on saving versus spending? Thoughts on buying a home, interest based loans, etc?

    Thoughts on having children? How many? What is your vision for raising them? How will they be schooled? If both expected to work, how will child care be arranged? Paid for?

    What do you think about politics? Democrat, Republican, Independent, None, etc? What about contentious issues such as race, gender issues, LGBTQ+?

    What about health issues? Food allergies/intolerances, dietary preferences (vegetarian, vegan, omnivore, carnivore), vaccines (if there is disagreement here, it can tear marriages apart – so, check, just in case). Thoughts on working out, perspectives on mental health, etc.

    And on and on and on…

    However, in the end, we must remember that Allah alone guarantees success…

  12. Feminist

    August 13, 2022 at 8:32 AM

    You don’t ‘survive’ your engagement, you ‘cherish’ your engagement. Dating is NOT haram if one is looking for a suitable partner. What is haram are forced marriages by parents who think of their children as their property, abusive in-laws who think the daughter-in-law is a maid and a cook, and husbands who treat their wives like doormats.

  13. Abdul Razzak

    August 16, 2022 at 6:10 AM

    Ms Feminist, when these daughters-in-law become mothers-in-law, they will treat their daughters-in-law in the same manner in which they were treated. Also, what about wives who treat husbands like doormats?

  14. Neha Verma

    August 17, 2022 at 6:12 AM

    Really Happy with this post. Thank you so much.

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