Thursday, November 09, 2006

A suitable boy

A childhood friend of mine was born in England and raised as a Muslim within a tight-knit Bangladeshi community in Balham, South London. She called me tonight and regaled me with her usual tales of dates set up with suitable boys chosen by her friends and family. She is a westernised Muslim; she wears western clothes and makeup; she is encouraged to date unchaperoned. At 31, she is already considered over the hill by many of those close to her and the pressure is on to find her a suitable match.

Her sister agreed to an arranged marriage early in her twenties and is happily settled in the US with her husband and two children. But my friend is not having similar luck - the chemistry is not there with one man, the other is not attractive enough, another bores her. She wants to see few of them again, few of them want to see her again.

Each time we meet up or chat on the phone, each time she meets up or phone chats with her friends and family members, the conversation is the same. In fact, because they want her to get married soon, it's the same conversation family members want to engage in again and again too.

When I asked her what she chats about with the men she's set up with, she said she asks them questions about their job, she asks them questions about their attitude to relationships, she asks them whether they want marriage and children. I was there when she grilled one man on the phone before she had even met him. He never showed up for their blind date the next night. Few men I know like to talk about emotions and relationships. Fewer still like to be grilled. She's got a PhD from Cambridge, she works as a scientist in a laboratory, she's quick-witted and vivacious and yet all we've ever talked about is men and relationships.

I'm no expert and we've all been there, talking about relationships (or the lack of) well into the night, ignoring the drooping lids of the people around us. But tonight my friend asked me to be honest with her, and so I told her: stop grilling the guys; stop talking ad nauseum about your relationship woes with your friends; you have an interesting job so talk about it (I still don't know exactly what she does each day); read a newspaper and go to movies (she dislikes going alone) and have well-formed opinions on things; go for walks in interesting places; do things differently. In short, be interested and curious about life beyond relationships.

Not only will men then find her more interesting, but she'll be more interested in them. In fact, she'll be interested in life beyond men, period.

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