Help me convince the man I love that he doesn't have to marry someone else.
posted by xanthippe to Human Relations (61 answers total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
I have been in a very satisfying relationship for a year now. I love him intensely and have no doubts that the feeling is mutual. We are a perfect match in every way; I am certain that if we stayed together in the future, we would have a very happy life together. The trouble is that, despite all of this, my boyfriend insists that there is not and will never be a future for us, and it has nothing to do with love.
This relationship is happening in Oman, an Arab country whose culture is extremely traditional in many ways. Marriages continue to be arranged here; love comes afterwards. The enforcement of social norms can be extreme (in my Western view); it’s not Saudi Arabia, but is far closer to Saudi than, say, Syria or Lebanon. One’s status, first in the family, and secondly in the community, is determined largely by perceived conformance to socially mandated ethical laws, which in turn are basically Islamic. In practice, adultery is rife and the only things that matter are money and family/political connections, but my boyfriend is one of the few who are innocent and genuinely good enough to refuse to acknowledge this in spite of not being ignorant of it; he has a strong set of personal ethical values and is truly disappointed that others don’t live up to them, as they mostly appear to coincide with the cultural and religious expectations that apply to everyone here.
Some background about my boyfriend: he comes from a lower-class family and is not very educated; consequently he is very near the traditional end of the narrow cultural spectrum that exists here. Because the culture in Oman is quite anti-individualistic, he does not separate his personal values from culturally-imposed norms, and it is hard for him to understand this notion just because it is so philosophically foreign. Therefore, he conflates his personal desire to be good, honest, and morally sound in every aspect of life with conforming his behavior to rules and ideas that have been enculturated in him. He is not religious at all; although he will still explain that something is “good/bad in Islam”, insofar as he follows Islamic rules, it is because his family and community do, and this is the social interpretation of ‘good’ that has been firmly impressed upon him for his entire life. (He has an intelligent, inquisitive mind which has been conditioned to keep itself well away from these particular areas, and I don’t wish to threaten that security; if I query any of these issues in conversation, I do not present it as a challenge and always do it as slowly and gently as possible.)
In other words, having a girlfriend is a Very Bad Thing for him, despite the fact that he is very happy with me, clearly loves me, and generally acknowledges our ‘haram’ status as often as he prays (which is very close to never). Though he devotes himself to me as much as he is able to, the top priority in his life is concealing our relationship from his family – and finding a wife so that he will please everyone by following the proscribed path in his life. Love marriages are becoming increasingly common among young, educated and/or upper class Omanis, but tradition still has a strong hold on the majority, which definitely includes him and his family. I have casually mentioned mixed couples that I know of, but this does not influence him.
His mother is eager for him to marry, and he would also like to do that soon; however, for this he needs a dowry of about US$10,000 and a furnished home. He has no savings and a tiny monthly salary; I make about 6 times as much as he does and often support him. This imbalance is not an issue for either of us; the point is simply that for economic reasons, he isn’t prepared to marry an Omani woman anytime soon. It would also obviously be to his benefit to marry me for financial gain, but he is utterly unmotivated by this – indeed, this is one of the many reasons I consider him to be a such a catch. He has more integrity than anyone I’ve ever met, and even if I did try to tempt him into staying with me using less-than-honorable means, it would have the opposite affect; I would also never want to do anything manipulative with him, as the trust we share is the foundation of our relationship. Neither of us are very materialistic, and if we did marry, I would happily support him and his family. My love for this man would also compel me to live according to local tradition as much as necessary, including conversion to Islam.
It is a testament to the strength of our connection that we have sustained a serious relationship in this context. He has also shown his trust in me by gradually introducing me to friends and members of his family; the biggest milestone of our relationship was when he invited me to his home to celebrate Eid with his parents and siblings (as his “English teacher”, of course). I now have good relationships with some members of his extended family and visit them on my own, and have started spending time at his family’s home on a regular basis. His sisters, aunts, and most importantly, his mother, all welcome me and give him lots of positive feedback about me. (I am fairly certain that these women are not idiots and therefore have some intuition regarding our actual relationship, though it is not spoken of; for his part, a few uncles and cousins are in on it, but being a man, he inclines to believe it’s only between men and the women are clueless.) I strongly suspect that his family would be accepting and welcome me with open arms if we became engaged.
He still insists that it would be Not Good for him to marry me; he feels he must marry an Omani woman, and that his life would be ruined if anyone ever knew he had a girlfriend. Marriages between Omanis and foreigners – and love-marriages – are not nearly as uncommon as his worldview suggests they should be; however, he thinks that having a traditional wedding, to a bride chosen by his family, is paramount to his success in life and to pleasing his mother. He also says this has nothing to do with whether he loves me or not; he believes his life must follow a fixed course that he has known since childhood, and that he is powerless to change this without losing his moral self-respect.
Thus, he doesn’t allow for even the possibility of a shared future, despite the fact that we share our lives and depend on each other closely. We communicate extremely well, trust each other completely and have had open conversations about these issues, though they became so painful that we have agreed not to discuss it further. One of the reasons I am so convinced of his utter goodness and moral superiority is the fact that he has respected me from the beginning, warning me that there is no prospect for a future with me and telling me that if I cannot handle this, he will insist on letting me go rather than hurting me. I have said that I would rather spend what time I have with him than end our relationship before it's necessary, but the fact that eventually he will get engaged, probably without any warning to me beforehand, is a constant dark cloud over the ecstasy that otherwise defines our relationship.
So, in short, we love each other, I want to continue sharing my life with him, and I think he would realize that he might want the same if he could get past these real or imagined ideas of How Life Must Be according to Islam/his mother/his culture (though it might be the case that none of the above would actually condemn our marriage).
Finally, the question: what can I say or do to change his mind? (I am not trying to trick him into proposing next week and I do not wish to selfishly manipulate him; I just want him to be open to the possibility that eventually he may want to, because I truly believe that neither of us would be happier apart than we are together.)
To clarify, I am NOT asking your opinion on whether it is possible or likely to change his mind. I realize that the answer to that question is probably negative; please don’t fill this page with responses insisting that is the case, as I’m not aiming to increase my level of despair when reading replies to this post. I am also not asking whether you think he will, or should, marry me. What I am asking is, IF there is a way to change his mind about the mere possibility of our future, what might that be? Is there any (ethically acceptable) strategy I can use to reduce my chances of losing the man I love and want to spend the rest of my life with to some anonymous woman he feels he has to marry to fulfill social expectations that may not lead him to a happier life, and that he may not fully believe in or understand his reasons for wanting to conform to?