10 October 2019

How I met your father - my multicultural marriage story

Thursday, October 10, 2019 2 Comments
I've asked on my Insta stories a while ago, what you guys wanted me to write about. The overwhelming majority said they wanted to see more about our multicultural family, and I've had quite a few questions about our marriage (just in the past couple of weeks I've had three separate women messaging me for advice).

I've been trying to write this post for a while now, but it just wasn't coming along like I wanted. Here we go though!

Let's start from the very beginning then - how we met. I've been asked that a lot on my Insta Q&A, by people probably expecting some interesting story... Well, we simply met at work. We both used to work at the airport, next door to each other - different food places, but managed by the same company and joined at the back by common dishwashing area.

We'd known each other for about 2.5 years before we began our relationship. There was a lot of stuff happening to both of us during that time, and I was adamant I'd NEVER be with him. We used to chat online a lot - it was the glorious time of MSN Messenger, and we'd sometimes chat up until 1-2 am, but I always put him firmly in the friendzone. Not sure what eventually changed, but here we are!

We moved in together pretty quickly because I was getting evicted by my landlord who decided to sell the house I lived in. 3 months into the relationship, I think. We knew each other for quite a while though, and most importantly we knew each other well. It just felt right.

Now, that's the bit you guys ask about the most: what is it like to live together as a couple from such different cultures.

I think I got lucky with my Pakistani guy. He was brought up in a large city, well educated (already held a Master's Degree from back home, and was at that time studying for another MA here in the UK), working in a multicultural environment, and most importantly rather open-minded. I'm actually trying to remember what it was like when we first moved in together - it might be because since having kids my memory is like a sieve, but I can't actually remember us massively clashing about anything.

I would definitely say that it was all about some kind of compromise, but at the end of the day aren't all relationships like that? We all have our little habits, likes, and dislikes, and we have to adjust our lives to accommodate someone else's needs too.

The main thing, I think, was the food. I knew that Muslims can't eat pork, but Mr also explained how as a Muslim he can only eat meat from the "halal" butcher. I didn't mind - I wasn't a big meat eater anyway, mostly stuck to boneless chicken and beef mince, occasional bacon sandwich at work. Apart from meat though, there were SO MANY products he couldn't have, like yogurts and desserts or sweets with gelatine. There was stuff I'd buy without ever thinking twice about the ingredients, and suddenly I had to remember to check if he could share something with me.

What else... The new thing for me was the fact that he prayed regularly, I used to sit on the bed and watch him go through the motions. He wasn't like hardcore practicing, but did pray and went to the mosque every Friday, if he wasn't working. And then there was the first Ramadan that we spent together - I felt really bad about eating while he wasn't, even though he always said it was fine.

Possibly the biggest thing for me was the nikah, the Islamic marriage. I'd never even heard about it, but one day he asked if I'd go through with it. Not gonna lie, that did freak me out a bit. I did think of our relationship as something long-term, quite possibly permanent. But that was unknown territory, it was *his* faith. At first, I refused, it just didn't sit right with me. He didn't push - as I said he wasn't very practicing, but a chat with someone made him realise that us living together was actually a sin and he wanted to put it right. I think it took me about a week of reading stuff over and over again before I finally agreed. It wasn't a big deal for me - it wasn't legally binding, the ceremony was basically agreeing to marry one another in front of some friends.

I could see though, that it mattered. From that moment, if we stumbled across any of his friends in town, he would proudly introduce me as his wife. And since the relationship was "halal", he decided it was only right to introduce me to the family. I remember him being really worried about what his parents, who live back in Pakistan, would say - on one hand, he wasn't comfortable telling them he started living with his gori girlfriend, but also felt guilty that he didn't inform them about his intention to get the nikah done. Their reaction was great though, especially mum - she was absolutely lovely and you could see she was genuinely happy for us.

Wow, so far it's looking like it's been just me making compromises to adjust! When I think about it, it's probably mostly true... The thing is, that most of the adjustments I made were due to his religion. You might wonder at this point why I adjusted to him, and not the other way round? Well, to be perfectly honest, I wasn't really practicing at that time, probably haven't been to church for a good few years by then. But while we only had halal food at home, nothing stopped me from eating as normal at work. When I didn't go home for Christmas, I decorated our bedsit and we had a little Christmas Eve dinner, Polish style, and another year we had a full-on traditional dinner with a group of our Polish friends. He never stopped me from going for a girls' night out, and we even attended quite a few parties together (him not drinking of course).

People seem to think that it's always the women in such relationships, that adjust their lives to the husband's culture, to the point that they lose their identity and cut off from their own culture, especially if they decide to convert to Islam. It's as if not eating pork schnitzels and not drinking vodka makes me less Polish ;) Maybe I do enjoy dressing up in shalwar kameez on special occasions, I love mehndi, and I definitely cook more curries than Polish dishes now, maybe I pray differently, but I don't forget where I come from and don't try to pretend to be Pakistani. Fair enough, it does happen - often some people can just get mesmerised by the all-new, "exotic" culture, but I do think there should be some balance and we should try to maintain our own identity - I always say that if the guy wanted a wife from his own culture, he should've married one and not try to make his wife into a white-skinned version of one.

My wedding henna, done by a friend. Our wedding was the ultimate mix of our cultures: I had the mehndi done but wore a white dress to the ceremony which was just a regular registry office wedding. I went full-on desi for the reception though (which was just a dinner in a small local restaurant).

Actually, they can think what they want. I noticed, that any attempt to explain ourselves, to defend our multicultural relationships, trying to show the world that it can work, that we are like any regular couple, and so on... It only seems to rub people the wrong way, and they accuse women like me of trying too hard to defend ourselves and not being fully truthful. We've been together 9 years (today, actually!), married for 7 - all these years (and two children) later, and we still work on compromises. We still clash over cultural differences and disagree about a variety of things.

I guess that at the end of the day it's about understanding, and willingness to actually get to know each other's cultures. If either of you goes into the relationship with an attitude of "my culture is superior and his/her stuff is all just stupid" - well, I wouldn't expect a bright future together.

I could probably go on and on here! If you got to this point, thanks for reading! I'll be expanding on the topic of multicultural relationships soon, hope you'll be back for the next installment ;)