Being caught smack in the middle of Cyclone Phet a few weeks ago would have knocked my socks off if I hadn't been stuck in a leaky hotel in Muscat. I was tagging along with a friend and her family to Oman to celebrate the blissful union of two young college sweethearts. In a nutshell, boy meets girl, boy weds girl, and everybody eats cake. Summertime love is in the air. Whether it's love of the heart, the body, the money, or pure convenience, we've found good enough reasons to form a commitment that will hopefully last a lifetime.
For many, marriage is only the beginning (or the beginning of the end). For a select few, it's the easiest decision they ever had to make. In most cases, it's everything you dream about and nothing you expect. Conventional marriages in this society come as a result of proposed arrangements. An aunt will propose to her nephew that her next-door neighbour's daughter is a good match. A friend will propose to a cousin that their colleague's sister would make a great wife.
Proposals, if thought through properly, can end up in marriage because the matchmaker knows the potential couple and has a good understanding of what each person is looking for in a spouse. A great amount of due diligence and scheming go into these proposals. And once intentions are clear, the couple are presented to each other with a cloud of knowing smiles and coy glances. If they like what they see, they give the final OK to tie the knot and make the union public.
If we are talking about a typical Emirati union, social and cultural restrictions will prevent the couple from getting to know each other personally before the actual wedding. Some couples may have the privilege of chaperoned visits and telephone conversations, but in most cases, it doesn't get any better than that. What compensates for it, though, is our web of contacts; our network is so intricate that almost everything you may want to know about your potential spouse will get dug up and shared with you over tea and Fuala.
Mentality, religious beliefs and personality? Past relationships, spending habits and addictions? You name it; somebody will know about it. There's a degree of comfort in knowing what you are getting yourself into, but in missing out on this journey, you miss out on the bonding process and compatibility test. Even if you've done your homework, you will never know intimate details, like a person's hygiene routine, their TV habits or their sleeping patterns until you live with them - the kind of things that could put a strain on any relationship if you don't simply compromise or just agree to disagree.
Many couples prepare themselves for a wedding, not a marriage. The amount of time that goes into preparing for new responsibilities and attaining a new level of maturity is nothing compared to the time spent on table settings, dress fittings and flower arrangements. Most girls, and some guys, dream of their wedding day for a long time. The day when the spotlight is on them, when people gravitate towards them, listen to them, celebrate them. And in all this selfishness, they fail to notice the person who will play the other leading role in the dream.
Couples should extend their sight beyond the glitz and glamour of the wedding day. Does it really come as a surprise that you'll need to reboot your life and start on a new operating system the second you move in together? In reality, the move catches many off guard. Couples need to arm themselves with realistic expectations, and coming from a happy home doesn't guarantee a happy marriage. From the day you are born, it takes a good 20 years to eventually understand your own parents - the same parents who gave you life, discipline and principles. It's exciting to start your life fresh and live with someone brand new, but habits need readjustment, middle grounds should be unearthed and a whole lot of growing up needs to be done.
New relationships are hard, especially ones that are under social pressure to succeed. So be smart and have realistic expectations to make it work. Don't expect the same lifestyle, don't expect the same freedoms, and don't expect marriage to become a solution to your problems. If you want to solve your problems, fetch your friends. And if you just want to feel special, throw a party, have your cake, and eat it too.
Maryam Amiri is a graduate of Zayed University