Love at the Edge of Conservatism
It was hot and humid. A typical night in Singapore, especially in this quiet neighborhood of mine. You could probably hear some cutlery rattling and wine glasses being filled from a distance. It might have seemed like any other dinner party I had hosted, except that the food was Mexican, and something other than the seafood was sizzling in the kitchen.
Leaning on the kitchen counter was Kania, an Indonesian executive and a reasonably devout Muslim. Next to her was a Singaporean guy named Nate, a highly charismatic and witty lecturer. They seemed to have finished the savory entrée, but apparently they had not run out of savory topics to talk about. Before long, she was smitten by his intellect and charm.
That weekend, I met up with her and a few close friends for an overpriced al fresco lunch. I was grateful that she showed no indication of being madly in love because a headscarf was not particularly Nate’s type. However, an hour and a cake later, she finally gave in to her curiosity and asked why she hadn’t heard from him.
Her sudden interest in romance really got me thinking. The closest thing to a relationship in her life ended years ago, and that was in the form of a religiously appropriate letter correspondence. It could be clearly understood why she yearned for companionship, and maybe love.
Originally from a small town, Kania is now a worldly master’s degree holder with a well-paying job and a lot of fantastic professional friends. With all the advancements in female empowerment and higher social expectations, it is only natural to expect a change in her outlook on life. Ten years ago, she would have been satisfied with an arranged marriage. These days, the only thing we could arrange for her is weekend brunch.
I, too, could safely say that her taste in men and relationships had evolved, not only with age, but also with exposure to the world. It was expected of her to fall for somebody like Nate, who serves as both intellectual and emotional stimuli. Unfortunately for her, people like Nate (even the nicest and kindest of them all) often require a third form of stimuli in a relationship: sexual stimuli. Let’s face it. There are probably a number of women competing for that same companionship and love. The possibility of a sexual relationship, or your sex appeal, at least, is the tiebreaker here.
This puts Kania and countless other modern women in a religious gray area, in an awkward place. It seems that the men who interest her do not fall into the conservative category. I’m not saying that such men don’t exist, but they are such an endangered breed that the probability of you bumping into one on the street is close to zero. Maybe the ever-so-challenging task of finding love revolves around these unrealistic expectations women have for men in general.
I then realized that in this modern day and age, older single women are left with little to no choice when looking for a little sparkle in their lives. With that said, I couldn’t help but wonder, how much of yourself would you compromise to find love?
Would you take off something so fundamental as your hijab to be with someone you really like? Let’s be frank and abandon that misogynistic paranoia and move beyond the cliché. If you were Kania, would you start embracing the idea of casual dating (or sex) and the possibility of failure? If compromising was not an option, then would it be OK to settle for less? Say, marrying someone whom you just can’t click with, because he’s the only available candidate from the conservative faction. Would you rather not settle down at all?
The last time I checked on Kania about Nate, her response was, “Well, if it happens, it happens.”
Does it, though?
The lunch ladies all agreed that her response was an anti-climactic way to end our discussion. Just when we thought, “This is it. Something’s going to happen at last!” our hopes plunged deep into the cold reality that Kania wasn’t going to change her mind about dating. I could totally see her sitting there, waiting for her perfect Muslim gentleman to whisk her off to marriage. I could almost make out what she’d say to other “compromising” guys along the way, “Ready to settle down? No? OK, thanks, bye.”
To me, what’s more dangerous than not finding a husband is that nauseating feeling of loneliness. Really, nobody can stay out of romance for that long without turning spiteful and bitter. Consequently, how do you cope with it? Well, I don’t know. All I can say is that what you are looking for in a man does reflect greatly on you.
As for Kania and Nate, despite all of their differences, I set them up on Facebook. A friend said I was crazy for setting Kania on a track to failure. Well, I’m sorry honey, but surrendering to your “fate” only maes sense when you are younger.
Anahita helps to decipher the intricacy of relationships by keeping it real.