so since my post on Brown Girl Guilt, a few things have changed . . . for one thing, my parents know about my boyfriend. my white boyfriend.

they’ve known longer than i knew they’ve known.

by that, i mean i didn’t tell them. my cousin did. in some ways, i don’t care that she did because now they know and it is what it is. but the issue is, i was unprepared and left scrambling, and shocked, when my father dropped my boyfriend’s name so casually to me.

i say casually, but really i mean, it was in the midst of something like a lecture.

you see, in april, i’d made a decision that was ultimately about me and my mental health, and in some ways a part of me hates that it hurt my parents. but when it came down to it, mental health wise and in regards to gaining more freedom and the ability to make more choices for me and do what i want, it was the best thing to have done. days and weeks following, i could see and feel the change in my relationship with both my parents, a distance. i guess maybe they could, or can (?) feel me slipping away. and i guess i was.

it was in april that my parents found out about my boyfriend. perhaps the same day i made the decision i made. only i didn’t know it yet.

it was only on the monday just gone that i found out they know about him. and god, the way my heart raced and i just blinked in shock and let out a nervous laugh. i didn’t confirm nor deny it, just instead brushed it off. because well, they know.

and they know because my cousin told them. she told me, when i confronted her, that she told them everything i said to her. about him. about my relationship.

in hindsight, it was actually quite funny when my dad just said his name. he was all “people report back to me. i know about your white boyfriend, J. i know everything,” and i was like u wot m8, looking away from my reflection at my parents who were standing in my room, giving me a lecture, about islam and being muslim, and being bengali and the toxic and misogynistic culture, because i was going to stay away for a week.

my mother, on the other hand, just said “its a joke, isn’t it?” and i just shrugged and continued playing with my hair. i know it seems like i was being super dismissive of everything they were saying, but it’s everything i heard before.

being a brown girl, and being an only child, i have expectations weighing on my shoulders–ones that require me to live my life a certain way, a path paved out for me the moment i graduate university. get a degree, do my masters/find a good muslim and bengali husband with a great job and get married, secure a job, have a baby and stop working. maybe have another kid. find a job. clean and cook and tidy for him and his family. make the family and community happy and keep the reputation of the family, most importantly my father, intact.

those are the expectations laid out for me. in ways, i get it of course. it’s fair. i’ll still be getting the education i want and of course, i’d have a choice in who i choose to marry. but here’s the thing: i choose J and i will always choose him.

wants and needs are very different things, but sometimes they can get blurred. it can be a very thin line between the two. for my parents, their wants and needs have merged together when it comes to me. they need me to fulfill the role of a Perfect Daughter who follows all the rules and keeps her father’s name from becoming dirt in the eyes of the community so people don’t point and stare and whisper whenever they are out in public. so they can show their face still. they want me to be me, as long as it fits in with their ideologies.

me choosing a white man, however, goes against everything they need or want, or have expected.

the moment my boyfriend’s name slipped from my father’s lips into the air, things changed. hell, things changed way back in april when i chose me. i went back for them and because the guilt was eating me up. my father is old and i am terrified and i know he won’t be here forever and i am fucking scared because life will never be the same. i don’t want to be hurting him in however long he has left. realistically, given the way things are and how weak he is, he won’t be here four or five years from now. though, i hope against hope and pray to god that he will be. i don’t want to be hurting them, but their expectations for me, and the things they want, go against the person i am and the person i want to be.

being an only child is exhausting. and i know obviously i’m not the only person in the world to not have any brothers or sisters, but i can’t help thinking that everything, everysingledamnthing would be so much easier if i had even just one sibling. so it wouldn’t all be on me. so after everything turns to shit, it won’t be just them or it won’t be just me and one of them. because that is going to be so, so hard, and i can’t think about it without fighting back tears. i don’t want to think about a world without my parents in it, or a world where i’m not in their life, because they spent 18 years waiting to have a child and they had me. whilst it’s not something i know i should not have to feel guilty for, wanting my own happiness or a life of my own guilt-free, i don’t want them to feel as if they waited all those years to have a baby, only for that baby to turn around and throw it all back in their face. i know it’s not my obligation to do what they want or obey everything, to live my life the way they want, but as someone who was born into a traditional bangladeshi family, i have been raised with the belief that family comes first.

of course there is nothing wrong with that; nothing wrong with putting family before everything. but when it comes to the things that matter, and mental health and happiness come into the equation, then you have to ask the tough questions. like . . . are you prepared to walk away? can you walk away? if it comes down to a choice, what will you do?

and i know i will pick J. i have said this before and i will say it again. because i mean it, with every fiber of my soul and everything that makes me who i am, with the blood pumping in my veins and every beat of my heart. i will choose him. he is my future. or at least, a part of it. he is part of everything.

i’m looking at him now and i can’t help but smile. because he brings so much peace to my heart and mind.

i am blessed to have him.

and i know, being brown and the only child, it will be a long and difficult journey. but my parents now know, and they didn’t exactly react the way i always thought they would, with lit torches and accusatory glares and shouts, raised fists or open-palms, but stayed silent about it for months, with the occasional inquisitive questions from my mum about boyfriends and sex and ‘the talk’ about the birds and the bees every other day. though now, of course, it makes more sense.

i understand their fear and reluctance to accept a white man into the family. because really, how will they communicate? they don’t speak english and he doesn’t speak bangla. but that’s just one barrier. there will be a cultural clash. but it is not one that concerns nor scares me, because i know we will deal with it all as it comes. this is the 21st century and we are not the first interracial couple in history. and we won’t be the last.

the muslim aspect of it adds another layer of complication, as islamically i am meant to obey and respect my parents, without letting a tear shed from their eyes.

“heaven lies beneath the feet of your mother.” — Muhammad Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wa Sallam (peace be upon him)

a man came to the Prophet and said, ‘O Messenger of God! who among the people is the most worthy of my good companionship? the Prophet said: your mother. the man said, ‘then who?’ the Prophet said: then your mother. the man further asked, ‘then who?’ the Prophet said: then your mother. the man asked again, ‘then who?’ the Prophet said: then your father. (bukhari, muslim)

this highlights the extreme importance islam places upon our parents, with the Prophet saying another time to ‘be good to your mother’, as they have rights over us. whilst i identify as muslim, i call myself muslim and believe in Allah as the one true god and Muhammad Sallallahu ‘Alayhi Wa Sallam to be the last and final messenger, i do question parts of it. but i believe in the afterlife and i believe in the powers and strengths and protection that surahs and duās provide. but being muslim makes this journey harder, with only more obstacles to battle through, waging through a war with a sword raised high, staring another version of myself right in the eyes. the part of me that grew up unapologetically muslim, devout and praying every salah and never once questioning religion or god, is screaming at me as i look back, hand wavering but no doubt in my heart about what to do.

that version of me is not one i want to get rid of but it is a version of me i no longer am. i will defend islam to the death, til the day i die, and i will die for islam and Allah, and i hope to one day, again, pray my salah again properly and i would love to regain the connection with Allah i once had, but i will not be that same girl i once was.

being muslim-ish, brown and an only child comes with challenges and battles, still struggling to balance between two halves of my life. by that i mean, i am the unapologetically bangladeshi daughter who is in love with her traditional clothing and food and language (despite barely speaking or understanding it, something my dad brought up in the last lecture loooool), and the british-raised bangladeshi girl with a white boyfriend who questions religion and the meaning of it, challenges the culture wrought with misogyny, toxic masculinity combined with brown boy privilege and abuse-condoning, rape-apologetic, victim-blaming attitudes, and dreams of merging the two halves even though, right now, it seems fucking impossible.

maybe it’ll never happen, because it’s a want. and reality is far more complicated than what we dream and hope it to be.

–Sumaiya, x

Posted by:Sumaiya Ahmed

my to-be-read pile increases every day and i aspire to be blair waldorf. or jacqueline carlyle. or olivia pope.

4 thoughts on “Muslim-ish, Brown & an Only Child: Wants vs Expectations

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