I always thought this game was a set up for disaster, but...
By Halima Asad
August 31, 1999
After being away from Iran for more than twenty years, I didn't expect
to return to the U.S. with a husband. However, everyone seemed to think
that the ancient Iranian marriage ritual was awaiting me.
It all started at the airport when I arrived at Tehran's Mehrabad International.
The passport control officer looked at my documents, including the fact
that I entered the country without a valid passport. Then he smiled gently
and said, "You are returning after 23 years in America? Are you coming
to get married?"
I was shocked by this absurd personal question. But I did not want to
irritate an officer of the Islamic Republic. "Not that I know of",
I explained that the reason for my return was the solar eclipse. Supposedly
the best place to view it was in my hometown of Isfahan. So my curious
new officer friend let me go without any problem. I thanked him and went
on to greet my father with hugs and kisses, in front of the Hezbollahi
guards and all.
I soon found out that my personal future was to become the business
of everyone I met. Cousins, aunts, uncles, great aunts, distant cousins
and even their friends and family were on some sort of crusade to find
me "a good man." However, I don't recall anyone asking me what
The khaastegaars -- or at least their mothers and sisters -- would come
with flowers and sweets. They would slyly ask me questions about my life.
For example, "What do you do?" and "Who do you live with?",
or "Are you all alone in America?"
I would respond like one of Hafez's fortune-telling parakeets -- I told
them what they expected to hear. We played the khaastegaari game. They
know you know it is a game and you know, almost instinctively, the rules
I always thought this game was a set up for disaster. But now I kind
of like the idea of a pre-investigatory period before I go out on a date
with someone. I mean, this is what a modern khaastegaari is. It is not
the ancient business of "You are my daughter and you must marry this
man to get us out of debt because he is a doctor or an engineer."
Not for the modern Iranian family anyway.
The family investigates the person for you, and once they give their
initial approval, it is up to you to decide if you want to date him or
her. It's fun having your family involved in your love life -- to a certain
Everyone thought my distant relative, a non-blood relation, would be
a perfect match for me. So we met. But we were both so nervous that talking
seemed impossible. We went sight seeing instead. But that too required
some talking. And what did we talk about? How perfect we were supposed
to be for each other.
After a few dates, where we illegally and fearfully went out in public
together, we began to develop a friendship. All the while my father was
positive and thinking of his future grandchildren. My khaastegaar, learning
that I was leaving soon to return to the U.S., mistakenly told a family
member that he was planning on giving me a rug as a present.
When my father learned that there was a possibility of a solid relationship,
and that there was a rug involved, he began to point out all of our differences
and all my khaastegaar's inadequacies and faults. So here I was, not looking
to get married, but beginning a friendship with someone whom my family
had picked for me, and I was being told that his intellectual level was
nowhere near mine.
I was raised in America, I am attending college in America and I have
traveled the world. I was beginning to wonder who I was going to marry.
But I couldn't listen to everyone at the same time.
Before I left Iran I saw a television program about romantic relationships.
A few doctors sat around giving advice while people phoned in with questions.
During this Iranian "love-line", the counselors pleaded with
the youth not to listen too much to their parents. They said parental advice
has often proven to be destructive or just plain wrong.
I found it refreshing that these older, wiser people were telling youth
to listen to their hearts and do what they felt was right, instead of always
trying to please and appease their parents.
I would like to tell that airport officer that I am not certain whether
I will marry my khaastegaar. I have, however, come to the conclusion that
getting the stamp of approval from parents and other family members is
a thing of the past. In this day and age, women do not get married because
the husband has a lot of horses or is able to protect the tribe.
People in the East -- less so in Iran -- have deeply ingrained rituals
that could use some revising. Perhaps taking fate into your own hands is
a sign of strength that demands respect from our elders.
The solar eclipse in Isfahan was complete. As the day briefly turned
into night, hopefully some young lovers were able to steal a few moments
of freedom in the Islamic Republic.
- Send a comment for The Iranian letters
- Send a comment to the writer Halima