Marrying an Iranian woman
...with strings attached
By Siavash Soroosh
November 17, 1998
I read Laleh Khalili's marvelously-written "Loving
an Iranian man" in The Iranian. Her note appeared very
similar to my recent experience. Though mine was somewhat different, we
both happened to have been bound by the same expectations that ultimately
reduce loving relationships among Iranians to a cluster of traditions and
conventions -- conventions according to which it is the mind of the elders
that determines fate, not the emotions of the loving couple.
Perhaps one difference between the two experiences is that, in Laleh's
case, she ended up being a winner, thanks to the atmosphere of the Western
world she lives in, accommodating her individual freedom and therefore
her expectations. I ended up being a loser, owing to the traditions hovering
over the fate of many, back home.
I hope you find my article a complement to her observations:
MARRYING AN IRANIAN WOMAN
Dear Laleh Khalili,
I read you article. It had been a long time since an article of a fellow
Iranian had hit a cord within me so intensely. You wonder why.
Everything you wrote felt familiar root -- indeed, very familiar. I
have been in the U.S. for 14 years; yet, I feel more Iranian than ever:
I want to feel and be felt in that Iranian way you described, for I miss
family gatherings, hearty conversations, visiting elders, talking about
Hafez and Rostam-o-Sohrab. I miss that common "unconditional acceptance"
of Iranian souls. In short, perhaps, I miss all things Iranian.
For many years, in my search for a drop to satisfy this desire, and
so, I soughtan Iranian soul-mate. It did not happen. Then, out of desperation
or, maybe, out of lack of choice, I tried to search it within the soul
of a Western woman. But they lacked that "Persian heart" -- they
cared, smiled, laughed, shared, and it all felt pleasant. But I missed
the "Persian" element. The Western woman was not for me.
My puritan views and emotional searche peaked when, after more than
a decade, I visited Iran last year. First, I kissed the ground at the airport,
then my lovely sister, my beautiful nieces, my better-than-jewel brother-in-law,
my aunt, and my cousins who had never seen me but were expecting me with
astonishing thrills. During the next several weeks, I received a rainfall
of love, respect, and acceptance from uncles, aunts, cousins, friends and,
to my surprise, even strangers.
Having lived here in a continent where empty smiles fill our daily encounters,
back home, at times I felt gently suffocated by all the affection. What
also surprised me was that nobody had any expectations in return for the
care, respect, and acceptance they forwarded me. Often, I felt, the love
floating in a nation that has been so unfortunate, nothing but a divine
It was in this circumstance that, one day, I encountered one of the
most beautiful experiences in my life. Unexpectedly, I met Mahtaab -- a
lovely Iranian woman. She fit all my criteria: gentle, loving, charming,
caring, sweet, passionate, and full of hope and optimism for the future.
She was the "true" Iranian woman I had been awaiting in my world
of optimism. But our encounter happened just three days before my scheduled
departure back to the U.S.
She was, by far, worth the imminent longing. After all, wouldn't one
travel to the four corners of the world in search of a soul-mate? Once
I returned to the U.S., our lovely connection continued, peaked, and filled
all the thirst that had accumulated within my soul in the last 14 years.
After a few months I went back home to bond with her forever, and bring
her to America.
This is where the story of "Marrying an Iranian Woman" actually
started as hidden strings began to float to the surface and play their
destructive role. Back in Iran, and in innocent awe, soon, it became apparent
to me that there was more to the puritan picture I had painted of loving
my mate. The shadow of a controlling, or rather over-controlling, mother-in-law
hovered over Mahtaab, like an osprey over a pigeon. Traditions had turned
the mother of the family into a dictator depriving her daughter from the
slightest freedom in decision making about her present or future life.
I realized it was not Mahtaab who made decisions, but in fact it was
her mother. It was not Mahtaab who expressed her wishes for the future,
it was her mother. It was not Mahtaab who freely spoke of her priorities
in her future with me, it was instead her mother with a long list of expectations
for me to satisfy. In short, perhaps, it seemed that it was not Mahtaab
I was about to marry, bond with, share a life with, make decisions with
-- it was but her mother.
What also made the matter, as well as its prospects, more shadowed,
was that her mother wished that nearly a carriage of gold be forwarded
to her door "in exchange" for her daughter being "given
away." For instance, while I would be speaking of love, affection,
a guaranteed future and a pair of supporting and warm arms for my wife-to-be,
her mother would be expecting a mahrieh (dowry) so impressive that
its sparks would amaze her close and far relatives.
In short, what I faced in our beloved homeland was not what I had expected
all along; it was instead the super-imposition of archaic conventions onto
the domain of innocent hearts who desired a lasting union. Naturally, the
whole affair was doomed to collapse before my eyes, and it finally did.
For an Iranian man who expects healthy independence, sovereignty and
individuality from his soul-mate, this was but a shocking and bitter experience
that will leave a lasting mark, perhaps as long as a life-time. The grand
finale of this whole episode was obvious -- failure. And so was the loving
picture of the Iranian soul-mate I had painted for more than a decade.
Perhaps because of my inherent optimism, my faith in Iranian woman has
not perished. It has survived this experience and remained as solid as
ever. I admire you for your deeply-felt observations of searching for an
Iranian soul-mate. But I have to add that, in contrast to your experience,
it is not always love that ultimately wins. Some of us are forced a shattering
of our lovely puritan portrait of an Iranian soul-mate. Often, just loving
the Iranian soul-mate is not what eventually evolves in our pursuit. Our
beloved culture, which you portrayed so truthfully, attaches too many strings
-- strings that tangle around our loving pursuits so tightly that eventually
suffocate it to death.