There comes a time in a man’s life when he decides that he has had enough fun and excitement and the time is right to settle down and get married! At that point, no matter what his better judgment or his good buddies tell him, he will do as he believes and asks a nice girl to marry him!
Here is the story of my coming of age! Well, Sort of!
I had just put my Japanese girlfriend Ayako on the JAL flight back to Tokyo a week earlier and was wondering what to do next when my good friend’s wife Parisa called and invited me to their kid’s birthday party.
Ayako had come to the States to learn English but she wasn’t really good at it! I probably learned more Japanese from her than she learned English from her school! I met her at a club and after going out on a couple of dates, she brought her suitcase to my house and stayed there! I didn’t like how she spread her clothes and stuff all over my place but couldn’t complain! I guess it was her way of claiming the territory! After a month, I decided that the time was right for her to go, so I asked her to call the airline and make the arrangements on the open ticket. A few days later, I dropped her off in front of the International Terminal, gave her a big hug and kiss and drove away!
I was always annoyed by the Christmas parties, the family gatherings and picnics at my work! Everybody showed up with their wives or girlfriends and when I came with some date or a “floozy”, the nosy receptionist would ask me if she was “the one!” I didn’t like that. I wanted to bring my partner and soul-mate to the parties and have everyone meet her and congratulate me. So I finally decided that the time was right for me to throw in the towel and get married!
My good friend’s wife Parisa had been on my case for a while! She was the one that wanted to introduce me to some nice Iranian girls. But her only condition was that I needed to be serious! No hanky panky! At the party, Parisa told me about her colleague Nastaran. “She is so beautiful and smart and everybody loves her at work! She wants to marry an Iranian man. Her parents are very conservative though. She was fasting during Ramazan! Isn’t that cute?” We set up a lunch date at a Chinese Hunan place near their work.
Nastaran was beautiful, intelligent and simple at the same time. She wore no make up and was as innocent as a woman can get. Once in a while she would give me a shy smile and a quick glance. I was on my best behavior! All the jokes were G-rated, completely scrubbed!
After lunch Parisa called me and asked what I thought of her. I wasn’t sure but I was intrigued. She was so different from the other women that I had dated. Parisa said that it would be ok for me to call her at work and take her out for lunch.
She lived with her parents. Her grandmother lived with them too. We went out for lunch a couple of times. One time she insisted that she would bring the lunch, so she did. We went to the mall, sat in the food court and had her mom’s Gheymeh Polo. That sealed the deal! We then walked around the mall and had ice cream! Imagine that! I was so well-behaved that I even surprised myself!
The following week when I asked her out to see a movie on a Saturday night, she said that I should come to her house with my parents so that the families can meet each other and after that we could go out on weekends! This was all so new to me! I assumed that all good and family-oriented girls are like that!
I called my parents and told them about her. They were so excited about the prospect of me getting serious and at the same time were thrilled about being included in the process! I had never asked for their advice before!
We arrived at Nastaran’s house on a Saturday afternoon. Her father met us at the door. He looked me over, shook hands with my father and me and then lowered his head and greeted my mother without shaking hands or looking at her! Her mother was standing a few steps back. She wore a colorful head scarf. She greeted my parents, checked me out from the corner of her eyes, but did not shake hands either. It became quite clear to me that her parents were very religious and conservative.
We sat in the living room and Nastaran brought the tea. Her grandma came after a few minutes. She said that she was praying. She was wearing a chador. She sat on a chair in the corner of the room and didn’t say much. I looked at her a couple of times and smiled. One time I noticed that she was holding her prayer beads and her lips were moving as if she was praying. Then she blew in my direction! I think that she was putting a spell on me! That completely distracted me. All these mental images of Voodoo and witchcraft raced through my mind! I was flattered that I had become the subject of desire!
They served us a great dinner and then we left. In the car, my parents were quiet. Finally, my father broke the silence. “She is a nice and educated person. I really liked her. But you should understand that they are different from us. It is not just the scarf and chador. They don’t shake hands. They don’t look at you. And her father wearing sandals with socks!” At that point my mother jumped in, “This is all your decision and we will do as you wish, but remember that in our family nobody wore chador or went to the mosque. Also, I noticed that the grandmother was looking at you all night and praying and blowing! She was putting a spell on you!”
“Maybe she was looking for a husband too and was sending me kisses!” I tried to joke around, but I got the message loud and clear.
I decided to continue with dating her and we went out for another month or so. Somehow, she managed to establish the boundaries and somehow I followed them. It was like there was a shield around her and in a strange way, I liked that! I enjoyed her company but didn’t know what to do next! There seemed to be a wall there that I could not penetrate! There was no physical component to the relationship. I felt like we were stuck at a certain level! I finally decided that it was either time to go to the next level or walk away and I had a reasonable case for either one.
After much soul searching and looking at everything with rosy glasses I decided to propose to her. I rehearsed my pitch like a sales presentation! It had a beginning, a middle and a big finale. I was curious to see her reaction and her response.
We went to a modest Vietnamese restaurant and after dinner and before the dessert I proposed to her, Her face turned red and she looked up and looked at me a few times. Then she gained her composure and said, “I need to talk to my parents and will let you know!” I have to say that I did not expect that response at all, but I thought that’s how family-oriented girls deal with these types of situations.
The next day she called me and said that I should come to her house and talk to her dad. That afternoon, with a bouquet of flowers in my hand, I knocked on the door. Her father greeted me and took me to the living room. Nastaran and her mom came too and sat quietly on two chairs next to each other. Her father said a few nice things about me and her and then said that it would have been better if my parents would have come with me too. Then he opened the Ghoran on the table next to him and took a small piece of paper out and said, “For my daughter’s Mehrieh (dowry) we are asking a holy Ghoran, a Shaakheh Nabaat and 200 gold coins!”
I froze on the spot. I had not anticipated that at all. I tried to gather my thoughts and have a respectful reply. This was not about the gold coins but rather about him taking charge of this affair. I gently told him that in my family that was not the custom and gave a couple of examples. He looked at me suspiciously as if I was setting the stage for some negotiating to lower the number of gold coins! I turned my head and took a quick look at Nastaran trying to get some feedback. But she had a helpless look on her face that was saying, “Please do whatever you need to do to get this over with.” I politely told them that I needed to speak with my parents, but would let them know soon. As I was getting up, he gave me the piece of paper with the Mehrieh items on it. I said goodbye and got into my car and looked at her as she was closing the door.
I went for a long walk and tried to process everything and finally came to the realization that I cannot do this to myself or my family. She was a kind and wonderful person, but she could not break away from her family and it would have been selfish of me to ask her to do so.
I went home and sat down and wrote a nice letter to her and explained that I could not do what her father had asked of me without putting down their value system or compromise mine. I felt a tremendous sense of relief when I put the letter in the mailbox.
A few days later, a small package arrived at my door. It was from her. I didn’t know what to expect. I opened the package carefully so not to damage anything. Inside the box were the Ann Taylor sweater and a few other things that I had given to her as present. There was a brief note there too. “Please return my pictures!” That was it.
I gathered all her pictures and cut out the ones that I was in them and put them in the mail that evening. The box sat on the kitchen table for a few days. I didn’t know what to do with it. It did not seem fair to keep the stuff and give them to another girl. Finally, on the weekend, I took them to the Goodwill truck and gave it to the charity guy. He looked at the Ann Taylor sweater and set it aside. I am sure that he recognized the high quality. He probably was going to give it to his wife or girlfriend as a present. He smiled at me and gave me a couple of blank receipts.
“Just write down whatever you think they are worth!” I smiled and said thank you.