Unconventional (Essay)

Illustration by Laura Obregon.

Words by Angelique Swan. Art by Laura Obregon.

My boyfriend isn’t supposed to be dating me because it’s a sin.

His name is Ahmed, and he’s Muslim.  We met when I was 16 and he was 19, and now I’m 21 and he is 24. A lot of people, including much of my family and friends, don’t understand our relationship. We’ve broken up and have got back together three times since we met, each time over a cultural difference, a misunderstanding, or an argument. People often ask how can a relationship with such religious and cultural differences work, and I must admit I have my doubts as well. We are different. But at the same time that we are different we are that much alike. We both value our families, we both love to meet new people, and we both, at times, have horrible tempers.

I was raised Christian. I was baptized, I go to church on Sundays sometimes, and I pray over meals and before bed, if I remember. Ahmed prays five times a day and if he misses a prayer he makes up for it. His life is Islam and his friends are like his brothers. They pray together and look out for one another in a way that I have never seen.

We’ve been through a lot together, as most who’ve been together since young. We’ve grown together and we have watched each other mature. We’ve made mistakes and done things to each other that some people could never forgive someone for. Sometimes he’s the most annoying person. Sometimes he says things that I don’t agree with. We have debated about politics, religion, and any controversial topic that you can think of. But, I can’t imagine not having him around.

He told me that he loved me on our first date, and we had only known each other for four months before he asked me out. I had never been in love before. I wasn’t sure what love meant, and I completely freaked out. Deep down I knew I loved him too, I just didn’t know how it was possible. I’d never felt like this before. I never doubted that Ahmed loved me even after we had broken up. The first time we broke up was because his dad found out he had girlfriend and he didn’t approve. He told him to end it, and he did. I had never felt that kind of pain before. To this day it was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to deal with, not because we broke up but how we broke up. He just stopped talking to me and told me he couldn’t see me anymore. I felt abandoned. How could someone that “loved” me forget me so easily?

I never thought that the first time I’d get my heart broken would be by the person I thought would never hurt me. I deleted our pictures and the screenshots of our cute texts. I didn’t delete his phone number or email. What was the point if I had them memorized? A year later he emailed me apologizing, and we picked up right where we left off. I don’t easily forgive people, and I hold grudges like the true Scorpio that I am, but there is something about Ahmed (his charm and his persistence) that I can’t ignore. Some would say that I’m stupid and naive for forgiving him, or that he has some kind of control over me, but I know he’s genuine. We’re both hot tempered. We’d argue just to argue–if he looked at me the wrong way or if I made a joke he didn’t like. He’d need space, and I didn’t believe in “space.” He’d storm out, and we’d play the ignoring game. Things would get out of control. I’d push him and he’d push back. We’d get exhausted and give up. Now, we’ve learned how to deal with our arguments in better ways. Sometimes it’s best to simply walk away, to take space. We always come back to each other.

There’s parts of my relationship that are imperfect. It’s not always a love song or a fairy-tale, and we’re not always all over each other. How realistic is a relationship without error? The bumps along the road have made us grow and see each other as exactly who we are, and we’re far from perfect. Though he’s hurt me, he has never not acknowledged it. He realizes that saying sorry isn’t always enough, and needs to be proven with actions. We’ve been so mad at each other to the point where we don’t talk, but he’s never let me go hungry. He’ll sit beside me in silence while I eat, and without hesitation still pay for dinner. When I was in high school my family’s car broke down and he’d drive me to school almost every day, no questions asked. And just recently when I was feeling down and alone in New York City, he flew out and surprised me. These acts all seem minuscule or givens in a relationship, but to me, they mean a lot.

Our relationship can be a lot of work. I have to explain my boyfriend’s religion to some of my family. And while some may not agree, as long as my parents and sister accept it that’s all I care about. Some of my friends say “he’s gonna leave you for a nice Muslim girl.” I doubt it. He battles with committing sin every day by being with a woman that is not his wife. He should probably be married by now, and I know he’s under a lot of pressure to be the man that his family would be proud of. He’s his dad’s only son and he wants to please him.

I’m only 21 and a lot of people could say that I’m too young to know exactly what love is, but everyone has their own definition of love. Someone else’s definition of love could seem unconventional to me, just as my relationship could seem unconventional or  unacceptable to someone else. But, it’s acceptable to me and Ahmed, and after all it’s our relationship. We accept each other for who we are, fully acknowledging each other’s flaws. We try to encourage each other to be better people, and accomplish what we work to achieve. I tell him to answer his sister’s phone calls even when he doesn’t feel like it because I know she cares and just wants to hear from him. He tells me to be more patient with people (including myself).

People could argue that our values are different, but they’re not. We both believe in God, we believe that family is extremely important, and we believe in being the best versions of ourselves; these are our fundamental values in what seems like a complex relationship. Our relationship is simple and straightforward, as complex as it may seem. Our relationship may be unconventional, and some may not agree or understand our definition of love, but it’s not for anyone to understand but us.

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