Title and content inspired by the movie 10 Things I Hate About You (1999).
PREFACE: This post was written from a heterosexual perspective on relationships and may not apply to LGBTTIQ2SA+ communities. I acknowledge and respect the cultural nuances and gender identities in communities that experience relationships differently.
My readers, you should know by now I’m not a fan of commercialized holidays. I ranted about New Year’s, and now, with Valentine’s Day around the corner, I have a few words about this over-rated, overly priced, superficial holiday. What can I say? Blame it on my ex-husband — or thank him — for showing me that buying into a Hollywood or Disney romance only sets us up for unnecessary hurt and disappointment. Yet, “February 14th” has a significant meaning for me for a couple of reasons.
My very first Valentine’s Day was exciting — at first — because I had lived a sheltered life and had no romantic experience, so to speak. My parents were strict, and the motto at home was “study, eat, clean, and don’t ask to go out.” As Muslims, parents will do their best to protect their children. They don’t always have the best plan, but they always have the right intentions. It’s no surprise that when Muslims in the West see their non-Muslim friends participate in activities, they naturally ask their parents why they can’t participate in those same activities. Parents then face the challenge of explaining to their kids that it’s OK to be different and to appreciate activities that are… more halal (permissible). So you can imagine my delight when I finally married that I could set the expectation of wanting to celebrate Eid el Hob (Valentine’s Day). I had been waiting my whole life to show someone my appreciation on this day, and to my surprise, I received a potato. Like, a real russet Canadian potato. Apparently, flowers die, but potatoes self-procreate like the love he had for me. He added, “Plus, you can make french fries with this potato, and you love french fries!” I waited a minute for more, but that was it. I didn’t react. In retrospect, I should have been clear about my standards and boundaries, but I was young, insecure and naive, and I still thought this was the best I could do. Instead, I said, “You know what? Valentine’s Day is a commercial holiday with overpriced chocolates. Let’s not celebrate it again.” He was overjoyed with the idea of skipping V-Day and never did anything — surprise or otherwise — ever again.
My very last Valentine’s Day was also exciting. After five years of marriage to the wrong man, I manifested a lot of self-hate and punished myself for the wasted youth and years. I hadn’t yet seen all the valuable lessons I learned from the experiences I had gone through in this failed marriage. The words dumb, stupid, naive, ugly, unworthy and repulsive would play in my head on repeat every day to describe myself. I alienated my friends and family because I believed I didn’t deserve them or their love. As far as I was concerned, I was a failure. I was tormented by the idea that our Islamic community would discard me as used goods and no one would ever want to love me or be with me again. While it’s totally acceptable and halal to divorce in Islam — and encouraged if that is the absolute last resort — culturally, it’s a death sentence, especially for Muslim women. If being married and growing a family is one of a woman’s goals, getting divorced is a sure way to destroy any chances of achieving this goal. On my last Valentine’s Day, I woke up to an email from the Superior Court of Justice in Toronto officializing my divorce. How ironic, I thought to myself. It took years to realize that that was perhaps the best Valentine’s Day gift a woman like me could ever ask for.
So to all the women — and men — who wait for the one day a year to express their love and expect to receive the same effort from their partner, and to all the women — and men — who are left lonely and feeling unloved on this same Day, this one’s for you.
But they checked all the boxes
Today, I’m writing to you from Austin, Texas and spending much-needed quality time with one of my soul sisters. We talked for hours about love, romance, and the harsh realities of what love truly means. Love is not boy-meets-girl at a coffee shop and sweeps her off her feet with all the right words and pearls. Love is not experiencing one or two obstacles that fit in a 120-minute rom-com movie and then living happily ever after with no anticipated future challenges. Love is not 24 hours/seven days a week of happiness for the rest of your life. In fact, love is a combination of the most vulnerable and intimate emotions. Love is happy, sad, angry, adventurous, calm, and many tedious day-to-day tasks we take for granted. Love is a partnership that requires daily commitment, intention and hard work. To be in love with someone means waking up every day and intentionally choosing to be with the person you love. Some days are easier than others, while other days, you want to tear your hair apart because you don’t know what to do. Regardless of how you’re feeling in the heat of the moment, you choose to be in this relationship, you choose to make it work, and more importantly, you choose them. Eventually, with time, patience and communication, you figure out the solution and are stronger for it. True love comes with challenges like anything worth pursuing, and boy, are the rewards ever great when you overcome them together.
We all have standards. Personally, I have an evolving “list” of must-haves and nice-to-haves I recently published of what it means to have standards. It may mean your options are limited, but finding a quality partner is a better return on investment than settling for someone incapable of loving and caring for you in the way you deserve. However, a checklist of your standards is only part of the process. Come on; you’re not shopping for a pair of shoes here. We’re talking about commitment to a living, breathing human with a soul and feelings! Remember, the checklist is to help narrow your choices in a world with so many options. The checklist is for guidance to what your heart, mind and soul need. If it helps, assume your list is the initial step to a recruitment process where you filter the candidates that will move to the next stage. Before hiring your top candidate, there must be a series of interviews whether you’re dating or contemplating an arranged marriage. Besides, we all know it’s easy to check all the boxes and fool the recruiter into thinking you’re the one. However, it’s hard to fake it till you make it, and true colours always reveal themselves over time; someone’s truth always comes out. This is why assessing one’s capability of building a foundation and fostering a partnership is crucial. So how do we assess emotional, spiritual and physical compatibility? What’s next?
They checked off all the boxes, and you are absolutely smitten over what you see and hear. You think to yourself, “Could they be the one?” You get ahead of yourself and fantasize about the possibility of spending the rest of your life with this person who appears perfect on paper. After all, they showed you themselves at their best. They wore a nice outfit, amazing cologne (or perfume), and prepared for the list of questions you asked them. Week one was the peak of your union. On week three, however, they slipped and said or did something that made you go, “Oh… umm…” You paused for a good 30 seconds but then brushed the feeling and thought to yourself, “It was probably nothing. I may be overthinking it. The last few weeks were amazing, and I don’t want to ruin it over something small.” You make excuses for all the little things that made you go, “Oh… umm…” because you try to focus on the bigger picture, the fantasy future you created to comfort yourself that the search for the one was finally over. But these little oh’s and umm’s don’t just disappear. Your heart may be fooled and blind, but your brain is smart and knows you will need to revisit and face these moments once your heart is stretched to its limits. Six months later, you notice a pattern. Yet, they still check all the boxes, so you’re left wondering, “If they check all the boxes, why doesn’t it feel right? Why do I feel exhausted?” It’s because the checklist was the bare minimum, if at all the minimum.
But they make me happy
Many people mistake finding love with finding peace, or love will somehow make them feel happy and fulfilled. The misconception ingrained in our minds by rom-com movies and societal norms on matters of the heart is that happiness, peace and fulfilment can only be obtained through other people. Again, many people absolve themselves of their responsibility to obtain said happiness, peace and a sense of fulfilment. By demanding your partner to be your peace, to make you happy and feel fulfilled, you set the expectation that they must never be imperfect, complain or break down. Otherwise, God forbid, your peace is disturbed, and you’ll tell yourself, “There are eight billion people in the world. Let me walk away and find someone who would be less of a headache.” It’s so easy to walk away from something, no matter how incredible it is. Somehow, people have been led to believe that they are halves and incomplete and expect to find another half — their other half — to complete them and bring these qualities to the table. I challenge you, however: What if neither of you has happiness, peace and a feeling of fulfilment, and you are now expecting the other to bring these three elements to the relationship? What if you narrowed your mind into thinking that these outcomes have a single fixed definition? The answer: first, you have nothing to offer yet expect the other to provide everything, and second, you miss out on the endless possibilities and definitions of true happiness, peace and fulfilment because these three elements have a rainbow of meanings. There’s not simply one way of feeling happy, fulfilled and at peace, and it would be a real shame if you didn’t see the many other ways of getting there.
Years of soul searching and working on being a better version of myself led me to understand that people — including me — are pursuing the wrong elements of life. For example, happiness, fulfilment and peace are not qualities to chase; instead, they’re outcomes of our experiences in life. Experiences come from purpose or lack thereof. What we should be looking for is our purpose. This may sound like a profound question, but what is the point of your life? Seriously, consider this as you continue reading. Why do you wake up every day? Why do you eat, work, see friends and family, work out or do whatever it is you do? We fall into a routine quickly and take life for granted, so these questions don’t come to us naturally. We robotically go through life and expect things to work out or fall into place. Again, we are absolving ourselves of responsibility and accountability for our lives. We need to ask ourselves what our purpose is in life and sit with our thoughts and feelings for however long it takes until we decide what that purpose is for us. My purpose in life, for example, is to lead, nurture and coach in every aspect of my life. I write down goals to achieve that. I started this blog because I knew that my experience could help at the very least one person in this world; my parents are the gems in my life that I cherish unconditionally because tomorrow isn’t promised; I work in an industry where I can make other people’s lives a little easier by educating them on more efficient work processes; and I have a cat because loving a vulnerable animal and caring for them is the most precious kind of love out there. My big-picture goal in life is to open a school for girls and orphans who have been handed a raw deal in life. That is my purpose. Through this purpose, I found peace and happiness. I feel entirely fulfilled knowing that I have my purpose in life.
You won’t need to search for someone to complete you once you find your purpose. You won’t feel like half a person looking for another half. Instead, you will feel like a whole person and walk into your next relationship with all the love and happiness you found in yourself in search of someone who is also whole. Two wholesome people connecting to build a bigger and more beautiful life than they could have ever imagined is a much better happy ending than two halves desperately looking for qualities in others they lack. The former will no longer feel like something better is out there because they are secure and comfortable with themselves and the choice they made; however, the latter will always feel like nothing is good enough and will always have an exit strategy, even if it’s deeply buried in the back of their minds. So if you must celebrate Valentine’s Day this year — whether in a relationship or embracing your singlehood — set the expectations of seeking happiness and love from others aside, set your ego aside, and choose to give yourself some love by exploring what it means for you to be alive. Pamper yourself with words of affirmation, a warm bath, dinner and a bouquet. And if you get a potato for Valentine’s Day, see it as a reminder of what your worth is and what you deserve. Is a potato enough, or can you dream bigger? I bet your journey thus far has been extraordinary and unique and that there is much more purpose for you than you’ve settled for. Happy Valentine’s Day, my beautiful friends.