A Catholic and a Muslim walk into a bar…
Sounds like the punchline for a joke, right?
But this is how my boyfriend and I met two years ago.
This has always been a rather difficult topic to discuss, because there were/are so many outside elements and aspects of our world that have cast shadows of doubt on our love. They try to exploit the fragility of love and shine light on the most delicate parts of a bond. Every couple has external forces that could rip them apart at the seams, and I have seen (and dealt) with many of those forces before—cheating, disrespect, distance, loss of connection, unwillingness to grow together, falling out of love.
Who would have thought that there would be so many other prevalent and demanding things to face?
We’ve faced some who loved us as individuals but couldn’t and didn’t want to see us together for their own personal reasons. Religion. Culture. Race. I’ve seen men openly sneer at us while we’re out and I’ve had to watch helplessly as these same men try to attack my boyfriend just for the mere fact of being with me. I’ve lost a best friend who exchanged her days of being my confidant and keeping my secrets close to covertly try to break us apart in lieu of her disapproval of our interfaith background. We’ve faced disapproving stares from strangers’ eyes and fear from both of our parents before they understood our love for each other and its infinite strength.
From what we’ve endured, you would think that the love and the honesty and the trust that encompasses our connection was as empty yet volatile as the disapproval that surrounded us in our early days.
I do not really like talking about myself—it bothers me in some way. I’m not sure why. I admire those that can easily talk about their latest adventure without prompting or share detailed facts about their personal life without qualms or words of encouragement. It’s never been an issue of low confidence or self-esteem for me. Perhaps it’s merely the fact that I enjoy hearing others’ stories more, see the light in their eyes sparkle as I hear their passions slip into our conversation.
I wanted to share our story because I felt that this one should be heard. So that we could connect with others who have been through the same thing or are going through the same thing or who have never stepped foot in this world that is now my life. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. We talk about this, my boyfriend and I, on long road trips, late night city walks, in the midst of daily, hour-long phone calls (long distance peeps, you get this). It’s mainly me who brings it up. Typical girl.
“You still want this, right?”
“I love you.” “I love you more.” “No matter what.”
Our conversations always end the same, in promises to be strong together in the face of adversity. That when it comes time to face more hardships, like every couple does, we’ll face it head on, because we’re us, and we’re built for the storm.
It’s funny how three little words are used to solidify and define a union. I love you. Do they know the weight that they carry? Their meaning summing up days and nights of laughter in the summer air, brown eyed gazes, playful late night debates, comforting embraces, and faith in one another that transcends the contrast of our religious backgrounds? If they did, then they would know why we say it so often.
We met in July of 2016.
I was out with one of my wildly lovely friends, catching up at a bar I had never been to.
We were settling into our Mojito and Jack and Coke respectively, when I noticed across the bar a guy I had seen at my cousin’s wedding a few months past. He was a groomsmen alongside my brother, so I was confident that this was the guy I had seen in pictures. Filled with liquid courage and the assumption that he would recognize me even though we never talked at the wedding, I introduced myself and my friend.
We got to talking and I met the friend he was with, and later, he asked me what the rest of my night looked like. I glanced at my friend for a brief second, knowing we had different agendas. I do not usually go out without a purpose, and my purpose that night was to grab a few drinks then head home to my bed. But I knew with this friend of mine, that our night was not over. Gotta love those who drag you out of the house some nights:)
He mentioned his friend who was a bouncer at a nearby bar, and after a phone call, the friend was more than willing to let us into the bar for free that night. I said goodbye to Cousin’s Friend and I was headed off to Tin Roof.
“Are you Pakistani?”
I’m currently gagging at how tone deaf and shallow I sounded when those words came out of my mouth. It was the vodka talking, the three shots I had in between dancing like crazy in the loud and modern scene. A major step up from the cute and quiet bar we had just left.
I still discuss various theories with my boyfriend on the exact moment when he and I met; we both cannot remember when exactly we ended up dancing together like we had known each other for years. Grabbing each other’s hands timidly in between dances and laughing. Him randomly stopping to text someone back with vigor to the point where I grew bored with the situation and began to wander off. Him taking my hand back and resuming our playful dancing.
His name was Zain. He had told me when we stopped to sit down for a while.
“Do you want to leave?”
“We can just talk some more. I can’t really hear you in here.”
The iconic line. The yeah-right line. The used-so-much line that it’s funny that it’s still used to this day when in fact, studies show –based on experiential reports from several sources—that talking barely, if rarely ends up becoming the action of the night with someone you barely know.
Later, I would realize that Zain meant nothing of the sort, that he was being genuine and actually wanted to talk to me. One of the many things I appreciate about him is the respect he’s always shown from the beginning, even without knowing me.
We ended up agreeing to walk around outside.
I found myself finding my friend, and giving her my keys. Telling her I’d see her later and to keep them safe for me, that I was leaving with this guy. *motions behind me*
The look of bewilderment sunk into her face, as her knowledge of me conflicted with what I just said.
She tells me to be careful. She tells him to take care of me. She watches us leave, both of us probably thinking the same thing. Alex, what are you doing?
It was a relief to get away from the loud music and the sweaty air that enveloped the bar we had just left. We walked, and walked. And as we walked, we began to talk. I’m a straight forward and blunt person sometimes, and that was how my questions came out. He didn’t seem to mind my assertiveness, nor did he seem to mind answering question after question I had of Pakistan and his life in America. One of my really good friends at the time was Pakistani, so I had heard many of the things that slipped from his lips already. Yet, I never got sick of hearing more. I had always felt a calling to the South East Asian, the Middle East, and the Indian cultures. All of my life. It was like a distant and vague home that I had never been to before, but was nostalgic all the same. A longing for a world I had never been a part of.
We were walking for several minutes, and I zoned out from his chatter to realize we were really far away from the bar. And I had no idea where we were.
“Do you know where we’re going?” was answered with a low chuckle.
I started to inwardly panic. Where was he taking me and why did I even consider this?
Having my wits about me, I was acutely aware of us circling back around to the bar, Zain calmly reassuring me that he knew where we were going, that he thinks it was up the street and down two more blocks. It was a foreshadow to years later when he is still so bad at directions and I’m the one out of both of us who can always remember directions and how to get places. While he’s the one out of both of us who can pull up minute details from memory that most people don’t even seem to process and can spit out facts with a knowledge so succinct, it’s kind of scary.
The span of our conversation was boundless, discussing theories, and the latest news, to playfully joking and roasting each other, and finally ending on relationships. I told him how I wasn’t actively looking, but that I was not interested in anything less than. How frustrating it was to be in a world where many wanted the benefits of a relationship without actually being in one. We were entering deeply rooted territory, so I was relieved when I heard the noise from the bar as we inched closer and closer to the street we had started our journey.
I found my friend again, and Zain’s brother and friend dispersed from a crowd of people hanging outside the bar. He went to go say hi to them, and, I took the chance to talk to my friend and ask her if she was ready to leave. I felt that I had word vomited enough for the night to Zain. I probably wouldn’t see him again. I silently promised to never leave with someone I didn’t know again, as fun as it was to talk to someone new for hours down quiet streets. He could have been Ted Bundy reincarnated or something.
I looked at Zain one last time, and told him it was nice meeting him. He seemed to be too engaged with his brother and friend to notice or pay attention to me about to leave. I didn’t mind. I would find him on social media later and tell him it was fun. Maybe.
I did. Tell him it was fun. And he agreed. And he invited me out to dinner a few nights later to get to know each other better, promising that we would go back to each other’s own homes afterwards respectively.
That date turned into two dates. Then three. Then a weekend of camping with my friend and her boyfriend. I welcomed this trip, partly so they could feel him out for me and reassure me that he wasn’t one of the men they warned me about that would play around with your feelings and string you along only to never be as serious as they vowed to be in the end. And partly because I knew we would all have fun together.
He asked me to be his girlfriend a month and four weekends together. A few days before I left for Mexico and a week before I would be leaving to go back to college two hours away.
We were hesitant, of course. But if it was for the mere reason that it felt right, and nothing else, we both wanted to give long distance a try.
The hardest part of our bond wasn’t that we had arguments or heated disagreements that threatened our status. It wasn’t dishonesty or broken trust. It wasn’t superficiality nor the surface-level love people seem to lust after nowadays.
He is Muslim. I am Catholic. He is Pakistani. I am Black. The values our parents both instilled in us were tilled from the same roots, but everything else cast dark shadows onto our reality.
We’ve juggled with this the entire relationship, and it grew more and more visible the more serious our relationship became. My parents had their own views on Muslims and the way they treated their women. His parents had their own views on Christians and the way they treated relationships. The same God that we were raised to follow was split in between two holy books, one prophet, and a Son. It was less about race, and more about the cultural aspect. Both sides tugged at our heartstrings. How do you turn away from family, the unit that you grew from, the life you’ve always known? How do you defy what has always been told to you and fight against a door that has always been shut?
It wasn’t easy. Yet, my parents came around. They love Zain like a son. He is family now. He was welcomed with warm, open arms despite their doubts, which melted once they saw him for who he was.
And his parents. They’ve seemed to come around. I met them, which is a very big deal in the Pakistani Muslim culture—which does not permit dating of any kind. They no longer tell him I shouldn’t be in the picture. I’ve exchanged gifts with his mother, and done my best to research the customs of dealing with the situation so as not to offend.
It is beautiful, really. The love that is shaped through our parents’ doubts. The change they cautiously eyed and examined, the focused want for their children to be happy and to follow the guidelines of a script they’ve lived themselves and others have before them. Who wants to see their child fail? To watch them destroy everything you built for them? To be blinded by a love that masks the dogmas of successful past times?
It was hard to get through the disapproval. From family. From friends who didn’t see the point in trying so hard for something they saw as fragile from the elements that weighed it down. From strangers who didn’t understand the love that surpassed all else, even their narrow-minded views on what shouldn’t be mirrored back at them in the form of Zain and I.
It is also hard not to flip the coin and notice all of the support we’ve gotten from those who see us for who we really are. Two individuals who love one another and would go to the ends of the world to meet the wants and needs of the other. Who have appreciated what we’ve built and seen the chemistry that dances between us.
This post was NOT meant to throw shade to anyone, especially our parents. We not only have them to thank for the people we are today, but also the values we uphold to this day and instill in our relationship now. This post was not meant to throw shade at anyone in the past who doubted us or condemned our relationship.
It just feels good to finally have the story out, to share it with others. It’s been something that I have kept in from a lot of people, out of fear that they either wouldn’t understand or wouldn’t care. Our journey to where we are now is such a burden to carry around, because I didn’t want to share it with anyone except close friends. I didn’t want anything to taint what I see as beautiful and perfect in its own right.
I have absolutely no complaints with Zain. He is my soulmate. I have never felt this way with anyone else. What boxes people may try to put us in always come tumbling down. He is he and I am I. I love him for who he is and vice versa. Simplicity has never been so beautiful.
I would love to hear from anyone who has experienced anything like this. I don’t really know anyone in my life who has. Even if your situation isn’t similar, it would be so wonderful to hear more about what others had to go through to find or keep love in their life. To fight for what they want. To believe in something others may have not believed in, but you still kept pushing through.
One thing I love about Zain and I is that I believe we are built for hardships. Together, we are so strong. We can and have conquered every storm. We have a relationship I had only imagined in dreams. An unspoken understanding of one another and who we are.
I would not trade it for the world.
Thank you for reading and for listening. For the amazing souls who have sent me kind words and advice along the way. For my family who have been so open with talking about it, regardless of their hesitations. For wanting the best for me. For his parents for raising such an amazing person, and caring so much about him. For welcoming me and trying to understand.
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