As told by Rakhshana Malik, a 59-year-old retiree living in Rawalpindi, Pakistan. Originally published on www.manrepeller.com.
Tell me about your relationship with your husband, from when it started to now.
In 1984, Islamabad (the capital of Pakistan) was a pretty tight-knit community, so word got around that my mom wanted to find me a husband and that there was a family that was coming to see me. This was how marriages were arranged back in the day, and oftentimes even now: The two families meet one another beforehand — usually the potential groom’s side of the family comes over to the bride’s house. They sit for some tea and assess one another.
My twin sister’s husband was in town, so my mother asked him to join us for the meeting. He was not impressed with the suitor’s family, and in hindsight, I suspect this critique was the groundwork for his ulterior agenda: setting me up with his younger brother. He confirmed that his brother fulfilled the two criteria I was looking for in a husband at that time: 1. He was tall, and 2. He lived in America. If I married him, I would be reunited with my sister, who had married six years before and moved to the United States, so that was a bonus.
My mother was feeling a bit apprehensive. After my father died, it was just the two of us for a long time, because both of my sisters married very young and my brother was off at school. So it wasn’t easy making this decision. However, my future mother-in-law was absolutely sold on the idea and was adamant that the marriage take place. She came over one day, in all her confident and amazing glory, and said, “This is happening, even if I have to be the one to put the ring on her finger.” She actually ended up following through on her promise, because it was too expensive for my future husband to fly from the States to Pakistan for our engagement party.
I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I didn’t meet him until the day before the wedding.
All of this took place in September 1984. In October, my husband-to-be sent me a card with a note inside saying I was the best thing that had ever happened to him. We’d still never spoken a word to each other. In December, we were married.
I wasn’t bothered by the fact that I didn’t meet him until the day before the wedding. If I’d had to meet him before that, I would have been wracked with nerves. In those days, it wasn’t uncommon for spouses to speak to each other for the first time after their religious wedding had taken place — sometimes over the phone if they were living on different continents. I’d seen one photo of Shaukat, my husband, and that was all I needed. I was more than ready to marry the tall guy who lived in America [laughs].
We met for the first time after signing the Muslim wedding contract (Nikkah) in separate rooms, so I literally saw him for the first time when we were already husband and wife. He came into the room and I was having mehndi (henna) put on me for our mehndi ceremony (a pre-wedding festivity of song, dance and general merriment) later that night. He said hello, and I opted not to answer. I was very shy, very insecure, and I wasn’t ready to see him yet — I didn’t even have makeup on.
Even though we had never met, I was already in love with him. I fell in love the moment I got his card telling me I was the best thing that had ever happened to him. This is the first time I’ve ever admitted that.
At our wedding, I was conscious of him looking at me, but I can’t remember if we spoke to each other at all that entire day. We had our first conversation later that night, and I think our friendship developed a little more every day ever since, as it does with a lot of arranged marriages. You go into it knowing this is the person you will be with, and if you’re lucky, you get a partnership out of it. From the beginning, Shaukat was always nice, funny, weird and spontaneous, and he invited me into his life. There was never a dull moment.
Why is your story a love story? What have you learned from it?
Our story is a love story because it’s also a story of friendship, partnership, standing by one another, forgiveness and growing up. It’s a love story because we don’t hate each other all the time [laughs]. And even though it’s not a common story, particularly in the West where we settled and raised our children, it’s a story that relates to millions just a few continents away.
I learned that love is patience. You have to have patience for a relationship to develop. You can’t be judgmental and react to things always. Love deserves time. Love is being there for each other, supporting one another — and, though it elicits groans — being a solid and reliable friend.
What’s the weirdest/funniest/most memorable thing you’ve ever done for each other?
It’s hard to narrow one thing down, because he has always kept me laughing. My husband is not as religious as I am, and one day, to prove his chops, he started reciting some prayers and butchered them and we laughed and laughed until we cried. But he did not give up.
We’ve been married for nearly 34 years and, in those years, the number of times we’ve experienced belly-aching tears of laughter together are countless.
If you could write a one-sentence love letter to your spouse, what would you say?
That’s good enough. He will know what it means!
What do you wish you knew when you first met that you know now?
I don’t know if I wish I had known this before, but sometimes he can be very, very annoying by not being a good listener. On a more positive note, it was quite a relief finding out how kind he truly is.