Sometimes I genuinely wonder, what’s it like to fall in love?
I am twenty-two. I don’t believe in romantic ideals and knights in shining armors, but I believe in kindred souls. I think I have found mine, a person whom I think highly of both as a person and as a friend. I have always publicly declared and joked with friends that if only Housemate #1 was a guy, I’d so totally date her. Then this friend came along and he is exactly like her in so many ways, especially a specific trait they have, one that’s central on why I have utmost respect for them: kindness.
I once told a story, about how I tried so hard to match make the two. To Housemate #2 then, I’d told her, “Trust me, they’re so similar!” But for some reason, timing never worked between the two, whether in Philly, California or Malaysia despite my genuine attempts and not-so-incidental hints through name drops and the like. Somehow their stars just never quite cross – not yet? Fate will eventually tell.
I tried telling this story again two Friday nights ago – it was supposed to be funny. As usual, I gushed about him, and her. It was supposed to be funny – they’re two of my closest friends now and being the only link between the two, I told my friend how I kept trying to align their stars but failed.
When I was finally done, she was silent. Contemplative pause; somehow, she didn’t seem amused, what more thought it was hilarious. Then she asked the following, genuinely curious.
“Are you sure you don’t like him? Or is it that you don’t want to – that you’re not allowing yourself to do so?”
I paused, surprised.
Stupidly, the first thing that came across my mind was, it was supposed to be funny.
I told her that I’m aware I speak about him often, but it’s because he is that great of a person – I think so, at least. I consider us as kindred souls, I admitted. I love him but it’s platonic; I’ve thought about it, I confessed but “there were no sparks between us,” and laughed as I said that. The two of us are so similar in so many veins – professionally we’re in the same field – environmental – and we’re both equally excited and devoted to the pursuit of knowledge. Personally, we’re both somewhat socially awkward – outwardly seemingly incredibly geeky, but in truth I think we’re just done trying to play supposed cooler versions of ourselves. Spiritually, while he’s not atheist or even religious, he’s curiously seeking. He’s constantly asking big, abstract questions and I have spoken to him so many times about the Islamic faith, and my Muslim identity – what it means to me et cetera.
We are… almost like yin and yang, much like I am with Housemate #1.
On the other end of the phone, my friend echoed my laughter. Then she nonchalantly dropped another question.
“Would you have felt differently if he’s Muslim?”
I knew, and she knew it too – I’ve just been caught.
I still stand by my belief about this – I’ve witnessed and learned enough from the two interracial, inter-religious marriages in my family through my brothers to know that I am firm on where I stand about this. I’ve seen, heard and disagreed upon the things that they’d compromised religiously, supposedly in the name of love. I have had my heart broken and cried buckets last December, enough to now know and affirm that I cannot and will not walk the same line. I won’t.
Inter-religious relationships and marriages work for many people and to everyone that it does – good for you. From my point of view however, there is always a loss – one side will have to compromise and sacrifice more; the balance, regardless how hard one tries, will tip sideways. The question, in my opinion, is whether one is able to live with the sacrifices and compromises made – clearly, my brothers decided they could.
To me it is complicated enough trying to uphold my Muslim identity as it is. I think I have pretty much made up my mind that above all else, I am devoted to living my life as a seriously, sincerely practicing Muslim. I have made up my mind on where my devotion lies and I don’t regret this decision, ever, but like with all journeys, it is not always smooth-sailing. I can’t … Imagine having to bring someone else into this, because it is such a defining, consuming, life-changing and soul-surrendering move. It is not in my place, nor do I believe myself to be learned and brave enough, to bring another into this fold in the name of love alone. Converting is one thing, believing is another. Practicing and living by the belief – an entirely different story, period.
This is my struggle right now, truthfully. I don’t regret the decisions I have made in how to live my life and the definitions that encapsulate who I am, but sometimes my lifestyle feels so different from other people, that as much as I want to claim I am normal and do things that everyone else does – my actions don’t back up my words; I am always restricted or obliged by religion to not do so and so. It is why this loneliness seems to persist so damn long and so damn terribly; I skip trips which are religiously compromising like if I have to share rooms with the opposite gender, politely decline invitations to events which serve mostly food and beverages I can’t consume due to religious practices and opt out of events which clash or stretch too long with prayer times, which would have led me to miss prayers. In my mind and heart, these are the best decisions to make and I accept them – I understand that what I give up for in this life, I gain tenfold in the afterlife. What I lose with new-found friends and strangers, I gain tons with God. I understand, truly, I do. I accept.
There is this line I cannot cross. I won’t.
One can argue that others can, they’ve found their own ways to deal or however else – but I am not the others. It doesn’t matter to me, how many people have crossed that line and how they did so. What they have compromised between themselves and God is for them to live with. What I have learned is that I can’t. I can’t live with the same compromises. I refuse to.
When you are constantly alone as a product of trying to uphold these religious principles however, desperately wanting to fit in but seemingly unable to do so because the supposed common lifestyle seems to be in conflict with religious principles and practices, it’s like having to choose which of the two sides to fit in with. Is it with God that I seek solace, or the temporary rush of new-found friends?
When you are twenty-two, the answer is clear. Acting upon the answer is also crystalline, but living through it is quite honestly, an entirely different matter. I want to talk about this to someone, but I don’t know to who. I am at the moment frustrated at myself for always wanting to talk about my inner turmoil, without solving anything. How many times, for instance, must I confess how challenging the adjustment phase has been?
Likewise, what good comes out from talking about this, either with similarly struggling Muslim peers, or understanding and like-minded non-Muslim peers?
Sometimes when I think of him, or of the fact that I am lonely as hell right now – an island of my own doing or consequence of these religiously best decisions I’ve made – why does the balance always seems to tip sideways? Why is it that if I am giving up something for a greater interpersonal good, do I feel like I’m losing out?
It is ungodly to feel this way; I am working hard on my faith, truly I am. I love him, my buddy, but I am not in love with him – this much I can confirm, so this isn’t heartbreak hotel or forbidden love central. There is no drama here. But truthfully, at the moment I am struggling with trying to come to terms with the outcomes I’m now living with, as a result of my decisions – those made purely out of goodwill and from a religious standpoint.
There is always this line that I cannot cross.
I am twenty-two. What I have finally realized and one that’s shaking me off course and has me in an internal clusterfuck, is that between girlfriends and especially those with whom you strike lifelong friendships with, no matter what you are and have always been to each other, there are… specific roles you simply cannot fill. There are gaps and voids that simply can’t be filled through this companionship, as much as you love each other to the moon and back. Wonders and beauty of God, I think, in creating two halves that make a whole between two persons. But this discovery, at this point in time – it is… paralyzing. I am lonely as hell.
During my brief visit back to the small town this summer where he’s based at for his research, I spent most of my time with him. Honestly, it just kind of turned out that way – I can’t drive whereas he can, and unfortunately a mutual friend of ours couldn’t join us as we’d originally planned – and on my last night there, the two of us ended up in the shopping mall, walking aimlessly and deep in conversation, as usual. With him, the conversations are always so effortless and genuine. There are very few people I can be myself with from the get-go, but amazingly from our first meet a year ago, without a second thought I’d shown him my dorky, silly and geeky sides. I am a quotation junkie, if that’s not obvious enough by now and although he isn’t exactly that, he’s always appreciated my finds – reflecting upon them the way that I do. It’s trivial, but it’s also something I’ve actually let very few people in about, because it’s not exactly a conversational topic. The fact that he’s embraced so many sides of me so naturally – it gives me pause.
Perhaps my favorite thing about him and Housemate #1, why my conversations with them are always so effortless is because they’re great listeners. I am… a serial talker. Given the right crowd and setting, I can talk for hours honestly. Here’s where they’re great – their gestures always show they’re listening intently; a twitch of the eye, a scrunched nose and direct eye-contact from beginning to end. It’s my favorite kind of listeners.
Somehow we ended up in the bowling alley area, after failing to agree upon a café to sit in. The light was dim, weird shadows popping up now and then from the rapid movements of passerby and amateur bowlers. Of all places to be and of all topics to be discussing about – there we were in a terribly lit bowling alley, speaking about religion, specifically upon religious differences. I remember scrunching my eyebrows as I tried to come up with a response to one of his many reflective, always-curious questions. I remember trying to phrase the sentences in my head, before testing them out on my tongue. I wasn’t sure if they’d come out right. I remember… admitting aloud to him, that I’ve always been interested in folks of different races and religions – frankly, I confessed, I admit that I obviously have A Type – but that as long as I am rationally able, I will not walk that line. It’s too hard and I can’t make another person do it for me, I said. I don’t think I could for anyone, what more to want someone else to do it for me – all in the supposed name of love? Those differences, I said – they’re too large to reconcile. I shook my head as I said the last sentence and we were both quiet for a second.
In my mind, I thought – like you and me; the differences are simply too large to reconcile.
The line will always be there, and I can’t cross it. I won’t.
I am twenty-two. I’ve finally come to realize those gaps and voids.
Rumi says that this world is like a mountain; “your echo depends on you.” But my dear Rumi, what if I no longer recognize the sound of my echo? There is always that line I cannot cross; differences I cannot reconcile.
The ache is heartrending, because how can you lose something that’s never been yours to begin with?