When all I wanted to do after I graduated high school at 17, was go study abroad. But I was hit by the reality that I was at the age of getting married. That if I went abroad, and came back to Saudi at the age of 23, who’s going to marry me then? I would've been too old to marry a high-quality man. I would’ve only had the scraps of what the 18, 19 and 20 years olds left. I would’ve “missed the train”.
It didn’t take much to convince me to stay, study and get married. After all, that was what everyone my age was doing. And so, I was engaged at 18, married at 19, and I had the wedding of my dreams. He and my family spent a lot of money on that one-night party. It was, after all, “the only wedding I’m going to have”. I was spoiled, and everything went exactly how I dreamed of and ever wanted. It was a beautiful wedding, and everyone was talking about it for months.
When I tell people that I left a fixed marriage I got into when I was 18 in Saudi Arabia, the assumption is always that I must have escaped an unwanted marriage. The next thing is that they celebrate that I’m not bound to him with kids. But that’s not the case. It never had the possibility to be.
I said yes to getting married. And during the four years I was engaged and married to this man, I loved him and he loved me. He wrote poetry expressing his love for me. He spoiled me, he made me laugh, and he often took us adventuring and traveling.
Yes, he was also cruel in his silent treatments every time he was upset with me. Not speaking to me, and sometimes leaving me untouched for two weeks at a time. Sometimes I wouldn’t even know why he was mad. And after I asked him one time about the reason, he got even more upset. So I learned to never ask again. I didn't know what to do to “fix it”. To bring us back. To solve his anger. To end this silence.
I talk about it now, but back then I was so ashamed to admit that my marriage was less than perfect. I kept repeating to myself that I have it easy. I didn’t see the emotional abuse there. That I should be patient, and that he would change. I believed that I would change him. I loved that possibility. I lived for that possibility. Other than that, I thought of my life as perfect.
During the four years I was engaged and married to this man, I had everything a girl my age wanted, a loving husband from a good family, financial stability, land to build a home, and a well-respected post-secondary diploma. I had everything, we had everything, and the only thing missing that’s yet to come was the children.
During the four years I was engaged and married to this man, I dreamed about what our future would look like.
During the four years I was engaged and married to this man, I dreamed about how it would be if I wanted to build a career while also being a mother.
During the four years I was engaged and married to this man, I dreamed about the small family I’ve always wanted. And by “small” I meant 4 kids. And he usually protested and jokingly said “but I want my own full soccer team, so 11 kids!”.
During the four years I was engaged and married to this man, I sat on my prayer rug every night and prayed to God that our love would only grow for each other.
Then one day, while he was at work, I packed my things in garbage bags and left.
A year after we got married, we learned that he can’t have kids.
To that news I crashed on the cold hospital floor wailing, gasping for breaths, knowing that I was saying goodbye to unborn children.
To that news, he walked around like a zombie, not eating, not sleeping, not speaking. For a man, perhaps attaching his identity and worth to “providing the sperm”, he seemed to be suffering.
I was grieving the life I may have had. The mom to his kids I could’ve been. My image of a small family was replaced with both of us old and lonely in an empty big house that we were already saving for. I was in so much pain, and it pained me to see him suffering, to see the life being sucked out of him, to see his smile and laugh fade away. So, I parked my grief for his.
And we always do that as women. Expected and programmed to put others’ needs before ours, to tend to others even when we’re drowning in our own sorrow and pain.
I decided to never bring up the topic of kids and to wait for him. For him to take his time and digest this about himself, to make peace with it, to be ready to discuss our next steps. I wanted to give him the gift of space, the gift of time.
I told my family that it’s my fault that we can’t have kids “yet”. I told them that it’s “nothing major”, “easy fix”, and that “I’ll follow up with the doctors whenever I’m ready to have kids”. I felt that it’s no one’s business what’s going on for him. I wanted to protect him. But in that, I was 20 years old, going through this alone.
As the months passed, I kept repeating to myself “if we only have each other, we already have the world”. If God brought him into my life, and it was fate that I’ll never be a mother, then I must learn to accept God’s will for me. To accept what God has “written” for me. To be happy with what I have. To be grateful that I get to grow old and alone with a man I deeply loved. To only love and spoil the kids of others, and not have any of my own.
I was slowly learning to make peace with it. Or to say it more accurately, I learnt to numb it, to pretend that it’s not there. I was slowly learning to let go of the life I had dreamed of and imagined for myself. I found myself pondering my purpose as a woman. I thought of my role in society if I wasn’t to be birthing and raising the kids.
Sometimes, I thought of how different it would have been if it was the other way around. If it was me who couldn't have kids. Living in a polygamous society, empowered by Islam, men are allowed to have an upward of four wives. I could’ve been the forgotten first wife, while he went off to marry another woman and had kids of his own.
A year and a half after the news, while I was on a cleaning spree. I accidentally found a document in his closet. It was a medical report from a fertility clinic. I frantically opened it, read it, over and over. Again and again. It was about his inability to have kids. And while all sorts of questions were popping into my head, my eyes landed on the right corner of the report… on the date.
That report was two years before he even proposed to me.
Yes. He knew.
His family knew.
And as the bride-to-be, the wife, I didn’t.
To that news, I crashed on our cold bedroom floor and I wailed, gasping for breaths, knowing that I was leaving.
In a culture where a divorce brings the woman’s value to be “less on the market”, it doesn't fault a man. Maybe they thought I’d be silent, that I would accept this, that anything is better than being divorced at 23. That I’d live with it. I’d practice the virtue of patience. I’d devote my life to my husband and God. But I did not.
I chose myself. I chose to give myself the choice he took from me. The choice that he made for me by not telling me the truth.
I knew the consequences of being a divorced woman in Saudi, and I had no certainty about what leaving holds. The only thing that was certain, is that staying does not serve me. I had this undeniable force of strength in me. Anger formed into a wall of boundaries. I somehow knew that I would be fine. I’ll be more than fine. So with courage, and support from my family, I gathered my broken heart, my shattered dreams and chose to take the leap into the uncertainty, into the unknown and left.
At the age of 23, I was in court fighting for divorce. Meeting other women who were oppressed, some defeated by the system, and others had no one to stand up for them. This was my first time recognizing what it meant to be a woman in Saudi Arabia. This was the first time as an adult watching the earth crumble underneath me. Everything falling apart.
Adversity does not discriminate. it matters not your gender, where you were born, your social status, ethnicity, or your religious background, we’ve all dreamed and desired one thing and the outcome was chaos.. we've been lied to, cheated, and for a reason or the other, we separated from somebody that we truly loved. We all face struggles, and there’s no certainty ahead, or a way to know what the future holds.
And we do, we do crave that certainty. That our love would be met by love, our hearts won’t break if we let ourselves love deeply, that our honesty would be met by honesty, and our devotion, our hard work, our dedication, would be seen, celebrated and it won’t all be for nothing.
It’s been almost 10 years now. I know that he was there to serve me, and be the catalyst to many beautiful things in my life. I see his pain, his shame, his shadow and his beauty. And with all the love I had for him, I let him go.
It’s been almost 10 years now. I know that the physiological signature, believing that others are hiding something from me, this huge fear of being lied to again, is there to protect me. But I no longer desire to be protected by this fear. And I sometimes wonder, if I have everything I dream of now, would the earth come crumbling again? Would everything fall apart? Or is it always falling apart and coming back up again?
I ask myself; do I want to choose my trauma and fear? Or do I want to choose my desire and to open my heart to love? I know the path to love is the same path to the possibility of being lied to. It’s not always easy, but I’m willing to show up for love.
It’s been almost 10 years now. I find myself in a radically different culture, and once again, “I’m at the age of getting married”
I choose love. I choose to open my heart to give and receive love.
I choose trust. Trust in myself, trust in others, and trust in the universe.
I choose to dream of a wedding, of a beautiful partnership with a beautiful man.
When I think of my next wedding, would I do two parties? One in Saudi, and another here in Canada? Maybe on the beach? Or at the edge of a cliff?
I dream of that wedding. I dream of love. I dream of a small family. And by a small family, I mean two or three kids.
I open my heart to receive it all.
I choose trust.
I choose love.