How many weddings have you attended during your lifetime? How many of those whose wedding you attended ended up in divorce? Does it make you wonder?
When I was a child, the thought of attending a wedding was so exciting. From the moment I learn from my parents that we are invited to a wedding party, I kept counting the days. I always loved to keep wedding invitations. They looked so elegant and beautiful. To a child, a wedding party is a huge event. You get to see lots of people, who are wearing their best clothes. The whole atmosphere is filled with happiness and joy. The wedding march (zaffah) with the loud drums, singers dressed in uniform, the bride and groom who have an exceptional glow, the typical two rows of guests surrounding the march with clapping and zaghreet (a special cheering sound by which women salute the newly weds), the dazzling light in front of the march which is held by a man walking backwards for video recording, the organized drum beat which is played whenever the couple are to take a few steps forward, all this creates a magical atmosphere that is sure to stick to the memory of children in particular. The married couples themselves need the video tape to remind them of the details of their party. But it is all printed in the memory of the very young guests.
It is a whole other experience for the children, especially girls. I remember waking up on those days feeling the thrill of the big event yet to come. At school, I told all my friends that I'm attending a wedding. I would describe my dress and what I intend to do with my hair. I may be even lucky enough to convince my mother to lend me some blush or lipstick. I would tell them which famous singers or belly-dancers I expect to see (it was common at that time that parents who sent out invitations would let the guests know about the entertainment program). I would even tell them everything I know about the bride and groom whose wedding was to take place that evening. Classes felt a lot longer than usual. They were keeping me back from getting ready for the big event. I still had to go with my mom to the hairdresser, which is usually so crowded on those days (almost all weddings used to be on Thursday night). I would dress up like Cinderella and wear the pair of sparkling shoes which are carefully kept in their box for such events. The party itself was just a fairy tale, and like Cinderella I danced till it was time to go. I couldn't sleep at night without revising every single detail that had happened at the party. I remember (what I thought then to be) nice women wishing me the same luck of the bride (the usual "3o2bal elbanoota" felt so good back then). If the bride was one of my relatives, I keep thinking why she looked so different. I barely knew her in this new hair color and heavy make-up. Why didn't she ever try this make-over before? She looked amazing that night, like a star.
I find it very hard now to evaluate my childish thoughts. Was it good for me back then to live in Wonderland? Could it have been better if things were put in their right perspective? Is it good for a child to live in an ideal world, even if it doesn't really exist? Or is it better for her/him to know the facts from the start? Would I have been that happy back then if I had been realistic? Or it would have been better to save me the shock of discovery later on? No one can tell.
But what I am sure of now, is that it is a crime to be left to maintain this childish view while growing up. The way I see it, leading a girl to keep her idealistic imaginary view of marriage falls under the domain of conspiracy. It is nothing less than that. And should never be taken less seriously.
Yes, parents have the right to be concerned about the future of their daughter/s. Yes, they have the right to dream of her wedding day. Yes, they do have the right to want her to start a family which will grant her social and psychological (sometimes financial) security long after they are gone. It is so understandable. Nobody can argue against that. You always want what is best for your children. But many crimes are committed under this banner, from authoritative upbringing to telling lies to deciding what is right for them.
When you watch TV shows which claim to be searching for answers concerning the reasons behind high divorce rates in Egypt, they just keep bluffing about married couples who are not ready to make compromises. (Of course there are rare exceptions to this rule, but the majority sticks to deciding what is right for you, just like your parents.) They will talk about ambitious girls, whose financial independence may tempt them to risk the stability of their marriages. They will tell you that we lack old social values and family ties. They will do whatever it takes to convince you that a marriage is a sacred union which deserves sacrifice. They can't bring themselves to see the roots of the problem. If the roots are rotten, you can never save the plant. You may prolong the life of the leaves on the surface, but not for so long. Unless you dig your hands into the mud to see what's down there, you are risking massive infection in the whole soil. I find this to be particularly true when it comes to the institution of marriage.
Why do people get married? The answer may be obvious to you. And no matter which words we choose to rephrase our answers, they will all eventually evolve around something like "because it is a human and a social need for mating and forming a socially accepted structure where partners and their offspring are able to exist harmoniously in the wider network of social relationships." This is my own definition, and you may disagree with it. If you find it good enough, then let's examine whether this is what really takes place in reality.
It is clear that we have deviated from the core philosophy behind marriage. When you come down to Egyptian marriages and the way they are managed, you will find that it has absolutely nothing to do with that. In our society, there is a culture which promotes external appearance at the expense of essence and meaning. To explain further, society pushes its members into the direction of adopting an image which satisfies the demands of the bigger picture that society wants to reflect about itself. It is the appearance that matters. You have to mainly photocopy the pattern followed so that you earn a place for yourself among the socially accepted group. There are lots of rewards for those who follow the pattern, while there are severe punishments for those who don't. Even if you agree and believe in the same values, you are no good as long as you don't fit into the frame they decided for you.
As a girl living in the Egyptian society you have a list of requirements that you should follow in case you want to join the club of the "respected norm". Memberships are automatically granted if you are:
Educated but not over ambitious
Obedient to men and elders
Shy and timid
Appear to be religious
Why did they include marriage in those requirements? Well, because that's what men want. Men always go for young women, and if you happen to break the rules previously mentioned you are decreasing their choices. If you are not under the pressure of having to get married at a certain age, you probably will postpone that until you reach a certain degree of career stability and financial independence. By then, you will be past the preferred age, and threatening to ruin the marriage market for men. What if many girls were inspired by your achievements? Then girls can easily take the decision to turn down marriage offers at a young age. There can be a time when all brides will be mature women, who have already shaped their beliefs, built a career, and are financially secure and independent. Now, I can assure you that men would rather drop dead before they see such a day. How can a man marry an equal? That's a crisis!
Here comes the biggest cover up in history.. (Believe me this is way beyond The Da Vinci Code.) They have to get you into this white dress before you can think of any better alternatives. Brainwash is a very powerful tool that has proven extremely effective. But in this case, it won't be enough. There has to be real temptation.. Something to get your mouth running.. You guessed it right baby.. It's the wedding. Marriage is all about signing a contract, so why do people spend all this money on extravagant weddings? Have you ever thought of that? Why don't we just sign this contract and go home? What's a honeymoon for God's sake? Why do married couples have to take a vacation and travel? They are married for a lifetime. For sure they will get many chances to travel on official and summer vacations. What makes them run away once they seal the knot?
This entire circus was carefully designed to dazzle pretty young girls. Just like luring a kid with candy, you are being lured by the party, the wedding dress, the new home, the exotic honeymoon, and the respected title of Mrs.("madam" is a very prestigious title in our society). Have you ever thought why only women receive their titles according to their social status? It doesn't make a difference whether a man is married or not. He receives his title according to his profession (doctor, bashmohandes, ostaz,). "Mr." remains unaffected, even if this man married 10 times. He is who he is. Why do you have to change your title because you got married? Why does everybody have to know whether you are married or not? And why do you keep the title even if you are no longer married or widowed? In these cases, "madam" does not reflect the reality. Yet, it is a must that you remain labeled as such. The law states that shops displaying "used goods" must put a label which indicates that, otherwise they will be in serious trouble.
So, what happens is that while a bride's mind is so distracted by so many details, she does not pay enough attention to the man who will fill the place of the groom. It is like a fill-in-the-blanks kind of situation. There is a wedding, which means that there must be a cake, a dress, a guest list, floral arrangements, DJ, and of course a groom wearing a tux.. Oh, Wait!.. I don't want him to wear a bowtie. If he shows up in a bowtie, tell him to forget it.
The period of engagement is supposed to be your final chance to make up your mind about this huge life decision. However, you find that it is all about shopping and reviewing catalogs. I believe it would be more practical if they included a Groom Catalog, cause in such a case the catalog will be responsible for the accuracy of the description written under each groom. A bride-to-be gets completely absorbed into designing the final look for her marriage, who has time to spend with a future husband? She is told that this is a huge advantage. You get to choose everything according to your own taste, that's perfect! But later on, she discovers that the only thing which she didn't really choose according to her taste was the groom himself; the man with whom she should be spending the rest of her life. While engaged, she became an expert in wedding gowns. She can tell you the difference between real and artificial marble. She formed an interesting theory about furniture fabrics. Yet, try to ask her about the groom. You will find very vague adjectives being said, like "He's kind. He's good. He comes from a good family."
We have to admit that the social restrictions which avoid the healthy formation of relationships between different genders has caused many to resort to arranged marriages (gawaz elsalonat), especially with the increasing pressure imposed on girls at a certain age. Eligible bachelors are aided by family and friends in the search for a suitable bride. While on the other hand, parents are doing their best to find a suitable groom before their daughter ends her third decade. There is not much room left for choice here. You never know.. Maybe this groom is your last chance of jumping into the marriage train. Are you willing to take that risk? Can you guarantee that you won't regret turning this guy down? How can you be sure that a better one will find his way to you in the right time? At that point, "a bird in hand" seems to be the wisest idea. Now, let's move into serious details: the apartment, the dowry, the furnishing, the party…etc. And the bride has lots of serious business ahead. Her mother suggests that they start visiting jewelers before the groom surprises them with a certain choice. Of course he will want to save money, but don't worry.. your mother will take care of that. She has a great experience with jewelry that she has been waiting for so long to deliver to you. With her help, you will be able to get the best of the best. Just choose whatever you want. The choice is all yours now. You will make a lot of important decisions. Remember that you only marry once (or so it is supposed to be) so you must pay lots of attention to the dress.. the white dress.. your lifelong dream.. you are getting very close to wearing it at last.
I don't think I have to say more about how the process goes on after that. I've made my point. Marriage has been reduced into a wedding. You buy one night with all the rest of your life. This cultural structure has turned an institution which constructs the building units of society (marriage) into a quest for the white dress. How can a girl survive without the dream of the white dress? What if she never gets to wear the big white dress? Is any girl ready to imagine that? Can she really resist the temptation? Will she be able to realize that this dress can not buy her happiness? Could she truly believe that not wearing it doesn't make her any less than those who do? Bring me a girl who can do this. I want to meet a girl who has a realistic idea about what marriage is. I want to see a girl who can challenge this romantic illusionary tale where everything is white.
The conspiracy targetting girls has served its aim. There are girls who are ready to give up anything in return for the big white dress. Many girls take it for granted that they must get married at a certain age. Many girls follow all social requirements so willingly in order to become the one-night-stars. What if you become Cinderella for one night? Better than never. Even if the fairytale sways its way to Beauty and the Beast later on, they don't seem to care. They know that everything is gonna be alright. "Marriage changes everything," mothers keep saying. "When you live together, many things will improve. Don't worry." So, why bother about getting to know the person? You have a long time ahead of you to do so. Just give yourself a chance. Love comes with time and shared memories. Don't waste your only chance to live your dream of the wedding. Imagine yourself sparkling and receiving greetings from everybody. You will be above the stars. You will never see pity in the eyes of women. You will gain the power and authority of a Married Woman. You will have your own home. You will join the club of the respected ladies who used to be your superiors. You will be one of them. You will get the chance to judge others, just as they used to judge you. You will have the wisdom that only married women get to have. You will be the inspector instead of the inspected. Who can resist that?
I have exposed the full chapters of the conspiracy, and I hence put all the facts in front of you all. In doing so, I am not expecting any girl to change her view of marriage. I understand that the appeal of this fantastic image is much more powerful than any facts related to it. By reading those lines, I am holding you responsible for your fate. It is an innocent trick. Now that you have the knowledge of what lies beneath all those fabulous arrangements and celebrations, you can not return to your ignorant state. You will have to act more responsible towards yourself. Nobody knows what's best for you better than yourself. You know that, and you trust that. So don't deceive yourself into thinking anything else, no matter what. Don't search for a husband to fill the gap in your fairytale. Being a good person does not mean that he is the right one for you. Marriage is not a matter of fact. It is not a bridge that you have to cross at a certain point in your lifetime.
I will now attempt to answer the question I raised in the very beginning. I believe that couples get divorced because our social view of marriage is up-side-down. We want marriage and then we search for the one who will play the role of the partner in this marriage. This is the exact opposite of what our human nature dictates. You have to meet someone who convinces you with the idea of marriage. You have to reach the point when you feel that you want to grow old with this person. You need to feel the emotional and mental bond that is strong enough to suggest the possibility of turning this bond into a marriage. Without that, you will be deceiving yourself. Things can never work the other way round, even if the whole world made this claim. Those who tell you that they loved their husbands after marriage didn't actually have any choice, and can never bring this love to the test. Marriage is not a must in itself. It only becomes a must when you decide that. That is, when you have absolute faith in someone, and you feel ready to take your relationship with him to the next level. When you genuinely believe that you can never go through life without this person, only then can you decide that it is time for marriage. You will then find that everything falls into its right place. You won't need a big white dress. You won't care for jewelry. Furniture and electric appliances will go to hell. The happiness in your heart comes from the thought of sharing your life with this person and experiencing everything together. You will find out that a small wedding with family and close friends makes more sense. Those are the people who really care for you and with whom you can share your happiness. You are ready to start your married life at once to experience what it feels like to live together in your own home. Instead of a honeymoon for once, you will plan all your vacations to be romantic and special. You will then discover that marriage is actually the means serving an end.
Here you have it! You are ready now to be in charge. I exposed all the hidden cards in front of you. Take your pick!