I have seldom had so much fun compiling an article- if ever. For two reasons, one, because this is based more on information collected from other people than what I think- also because in the end I am about to shove my opinion down your throat. Buhaha…
But why? Why jokes aside…
Jokes included, this is a very important debate and topic. No, dating and your opinion of it isn’t just a scandalous casual topic. I am just about to show you why.
Oh and by the way- if you are from outside Pakistan and Asia- do not read. This will not make sense. I shall explain to you separately why we are talking about this and why it still qualifies as an important debate this side of the world. Oh Mexicans may read too.
Anyhoo. Let’s start.
I will tell you why I think this conversation is important- it’s important because “everyone”’ I know has dated someone at some point. Including some who clicked “NO” on ‘will you allow your children to date openly’? I suppose the assumption is if you close your eyes, the problem disappears. Or that by recognizing an issue, you encourage it? Or that your refusal to accept it acts as a deterrent?
Let me start by quoting one anecdote. Sent in by someone who requested anonymity (everyone else, was like, please post under our name- such gutsy type peepulz).
“I am 24, I am going out with a guy who was with me in college. I have very strict parents. He does not have a car and we don’t have a place where we can meet, except restaurants. Sometimes just for better privacy I have considered checking into a hotel. Once we were caught making out in a park by the police. He had to spend the entire night in a police station and we had nobody to call because what would we say. They could’ve taken him somewhere and I wouldn’t say a word. They could’ve done something to me and I couldn’t say a word. I took a cab alone at 2 am- they didn’t let me go before that- and lied to my parents saying a friend is dropping me. I have never been more scared in my life…”
That could be your daughter. It could be your son. Really, you would rather not know? Oh no, you are saying, you would rather know but not let your children date openly. Like they should not feel comfortable talking to you about it but tell you too. Hmm. I see.
Back in 2014, I was teaching at LGS, an O levels class, average age 13 years. I was teaching them Debating and when I asked them to pick a topic they felt deeply about, most girls in the class picked abortion. Once the debate started, I realized these girls knew way more about abortion than I did/do. One of them came to me later to tell me how she induced her own abortion at home. I have met her parents at a parent teacher meeting, average conservative Pakistani family. Very well brought up child, in terms of academics and behavior. Yea.
This conversation is important because in a society where something as basic as a relationship between people of the opposite gender without being married is not recognized, we create a very dangerous, exploitative and unhealthy environment for everyone involved. I see one issue here is how do you define dating? Holding hands? Texting? Sex? One partner? Multiple? In our cultural context, let’s just say a romantic relationship between two adults, leading or not leading to marriage.
The marriage argument, the idea that two people who are attracted to each other should JUST GET MARRIED immediately does not always apply because:
- The average age for marriage has gone up, people want to study and get their feet on the ground before they get married because the financial pressures of marriage have changed. So say a girl who gets married at 32, should stay single until then?
- A divorced woman, who is twice shy of marriage, should obviously stay single until she gets married again because?
- A widow. Who does not want to re-marry, yet. But wants a person around, for companionship?
- A man who is yet not financially stable for marriage but is in love or feels the need to have a companion should?
Note: Please resist the temptation to bring religion into this. Or do but after you tell me you are willing to marry your daughters and sons at 13-14 years of age.
So I mean, there are all these societal changes that have taken place around us. Yet, we choose to look the other way, in return adding to the problems and issues we face as a society.
SURVEY RESULTS (The most exciting bit!)
From a group of 300 respondents, 94% female, 90% between the age of 20-35 years
- 84% think it is natural and normal for people to date
- 80% think that if we allow our children (above 18 )to date freely, we will be creating a healthier and safer environment for them
- 71% think that if we did allow people to date freely, many would marry later than they do
- 86% think that many adults want/choose to move out of their parents’ homes just to be able to enjoy basic freedoms
- 81% said they would let their children (above a certain age) to date freely
- Out of the 19% who are opposed to the idea of allowing their children to date, 86% “would like to know” if their children are in fact dating (I have no idea how this works but ok…)
- 95% feel sex education is important for children. Many saying earlier than 15 years of age.
These are all very important and thought provoking statistics. So much can be said about them. Including the idea that many marry not because they want to be “married”, because it is the only way to be with someone. Such decisions could be made out of an urgency of emotional and physical needs- not really taking into account long term compatibility.
Similarly, SEX. What is it with our nation and that word? It is like saying FOOD. But sex, no. God forbid. But wait, God talks about it too. Also for a country with one of the highest population growth rates, are we pretending nobody is having sex?
I understand that a huge majority voted in favour of sex education- but I actually have a problem with the 5% who did not. I have a problem because I know of what the lack of sex education does to people.
Last week a story came in about a woman who just got divorced after two years of being in a sexless marriage. I will be posting it soon but here’s an excerpt:
“I got married at 24, as a virgin. Brought up in a conservatively religious household, not only did we never talk about sex, I associated a lot of guilt and shame with it…Sex was wrong. It was dirty.
When I did have sex, it was painful for me physically. Not just the first time, but the second and the third and many times after. I was shy of communicating that openly, but it became obvious pretty quickly, despite my efforts to hide it. This went on for 6 months, with me in excruciating physical pain, only waiting for it to end… I had no one to talk to…”
This girl ended up getting a divorce ONLY because she had no idea how to communicate her own needs, wants, issues. Her husband didn’t know how to help her. Nobody had ever told her anything about her sexuality and she had associated too much guilt with self-exploration/learning. Her husband assumed se should come as naturally to her, as it does to him.
I don’t know what else to say. I guess I rest my case.
UAE based makeup artist, Zohra Illyas:
“I dated my husband for 3 years before we got married and knew him even longer before. We’ve been married for 6 years now but together for almost 10 years now. I am very confident in our relationship and we give each other immense space which sadly I have noticed is often not the case in arranged marriages or when married hastily. Sure I know lots of people who are happy in arranged marriages too but somehow their relationship seems less comfortable. It is not a generalization, just my observation based on my experience.”
Anam Mansuri, founder LIMU Studios and Womanistan,
“Dating in Pakistan has been strange. It isn’t easy dating after 30 anywhere but in Pakistan it’s extra weird. It’s a lonely place and as a result there’s way too much compromise and lowering of standards. At one point I was scared because I thought I’d rather be with someone who doesn’t completely understand me and get married rather than be all alone, and that “settling” is the biggest mistake one can make.”
Marya Javed, tez chalaak larki,
“ Yar aapkay conservative khialat ka faida sirf coffee shops ko horaha hai…”
SOME FACTS TO PONDER OVER
Despite Netherlands being one of the most tolerant countries towards cannibus use, it has the lowest number of users of marijuana/ cannabis in Europe. Because the government started providing clean needles to heroine addicts, both heroine use and crime has dropped in the country. There are entire case studies based on how Netherlands has achieved a fall in teenage pregnancies and a delayed first sexual encounter, through improved sex education for children and making contraception easily available.
Providing lean needles to drug addicts instead of arresting them? Legalizing prostitution to safeguard women? I understand these are complicated constructs to wrap your head around, but as Manto Sahib once argued, Zia increased and perpetrated prostitution in Pakistan, by banning the red light area. Same way, alcohol use in the country went up after we banned it.
(An article on BBC.COM titled “Pakistan battles growing alcohol addiction” and one in the New York Times, titled “Pakistan has an alcohol problem”, are both up on the website.)
Point is guys, social changes are a little more complicated and require tools a little more complicated than “bans”.
I mean say no all you want.
The problem is, it just doesn’t work.
THE SOLUTION THEN IS?
I don’t know what the solution is. I do know what it’s not.
A good place to start is to accept things for what they are; including the changing social and cultural framework. To be aware of your own shortcomings. To be ready and willing to change. And not be rigid, before your bones make you such.
Out of all the comments that came in, this one is my favorite because it is so honest and self-reflective:
Maria, Phd Professor in Rawalpindi”
“I have debated this topic a lot in informal gatherings. For me, religion is the basic core which makes it all unacceptable. I will be honest. I used to be a judgmental little bastard until I started working. At work, I met people from diff ethnicities, religious and cultural backgrounds and my whole worldview started shattering. I mean I grew up with the belief that good Muslims pray and refrain from bad things. But where should I place people who are not Muslims or practicing Muslims, but are very good human beings?
I will confess I still haven’t reached a point where I can stop judging people, especially those who go out and date and have gfs/bfs. But I must say that I have started to see where I am wrong and this has made all the difference. Things are not black and white anymore. I have learned to see the grey areas as well.
Is it bad that I blame my parents for raising me in a very conservative way? I respect my traditions, but I also know now that my worldview can’t be the only right one.”
My own personal experience has been that most of my own sex education and an open debate about relationships and dating has happened with my friend Iman, 6 years younger to me. She is way more aware, comfortable and knows a lot more than me because a lot of it was part of her curriculum in school. Also because she can discuss it with her mother or grandmother if she so wants. Me on the other hand have only picked cues from films, books and short uncomfortable conversations with friends who are willing to share only that much. Things which misled me, left me in moral dilemmas and more questions than answers.
The reason for having this conversation, is to remind ourselves that “this conversation” is important.