Ask M: Dating incognito & reconciling Islam and feminism

In our first AskM column, M answers your questions about how to communicate with parents when courting someone and how to balance your partner’s expectations with your own feminist ideals.

Dear M,

I live with my family. My parents have conservative South Asian ideas about love and marriage, but they’re starting to realize that the best bet for getting me married is that I find someone on my own. So when it comes to dating, they have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy.

Unfortunately, when I am seeing prospects or pursuing a relationship, this makes it difficult for me to constantly lie to them about my whereabouts. I don’t mind using the vague “meeting with friends” excuse, but I sometimes end up having to fabricate details, which I’m very uncomfortable with.

I hate that I have to be dishonest in order to serve a greater goal, but there seems to be no other way. Any advice for me?

Honestly Confused

Dear Honestly Confused,

The good news is your parents have come around to accepting the possibility you will meet and get to know someone on your own. While they may not want to hear all the details of how you get to know this person (and maybe you don’t want to share them), you can still get to know someone without feeling as though you’re lying to them. It’s a good idea to be honest with your parents for a few reasons: (1) maintaining honesty is critical for maintaining their trust, and (2) it will be easier to introduce them to someone you’re interested in once they’ve gotten comfortable with the idea there’s someone on the horizon. Otherwise you will likely contribute to their skepticism and doubt as they wonder where he’s come from and how long he’s been in the picture, which are questions you will probably have to answer anyway.

You can ease your parents into a more open conversation about this topic by mentioning you’re meeting these potentials in groups – for example, if you and any one of these potentials have mutual friends, you can casually mention his name along with other friends of yours. If things progress, you could invite him to your home with these friends. If however you and he don’t have any mutual friends, you can give him an identity by mentioning how you know him – through work, school, hobbies or introductions.

While you enter this new territory with your parents, the thought of being honest with them might be scary. But just think: it’s probably scary for them, too. And if you’re honest with them, it will likely put them at ease and make this whole process easier for all of you.

Good luck!


Dear M.,

I converted to Islam two years ago and was married a few months after to a wonderful man from another culture. We have a good marriage together but often I find pressure from him on not being “wife” enough (i.e. like his mother who is a wonderful house wife) Previously before my conversion at university, I learned all about Western feminism and how women should develop their own identity outside of marriage. I am struggling with Islam in trying to fulfill the duties of a wife and be the West’s version of an independent woman–someone who works outside the house, doesn’t focus on cleaning or cooking, and doesn’t wait for the husband to bring the money home. Is it possible to combine these two roles? Am I being selfish?

Looking for a Middle Ground

Dear Looking for a Middle Ground,

It’s great to hear your marriage is going strong. Besides that, your desire to combine these ideas of women’s roles in Islam and Western feminism is not impossible nor is it selfish. If we look at the Prophet’s (pbuh) life for example, we see his loving marriage to Khadijah, who successfully established her own identity as a financially independent businesswomen while remaining a committed wife.

I’d recommend speaking openly with your husband about your feelings and try explaining to him where you’re coming from. Many times we enter a new space – school, work, or community – and fear that as newcomers, our concerns or questions might be misplaced. In situations like these, it’s best to get familiar with our new surroundings by asking questions and being honest. In your case, I’d start by telling your husband what you stated here – that he’s a wonderful man and that you’re happily married. Then mention that sometimes things he says make you feel as though you might not be “wife” enough. It’s possible he has no idea his words are making you feel inadequate. If he is aware, then explain to him that healthy partners try to encourage one another to be their best, and not necessarily by highlighting one another’s inadequacies. Sometimes one partner’s idea of what that “best” is may differ from the other’s, but that’s where compromise comes in. In that case, perhaps you two can come to a middle ground on what your different roles and expectations are.

Good luck!

In matters of the heart, M believes in going with instinct (and logic!) to solve relationship dilemmas. As an American Muslim woman who’s been through the courtship and marriage process, she draws upon her own observations and experiences to answer your questions.

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