A Letter to the Rishta Aunties re: The Man of My Dreams

The first time I met you, you came disguised as a well-meaning neighbour, smiling, and asking about my plans for the future. I told you about the scholarship I got, the plane ticket I’d bought, the book I was trying to make my way through. I saw your smile harden, turning into a cookie-cutter plastic shape, as you turned and walked away.

Take two: You were taller, with a few more creases in your brow, leaning in close to talk to my mother. I walked in just as you were sympathising with her. It was a shame, you said, that I worked such long hours. Young women these days *sigh* just didn’t leave enough time for the home. What could be done? You took Mama’s hand in yours. Well, it was all right, it was just for a few years anyway, and then I’d have a chance to learn it all.

The third time, I didn’t even think you were watching. I was keeping a little girl company while her parents socialised. We played with dolls and counted blocks and talked about colours. And then you shuffled over and asked for my mother’s number, saying mashallah, I was so good with children. Smooth, auntie, very smooth.

And then, as my 25th birthday came and went, I met you face to face. All pretences were thrown aside and you came to me directly, a manic gleam in your eye. What are you looking for? What do you want? Decent boys from good families don’t just grow on trees.

Well, Auntie, I’m not looking for a boy.

I can already see the confusion on your face; you’re one step away from being scandalised, so let me clear this up.

Auntie, the man of my dreams can come in any colour, and yes, I mean more than just shades of brown. He can be 6’1’’ or 5’5’’ or all the inches in between, because I promise you, it won’t matter when we’re laughing together. He can be an engineer, or a lawyer, or a designer, or a sales guy — as long as he’s got a dream and ambition, and room for one more on that journey. He can be private, as long as there’s just enough space for me, or the life of the party, as long as I’m a partner, not competition. (We all know I can get a little lively.)

But okay, I get it, you think I’m being dreamy and unrealistic. You think this is my naivety, that I’m not being practical about the world. Well, let’s narrow it down then, shall we?

He’s got to have an open mind — open enough to look past the toxicity of conversations like this, open enough to know that partnership is a double-lane highway, not a two way street, that vulnerability is the greatest strength, and that communication is why movie couples have happy endings.

He’s got to have enough heart to look over from his video game or soccer game or Financial Times or poetry collection when I’m deeply affected (read: crying) because Rachel left Ross for the 15th time, and put his arm around me just because (he can keep reading after that). He’s got to have enough heart to know that sometimes (many times) I get excited and talk really fast and he doesn’t have to always listen, but a 70/30 ratio would be nice. He’s got to have enough heart to know that I love cheese (the romantic kind, but also smoked gouda) and that I’m a fairy tale, bokeh lights, pumpkin spice kinda girl.

And you keep saying I want a smart boy, a sharp boy. Mashallah, 10 straight A’s 10 years ago — yes, that’s not quite what I mean. What I mean is, he’s got to be smart enough to know that my life is filled with complicated relationships, but none of them will ever complicate ours, because I don’t have time for jealousy or possessiveness.

He’s got to be smart enough to know that the greatest gift is to choose someone — every day, and that when I say I choose him, I shouldn’t have to prove it. But he’s also got to be smart enough to know that partner means he deserves all the same from me — that I am equal party to this thing we’re doing — and that we are both individually responsible for our happiness.

He’s got to know that I will stand my ground sometimes, and that I will give way, sometimes. And that each time, I will think it through and make a conscious decision. He’s got to know that I will forget things, and mess things up, and that he will too, and that in that moment, we’ve got to learn to forgive. He’s got to know that we’re both free to leave, but that there’s value in trying to stay when things get hard.

So this boy you’re telling me about auntie, can I give him a list of my faults and invite him to a cup of chai? Just to clarify, I won’t be serving it.

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