Share on Facebook Click me! Share on Twitter Click me! Park 51 was supposed to be a story community center featuring cultural programming, classes, and a fitness center.
The only way you can even figure out which building belongs to the center is to look for the police car perpetually parked out front. I am liberal, independent, Western. A quick note about arranged marriages in South Asian Muslim culture: Professional matchmakers and house visits still exist, but the internet has made it easier for men, women, and of course their parents to cast a wide net and connect with people from all over the country who share their values and interests.
This is what the average American would expect out of marriage. My parents are not thrilled with this idea. When we arrived, I signed an ominous waiver promising not to ask for a refund no matter the outcome of the event.
One by one, the other participants piled in. They were all women. I was also the only one dressed in a traditional Pakistani shalwar kameez—the invitation suggested business attire, but my mother insisted, and I deferred to her superior knowledge of arranged-marriage etiquette. No one else had brought their parents along. Over the next 90 minutes, the guys trickled in. More than half of the men were old. While I respect the need to find companionship at any stage of life, the gender and age imbalance of the event meant that there would be no groupings by age—everyone would talk to everyone.
Some of the women were ready to riot. I now understood why the event required a waiver. I sat in my traditional clothes and looked up at my parents, my face burning red with embarrassment. Not only was I speed dating, I looked like the weirdest person there.
The crowd let out a collective groan. We did not want our faces shown on camera. The crew spent the rest of the time videotaping our backs. I pouted at my mom across the room. In Islam, dating is a bad word. Currently this means subscribing to sites like SingleMuslim. I reject guys who are too overweight or short or boring. Going to public school made gender segregation difficult to enforce. Working with a boy on a school project always required an explanation. If a male voice ever called the house, my parents would pick up the phone in the middle of the conversation I could hear the click.
When I came home, my dad told me he had followed me in his car. I was furious, but my parents were right to be suspicious. I liked boys a lot, and boys liked me. I was a rebellious teenager in the most brown way possible—a straight-A student, alcohol- and drug-free, enrolled in a million extracurriculars. A businesswoman sitting next to me interrogated each and every male with the same battery of questions: Are you ready to get married in the next year?
What qualities do you find attractive and unattractive? In our quest to resist temptation and remain pious, our community has left its youth confused and unsure about how to approach the opposite sex.
Our parents and religious leaders have set the boundaries but have failed to give us any practical guidance on how to follow them. When we are finally let out on a short leash to begin finding spouses, the pressure can be too much to handle.
Then I met Amir. He was one of the few good-looking dudes at the event, and I knew all eyes were on him. Tall, lean, and sporting a soul patch I would have to remove later, Amir worked for the government and lived in the D. Our families both came from the same city in Pakistan. We bantered easily, exchanging printouts of our quick bios to scan and search for conversational topics.
We both enjoyed arts and culture, and we loved city life. Our five minutes ended too quickly, but Amir promised to catch up during the post-event dinner. Later, we chatted and exchanged contact information.
He met my mom. She mom-flirted for a few minutes, invited him over for dinner at her house, and pulled him over to talk in private as other girls squeezed my arm.
Maybe this whole thing was actually worth it. We said our goodbyes, and my parents and I set off back to my place in Brooklyn. I smiled at the police officer in front of the building.
I had tears in my eyes. It was an amazing feeling, for both me and my mom. This time, my parents and I were in agreement—we would never go through this again. What more could a father want?