As a USA-born and raised first-generation Iraqi-American people, I was asked if my marriage was arranged more often than I can count. In my early 20s, it was the first thing that came to people's mouths when they found out that I am a Muslim and newly married. I've heard it from colleagues, hairdressers and acquaintances, and it always gave me a break. I did not want to be connected to the stereotypes that created arranged marriages – the spiky parents, the exchange of dowry, the unwilling bride, and the pitiless loveless life.
My story was not so. Although I was never with my husband before we became engaged, we met as children. We grew up together and my husband told me that he had feelings for me before his family officially proposed. But this backstory was too much to be shared in random conversations, and I always distanced myself from that exchange with the feeling that my existence had fulfilled the stereotypes of the person before me.
I am now happily married forever 20 years, but the myths about arranged marriages persist. I do not want another generation of people choosing to uphold the traditions of their families or their cultures to feel that their relationships are somehow inferior to couples who have more typical love stories.
Here are seven things I want more people to understand about same-sex marriages like mine.
. 1 An arranged marriage is not the same as a forced marriage.
My father actually thought that I was too young to be married . Over the course of my engagement, he kept asking me if I wanted to stop, but he never pushed me to change my mind. He knew who I married was ultimately my decision.
The most pervasive and damaging misunderstanding about the arranged marriage is that the couple and usually the wife is forced to do so. Although I would never dispute forced marriage in various communities worldwide, this practice is very different from the arranged marriage. The much more common scenario is that a couple is introduced by a family or friends – or an increasing number of Muslim dating apps and online matchmaking services – and that both parties agree to an advertising campaign.
. 2 It is not necessarily a bad thing to hear your parent's advice about whom to choose as a partner.
Television and movies keep sending the message that your parents are involved in choosing your partner, absurd and backward. In the rare instances when we see a migrant character from a culture where matchmaking is the norm, it is almost always related to his parents marrying the person they love.
Honestly, the most difficult part of my mother's role in choosing my partner was to explain it to my American friends.
During my engagement, I complained to my mother that my fiancé was not as goal-oriented and motivated as me. My mother told me to be thankful. There was not room for two big egos in one household. Over the years I have come to see the wisdom of her words. What I appreciate most about my partner is that he is not motivated by an endless to-do list. I turn to my husband when I need a dose of perspective and someone who calms me down.
. 3 It is an advantage to know that the intentions of future partners are aimed at marriage from the beginning.
When I was a teenager, I longed for a surprise in romantic relationships, much like what I saw in romantic comedies . But I have since recognized the benefit of knowing the intentions of a partner from the beginning.
My husband and I may have been young when we became engaged, but we also skipped the floor level to get to know each other's phase, in which everyone is anxious to show he's interested in the relationship too soon. Clear intentions are a quick way to intimate and deep conversations, and we were able to immediately speak openly about the issues that really matter in a relationship – compatibility, values and goals.
4. If you have the same background, same traditions and values as your partner, it means one less thing than to navigate as a couple.
My husband and I never had to discuss whether we would choose Arabic names for our children or not their daily prayers or spend our religious holidays in the Masjid . All this was a matter of course in our household.
Not only were we brought up with the same religion and traditions, but both embraced them and wanted to continue them. As a first generation of my family born in the United States, that means a lot to me. I've already lost so much of my family's culture and traditions, and I really appreciate having a spouse who can help me pass on as much of my heritage as possible to my children.
. 5 You do not have to have previous relationships to know what you want from a partner.
I had several close non-Muslim college friends who were under pressure from well-meaning families and friends before meeting other people with their first serious friend. They were repeatedly asked how they could know if their friend was the one if they had not made an appointment with someone else. I assured these friends that seeing other people was not a universal requirement for marriage and that there were so many parts of the world where their relationship would never have been questioned.
I do not doubt that the life experience gained from past relationships can teach us about ourselves, but that does not mean there are fewer opportunities for self-discovery and growth within a committed relationship. Being with a partner all your life does not deter self-realization. It's just another way.
. 6 It should not be a taboo to marry for pragmatic reasons.
When I married my husband, there were several things I was sure of – his character, how much I trusted him, how confident I felt in him, how much he respected me. But I did not know if I would. " in love "because the language of love in American culture was only influenced by butterflies, sparks and chemistry.
Now I wonder why we are encouraged to research every decision and get input. From the cars we buy, the colleges we choose, to where we live – but who we spend our lives with and have children with is based on these ambiguous feelings. I have no doubt that these feelings can focus on wonderful people, but I do not think that this is the only way to find them.
. 7 There is no love story.
For years, I wondered if I "fell in love" with my spouse because my relationship is so different from the love stories I found in books and movies. I never stopped asking why these stories were so incredibly tight. I have known my husband since childhood, and the kind of attraction based on novelty and "persecution" would not happen to me. But now I see what a unique privilege it is to have shared so much of my life with my spouse. And though it's not your typical love story, I'm so glad it's mine.
Related: What the 12 women want them to know before they marry
First Marriage: My Not So Typical American Love Story (13 November 2018).