Over the years, I have kept in touch with a friend I met in Riyadh. She is also an American woman, married to a Saudi (I was married to an Egyptian). We met at the Riyadh community college for ladies. We were both studying Arabic and we became friends. In addition to seeing each other at class, we talked on the telephone nearly every morning, after husbands went to work and children went to school.
We talked about everything– Islam, marrying Arabs, living in Riyadh, cultural differences between Americans, Saudis and Egyptians. Every few weeks, she’d come with her driver and we’d go to Obeikan or Jareer bookstore, where we wandered around the aisles containing books on Arabic and Islam. We were happy with our husbands and our lives, in the 1990s.
Now, we are all in the United States. I am divorced and she is clashing with her husband about vital life concerns. Suddenly I remember conversations I heard long ago from other women, conversations that went like this:
“My friend was married to an Arab here in the Kingdom. As soon as they went to the States, they started fighting and now they are divorced.”
“Yes, I heard the same thing about a Western woman who used to live here, married to an Arab. Their marriage unravelled when they went to live in the States.”
I’d heard this conversation often enough to realize the truth of it. Cross-cultural marriages that flourished in the Kingdom tended to fall apart in the States, even when both parties belonged to the same religion. I knew that the challenge of repatriation, and adjustment to differing social and economic conditions, could put a strain on any marriage, but I never imagined my own marriage would follow the same pattern. It did, only two years after we left Riyadh.
Now, my friend and I talk about how and why our marriages became unsatisfactory. Neither one of us is happy with our situations, yet we do not regret our choices, and neither do our husbands, so what has happened? Sometimes I feel as though my entire Riyadh experience was a merry-go-round I’d been riding. I got on willingly, enjoyed the initial ups and the downs, and sat through multiple rides, next to the man who became my husband.
Then, the merry-go-round stopped, and we had to get off. We moved on to the roller-coaster. It made us both sick and dizzy.
I don’t think I can carry this metaphor any further, but you get the idea.
We’ve recovered our equilibrium, with feet back on the ground, somewhat the worse for wear. Do all marriages, and all lives, include a merry-go-round, a roller-coaster, and a grounded walk away from both of them? I don’t know. I am content, at least, thankful to Allah for everything, and so is my friend, and so is my ex-husband.
الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ عَلَى كُلِّ حَالٍ
“Alhumdulillah ‘alaa kuli haal,” we now like to say. “Praise God in every situation.”