REFLECTIONS FROM A SAUDI MAN WITH AN AMERICAN WIFE
By American Bedu
28 January 2008
AB: First, thanks for your cooperation in responding to my questions which I’m sure in turn will also generate a lot of additional comments from readers of my blog.
To begin with, how, when and where did you meet your American wife? Did you have a Saudi style courtship or a typical American courtship with dating?
I met my wife in 1982 about 3 years after I came to the US. We met through mutual friends at a party. Both of us were in other relationships at the time, however, we both enjoyed each other’s company and became best friends almost instantly and for almost a year. During the time we both worked out of our relationships and eventually started a courtship. It was amazing for both of us to discover after a long year that we were both hiding the fact of having mutual attraction from the first time we met. We both preferred not to act on it out of respect of the other’s situation. We had a typical American style relationship, dating for some time and then renting a place together.
AB: How long did you know one another before broaching the topic of marriage?
We have known each for 5 years, 4 of those we were a couple. We both knew that we wanted to spend a lifetime together. The unfortunate part about Saudi/American relationships is that you cannot go through the romantic process of surprising your lady with an engagement request. There are so many complexities around cultural differences and legal issues that a lengthy discussion needs to be had to insure both sides are committed to make it work.
AB: At what point in the relationship were families informed? And what was the initial reaction of your family and her family?
Both of our families knew early. I met her family even before we started dating and they liked me. My situation was much easier than most Saudi’s as my father, the only surviving parent at the time, is liberal and always allowed me to make my decisions. He knew that I was in a dating relationship and I informed him that I was planning on getting married a week after I made the decision. Of course I had some extended family members that were disappointed. Specifically, Aunts as they feel it is their duty to take over for my late mom and match me with a future bride. I would not term this as resistance as they all accepted my situation.
AB: What kind of a wedding did you have? Was your wife Muslim prior to your marriage? Is she Muslim now?
My wife converted to Islam before our wedding. We had an Islamic wedding at the mosque with a few of my friends witnessing. This was to insure that we are in compliance with Saudi government requirements. A few months later we had an American style outdoor wedding and reception. We celebrate both anniversaries. Thus, I have double the chance of getting in trouble for forgetting an anniversary date than the average male.
AB: You have chosen to make your home with your wife in the United States. Can you comment on the reasons for this choice.
It was a mutual decision that we made together. My wife was never opposed to going to Saudi, but we both wanted more than what Saudi offered. There are many reasons for our decision, which include:
– Freedoms for women: We were not comfortable with the limitation of freedoms that women are subjected to in Saudi. Personally I did not want my wife and our daughter, which was born 1 year after our marriage, to be live under such conditions.
– Career prospects: I make my living in a technology field and the US offered better prospects and job opportunities.
– Ease of living: The US offers a much better life style with less complexity in many respects.
– Complexities for acquiring approval by the authorities: We had an Islamic wedding which is a requirement for approval by the Saudi government. Although this could have been accomplished through application to the authority and consistent follow-up, I eventually decided the process is somewhat degrading to my rights as an individual to choose my partner and did not want to subject myself or my family to it.
AB: Has your wife been to Saudi Arabia?
No. However, we have always had family visiting with us in the US in summer vacations and she met most of my family through those visits.
AB: How has your family accepted an American wife?
Everyone in my family accepted my wife. Many members of the family were supportive even before I informed them of the decision. Of course there were a few that were not convinced that this was a good idea. However, I was an independent thinker all my life and they just put up a small resistance. Everyone accepted my decision shortly after.
AB: Did they ever make any efforts to match you up with a Saudi woman?
My mom passed away when I was 12 and I have 4 aunts. Naturally each one of them thought it was her responsibility to be a match maker to find me a bride starting at the time I graduated from college. I’ve never believed in that method of finding a life partner, so I always just brushed aside the prospect by saying “Next year Ensha Allah”. Once I got married all of these attempts stopped as having multiple wives is not accepted in my family.
AB: How long have you and your spouse been married?
21 years this month for our Islamic wedding and yes I remembered this time J
AB: Did you require any special approvals for your marriage? And if so, were they easy or difficult to obtain?
No I never applied for Saudi approval.
AB: What were some of the greatest challenges you and your spouse encountered due to having a bi-cultural marriage? How did you resolve those challenges?
We really do not have cultural issues of any significance. We have known each other for 5 years before marriage, so by that time we both were very familiar of any idiosyncrasies the other had.
AB: What advise would you give to other Saudi men who may be thinking of marrying a Western woman?
Make sure that you have chosen a person that you love strongly enough to have the courage to face all the difficulties you may encounter starting with family resistance and ending with government bureaucracy. If you do not have that type of commitment, then you should reconsider as you may hurt your future wife and children.
AB: And what about a Western woman who is involved with a Saudi man? What should she know? What questions should she ask of him?
First, you should make sure that your future husband has the commitment I described above. Second, realize that the great majority of Saudis will want to go back to Saudi Arabia. Study the country and the sacrifices that you need to make to live there. Speak to other western women who have been in a similar situation to get an idea of life in the country. Carol does a great job by providing an excellent resource through this blog, which will allow you to make the right connections.
AB: Any final comments you would wish to make?
Mixed marriages are not much different than others. They require love, commitment and mutual sacrifice. What is unique is that there will be extraordinary external pressures from family or society. The partners should form a unity pact and an understanding on how to face those pressures.
AB: Again, thank you so very much for taking the time to answer my questions. I wish you, your wife and family all the very best.