Growing up in a traditional African household, there was frequent mention of getting married young and it being arranged. I did not take it too seriously considering my parents’ guidelines: having to be Muslim, from their home country, specific caste and tribe, educated, older, and wealthy. I knew once I got older I would become more interested in guys and that dating would not be an option for me, just instant marriage to a guy selected by my parents. However, I did not expect my mom to find someone so soon.
I remember the night she first proposed it to me, it was October of 2014 when I was 16 years old. She told me about a distant cousin that she grew up with who was much older than I was and that he would take lots of care of me because we were related. I was so shocked all I could do was cry while she asked me whether I agreed or not. But I did not say yes and she said she would ask me again tomorrow for an answer. My father never expressed any disagreement about the arrangement and generally went with what my mother wanted. Of course, by then she had already contacted family members telling them I agreed and that the wedding would be set for May of 2016, right after I turned 18.
Not too long after, she had called him without my knowledge and sent him pictures of me and given him my number so that we would speak to each other. The first time she had me there so that I would not say anything out of line and had me speak to his other family members. I told her by then that I was not interested and she would go on lectures and rants about how I would be disgracing her and that she already told everyone that I agreed. She further tried to guilt and manipulate me by having all of my family members talk to me about how happy they were for me and that it would be an honor and things of that nature.
For the next year and a half, day in and day out I had to endure her mood swings pertaining to the arranged marriage and my reluctance. I felt so guilty for not doing what my mother wanted, because her points about wanting what was best for me stuck, and that years later I would be unhappy and would regret it. I knew I did not want the arranged marriage at all, but hearing that constantly every single day with no recourse has an impact on you. Having your own mother yelling, crying, and insulting you for not obeying her demands. Feeling like there is no way out pushes you to have dark thoughts. Not once did she ever fully accept my refusals and she would constantly force me to talk to him. I blocked his number on my phone but she would just call him on her phone instead and announce that she was giving the phone to me. I hardly ever spoke to him and eventually, I let him know that I was not interested and it was just something my mom wanted. He pretended to listen and care that I was not willing and instead of just telling her that he would move on or anything, he told me to come up with something to tell her, as if I had not already tried. He stopped calling for a while but then soon after everything went back to normal, as if I had never told him that.
I was fortunate enough to find Unchained At Last in December of 2015. I had hope for myself and future knowing that Fraidy and her organization would fight for me and support me throughout this rough journey and that I was not alone.
By early 2016, I found out I was fortunate enough to receive a scholarship that would require summer classes and me being away from home at the time of my fated wedding day. Here I was able to fully remove myself from having any contact with him or giving in to any of my mother’s demands. I was finally free and able to be independent and no longer felt I had a stifled and bleak future.
Help Mariam and others like her by clicking here.
*At Mariam’s request, her name has been changed and the photo used here is not actually of her.