Woman. You.

What are these bonds that evade us? Where is the woman that will remain standing with me when the storm blows over and shakes us to our roots? Are these the dreams of a middle school girl who can’t come to grips with the reality of womanhood? Am I pining for a time past and can never be recaptured? Can true bonds  only be forged among the innocent of hearts? Am I too judgmental, bossy, intrusive, brash, needy and attention seeking to be worthy of a real friendship?

We are mirrors of each other, and  yet when I get too close I see my reflection distorted. My flaws become magnified. My wounds gape at me manically. I see the void and the darkness. That beyond pretenses and polite facades, there are places we’d both rather not go. That beyond pretenses and polite facades, there are spaces where we both become too large to occupy. We begin rubbing each other the wrong way. And wounds start bleeding and it gets too messy. Where I don’t know where my issues begin and where yours ends and I become touchy and you, moody.

And worse, how can we talk about these things? We are not a couple, and Lord knows I am not gay. I have a husband and he looks at me from that awesome angle where his mirror reflects me in all my beauty and glory. Where my darknesses seem muted around him, and that safe knowledge that at least one human in this entire universe does accept me; my flaws, brokenness and all, and that must somehow redeem all these other relationships I can’t seem to keep up.

They have fancy terms for us “relational aggression”, fancy theories as to why it just can’t work. At heart we are too competitive. We have been socialized to intensely dislike ourselves and anything that resembles us. Some of us were molested and that made us love our enemies at the expense of the victims within that we loathe.  Some of us are too busy trying to keep the men we have from the seductive wiles and charms of our counterparts. Some of us are just too busy with the demands of all those who demand of us, we can’t give anymore. And the last thing we need is to cater to the demands of our selves and those like us, with high expectations and higher sensitivities to what is real.

I can’t fake the funk around you. Can’t give you my plastered smile and say all is well. Because your intuition brings me out. And I can say things like F the weather, I can’t discuss pleasantries today, I am deep in my funk. And that’s okay. And it should be okay. And I dream that someday I will be there with someone. It’s just not today. I think it may be because I am too married to my image, to really let go. Still as much as I read and try to un-school myself of all the lies and bile I have swallowed, there are many assumptions deeply embedded within me. Too many “shoulds” that govern my soul. I can’t lift the boot that clamps my being down. And that is the beginning of my bondage and that is always the beginning of the end of our relationship.

It’s not only you. I used to think it is “so and so”, and could talk about all her problems and issues and the specific way she hurt me. And then the issues all came up with a different person. And then another. And another. And I realized as I went through the revolving doors of relationships, the issues are the same. And I am left going round and round and round in endless circles. Dizzy and unable to find my way out.

I have been in exile. I have retreated to the cave many times to lick my wounds and care for my young ones and keep my circle small and tight and safe. I have convinced my self that God is the only one that matters. And “He” (and it ought to be a He)  must triumph over all pettiness. That if I orient my being to Him, then the peace will radiate and embrace all those who come into my tight knit circle, my cave, my walls.

Yet something lures me out. Some distant memory of the deep belly laughter that makes me cry and gasp for breath at the same time. Some vague yearning to uncover my own depths. Some relentless need that propels me to want to find and nurture those spaces where I can be wholly feminine and wholly relax into my being. Where I can be wild and free, because I don’t know what either of those realities mean. And that’s when I think of you in nostalgia, and you occupy the names and faces of women who are too far away, who are too busy, who made their appearances when I wasn’t ready and when I was, had danced away with the caravan into horizons I have yet to reach. And I am transformed into a little girl, and you into all my mothers, aunts, grandmothers who had big laughters and larger hearts  and who could dance and throw a mean party, because what else is a woman to do?

Or you occupy the name and face of you. And you hurt me. And this hurt plunges deeper than any other, because you know too much, and your knowing is what wounds me the most.

And I am left yet again, alone, grappling with what I can’t seem to keep. Convincing myself it’s all for the best. That my journey in this life is supposed to be one of surrender and who needs friends when I am busy so busy, with my family and life and obligations? And who has time anyway? So I dam up the oceans of grief, and clamp my teeth to the busy task of survival. Resigning myself to the emptiness of it all.

You woman, where are you? And when will I get to know you, to love you, to let you breathe free within me. I, woman, where am I? And when will I step out of the shadows to embrace my own being?

Maliha Balala

Maliha Balala lives in Maryland and adores mommying her two boys, reading, running in pretty places (okay more like jogging!), writing and daydreaming of all the things she still wants to do when she grows up.

  • Maha

    Maliha, as always your writing shakes me to the bones. While reading, I want to reach out and hold the writers’ hand–YES, I get it. I am so frustrated with the majority of female relationships. There is so much baggage and as you said you can’t figure out where my issues end and yours begin. Competitition, insecurity, false sophistication, fragile selves–what is it? I still don’t know. Is it me? I always wonder…

    Yet, once you can reach out and really connect with a true friend, it is impossible to be content with anything less. To have friendships in which I feel secure-knowing that she will stick by me and forgive all of my frailty and mistakes and insecurities and forebearance–has been one of the greatest blessings and sources of beauty in my life. Alhamdulilllah for true sisters… I think that is what true sisterhood in Islam can be in its most complete form, and the closeness you describe is what we should set our eyes on.

  • Hagar

    Beautiful, Maliha. Masha’Allah. From the first sentence to the last, I related to what you were saying.

  • suma

    Powerful. Thought-provoking. While reading your words I am saying to myself….”Yes, Yes,,that’s what I feel. That’s it. That’s exactly it!!!!!!

  • Fariha

    Love the accompanying image :) This is so powerful Maliha. It’s touching, gut-wrenching, and beautiful too. Us women are sometimes too complex for our own good!

  • Hamdi

    “We are mirrors of each other, and yet when I get too close I see my reflection distorted” I’m very touched for this….JAK Maliha for sharing :)

  • Kariman

    Masha’Allah Maliha–this was beautiful. I had to google your name to find out if you wrote as a profession because this was just amazing:)
    Throughout high school and university I used to desire that close friend. A sister I could confide my weaknesses and sorrows in and know I wouldn’t be judged because we can laugh with many, but cry with only a few. It was only after I got married and moved away from my hometown that I understood what it meant to love someone for the sake of Allah swt–that you love her because of how much she loves Allah. I felt this glimpse of understanding of the Hadith Qudsi that tells us that amongst the people who are granted shade on the Day of Judgement are two people who love each other for the sake of Allah swt. When I think of the prophet’s saying that “a person will be with whom she loves”, I’m kind of tickled. I have this feeling that even if I’m not granted Paradise due to my actions, at least I may be saved because I love her (and in my mind, she will be granted Jannah insha’a Allah).

  • Marwa

    Loved it, Maliha! It’s when we’re not afraid of being scrutinized and judged and allowing people into our vulnerable spheres that the best writing happens. I think you pinpointed what many of us feel in regards to our relationships with other sisters. If so many of us echo these thoughts, what can we do to help build relationships instead of destroying them?

  • Maliha

    Thank you all for your comments. It’s such a relief to be heard. I thought the worst possible reaction to this piece would be complete silence. You are right Marwa, I wrote without my usual censor to try and sugar coat what I wanted to say. And it’s not easy to put it out there.

    You raise a good question too, what can we do to help build relationships instead of destroying them?

    Maha and Kariman, you seem to have achieved some measure of success in this, any words of wisdom? Is it just time? The personalities involved? A gift from the heavens?

  • Hamdi

    “what can we do to help build relationships instead of destroying them?”

    When the relationship between you and a sister is for the sake of Allah, you should expect anything to happen as a human being. But if you see that there is an issue between you and her and it’s turning ugly like Maliha described, “Dizzy and unable to find my way out.” I would say check your own self to see if you are rightly guided. Talk to a wise sister, one who can make a balance and don’t give room to instigators. Try and not to lose appropriate Islamic manners while you are angry. After all, the right sister will come back to you and realize she was wrong. That is how I do it and Allah SWT knows the best for us :)

  • Um Sumayyah

    I really like this site and often read the blogs. I’ve come to believe that growmama has higher standards than others, and I so appreciate never having to read profanity here. But when I read this post, I was disappointed to read “F the weather” for two reasons. First of all, Muslims shouldn’t use profanity, and euphemisms aren’t any better. Second, we don’t curse the weather or anything related to nature, or anything period, really. Allah made everything, and when we curse nature it’s as if we’re cursing Him.

    I respect this site and hold it dear, and just couldn’t sit here quietly and let this pass.

  • admin

    AA Um Sumayyah,

    Thank-you for your comment. We really appreciate reader feedback.

  • Crystal

    As salamu alaikum

    I just to say that my friend emailed this to me yesterday. I couldn’t believe it. It was exactly what I needed. I just want to say to the sister that wrote this. You have a beautiful mind, Mashallah.

  • oumhafsa

    Wow, subhanAllah. I felt this deeply, dear Maliha…with my hand on my heart. So raw, beautiful and poetic. We need to hear your voice more. Thank you for sharing.