Dating is like a blank page. One that, as a writer, I have to contemplate for a little while before beginning.
Apparently, one also has to be “trained” in dating. A friend of mine told me that it takes a few dates with different men, to get back into the “dating mode.” As I replay the events that led to my first dating experience after my partner passed away, I can’t help but also remember my teenage dating days.
See, my teenage years were full of love and drama. I had a few different boyfriends, and I can honestly tell you that I felt totally in love every single time. To this day I keep boxes with every single love letter I ever received (this was way before texting), plus all the little gifts that I was given.
I also kept all my childhood diaries, which invariably talk about every single boy I ever liked, loved or remotely cared about. Yeah… that was me. Love was easy and uncomplicated. I did not worry about saying the right thing or complying with the norms of communities other than my own.
These days though, life is more complex. I am almost in my 30s and have multiple intersecting identities that are sometimes at odds with each other. I live in the West now, where dating follows a whole other set of expectations (i.e., hanging out vs. dating vs. exclusive relationships, anyone?) I am very aware of being Muslim, of being an immigrant in Canada, of being Indigenous from Latin America, and of being a woman of colour. Thus, the process of inserting myself into the dating world has been a little nerve-racking.
When I first decided to start dating again, I had to make a very conscious decision. And while I was contemplating the idea, I made a list (yes, a list) of a) the things I could live with; and b) the things I could not. The second was longer. I did not want one of those men who date minorities because they are “exotic.” I did not want a guy who had never heard of feminism. I did not want one of those guys who find my accent “amusing.” And I was terrified of those white, middle-class, privileged guys who walk the hallways of grad schools across Canada.
One of my main concerns entering the dating scene was that I was afraid of being intersectional. I do not know many guys who aren’t intimidated by the words feminist, Indigenous, Latin American and Muslim all in one sentence.
The first guy I met after I decided to start dating, was at work (badddddd idea). He had a few checkmarks in his favour. He was a cute Muslim graduate student, and he was funny and quite intersectional himself (although he didn’t know it). The issue is that when you meet someone, you never know what “baggage” they come with. You also never know how your own past is going to play out.
In my limited experience dealing with Muslims for the past eight years or so, I’ve discovered that many – men particularly – have issues with women having “a past.” My late partner, in fact, was not impressed when I told him that I’d started dating when I was 13-years-old. Raised in a conservative Saudi household, the concept of dating was problematic to him.
My “past” is not just any past. I can talk cheekily about my teenage crushes, but how do I tell someone that I am sort of like a widow in my late 20s after a seven-year-long relationship? Do I say: I am a widow? But I never got married? But we were together for a long time? And he suddenly died?
The time and place never seemed right. And even though I rehearsed it in my mind, I never went through with it. I could never find the right setting, or the right words. I also suspect that the fact that he never brought his “past” up meant that he has baggage of his own – maybe a divorce, maybe a late partner like me. Some of my friends have even suggested that he is married. But who knows?
What it comes down to is that the relationship has not prospered. It is frozen in an awkward friendship/maybe more scene. It’s a frustrating first dating experience. It means that on top of all my intersectionality, my past also has a role to play.
Perhaps that’s what my friend meant when she said that I was “in training.” Maybe I just need a bit more rehearsing. Possibly I need to step back and think before I type on the blank page.
Read more from Eren on our site, here.
Eren Cervantes-Altamirano is an Indigenous-Latin American convert to Islam. She is currently working on her MA in Public Administration (supposedly). Eren’s blog Identity Crisis focuses on her multiple identities and how to reconcile them when they are at odds with each other. She also blogs at Muslimah Media Watch. When she is not writing, Eren can be found baking, knitting and sewing and oh yeah… dating. Follow her at @ErenArruna.