Meeting Mr. Maybe Right


At nineteen, your first hope, when meeting a man your family has picked out is that he’s cute. In the list of eligible bachelor qualities, good looking or even pleasant looking doesn’t feature too prominently.  So while you can be sure that he will be smart and successful you can never be sure if he’s presentable. And at nineteen, when you are madly in love with the cute boy who has chocolate brown eyes, plays the guitar and sings in a dreamy voice, you can only hope that the man your parents have picked out is somewhat comparable.

As I walk down the stairs, to meet Mr. Maybe Right, I think of the time when a prospective groom had come to the house to meet an elder cousin. I was quite young then, but I remember her being tall and elegant and beautiful. He was short and tubby. He had a bulbous and terribly red nose which I believed before meeting him was not of the human variety and was only possible in cartoons. He also had a carefully preserved comb-over and rather large sideburns like a balding Elvis. And in addition to all those stellar qualities, he also sported a rather shiny and stout moustache. It seemed as if nature was trying to grow as much hair on all his other body parts to compensate for the lack of it on his head. In a cruel joke of nature, this man was profusely hairy all over. Dark coils of hair sprung forth from under his open collar and heavy waves of it swayed along his forearms as he moved them to gesture during conversation.  He was also sweating profusely.

Everything that could have been wrong physically with a man short of disability (that is if you don’t consider excessive hair growth one) was wrong. I remember all us cousins taking turns to peek through the door as this contender for the position of husband. We then promptly ran to the living room to explode into fits of laughter.  For days we argued over the exact angle his arm hair would move at when he went swimming and what would happen to that carefully preserved strip of locks on his shiny top.  We cackled hysterically and everyone in the house under the age of 18, immediately rejected him even as contender for the post of husband for the beautiful, Naveen Appa.

Luckily for her, everyone over the age of 18, also took him out from the running of husband candidates. However, in the lengthy debates and discussions that ensued in the house amongst various adults, over this hairy wonder, not once did the issue of his rather ridiculous looks come up.  His career, his family and the careers of his family and their education was discussed in painstaking detail and eventually it was deemed that his family seemed rather materialistic and was more interested in Naveen Appa’s foreign passport than her. And thus a carefully discerned reason became the basis of rejection and what had been staring everyone in the face, literally, seemed not to exist.

So, with my family, where the qualities of a boy’s family, his education and that of his parents mattered more, it would not be surprising if they had sent me someone akin to a troll.

I’m a little nervous and holding my breath as I walk down the stairs and across the cobblestones of my college courtyard and through the stone archway and heavy iron doors. As I step out from under the heavily fortified archway that is the entrance to my college dorm, I am surprised to see a long and lean form casually lounging against a really nice dark blue car.

He’s not fat and has a full head of hair. A weight is lifted from the pit of my stomach and I can finally breathe again.

So I smile and say, “Hi! I’m Zoya!”

“Shafiq Ijaz” he replies. It’s pronounced ‘Sha-feeck Eej-Ahz’ and he says it in a pleasant and deep voice. No odd squeaky voice here. More reasons to say “phew!”

We shake hands. His handshake is warm and firm. I like firm handshakes. He opens the door of the car for me and I slide in. I slide into some really comfy leather seats. And as I look around the car while he walks around to take his place on the driver’s side, I notice the car is much nicer than any car I’ve been in before. I don’t know much about cars but even my untrained eye can tell it’s a nice one.

The man is rich. And that is yet another reason to feel positive; although the parents were unlikely to send a pauper. But a nice looking boy with a nice looking car is rather nice.

I’m beginning to feel quite optimistic about this parentally arranged first date. I guess before every first date you hope that this will be the one to end all dates. And when your parents send you a boy gift wrapped in a nice car, you really hope for their sake and yours that this will be it. As he slides into the seat next to me and starts the car which responds with an understated purr, I look at him closely and realize that he isn’t all that good looking. He has a small forehead and really high cheekbones which would have looked good on a woman but on him look merely strange and skeletal as his cheeks sink into his jaws in convex fashion. He looks like he’s sucking in his cheeks. It gives his face a pinched appearance. And his smile is a little too wide and he flashes it often. But his voice is still nice and he isn’t fat or bald and smells nice.

He’s  dressed nicely too. He’s just gotten off work and is dressed in a charcoal grey suit and crisp white shirt. He’s removed the tie so it looks a little more casual. He is twenty eight and an engineer. He works for some big corporation. I’m not quite sure what he does and lives in one of those middle America states that I in my east coast snobbery will never venture into. If he wants to marry me he will have to move to civilization, which at this point consists of New York, Boston and DC only. But it’s a little early in the game to start debating where we shall live. So I smile pleasantly and talk about myself and what I’m doing at college.

He seems genuinely interested and asks me questions about my friends and roommates. I know that in this arranged date, each question is asked to complete another part of the jigsaw puzzle of my personality and to see if it will fit with his. And since I haven’t decided exactly what I want out of this situation, I’m playing safe and going with vague and pleasant responses. I say no offensive things and feel it’s a little too early in the game to introduce him to radical feminist thought. So we talk about our families and or experiences of being away from them as we drive to a restaurant that he has picked out.

We arrive at a place that is a trendy new fusion restaurant and one that I would never have been able to afford on my student budget. I have been taught that it’s always best to let the man pick the place to meet. His taste in meeting place will reveal much. The restaurant reeks of trendy chic and I like this. It also doesn’t offer any halal entrées and I make a mental note of his lack of excessive religious zeal which is always a plus. It also clues me into the fact that he is not a miser. And this is good. Misers make terrible husbands.

He walks up to the Maître’d  with confidence and asks for a table for two. They inform him that there is a fifteen minute wait and ask him if he would like to wait. He turns to me and asks if I mind waiting.

He’s considerate. I like that. I have no trouble waiting for a few minutes.

“Great. We’ll wait.” He says turning to the Maître-d’.

“What name shall I write, Sir?” he asks in response.

At this point I’ve zoned out of the conversation and am observing my surroundings and the other patrons. There’s some really interesting artwork on the wall that catches my eye.  And as I focus on the bright red splotches of paint on a canvas, the conversations around me fall to a low indistinguishable hum.

But maybe my potential wife radar hasn’t switched off which is why potential husband’s innocent response comes tearing through the haze of my artistic pontification and I flip my head around sharply to stare at the man who a mere thirty minutes ago was a “Sha-feeck Eej-Ahz” but has now somehow transformed into ‘Shack Eee-Jazz.”

Who the hell is that!?

Should I panic?

There is a strange metallic twang to the way he pronounces the Americanized version of his name. It’s actually a really fake bad American accent. This always makes me cringe. I have always found something deeply disturbing about people who change even the most fundamental parts of their being, like their name, to fit in. It seems like they grovel at the feet of a colonial complex that dictates that all vowels be stretched out and all ds and t’s pronounced with overemphasized distinction.

OK! Maybe I’m over reacting. Maybe the literature about hegemony in my feminism classes is getting to me but there’s something distasteful about a man who switches accents so profoundly depending on the race of the person he’s speaking to.

I’ve seen many immigrants do this. It is their effort to be better understood and to be better integrated into society. You can’t hate on that. But changing your name depending on who you speak to; seems like insecurity. And that is always unattractive in a man.

I’m still in shock about him butchering his name but he is unfazed. He looks at me and smiles as if he hadn’t morphed into a South Asian caricature of a Texan Cowboy. I guess he’s back to being ‘Sha-feeck Eej-Ahz’. He slips between those two worlds seamlessly. I’m still reeling from the shock of sudden transformation.  But I follow silently to the waiting area where he continues to talk about how close he is to his brothers and mother. I nod politely. I know that one small incident like the absolute slaughter of your own name in a way that is worthy of being on the Simpsons is not good enough reason to write off this nice young man.

I’ve been raised to know that marriage is always a compromise and that there is no perfect guy out there. You have to choose one with good credentials and good basics and then you mold him into the kind of perfection you wish. Or you learn to be happy with the Prada bags he lets you buy and you ignore the way he snorts when he laughs. So maybe you also ignore the way he butchers his name if he takes you to a nice restaurant and seems considerate and nice in every other way.

So I don’t run out screaming for help. And we continue talking about pleasant things like the latest movies we’ve seen till we are led to our table for dinner. I order a seared tuna steak and he orders just steak. He likes it cooked medium well which is also how I like my steak. This is good. We talk about places where we have eaten good steak.

But in every arranged marriage date there is a point where you feel the conversation must switch to more personal details about your life choices, aspirations for the future and common habits. Ideally, you hope that while you talk, you hit organically on things you want to learn or that conversation is so scintillating that you don’t need or want the awkward conversation switch.

I say this in hindsight but at nineteen and on my very first husband appraisal, I was prepared and ready to switch over to talking potential marriage and learning about the things that I thought one just has to know about when choosing a life partner. At nineteen, I think these important choices constitute taste in books and music above all else and a liberal outlook on life and politics.

I tell him I’m very friendly and social. I’ve been warned by my mother not go into details of exactly how many boys I’m friends with. But I don’t want to marry someone who thinks friendship with the opposite sex is carnal sin. So I mention, casually, how close I am to some of the Pakistani boys on campus. I make sure to highlight that they are just like my “brothers.” And they are. It’s the truth which usually doesn’t require painstaking explanation. It’s evident to those who see. But then some choose to see an affectionate hug as a passionate embrace between lovers. I want to make sure he has the right kind of sight. He seems really nonchalant about my friendship with boys. I like that. I’ve always thought it’s utterly normal and I’m glad he does too.

He starts to open up and talk about his friends too. This is even better. This is the casual conversation that progresses naturally that I have always hoped for. He tells me about his friend Naveed. They’ve been best friends since childhood. He lives five minutes away from him. They do everything together.

Cool. I tell him about Victoria and how we sometimes buy the same things without even having bought them together. He laughs and tells me that he and Naveed have the same car – which I have now learnt is a BMW 7-Series. They both have it in dark blue. I laugh. But I do think it’s a little odd. Victoria and I end up buying the same pair of jeans from GAP, which is a little different from buying a luxury vehicle.

I tell him about a recent trip to Boston with Catherine. He tells me about his trip to the Grand Canyon with Naveed.  He tells me about the hikes and the gorgeous sunrise. The he tells me about this great restaurant that he and Naveed discovered there. Then he tells me of the great movie that he and Naveed saw recently.

I’m beginning to think this guy is maybe socially challenged. I’ve already mentioned 8 different friends. He only has Naveed – the greatest thing since the internet – to offer in return. So I’m getting a little bored. And decide to change topics.

I ask him about hobbies and interests. He tells me likes to go to the gym. I can tell he goes to the gym. He’s nicely built. But people who list the gym as a hobby frighten me. I like my men a little nerdier. And he also goes to the gym with Naveed, since they live close by they have the same gym.

He continues to talk about Naveed. This is boring.

So I pay full attention to my delicious tuna steak and spinach salad. Both of them are sumptuous in an expensive-restaurant-cooked-to-perfection kind of way. And I’m enjoying my meal and I’ve managed to temporarily zone out of the rant about Shaq and Naveed’s excellent adventures.

As I chew on the delicate tuna meat, savoring each bite, I’m in culinary heaven. But I’m snapped out of my gastronomic haze by a slight pause in conversation followed by a nervous ….”And there is one other thing….”

I promptly stop chewing, gaze directly at him, smile and nod in encouragement as I ask, “What is that!?”

“I’m a very organized person.”

“I like organization too. I find it really hard to study in a messy room.” I respond with what I think is honesty and tact.

“See, I really like things to be very clean.” He responds with a little more emphasis.

I don’t want to live in a pig sty either and I have good hygiene.  I’m not sure what he’s getting at. So I remain silent and tilt my head to give him a smile with a slightly puzzled look, encouraging him to explain further.

“I can’t stand clutter.”

My room sometimes gets messy. Is this a problem? Should I ask? But then one man’s clutter is another woman’s pristinely clean. So I stay quiet. I’m nervous. I think we might have hit our first point of contention.

“Clutter is problematic” I reply vaguely.

He thinks I understand. He seems relieved. His shoulders sag and he lets out a heavy breath as if whatever was choking his airways has been finally removed. He smiles with relief and launches into a longer explanation which is what I had wanted all along. My mother would have been proud. I have encouraged the man to tell me more without divulging much about the contents of my closet in which things are organized; but sometimes not in folded layers but in artistic “heaps.”

“See, I need everything to be in a specific place” he says. I actually don’t see. I’m ok with the occasional adventure involving hunting for that shirt you really want to wear today and which you were sure you put here but isn’t here anymore.  Is he?

“Don’t you ever loose things?” I ask to probe.

“No” It’s a rather firm no.

“Never?” I ask in puzzled amusement.

“Not since I’ve been living on my own. Everything has a specific place in my house. And before I leave the house, I check to see if everything is in its place” he clarifies.

Great! He’s OCD. I’m not sure how I feel about marrying an obsessive compulsive cleaner and organizer. It could get annoying. It would be like living with my mother multiplied by a hundred. I’m ready to move away from this topic of potential conflict. It’s making my tuna steak taste not as good.

But our man Shaq isn’t ready. He keeps talking and explaining as if his life depended on conveying to me the seriousness of the problem.

“I know it’s a bad habit. It can be annoying. Naveed makes fun of it all the time. And once I tried to fix it. I crumpled the corner of my bed sheets. Then I sat down and stared at them, willing myself not to fix them. But then I just couldn’t stand it. I had to fix it.” He finishes with a smile as if he had done something really great.

I do my fake  smile and “Aha…” followed by some fake laughter.

It’s best not to aggravate the man who needs mental help. I pretend like this is a charming and amusing story. I just want him to stop and let me eat the fried apple fritters with vanilla ice cream in peace and go home to my familiar dust bunnies and clutter.

I was going to invite him to meet the roommates and eat the cupcakes and charm him with some feminine hospitality but it’s never going to be clean or organized enough for him. And I see stretching before my young eyes an endlessly long life of repeated laundry cycles, folding linens and preying on microscopic dust. This is not the life I want to lead.  I want to read books, and engage in intellectual banter and debate important world issues. I’m not ready to settle for debating the merits of cleaning products just yet.

I’m thinking of how I’m going to explain to my parents that I don’t want to marry this man who is more obsessed with cleanliness than anything else. My thoughts are racing. But then he laughs a loud nervous laugh and I snap back into the reality of dinner with Mr. Clean to hear him say, “You know, I have one hundred and forty seven shirts in my closet and they are all color coded. Lightest to darkest.” He smiles with the great glee as if he has revealed to me his greatest accomplishment in life.

The apple fritter that had been sliding smoothly down my throat seems stuck. I can’t breathe. And as I approach death from asphyxiation, I experience a burst of clarity and I cough out the errant fritter and my mental haze which had prevented me from seeing that Shaq had a little more in his closet than a hundred and forty seven shirts.

I realize that I am definitely not the right girl for Shaq. I don’t think anyone is.

So with a sigh of relief, I figure out that this is not meant to be. I finish my dinner in peace and relax in the knowledge that my suspicions about this man’s sexual orientation will be enough to frighten my conservative Pakistani parents into silence.

We finish dinner. He drops me home. I don’t invite him back to our apartment. I see the taillights of his beautiful car fade into the balmy night. And the only thing I miss about him is his car.

But even the memory of the car fades fast as Catherine, Victoria, Vanessa and I sit stuffing ourselves silly with cupcakes as we deliberately make an effort to move things in our common room out of their usual place. And as we play this odd game of move an object, I realize I like change, that I’m at peace with clutter and that I like men who don’t own more shirts than me.

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22 Responses to “Meeting Mr. Maybe Right”

  1. Well, July 24, 2011 at 1:16 am #

    Of course he’s a freak.
    He’s an engineer.
    Should have seen that one coming, Sehar

    • Sehar Tariq July 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

      some engineers can be pretty cool! I know quite a few!

  2. Hafsah July 24, 2011 at 2:07 am #

    Hahaha loved it. And honestly, I miss his car too now.

    • Sehar Tariq July 24, 2011 at 10:07 pm #

      Thanks! 🙂

  3. Amin Jan Naim July 24, 2011 at 6:35 am #

    Well written and well judged

    • Sehar Tariq July 24, 2011 at 10:08 pm #

      Thanks! I wish my judgement was always this good!

  4. Aiman July 24, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

    OMG. Sehar. I love love love this post. Loved your descriptive power and simply adored your judgment. =D
    I am so glad you ate in peace and didn’t fall prey to MR. OCD.

    • Sehar Tariq July 24, 2011 at 10:09 pm #

      Thanks! I’m honoured and flattered!

  5. kazim July 24, 2011 at 9:55 pm #

    Marry me !

    • Sehar Tariq July 24, 2011 at 10:10 pm #

      how many shirts do you own and are they color coded!?

      • Aiman July 25, 2011 at 4:13 am #

        + hahahahaha. HI-5 to that comment. =D

  6. Jay Shah July 27, 2011 at 10:06 am #

    This was one of the very funny articles that I have read and it is VERY well written. As I read it I can visualize all of the scenes – form the hairy guy to the restaurant dialog – as if I was there with you and observing everything. When a writer can create a complete image of the scene in the reader mind, the writer has become a masterful painter/artist!

    As a fact there are some similarities in your story with mine except for being clean freak!

    When I met my potential wife-to-be I had interesting time. She had a Ph.D in breast cancer research but had lost her father at 10 and was raised by her loving and well meaning but benovalent dictator uncle. She was not allowed to go out with me in the evening after 8 PM, She saw me as possibly handsome and smart guy but with a ponch and coke bottle glasses! I am glad that her brother convinced her that looks alone are not important – the nature is the most important thing.

    We were and are opposite personality. I am very optimistic and positive person and she is pessimistic and somewhat negative person. I see glass half full and she sees glass half empty. She is very organized and I am “hoti hai chalti hai” guy. My friend had warned her of books and papers and more papers and wires everywhere in my apt but she had to see to get shocked! She was/is particular about finance and savings and I was (not any more) of the type – enjoy the life – money is not that important (which I still believe but do not spend impulsively anymore).

    Funny that you mentioned about Naveed. Before I met my wife my close friend was Dennis and when I was not with someone else Dennis and I were always together (we taught at the same college also) and it remained that way for few months after the marriage until my wife pointed out that I married her and not Dennis! We are still close friends and as a fact he met another friend of mine at the wedding. She wanted to know whose Mercedes was in the parking lot, lo and behold they got married and moved wherever we moved until they decided to moved to Canada. His wife is Godmother of our children.

    I do believe now that the marriage and death are written before we are borne. And no you can not get everything and it will be no fun either.

    And no, not all engineers are like Shak. I am a Physicist and Computer Engineer and am a certified “slob” though I have changed in my 34 years of marriage!

    May be your life with Shak could have ended up like mine too – who knows! Opposites can be a challenge and fun too! I wish you lots of luck in finding the Mr. Right Guy and you get all the happiness that you want and deserve.

  7. Habiba Younis July 28, 2011 at 5:20 am #

    hahahahaha, great read!

  8. Omer Khetran August 4, 2011 at 12:46 am #

    Great Post!!!
    This guy is really a maniac. I know a couple of people who have a thing with ‘cleanliness’ but color coding o.O
    Still you missed out on BMW

  9. Some engineers are definitely freaks. August 10, 2011 at 2:48 am #

    Hey Sehar,

    I think I get where you’re going with the Mr Maybe Right series, and I think it’s fantabulous. I really hope your series goes a long way in shaping Pakistani society to embrace the independent, assertive young woman.

  10. Adnan waseem August 17, 2011 at 12:20 pm #

    Well put together. Great article.. Did u ever find mr. right? So ur from the tri state. Im from jersey. any comment about those american paki guidos? lol I live ten mins from NYC. Love NY 🙂 I was born n raised in NY. Moved to jerzy when I was 11. Anyways. Great article. Good luck on ur writing.

  11. jd October 8, 2011 at 3:18 am #

    reminds me of a few ‘encounters’. extremely well written . Ever read ‘ a suitable boy’, please do, if u ever collate these stories and publish a book , it will be an absolute bestseller.

  12. Knudsen December 9, 2011 at 2:15 am #

    There’s an old maxim that bears mentioning, if only for posterity.

    Never trust a well-dressed engineer.

  13. Daoud January 27, 2013 at 12:13 am #

    Dear Sehar:

    This is really a nice blog, you had your say!

  14. s September 4, 2013 at 1:13 pm #

    Re-reading this after a few years, and it’s still funny. I don’t think OCD is a deal breaker, and although that was the point most emphasized, it doesn’t seem to me that it was for Zoya either. Obsessive compulsions offer very little in the way of impeding “[reading] books, and [engaging] in intellectual banter and [debating] important world issues”.

    It’d be interesting to see you pick this series up again. I would definitely read it.

  15. Nomi June 27, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    Ahhahahahahaha!
    On the other side, sehar…my khalla always starts with “larki ne bba kiya hua hai aur…”

  16. Ali October 18, 2016 at 1:10 am #

    I was directed to your blog while stalking you, (Sorry but not so sorry). I really enjoyed reading your Mr right story. I guess the guy was quite high maintenance for you to manage your entire life.People like him exist but at the same time girls like you are also there to judge them and reject them. I would like to know more, once you settle down with the “Real Mr. Right”. Hope you get married soon (with your phupo ka beta)

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