It’s been awhile since we’ve had a guest post and we all know you get a little tired of us from time to time– plus, there’s only so much sex we can have… at once… (joke). Please meet Holly Dagres- Iranian American- Aslan Media Columnist- Researcher for Cairo Review- World Traveler- Bad Ass of All Things Middle East – this list could really go on for an entire post so check out her website (click here).
Joonies, I like to pride myself on being an Iranian-American with having the unique opportunity to grow up in Iran during my teenage years. It’s definitely given me a nuanced perspective of things people don’t often look profoundly into. Coming from divorced parents, the idea of marriage has always been approached with caution. It’s no wonder that when the topic of “khastegaris” (marriage proposals) comes up, I tend to cringe at how simple people choose their significant others.
Ever since I could remember, I’ve had mothers running up to me on street corners, asking if I had not wed yet. This is just based off of my not so Iranian features, which consists of fair skin (you’ll learn why that’s important in a moment).
Then there was the one neighbor who offered my mother a ‘business deal’– my hand in marriage for her son.
I’m sorry but if you’re on the look out scouting for a bride, I’m going to think your son is socially inept to meet someone on his own. What makes you think I’d want to spend the rest of my life with someone like that?
At times, I have found myself ending up in silly scenarios or speaking my mind because I cannot take how ridiculous the logic is behind some mothers.
While visiting Shiraz in 2009, a highly renowned shop owner thought I’d be good for his son (this time a father was stepping in) and promised me an entire apartment building for my dowry and even wanted to send me home with a live sheep to eventually make dinner of.
Laugh all you want, this is how it works in the Islamic Republic of Iran.
My mother almost always speaks on my behalf, so I never get my say, “She’s not interested in marriage.” But when I do get my chance to speak, I’m not that nice either. On my latest visit to Iran, a woman came up to me in Tajrish, the local bazaar in Tehran. “Would you like to marry someone who can take you to America?” To which I answered, “My father is American, if anyone is taking anyone to America that’ll be me — not vice versa.”
So why is the institution we know as marriage such a big deal?
At the tender age of four, girls are conditioned to play with dolls and conjure up their dream wedding. Even Disney films have a major affect on us too, we all want to live happily ever after (I loved the movie ‘The Little Mermaid’!).
This trend is worldwide and strikes Middle Eastern girls (Iranian girls more like it) in the most peculiar way. Once they hit their early twenties, their marriage clock starts ticking and it becomes a rush to find a husband before the alarm goes off that you’re what Iranians like to call ‘pickled’ — torshideh. Once your torshideh, nobody wants anything to do with you.
This is ironic, because I don’t know an Iranian who doesn’t like torshi with their food!
Once upon a time during the earlier days of the Pahlavi Dynasty (our grandparents’ era), it was ordinary for girls to marry as young as twelve. Standards have changed, age in particular, to be accompanied by a lovely bachelor degree in any form, denoting your ability to be ‘marriage material’. If only that were the easy part.
There’s a sort of algorithm for Iranian marriage: Be attractive, have a degree, come from a good family. Have these qualifications and you’re set to have a man with superficial standards asking for your hand in marriage. An added bonus is if you have light features, such as light skin, eyes, or hair — you’ll be off the market within days.
God forbid you’re not deemed attractive by Iranian standards, you’ll end up a spinster forever stuck in the four corners of your parents home. Everyone will secretly be calling you torshideh and pitying your parents.
Having lived in Iran, I have witness this in action from time and time again, it never fails. That’s as superficial as it gets.
For those of you not acquainted with the traditions of Iranian marriage proposals (Khastegari), it works something like this:
The guy shows up with his parents (sometimes just his mom) and a bouquet of flowers at the girl’s house. While waiting for the girl (who‘s busy making tea and keeping her nerves), the families get to know one another. Everyone wants to know what the guy does for a living and how much money he makes.
The girl then comes out with a tray of tea and offers it to his family. Depending on the situation, the ending varies. Sometimes it becomes clear the two are attracted to one another based off a couple minutes. Other times one or the other seems disinterested, terminating the chances. The rest is history (this is not the scenario for every situation just the more common one).
If there’s a show of interest by both parties, the two may talk in a separate room or start to go on a couple of dates (best case scenario). What sometimes may have the façade of a future marriage, often ends due to various reasons. They may discover the guy or girl is infertile or one of the parties don’t like the set up of the dowry, often times the girl’s family will say it’s not enough or the guy’s family will say it’s too much.
Frankly, I think this is the reason why there’s a high rate of divorce in Iran (1 in every 3.76 marriages).
Supposedly you found your soulmate based off of appearance and a 15 minute conversation, sometimes after a handful of dates. People put on shows, what they may seem like at first is not what they end up being when you marry them. My poor cousin Bahareh was a victim of this. Her husband turned out to have schizophrenia, she didn’t realize it until they were on their honeymoon. Luckily she got her marriage annulled within a month.
The best part about having trouble finding a bride or groom for your child is that there’s even a marriage matchmaker! Basically a woman who hooks mothers up with their database of phone numbers based off of special requests.
Some of the special orders requested are ridiculous and are not rooted from the mothers, but the sons. My former landlord’s son had a special list: His bride-to-be had to come from X area, drive a Mercedes Benz, and have a small family so he wouldn’t have to provide too many gifts during holidays (his logic lacked the fact that he could get an equally large number of gifts in return). Then there’s the hypocritical orders, like that of my cousin Masoud who wants to marry a virgin. How can you have the nerve to say that when you brag about how you’ve banged half of Tehran? At the age of 40, he finally settled down (no idea if he ended up marrying that virgin he wanted so bad).
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not insulting our traditions.
I’m only inviting you to open your eyes to how flawed the system is and how it needs changing.
Thanks to human nature and satellite dishes, people are learning to become more open-minded about how they approach sexuality and marriage in general. This also has to do with the fact that people are putting lesser faith in their religious leaders and more in their own common sense.
This is what gives me some hope for the future of Iranian society.
TWEET AT Holly: @PoliticallyAff