Something I Never Want to be a Part Of


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?

i’m horrified by the thought of it…

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


Holly هالی

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  1. Holly,

    Your post made me cringe. I think it’s pathetic that we have such backward views on everything. Our culture is backwards, our people are third-world, and our way of thinking is obsolete. It makes me sick.

    And this is coming from a guy. I can’t even imagine what a woman/girl must feel like. The more you read this crap, the more you realize they treat women like property. Like you said, your cousin Masoud wanted a “virgin”. It’s almost like he’s online shopping at Amazon or something. What if the girl had made that same request? That her husband be a virgin? Yeah, good luck with that.

    The more I read about Iranian “traditions”, the more I want to bundle them all up, put them in a trash bag, and throw them all out the window. And then you wonder why our people had the revolution in the first place, why we keep voting for mullahs, why 50%+ of Iranians are still waiting for Imam Zaman to come back. Why we sit on our asses in our “fight” for freedom, when 20,000 Syrians have been slaughtered in their own fight for justice.

    Like I said, the more you read this kinda stuff, the more you realize our culture is deeply misogynistic. The only brightside is that no one does “khastegaris” anymore, except maybe in the villages or something, but certainly no one I know in Iran or USA or anywhere.

    Cheghad badbakhtim.

    PS – I’m the guy you met at UCLA/Gypsy’s :) :) . You know I love you :P

  2. I only agree with the last part of your blog, namely the conclusion. I understand you have lived in Iran but deat I hate it when everyone tries to analyze and make other people understand a whole culture and society bases on simple observations, that is true when Iranians try to generalize and analyze the American culture. It is not only false and short sighted but also, related to your profession, wrong. you are giving wrong information and make people have the wrong impression. Just as they did for the last 30 years based on whatever the media was trying to show the Americans. Iranian culture is much more complex and multifaceted to observe and understand it from couple of street encounters in sporadic vacations.

  3. sohrab esfandiar says:

    Buried deep within Holly’s compulsive attempts to prove herself by emphasizing how many khastegaars she receives, and her superficial and broad-based critique of Persian cultural practices, there is a kernel of truth.

  4. I just read this and am truly disgusted:

    Iran wants to legalize marriage for girls under 10 years old. What the fuck is wrong with our country and our government!?!? That is so vile, I am truly and utterly speechless. I wholeheartedly believe that Islam has fucked up our people, culture, and our government. The root of evil is Islam, our government and our culture and people’s mentality will NOT change until we scrap this useless, barbaric religion. This is NOT the stone age, our culture is becoming backwards. Vaghan motasefam.

  5. What a disgustingly inacurrate portrayal of the Iranian people and the MANY cultures of Iran. Holly khanoom I suggest you stick to writing about things that you have even the slightest knowledge about. It breaks my heart that people will read this and actually take it as FACT.
    On a more positive note, I just wanted to commend Farrah and Saaghi for allowing everyone of all belief systems and experiences to write on this blog. It’s really democratic of you two and you rarely see such open mindedness. :)

  6. Didn’t particularly like this entry because it is very one-sided and leaves out a lot of nice things about our culture and marriage. Holly, just thought that you might want to know for future reference that a dowry is not something the groom’s family gives. It’s property or money given from the bride’s family to the groom’s.

  7. So like everyone else on this post, I DON’T agree with what you say, but unlike everyone else above, its for a different reason; i wouldn’t mind having my parents/family help me find someone.

    hear me out here!! my family, though I love them, are definitely not on the same page as me. we are different generations, different mindsets, different everything, but that doesn’t change that fact that the standards for someone to spend the rest of your life with change from country to country or generation to generation. yes, some minor details always change, but the generally ideal mate will always be ideal.

    I’m only 20 years old, but already had “the talk” (which in Persian cultures means marriage not sex) with my parents. They want me to marry someone who has a promising future, a good personality, and decent looks. how on earth is that any different than anything we want?!?

    I agree some people may not want their family getting involved, and that’s understandable, its a personal choice, but your post makes the average Persian family sound like a monster who sell their daughters while all they have in mind is our best interest.

    don’t get me wrong, i LOVED reading this post, because that’s what blogs are, opinions, and we are free to agree or disagree. This is YOUR opinion.

    NOT A FACT!! Persian parent’s DO NOT sell their daughters in “business deals”

    you said “Supposedly you found your soulmate based off of appearance and a 15 minute conversation, sometimes after a handful of dates.”

    first of all, what is a soulmate?? Do you really believe in fairytales and fireworks when you kiss? That he’s “the one” who makes all your dreams come true simply by smiling at you? sorry, doesn’t exist in the big girl world

    secondly, appearance and a 15 minute conversation, sometiems after a handful of dates?? did you forget to mention that prior to this 15 minute conversation your knew EVERYTHING about said individual? It’s a Persian khastegari! I know before my cousins khastegar even walked into the door me and my family knew more about who he is, where he came from, and where he’s going in life than most people do after dozens of “dates.”

    again, don’t mean to bash!! I absolutely loved reading your opinion, just wanted to express mine as well :)

  8. iranians need to get off their high horse for a minute and stop thinking about their 4000+ year history bs. not everything is perfect in our culture, the chick tells it like it is

    • Wtf does this have to do with our history? Her account of khastegari is horribly simplified and one sided. If our disproval was due to pride over our history we would disagree with every S&F post since they too criticize many aspects of our culture.

  9. All those who think this blog is inaccurate, and did not nod like I did after each example are HUGE hypocrites. Denial about flaws in our culture DOES NOT make them disappear. Not talking about them will not help solve the issues. I think it’s HILARIOUS how all of you get offended by such common practices by our people. Let’s step up and take acknowledge the issues instead, so that we can solve them together! Iranian culture is not all bad. It’s ctually pretty great. But Holly is not saying it is all bad. She is simply pointing certain flaws all of us have witnessed many many times. Please elaborate how her version of khastegari is not oh so true. PLEASE tell me how different your version is.

    Dear sara, as a Persian girl have you not noticed that boys can get away with anything but at the end of the day they want a virgin wife? Has that not created a dilemma for you, as someone who has been trying to benefit from a healthy date/sex life? If you say no, you’re joking.

    If anyone says that it’s always been a trade, they’re joking! If you fall in love with the poor neighbor’s son, will your parents allow you to marry him? Haha.. again, you must be JOKING!

    It makes me so sad to see that so many people are still in denial, and cannot appreciate those who are brave enough to speak out about everything we need to fix about our culture. So so sad.

  10. it hasn’t alway been a trade*

    Sorry for the typos. I was upset and couldn’t believe my eyes.

    Thanks again for your insight. Keep them coming!

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