While my own dating résumé is probably nothing to write home about, it’s not because of any negligence on my part, let me assure you of that. In a world of dating-averse Pakistanis, I’m not only a proponent of it, I also like to set people up with each other from time to time.
My heretic ways are not due to some gross deficit in my upbringing. In fact, if upbringing had anything to do with how I turned out, I’d be a consummate housewife with six kids in tow and a longing to be anywhere but what people call my home. I live a life of such contradictory proportions to my immediate environment that my family is either ashamed of me or exceedingly worried about me.
I didn’t date many men if that’s your presumption. I actually didn’t even know many men in my prime which was probably a good thing. I am usually so disagreeable that a major reason why I had no trouble finding a husband was because my infamy was restricted to the four walls of my home. By the time I was 21, an age that’s equally close to spinsterhood as it is to constant patriarchal infantilization, I had already asked my people why I couldn’t meet men freely and without many eyes on me before agreeing to marry them. My parents told me my consent was implied if they liked someone. I narrowed my eyes. They ignored me.
I was briefly married. What’s worse than being single under a patriarchy is being divorced. Spinsterhood at least comes with the biggest seal of literal chaste respectability, a woman’s virginity. A divorced woman doesn’t even have that. The Rolodex of rectitude is thinner for a divorcée.
But divorce liberated me from many things, including internalized ideas of shame at the curiosity of knowing men better. It opened avenues of learning and some might think I’m just rambling but single Pakistanis know. Dating isn’t liked or appreciated in our culture. When someone dates, they aren’t allowed to date freely. They’re allowed to date after they have sufficiently absorbed and agreed to ideas of how respectable people see other people. They are shown heteronormative ways of heterosexual things. Women are told to be damsels in distress while men will rise to be the purveyors of protection and guardianship, roles that binary minds have created for non-binary souls.
Dating isn’t picking one person, having a few dinners with them and then marrying them. That’s just another way to please the modern patriarchy. Some of us, like my more forward brothers and sisters, have just found a way around their oppression to live a partial life of partial choice. It’s probably better but is it the emancipation that they hoped for? Probably not!
The fear of dating comes from many fears that are grounded in ideas that signify culture. Culture evolves and ours has too. We are now exploring a side of dating that’s not really very different from the traditional arranged, coverture-inspired marriage. We have been tricked into thinking that we are making forward movement. Men and women are finally able to break bread together and have romantic alliances. Most of them get married to the first person they take out.
While many will tell you that this is what we aspired to, let me tell you that this is all shortchanging us and this is, in fact, the same sentence that has come out of patriarchy’s playbook before also. Let me also outline a few irrational ideas that preclude dating from the lives of many Pakistanis who might not desire an arranged marriage to the first girl or boy that their family has consensus on.
1. Dating is wayward: this isn’t just a Neanderthal belief. This exists, tightly woven into the fabric of occult and overt patriarchy that lines the insides and outsides of our lives. People who date are considered morally bereft. They are thought of someone who chooses to compromise morality for pleasures of the mind and the body. This notion has no factual basis but because it has been culturally valid for eons, it certainly has a strong chokehold around how dating is conducted. Because dating is considered wayward, people who believe in it as an important part of their growth resort to doing it secretly. Secret dating is just about as safe as secret anything. It carries the inherent risk of coercion, compromise and even worse, lack of reporting if something untoward were to happen.
2. Sex can happen: this myth needs busting and then some. Even people who have had sex believe in sex being a mystical operation that isn’t entirely within the control of the people participating in it, if this is consensual sex we are speaking of. People think that if they allow dating to happen, then a wandering penis can lose its way into a lonely vagina. What people don’t really account for are many strategic layers of clothing that need violation if this were to happen at all. Even if this happened, human copulation is slightly less spontaneous than most species’. It requires more planning than just giving into a whim or a fallacy.
Also, this entire belief is one of the biggest reasons why dating is feared. The fear of dating comes from the fear of premarital sex. The fear of premarital sex comes from the fear of pregnancy. The fear of pregnancy, unfortunately, doesn’t come from the fear of labor or confinement. The fear of pregnancy comes from the famous fear of Log Kia Kahaingay?
3. People might actually get to know each other before they decide to not get married.
This, in a society where patriarchy can’t allow for transparency, is a huge deal. If people date then they might actually understand what makes them tick or not. Patriarchy can’t have that. The entire system of marriage and coercion in marriage in a patriarchy is carefully balanced on the premise of not knowing patriarchs well enough before marrying them. I mean, let’s be honest! Why would a woman marry a man who thinks like a chauvinistic has-been? The only time she marries him is when she has no idea that he is a standard edition, factory-fitted model of patriarchy.
4. What if people found out about our dating history and our past?
Oh the infamous past ! There are very few things that are as bad in a patriarchy as a woman with a past. Women can’t have any pasts or any futures. All we are allowed is the present. Dating is like a criminal record. You always have it. No one can erase it. Dating even one man in a patriarchy of many million has a pretty good chance of you running into him, someone finding out and your life spent explaining why you ever chose to date.
I, personally, don’t care about people finding out. There is so much about me that I’m afraid to say myself that random incidents that out me are not only welcome, they’re almost awaited in anticipation by me.
5. What happens when someone breaks up?
Dating can’t really happen without breaking up with a few people, a few times. I know what you have been told. Break-ups are messy. Well, they are! When two people decide to go their separate ways, there’s a lot of love, life and mess to clean up after that relationship.
For some reason, that’s actually an upside of dating. Meeting new people, discovering things about ourselves that we wouldn’t otherwise, learning conflict resolution, understanding when we should move on, accepting the mortality of relationships.
Patriarchal values dictate that relationships are bound by marriages and that marriages last forever. There’s no map for an exit. People who do great in marriages become the purveyor of this most sinister institution. People who don’t do that great in marriages don’t get a say. The entire premise of marriage and coverture is that it brings happiness. Or that it has brought happiness to the people before us. But the sample size isn’t that great if it consists of a select few with a life that’s predictable.
But briefly, dating isn’t wrong or bad or anti-culture. Dating is just the exercise of knowing someone in the capacity of a partner. What people do with their individual dating journeys should be left to them. Dating shouldn’t be regulated by the state. Many people who date in Pakistan live in fear of being caught and embarrassed on camera. This environment of fear and trepidation isn’t what we are trying to build in this world that we have to leave behind for our kids.