For a hot second, I thought I found love abroad. I honestly don’t know if it was a potential love, lust, just having someone or maybe a combination of all three but I do believe it was a friendship that progressed into more. So here is the gist, M and I dated for about 2 months and although it was not long for some reason it felt serious. Or at least to me it was. The first time I hung out with M, it was completely platonic and we could have spent all night chatting but the restaurant kicked us out as we had been there for more than 3 hours and they needed the table. We were so comfortable with each other. I thought Hey, I have found a potential new best friend. Woohoo for me!
Given that we were both single, attracted to each other and with the help of liquid courage, we decided to turn the friendship in a relationship. He did however tell me that his family (extended family) was pressuring him to getting married to a third cousin who he used to date but ultimately it did not work out as they had lifestyle differences. He reiterated that he had absolutely no interest in marrying her or marrying someone from “the family”. In need of reassurance, I repeatedly asked him to clarify the likelihood of this happening and his response varied from I do not know, I don’t think so, probably not, if the khalif makes a decision for me, I will have to comply, to and an eventual no. Once I heard the “no”, my mind was at peace and I stopped asking. Clearly looking back, the real answer was not “no”. I should have used common sense and walked away or at minimum been prepared that one day he would tell me that he was getting married.
That day came and it ended our relationship. I was speechless. I could not understand why he said yes considering that he promised me hours before going to see his family that he would say no. Since the first day we met he said that was not the life he wanted for himself. He assured me in times of doubt during our relationship that the life he wanted was a future with me despite any challenges we may face: I am not a traditional, Muslim Senegalese Woman. He reassured me that while he is a Muslim Senegalese Man, his religion and nationality do not define him or his future. A future with me aligns with what he wants regardless of what his family wants. Ultimately he claimed that he wanted to stand on his own and he wanted me.
So as you can imagine, my emotions were shock, anger and sadness (filled with self-doubt) when M came back from visiting the family and told me he agreed to marry his third cousin. He kept saying that I just don’t understand. So to help me better understand the situation, I spoke to a few people more accustomed to Senegalese culture and a Senegalese coworker and it became clear that my story is all too common in Senegal. People can date for years and meet the parents, but when it comes to marriage (at least the first) family approval is required. If the family says no, their decision is final unless you are one of the rare few that will stand up to them. So if the family presents you with someone you know it is easier to just say yes and hope for the best. Even if you still have lifestyle differences and the marriage would mean her sacrificing something she was not ready to sacrifice for you less than a year ago. Worst case scenario you get divorced or cheat on each other. After all, divorce in Senegal is not uncommon so if it does not work out the first time, you can get divorced and marry the one you want the second time around. Or, just take a second, third or fourth wife.
As my brother said, even if M did not cave under family pressure this time he may have in a month, a year or after we got engaged and then no matter what I did (convert, speak the language, learn the customs and traditions), I would not have been accepted by the family. I am not a traditional, Muslim, Senegalese Woman. I am not from the family. I probably would have ended up in the same position but with the sadness and bruised ego amplified.
To M, I am quoting Beyonce ” you seem to be the best thing I never had” and since I am not Adele I don’t wish the best for you and your future wife/cousin because you hurt me. I do however want to thank you from saving me from what may have been a very painful experience.