Out on one of our early dates, my husband asked me how can it be that a woman like me(wonderful wonderful me) is still single? I told him I'm not lucky with men. He said no problem, this is your lucky break.
Well he certainly isn't modest about it but I have to admit that it's true. He IS my lucky break. And I'd more or less given up on ever having a change of luck with men.
And I started early. I was about 15 when I developed a monumental crush on my cousin. Let's call him M. He was 31 & worked for the foreign ministry in Morocco so he travelled a lot. Most of the time when we'd be home in Casa for holidays he'd be away. Didn't get to see him that often. But I'd hear so much about him. Everyone agreed that he was the best looking guy in the family. They would talk about how smart & successful he was, how many languages he was fluent in, what a gentleman, how he'd helped so many people etc.....Everyone loved him. My grandfather - who I loved very much - was so proud of my cousin & was always praying for him. And at 15 years old you had all the makings of a severe case of hero-worship.
Looking back I can laugh at myself but in those days I can tell you it was not funny. To fancy yourself in love with a man you saw once a year for about a month if you were lucky & who persisted in treating you like a little sister who was a bit of a pest was painful. I cried many tears over his lack of attention & wrote many pages in my diary. Everytime he'd have a girlfriend I'd feel betrayed, unwanted. I even went through a phase of going Arab & tribal & getting really angry thinking how dare she? He's MY cousin. He's mine. I thought those girls were trespassing on my territory. Never mind that the truth was that they were his gfs & therefore I was trespassing. 'Course I wouldn't see it that way. I was an ARAB for Heaven's sake. What was the point in being an Arab if you can't marry your cousin? Haven't Arabs been marrying their cousins since times immemorial? It's frustrating that just when you've finally found a tradition you can actually live with people stop observing it & suddenly go all MODERN on you! I mean who wanted modern at a time like that? I mean yuck! Not that I had no competition within the family. Lots of girls in my family were crazy about him. But since my crush lasted longer than theirs & was clearly the most violent one they more or less conceded that I could have him if I could get him.
The worst part was that he spoilt me for guys my age. I mean compared to him they all seemed such children. He was so mature & accomplished & cultured. How could a bunch of pimpled 15-yr-old boys who wanted to take me to a movie & Burger King possibly compare?
And it kept getting worse & worse. I'd spend the entire year looking forward to the summer & mid-year holidays so I can see him. Every summer my friends & I would cook up elaborate schemes to make him compromise me so he'd have to marry me to save the family honor. Most of them never came to anything. Except once.
It was the summer after 11th grade. I was staying in my grandfather's house with a bunch of girlfriends I'd brought with me from UAE. My grandfather had been in the hospital & was still recuperating. My aunts who lived with him were pretty old themselves & none of them could drive. Added to which none of them was strong enough to carry my grandfather who was a pretty big man if he needed help. So my cousins would take turns sleeping over for a few days. And then it was M's turn. He was home on holiday & had a few days on his hands. I was over the moon. For the first time me & him would be staying in the same house. I'd get to spend more time with him. I mean 3 whole days & nights. I was sure I could make him love me. You couldn't convince me otherwise.
He spent most of the first day with me & my friends & seemed to enjoy himself. He was so sweet & funny. All my friends liked him. In the evening my friends forced me to go out. They said I might be a native but they were tourists & it was their first time in Casa & they weren't going to spend it sitting watching me worship my cousin. We invited him to come along but he said he couldn't leave my grandfather. So he gave us a lift to the city center & went home. I was on edge the whole time & was probably the worst tourguide EVER. I felt I was wasting my precious time with him.
When we got home he'd already had dinner & was locked up in his room working. I felt worse. We stayed up pretty late but he didn't come out. And in the end we went up to my room where I cried myself to sleep. One of my friends - a Belgian who I guess wasn't very familiar with our culture - took the making him compromise me thing too seriously & decided to help me out. M got up early in the morning to take my grandfather for a hospital appointment. So she got the bright idea of leaving a piece of my underwear lying on the floor in his room - so that when my aunt came in to clean she would find it & think he'd compromised me.
It's a good thing my aunt didn't find it. The poor woman would have had a heart attack. He found it. When I got up my friend had gone to sleep along with the rest of them so I didn't know about what she'd been up to. He'd left a message with the maid that when I was awake he wanted to talk to me. I found him in the garden. Imagine my shock when he took it out of his pocket & asked me if this was mine! All I could do was splutter that I didn't understand. When he told me he found it in his room I said you're lying. He said he wished he was & he asked do you know what would have happened if one of the maids had found it & given it to my aunt or if she herself had found it? I was too humiliated to talk any further so I just grabbed it out of his hand & went running to my room. I'd guessed it must have been one of the girls so I shook them all awake & when she admitted it I wanted to STRANGLE her!
I spent the rest of the time hiding from him. And he avoided me & my friends like the plague. I didn't see him at all until he left. And a couple of weeks later I was back in UAE - still very shaken & embarrassed but still very much in love with him. I thought my heart was broken, my pride was dust & I would never recover. I still cringe when I read the diary entries for that period.
He called about a month later from Spain. I broke out in a cold sweat when Mama came & told me he was on the phone & wanted to talk to me. He told me he still didn't understand what happened. So I told him that a friend thought she was helping me. And he said helping you with what? So I started crying & blurted everything out. He was being very sweet & understanding I couldn't help it. But God how that conversation hurt. Of course he said you're 17 years old, you'll grow out of it, you're like my sister. That was a blow to hear him spell out the fact that he wasn't interested in me at all. Then I got a lecture about how he wouldn't think anything bad about me because he's my cousin but that I should be careful & not behave like that with other men & that I should make sure my friends understand the culture before they get involved in my life etc...I wanted to SCREAM but I want you to think something bad about me you idiot, I LOVE you & all you can think about is the stupid family honor!
It wasn't the end of the story either. It went on for YEARS more. Actually I think the incident - once I got over the initial embarrassment - made me more daring. I didn't have to worry about being embarrassed anymore because how could it possibly get any worse? And I found his attitude provocative. I became even more determined to 'get' him. It became a challenge. Of course I never tried anything as crude as what my friend did again. That would have got me into serious trouble. Besides even then I had enough presence of mind to see that I didn't want any man to marry me because he was forced to by some misplaced sense of chivalry or family pressure. That wouldn't have been much of a marriage. No I wanted him to love me as much as I loved him. And once my feelings for him were out in the open well I didn't have to bother with subtlety anymore did I?
But NOTHING would make him budge. I was stupid to think he'd ever compromise me. I mean the man was made of stone. Sometimes I'd want to scream what are you gay or something?
It didn't actually stop until I was about 20. By then I was in college in the US & I had another target. It was strange that after years of 'loving' my cousin I woke up one morning & realized I hadn't even thought of him once in months. I guess the saying that the fastest way to forget one man is to fall for another man is true. But that's another story.