I am a 23-year-old university student. I belong to the Pakhtun community and it is the custom in our family that, mostly, girls are not permitted to get educated.
My parents are forcing me to marry my cousin who is a beautiful girl, but illiterate. I’m concerned about her education, because an uneducated mother cannot help her child with his/her education. I think that as a couple, we would also have difficulties in our marital life.
I do fear that, if I agree with my parents and marry her, no one would ever be ready to marry against their parents’ wishes. I need your help in this situation.
‘I’m being forced to marry my illiterate cousin’
Dear Totally Confused,
It is not easy to go against your parents’ wishes or your community’s customs. It can leave you conflicted. The only way to resolve that conflict is to be clear in your mind that you — and not your parents — have the right to choose your partner. That is true in the legal and religious sense. Your parents can suggest who they think you should marry, but they cannot force you to do so.
Compatibility is an important part of a modern marriage. In the past, marriages were easier to navigate because gender roles were well-defined. Men and women got married to raise a family where the man went out to work and women stayed home to look after the children. That is not the case anymore and modern marriage has its own requirements, such as compatibility and attraction.
Whether these expectations from spouses and from the institution of marriage are working is another debate, but the fact remains that the expectations from a modern marriage have changed.
Having said that, you should not agree to marry someone just because you are being pressured. While it is noble of you to respect your parents and want to please them, you should not marry someone just to please anyone else. Marriage is a lifelong relationship that requires commitment and compatibility.
I don’t agree with you that an uneducated mother would not be able to tackle a child who is getting educated. There are a lot of uneducated parents in our country who are eager to get their children educated and are extremely supportive of their schooling. On the other hand, there are many people who are educated and not very supportive of their children. Also, if (as you say) your community does not support women’s education, then we can assume that your mother is also not very educated. Yet you, her son, are in university. So that argument does not work.
The real problem that you could face is that you might have a difficult time being on the same wavelength as your wife and finding things in common if you are a university graduate and she is illiterate. It is normal to have an idea of what your marriage or future spouse will be like and, if your cousin does not match that picture or come close to it, then you are well within your right to say no and mean it.
Sometimes we have to take difficult decisions that those close to us don’t understand. But these decisions have to be taken. Think of it like this: talking to your parents may be difficult in the short term but, in the long term, it will be better for everyone. Muster up the courage, sit your parents down and talk to them honestly about your concerns. They may be unhappy with your decision in that moment and might show anger for some time but, in the long term, it will be better for you, your cousin and your parents.
Take responsibility for your life, take your decisions and stand by them. Also know that you will not be able to blame anyone else for any consequences that you may face.
Disclaimer: If you or someone you know is in crisis and/or feeling suicidal, please go to your nearest emergency room and seek medical help immediately.
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Published in Dawn, EOS, September 11th, 2022