I am from India and belong to a conservative Muslim family. My boyfriend lives in the same city but his family is less conservative. Other than that, however, our families are compatible and he and I have seriously discussed our future together a few times. When we are ready, our respective families will meet and decide whether we should get married or not. It sounds messed up, but that is how it is.

We decided that when the time comes, he needs to talk to his parents first since if I tell mine first, they will expect a formal proposal from his family and a meeting to be arranged soon after.

He was going out with someone else before and during that time, we had known each other as friends for a year. When they broke up, we got together two months later and have now been dating for nearly nine months. I know some people may not consider this very long, but in my society, I am at the age to get married.

We are both 23 and recently graduated. We work in different organisations and so hardly find any time to be alone but we try to make our relationship work anyway.

I feel like I am the one who usually makes the time to be together and he only asks me to come along when our friends are out too. He claims the reason he doesn’t pester me to meet is he knows how conservative my family is and he wants me to meet him at my convenience.

Even then, we don’t go out for a date. Instead, we hang out in one spot for a few hours and just watch movies and snuggle (we haven’t been sexually intimate due to religious reasons). The reason we don’t go out is because he is afraid someone will see us. That could ruin our chances in the future as when we plan to tell our parents, we do don’t want to disclose the extent of our relationship. I am fine with that now as it is truly a hurdle in our society.

However, my family is now on the lookout for eligible bachelors for me and that gives me a lot of anxiety every day. We haven’t discussed the future for the past three months except in a lighthearted way, such as thinking of our future pets. I wanted to bring it up again so he is not caught off his guard one day when I tell him my parents have found someone for me. And that is what I did recently. The conversation went well and in an emotional confession, he admitted that he was being selfish as he was afraid of the stress that will follow after talking to his parents. I told him I go through that stress every day in the form of potential suitors my mother keeps suggesting.

He also said that his family will encourage him to complete graduate school before getting married, but he wants to be engaged or at least have some sort of agreement with my family before he leaves or else I will surely be betrothed to another.

And so he said he would talk to his mother the next day about how to take things forward. I calmed him down by asking him to think through what he has to say and to ask me questions if he has any doubts about our relationships and only then take that step. I also gave him an out, saying that if this seemed too difficult for him, then he should let me know and I will back out. I would rather do it now before things get more difficult and we are both hurt. I assured him that I would eventually be okay so he need not feel guilty but the longer this drags on, the worse it will be. However, he was adamant that he wants to give this relationship a shot so I said that in that case he needs to think calmly, then tell me when he plans to talk to his mother.

Another thing to note is that within a month of starting our relationship, his mother found out about me through a letter I had given him.

She told him to be rational and think only in terms of marriage and that we should not go on dates. This is a typical Muslim parent’s reaction. However, he was glad she found out because he felt that would make things easier in the future. I am concerned, though, about how she must view me, his son’s girlfriend, given the conservative nature of our society.

A week later he told me he would talk to her in a few days. That was two weeks ago, and he claims it was never the “right time”. His mother is busy preparing for his brother’s wedding which is in early January and so I understand that it is not the best time to bring up our own wedding. However, I am still upset about it. This is affecting the way I talk to him and I get angry over the smallest things, such as him being occupied at work and not replying for two hours to a text from me.

Am I overreacting or do I need to sit down and reevaluate how serious he is? What if he still does not talk to his mother? How long do I wait, if at all?

Dirty little secret

Dear Secret Girlfriend

First things first, your good sense should remind you that instant communication can be a real pain. A two-hour gap to answering a casual text because someone is working is perfectly reasonable.

But that’s a small thing compared to the real issue. When you started dating, you both agreed that when the time came to marry, he would approach his family first, as that would work best in terms of communication.

That time is now here. Over the last three months, you have been in a constant state of worry, because your family are trying to find you a husband.

Seeing your anxiety, your boyfriend has responded: by refusing to discuss this seriously, moaning about how tough things are for him, and holding out lures about stepping up, only to break them.

In addition, that note meant he had the perfect opportunity to come clean, but instead of saying, “Mum, I’ve found this amazing girl and I want you to talk to her parents”, he seems to have sat there doing nothing as his mum told him to drop you.

Then throw in the fact that all the while you’ve been dating, he’s treated you as a dirty secret because he doesn’t like trouble.

My dear, this man doesn’t deserve awesome you. He doesn’t care about your feelings, and he doesn’t respect you. He’s not even proud to be seen with you! If you marry him, he’s always going to put himself first. Worse, he’ll no doubt get more selfish as he grows older.

Dump him and work with your family to find a good man you can love and build a happy life with.

From your letter, I am assuming you have the power to turn down potential suitors. I do hope you get a say in picking a partner.

If your family love you, point out you need to be happy. If they’re selfish, remind them that an unhappy marriage will cause gossip. If they’re difficult, turn down the ones you don’t like as, “not being good enough for our family”. Be brutal about this; it’s your life you’re negotiating for.

Pick a man who values you and who has a heart. He should be proud to be seen with you, and be concerned for your feelings. Here’s a tip: Look for the one who advocates for the women in his family. Also, someone who wants the lifestyle you want: busy or quiet, modern or traditional, etc etc.

When you do marry, please, please make sure you have a career and financial independence. The world has no respect for poor women. If you want a happy life, make sure that you can always stand on your own two feet.

Good luck and do write to tell me how you are.

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