People can forgive you different food and customs; they can fall in love with your baklawa; and they can respect you for your long school uniform skirts and opaque tights and for saying your daily prayers as fast as you can in a corner of your cabin during science camp. But saying you couldn’t have a boyfriend or that you’d likely marry someone without ever having gone on a date, made you an alien. It made all the girls in your sixth grade class circle around you during recess and ask you why you couldn’t just go with John; it wasn’t like he’d be your boyfriend or you had to kiss him or anything. It made the same girls corner you in the bathroom at the spring social and ask you why you couldn’t just dance with Chris; you were making him so sad and it was really so selfish and mean to keep saying no. It made the guy in the mall who just asked for your number tell you to go back to Kuwait where you came from.
Not being allowed to date was the issue that plucked me out of the realm of exotic and interesting and planted me firmly into a sad documentary about people from other cultures, the kind that makes its audience walk away grateful for their lives. In my peers’ insistent questions, their shakes of the head, I could almost see them reflecting on how lucky they were to be holding the keys to their own love lives, steering its course, when there were girls like me whose mom and dad were going to drive them to the door of their future relationship and take a seat inside.