My Forever After (I)

‘I’ll call you when I leave’, his message reads. I stop squinting at the TFL tube map and divert my attention to more pressing matters – my outfit. My phone rings just as I’m forcing my second leg through a pair of tights. With posture resembling a dog urinating against a tree, I quickly bunny hop towards my phone. My 80 denier tights however refuse to stretch beyond capacity and my big toe breaks free from captivity. ‘Fuck you!’ I shout at my toe in sheer annoyance, as my phone simultaneously stops ringing. Notwithstanding the autumn chill, a gloss of stress-induced perspiration begins to form across my upper lip as I fight to regain composure and dial his number.    

It’s not the underwhelming Midland’s accent that triggers my alarm bells – that, I sort of expected. It’s something else, but I can’t quite put my finger on it. A few minutes into the conversation – the penny finally drops. Beneath the perfectly spoken words of English, I notice the faintest twang of a Pakistani accent. A sense of unease consumes me, as I involuntary recall the two types of Pakistani men that I’ve met from ‘back home’. The backwards Bashir type with the beady eyes and bushy moustache, who affords a woman less freedom than his sweaty balls roaming free from the shackles of underwear, and then of course the pervy Parvez type seducing guitarist whose idea of a perfect first date involves you strutting your stuff in a G-string, whilst he sips his red wine and serenades you… with the explosion in his pants.

 The question was, which of the two would my date be like?

It’s lust at first sight. I shamelessly wolf whistle at his profile picture as I eye up his connection request on LinkedIn. It’s not often that a Brown boy grabs my attention, but this one most certainly has. My curiosity is piqued not by his perfectly groomed beard or dimples, and certainly not by the dodgy boutonniere pinned to his left lapel – it’s his eyes. Reflective of my own, they’re teeming with mischief.

His first message hits my inbox shortly after I accept his connection request. ‘Hey Hey. How are you?’ he casually asks. A master of shutting down conversation on LinkedIn, I momentarily pause to consider my options. Oh, who am I kidding? I laugh. I’m fully aware that my pervert levels exceed the national average, and this pretty boy has my full attention. I shoot back a reply with the intention of being smoother than cream cheese on his bagel, however, my tranquil ocean of romance is quickly disrupted by the mean girl that lives within. She butterfly strokes her way to the surface at speeds that would put Michael Phelps’ achievements to shame. Taking possession of my (not so) delicate fingers, she forces me to shower him with sarcasm instead. Sighing heavily, I patiently wait for him to run for the hills. Pretty boy however is full of surprises – he seems to comfortably give as good as he gets. He is it seems, a rare combination of hot and witty.

It’s no surprise then that I agree to meet him a few weeks later. I play the obligatory internal game of ‘hmm… is this a date or just a friendly meet up?’ because of course – we’re LinkedIn contacts. I settle on: I really don’t care. It’s early October and I’m just coming out of dating hibernation. I’m an autumn to early spring dater. By Easter, you’re most likely to find my dates buried under my patio. Pretty boy Ahmed is a bit of Midland’s eye candy at most – you know, just to flex my dating muscles.

It’s the day of our meeting and I carefully select my outfit – a black ‘safe’ dress, paired with sparkly boots to tone down the ‘dressed for a funeral’ look – it’s too soon to kill him, I remind myself. Hearing his voice has put me on edge, and I’m now wondering whether I’ll meet a backwards Bashir or pervy Parvez. I give myself a little pep talk to see this date through, but I’m more than prepared for disaster.

My gloomy mood unexpectedly lifts as I reach the underground exit and spot him in the crowd. My pervert levels begin to rise like the tides of a deadly tsunami, as my eyes sinfully linger over his body like a moth in a flood light. ‘Forgive me lord, for I’m about to sin’ I mutter under my breath, as he walks towards me like a lamb to the slaughter.

Almost immediately, I put my foot in it. ‘You weren’t born in this country, were you?’ I ask, with an air of suspicion. ‘No, I came here as a child’ he says, glancing sideways at me as though I’m a halfwit for asking. ‘So where shall I take you then?’ he changes the topic. ‘Chicken Cottage?’ his eyes flood with mischief. ‘Sure… if you want to die’ I mockingly retort, half meaning it.

As Ahmed and I take our seats at the Lebanese restaurant, I notice the male server hovering around him with puppy eyes. Sticking to him like shit to a shovel, I sense that I’m a thorn in his newly aroused flesh. I take the hint and excuse myself to wash my hands, whilst he makes the most of my absence. ‘I want to sit on his lap’ I say as I return to my seat, pointing to the overweight male entertainer. ‘He gives me the Santa vibe’ I add, looking tenderly at the tubby old man. Ahmed throws his head back and cackles like a witch, as he promises to get me Santa’s number before we leave.

‘So, you have a problem with dating younger men?’ he asks curiously whilst folding his right sleeve up to his elbow. He is exactly 364 days younger than me. We have a problem with men full stop – you arrogant little knobheads whispers the mean little girl in my ear. Say it! Say it! she insists. ‘Well, I’m trying to get over the mental block’ I say carefully. ‘Though, I almost didn’t date my ex, as I thought he was three months younger than me’ I add, unnecessarily. Hah! and what a blessing that would have been… tell him that we’d unplug the little shit’s life support machine to charge our phone, she volunteers again. My internal chatter is jerked to a halt as we are interrupted by the server who returns to take our order. ‘My brother and I are ready to order now’ I tell him with a smile. Ahmed blushes, knowing exactly what I’m playing at…

‘He was alright you know…’ I tell my mum that night. She gives me that knowing look as I try to keep a straight face. ‘You think I don’t know you? what did you say to him?!’, she demands. ‘I swear… ok… I told him that I wanted to take him to a male strip show and see naked men with him’.  I bite my lip in anticipation of the profanities that will follow, but to my surprise, she silently buries her head in her hands. ‘Well…’ I say tentatively, ‘at least I didn’t say the word penis…’. Deeply offended, my sister intervenes: ‘err… hold on a minute. You’re not going to a strip show without me’. Throwing caution to the wind, she continues. ‘We’ll take mum too… she can have a lap dance from the Black Stallion… he had a big one’ she chuckles, knowing full well that she has just pushed the final button. ‘SHUT UPPPPPPP badmashon (trouble-makers)’ my mum finally explodes, no doubt wondering where on earth she had gone wrong with us.

The following day, Ahmed and I exchange messages. In conversation, I mention that my mum gave me a telling off for some of the things that I said to him the night before. ‘Your mum??? Why did you tell your mum about me???’ he shoots back. ‘Err… because I tell my mum stuff?’ I say, utterly confused. ‘Ok… you got me worried, because I’m not looking to settle down’ he says, just as I’m boarding my train and lose the signal. Oh, he did not just say that I fume. The bloody cheek of that village idiot – the Midland’s moron!!!! I scroll through our entire conversation trying to figure out what on earth gave him the impression that I WANTED TO MARRY HIM!!! Abso-fucking-lutely nothing! I don’t rest until I catch the signal again and fire off a ragey response: ‘Right…  and you thought I was sitting here in a wedding lehnga (dress) waiting to marry you??? Dude – please’.    

That night, he apologises and explains that he freaked out. I accept his apology – albeit reluctantly. I explain that unless he is Salman Khan, I have no interest in marrying him. ‘Still friends?’ he asks. ‘Yep – without benefits’ I add, just to be clear.

 It doesn’t take long for me to completely lose interest in pretty boy. His communication skills are utterly atrocious, and his vocabulary appears not to extend beyond ‘hey hey’, ‘haha’, ‘lol, joker’, ‘whoop’, ‘oops’, and ‘sure thing’. A short while after our first date, I simply delete his number without a fuss.     

‘Hey Hey’ he says a few weeks later. I roll my eyes, wishing that I had just murdered him instead. ‘Why did we stop talking?’ he asks. ‘Because, I have better conversation with a six-year-old’ I say, matter-of-factly. ‘Oops’ he says, beginning to infuriate me. Despite my refusal, he insists on meeting to smooth things over – bitch please, we’d rather staple our tits to the carpet the mean girl whispers in my ear whilst painting her nails. Eventually though, I agree to a second meeting – and I’m not entirely sure why.

What could this human version of period cramps possibly do to change my mind about him?

How does he become one of the most important people in my life?

… and the only man I’ve ever said ‘I love you’ to.

Until next time…

The Accidental Lawyer

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Lifting the veil

Today’s post takes a little detour from my usual dating stories. Last week, my sister ‘had a moment’. Not a stranger to mild anxiety, she suddenly panicked at the thought of turning thirty in three years and not having done all the things she was ‘supposed to have done’. Having considered her list of things to do, I asked what would prevent her from doing these things after she turned thirty.

Nothing it seemed – but thirty was ‘old’… and naturally, it’s all downhill from there…. right?

Wrong.

My thirties have been my best years. As a teen preoccupied with sticking mayo filled condoms on school fences (thank you Keeley for stealing your parents’ condoms), I’d predicted that thirty-five would be my best year.  Thirty-five really has been my best year, but not because I finally got that J.LO body, or that my smile suddenly gave me the softness of Kylie Minogue. No, I didn’t even bag myself George Clooney – he clearly got the wrong human rights lawyer. My body still does its own bloody thing, my sharp vampire teeth continue to make me look more murderous than Count Dracula, and I’m still convinced that the love of my life got stuck in a condom.

So why has thirty-five been amazing I hear you ask? Grab yourself a coffee and allow me to take you on a journey…

I was eleven when I first experienced the feeling of vulnerability. Travelling to Pakistan to visit family, I was immediately captivated by the vibrant and populated streets of Punjab. Whether it was flying multi-coloured kites with my ‘cousins’ or developing an unhealthy obsession with spotting excrement in the malodourous open gutter – I was truly fascinated. I quickly warmed to my father’s maternal relatives, effortlessly basking in the light of their affection. My father’s uncle, affectionately known as “abba” was a sweet old man with hygiene issues.

Donning his gigantic brown ‘chaddar’ (shawl) that had no doubt escaped a wash since the ‘60s, you’d find him indiscreetly spitting out his phlegm on every available surface – I soon realised that walking around without your slippers had consequences. Despite the need to hold my breath to avoid abba’s nauseating stench, or playing hopscotch around his phlegm, I was thrilled to be there.

One evening, I discovered that within a week, my favourite uncle was moving to Dubai for work. Irate that he was leaving, I refused to talk to him for several days. The night before his departure, as usual, I joined my female cousins in the communal room to sleep. My uncle came in to talk to me. Stubbornly, with my back to him, I refused to talk. To an observer, what seemed like an uncle cajoling his niece, made an eleven-year-old suddenly very uncomfortable. Frozen with fear, I wondered why he was getting too close – was I, an eleven-year-old child imagining his hand hovering around my growing breasts..?

The pattern of blaming yourself, even at eleven is not unusual. Was it my fault? Should I have listened to my mother when she insisted that I slept in her room? Had I not been stubborn, could this have been avoided? Was I just being disgusting and making this whole thing up? What would happen if I told anyone? He called me ‘daughter’ though, so I must be wrong, I somehow convinced myself.   

Over the years, although the characters in the story would change, the storyline, as I soon discovered, would remain largely the same. At twelve, the Indian man standing behind me would find his erection on the bus, whilst an uncle’s hand would miraculously find itself resting on my thigh when no one else was around. Making excuses to dodge his increasingly frequent calls, I soon learnt that the heavy breathing that made my skin crawl was, in fact, him masturbating on the other end of the line. It’s not that my parents wouldn’t have believed me had I reached out; they would. My father would have murdered anyone that hurt his baby – but I felt ashamed and angry at myself for not being able to protect myself; I hated that I had no voice.  

Around this time, a death in our family significantly changed the dynamics at home. Despite my tender age, emotionally, I felt it was time for me to step up and make sure that we never fell apart again. Naturally maternal, I raised my sister – not because my parents were incapable, but because I’d quickly learnt what was out there, and would not allow her to experience what I, and many other young girls my age were experiencing. I found a mute button for my own emotions and a headstrong, protective and feisty Leo emerged. This was a pivotal moment in my life – my ‘resting bitch face’, death stare and unpredictable angry outbursts had these dirty bastards running for the hills.

Now aunty Bushra down the road will have you believe that you pass your sell-by date before your twenty-first birthday. Expect trouble on the horizon if you’re not willing to dress up like a Christmas tree and marry cousin Bashir from the pind (village). Despite his unsightly monobrow and ‘Matric fail’ qualifications (i.e. high school failure), cousin Bashir is a good catch. He has his very own Ya’maa (Yamaha motorbike) and speaks some words of English, even if it is just “do you friendship me”. The fact that cousin Bashir doesn’t understand the concept of underwear shouldn’t phase you though, as once he gets his UK spouse visa and skips through Heathrow terminal 3 straight into your arms, you can devote your entire life to pulling that wedgie out from his hairy ass crack.

As a British Muslim woman, you are likely to spend your twenties making sense of where your values lie between the East and West. Generally, the usual narrative is that “good Muslim girls don’t have boyfriends”, so many, but of course not all, don’t. You enter your twenties and realise that cousin Bashir who will no doubt have a remarkable career at your local Chesters Chicken shop, is really not happening. You discover that you are now at a severe disadvantage – your parents expect you to suddenly pull a “good Muslim boy” out of your ass when you barely know how to communicate with the opposite sex, and rest assured, aunty Bushra will be by your side – tutting at your inability to settle down.  

Whilst my twenties didn’t quite follow this narrative, it’s been the norm for many British Muslim women I know. My early twenties were spent rebelling against my overly conservative relatives and breaking free from the “you can’t do this because you’re a woman” shackles – women don’t jump out of planes? You watch me do it would be my answer. Fortunately, my father, himself a rebel for marrying a woman that was not his blood relative, never felt the need to dictate my life – however, this didn’t stop others from trying. I was largely disliked by my relatives because I’d found my voice and would not think twice before telling the aunty that had me physically locked up in her house for 4 hours until I ‘listened’ to her advice on marriage – to fuck right off. My motto soon became – “if you hate me then grab a ticket and join the back of the queue”. 

My mid-twenties were overshadowed by a toxic relationship that left me drained, depleted and distraught. Gaslighting was the hallmark of this relationship, but at the time, my ego would never have allowed me to reach out to anyone, or admit that I was being subjected to emotional abuse – obviously because I was invincible and ‘in control’. The end of this relationship saw me enter the online dating arena. I met some good guys, but my self-allocated responsibilities wouldn’t allow me to pack up and leave. I mean, even if I had married that guy living just an hour away, how would I get home at 3am when my mother was having an anxiety attack over throwing an old pair of shoes in the bin? Who would go through the outdoor bins in the early hours of the morning in the midst of winter, like a diseased rat just to calm her down? Yep, that was my job – and actually, I really didn’t mind, even if my hands would emerge covered in spoilt chapatti dough from the night before last.

So what changed in my thirties? Well firstly, I found my passion in working with survivors of human trafficking. It gave me a sense of purpose and allowed me to channel my anger into making a difference to the lives of those that were vulnerable. My job became my biggest blessing. I learnt a lot from my clients. Their immeasurable strength and willingness to carry on in the face of adversity really put things into perspective for me. I realised that I was exactly where I was required to be and that every experience carried a life lesson; my faith in God became unshakeable – I knew he had my back.

My mother’s anxiety became more manageable when I realised that mollycoddling her like a 4-year-old wasn’t helping her. My sister had grown up and was sensible (though sometimes too sensible), so we worked on making her more independent. These days, she is a social butterfly and doesn’t really give a fuck about us mere mortals – she is the queen of social media, and yes, even has a bloody ‘tick tock’ account!

Freeing myself from some of my responsibilities has given me plenty of time to self-reflect. At thirty-five I now know that it is okay for my friends to know who I really am; and it turns out that they love the filthy-minded, imperfect, confused and sometimes wrong me (though for the record – I’m never wrong). I’ve learnt that we all have our own struggles and reasons for being where we are; there is no judgement between us. I know that my friends will be there if I struggle to cope, but most importantly, they will bring that shovel to bury the next body under my patio – without question.

At thirty-five I finally appreciate that happiness is a choice and that I am responsible for my own happiness.  I understand the need to keep ‘destination addiction’ – the idea that happiness can be found somewhere other than the present, at bay. Happiness does not lie in my next relationship, job or my shrinking hips, though the latter is open to debate.

There are of course areas of my life that are still surrounded by uncertainty. I’ve recently come to realise that marriage really isn’t for me. My biological clock, however, issues me with daily warnings, because despite my frequent jokes about babies being “cum pets”, I want to be a mother. As much as I’d love to head down to my local sperm bank for a donation from a gorgeous gora, as a Muslim woman trying to keep the balance between the East v West, the odds on that are still against me. I know, however, that one way or another (I’m creative like that), I will be a mother. I am destined to raise good children – a son that will be worthy of being someone’s husband, and a daughter that doesn’t have to live in fear of uncle Amjad making her uncomfortable because mummy and her aunties will have buried the bastard under the patio before he can even think of it.

As a single woman in your thirties, it’s easy to forget how you got here. It’s much easier to forget the sacrifices that you’ve made. Instead, you convince yourself that fuck face aunty Bushra is right; you are single because you are “too picky” or “stuck in your ways”. No, you don’t need to be the fourth wife of Jamal with the hairy back, because you’re in your thirties. If bucktooth Billy is what your heart desires and you can find a way to make it work – let’s get the bloody non-alcoholic champagne out! Similarly, if no one meets the standards that you have set for yourself – and you are fully entitled to do so, don’t let anyone tell you that you must marry because you are quite capable of being whole, all by yourself.

For what it’s worth, I’m discovering the joy in finally living for myself. I take risks that I wouldn’t have dreamt of taking in my twenties. I still make plenty of mistakes – be it the sporadic raged outbursts, accidental witchcraft (yeah – don’t ask!), still caring for people that I know will shit on me, or allowing myself, now and then, to be treated like an option. At thirty-five though, whilst I continue to learn and grow, I can finally say that I actually really like me. I like that I can be kind, compassionate, generous, full of inappropriate humour and kinda batshit crazy all at the same time. I like that I speak my truth, and am – unapologetically me.  

This post really wasn’t supposed to make it to my blog of dating horrors. In fact, I’ve sat on it for a couple of days, questioning whether I’ve lost my mind in trying to share this with my friends, colleagues and the bloody World Wide Web. However, when the sister you’ve raised wishes that “more women would talk about the positive experiences of being in their thirties”, you know it’s time to lift the veil.

Stay tuned for the next dose of dating disasters, where I explain why my ‘date’ was pelted with eggs..

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The Accidental Lawyer

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