Navigating dating as a Muslim gal: lies, alibis and imposter syndrome

“Would you mind if I borrowed your phone, pretended you were my friend Agnes and texted my mum?” asked me, aged 23, on a first date with a white boy from dating app Happn. “Sure”, he said, without batting an eyelid. Phew, someone finally gets it! I’m not sure how familiar this scenario is to people, but this was me on a Thursday, at midnight, with my phone out of battery, while my parents were probably calling a national search as a I didn’t tell them I would be coming home late. Agnes was my alibi.

My family comes from Pakistan, and are practising Muslims, so growing up there were quite a lot of things I wasn’t allowed to do. My parents aren’t as strict as other Muslims I know but they definitely put their foot down when it comes to dating and drinking. Their plan for me is to find a Pakistani boy to marry as soon as I finish medical school, yet they disapprove of modern dating and essentially any pre-marital relationship.

For years I internalised this as the norm, but when I turned sixteen I began to question all the rules about dating, virginity, and modesty. I started to drink secretly, which increased when I left home. I distinctly remember being in a club, texting my mum goodnight whilst downing shots and kissing the guy I was next to. While I lived away from home, I crushed hard, mainly on white guys (possibly out of rebellion), but I never got into any sort of relationship. I found it incomprehensible that I would sleep with someone before getting married, or at least before being with them for years. However, in the last year since I have been back home, my attitude has completely changed.

“He seemed to love the fact that I had to lie, and always wanted to know the stories I told my parents”

The first guy I had sex with was a friend of a friend I met in the queue to a terrible club, while I was trying to get over my latest unrequited crush, a white guy who had a “thing for South Asians.” He and I went on a few “dates” (i.e. kissing in a park), and I went over to his one night. He seemed to love the fact that I had to lie, and always wanted to know the stories I told my parents. “You’re so cheeky, it’s really hot,” he said, with a glint in his eye. He was half-white, half-Bangladeshi, but his parents were chill, and he told me how great it was that he could share all aspects of his life with them. He asked me if there was a reason I hadn’t had sex before. I joked that I didn’t have a vagina, and then said it was because I was Muslim and found it difficult to reconcile with my faith. He looked shocked, as if I were a walking contradiction, fasting by day and drinking by night.

We finally had sex when my parents were out of town and I was fed up with trekking to Zone 4. I told my mum I was having friends over so she made samosas for us (as it turns out he was severely allergic to lentils and peas, so after one bite I had to rinse out my mouth – slightly awkward.) After the sex, my main thoughts on the whole occasion were: “This was excellent and needs to happen again as soon as possible”, followed by “Literally, why did I wait?!”

Jump forward to the time I went home with Happn guy. We were lying on his bed, making out, when he suddenly said, as if he’d been thinking about this a lot, “But… is it okay for you to have sex? Like when you get an arranged marriage wouldn’t the guy want you to have remained pure?” He seemed deeply concerned.

“Wow, how sweet! It’s so nice that he’s putting aside his own needs to think about my future as a Pakistani bride!” were thoughts I did not have.

“I put it down to cultural ignorance, but the way he talked to me was actually quite patronising”

My preconceptions of him as super woke (he had Pakistani friends! Goldmine! He was capable of talking about his feelings! Jackpot!) slowly evaporated. I put it down to cultural ignorance, but the way he talked to me was actually quite patronising.

“But… at least your parents know you have sex right?” he continued “Have you ever brought a guy home?” In these situations I vacillate between being completely upfront thus making a relationship unlikely or brushing over the fact that the relationship has to be secret. “I don’t get why you can’t just stay over…” (Well, because I’m currently at a dinner party with my university friends in Camden?) I left his house, drained and insecure, texting my mum pretending that the Uber ETA link was broken. I was too tired to work out a plausible explanation as to why I’d gone from Camden to Baron’s Court.

I felt conflicted. Of course I would never want to marry someone who was looking for someone “pure”, as this doesn’t fit with my feminist sensibilities. Ideally, I would find someone with the same “level” of Muslim as me who could relate to my struggles.

“My fears about whether men from my culture would judge me for being sex-positive seemed founded”

Cue the next guy. He had just moved back to London from a stint in Cuba, was super cute and Muslim. On our second date we spent the whole day together. Things got heated and I suggested going somewhere more private, before checking my watch and realising that it was 11pm. “Sorry, there’s no reason I’d hang out with Rebecca from 11am to 11pm and then stay the night. She’s a third-tier friend, it’s just not convincing.” He became less cute when he realised I would sleep with him. My fears about whether men from my culture would judge me for being sex-positive seemed founded.

The next guy – French-Argentinian – I flirted with on holiday at the beach, and then later kissed in someone’s garage. He said, “You’re so hot. You must be mixed race right?” and I replied, “Nope, full Pakistani over here.” “Oh… really?! You definitely look mixed race, are you sure?” He looked disappointed. I left.

I dated the next guy – French – for a month over the summer. He was lovely, but he just could not relate to how I would time leaving his house with my alibi train from my friend’s house so that my parents could pick me up from the station, and how staying over meant a week of plotting.

“Secretly dating means secretly grieving”

After a long period of stringing me along Happn guy told me he’d decided to start dating someone seriously. Secretly dating means secretly grieving. It means thinking of an alibi sad story for the requisite Ben & Jerry’s night at home.

My sexual awakening has been difficult logistically. I have a very active social life so it is easy to think of alibis, but difficult to forge something serious. As a result, I’ve had lots of flings where people don’t fully understand my background, where I always have to compromise something. I think my way of life is unsustainable, and I feel guilty on a daily basis. My brain hurts from the lives I juggle, but it also gets a workout, and my lies stop my parents getting hurt. However, I am fearful for our inevitable clash.

So, hit me up if you know a woke, hot, intellectual, liberal Muslim guy – I’ll probably be dating emotionally unavailable white dudes until then.

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