The moment I knew: ‘Talking about religious marriage after a few dates is a lot – but he understood’

Dating was strictly forbidden in Zoya Patel’s family. But it was Chris’s openness and maturity, at just 22, that convinced her he was worth the risk

I remember the first time I laid eyes on Chris. We were students at the Australian National University in Canberra. I was attending an editorial meeting for the student newspaper at Chifley Library and I looked up in time to see a cute guy I hadn’t met before walk into the room.

He had floppy brown hair, skinny jeans and a bomber jacket, and looked like the long-lost third brother in Oasis. I did what any sensible, straight young woman would do upon seeing an attractive man – I leaned over to my best friend and whispered, “dibs”.

We became friends and for a while it seemed that was all we’d ever be.

But one day – about two years into our platonic friendship – we met for coffee. Chris was a bit weird, edgier than usual and insisted on walking me to the restaurant where I was meeting friends for dinner.

“All right,” I said with a shrug and when we reached the venue, I cheerily waved him off, not reading too much into his odd behaviour.

An hour later, midway through my meal, my phone dinged with a text from Chris. “Oh my god,” I said, as I read it at the table. “Chris just asked me out.”

There was no question that I would say yes: I’d had romantic feelings towards him for years. But I also had a whole lot of baggage to unpack first.

Chris was the first guy I had ever agreed to go on a date with. Not because of lack of opportunity, but because as a Fijian-Indian girl, raised in a Muslim family, dating was strictly forbidden. My family expected I would have an arranged marriage to someone from our culture. If I dated anyone, it would have to be a secret from them. And if it was ever going to get serious, there would be a lot of drama to work through and potentially the expectation my partner would convert to Islam – even marry me – in order to be accepted by my family.

Author Zoya Patel with her partner Chris as young university students in Canberra.
Author Zoya Patel with her partner Chris as young university students in Canberra. Photograph: Zoya Patel

After a few dates, I decided to tell Chris about my family situation. I could already see our relationship was developing and it wouldn’t be long before I would have to explain why he couldn’t meet my family.

Sitting across from him at a cafe, I haltingly told him about the cultural expectations of my parents.

“I know it sounds like a lot,” I mumbled, “but my family is really important to me. And even though I’m not religious, any partner who wants to have a relationship with me long-term would need to be open to having a Muslim wedding at some point.”

Chris took this in while I nervously tried to change the subject. But a few hours later, when he was dropping me home, he turned to me and said, “You know, if having a Muslim wedding is important to you and would make things right with your family, I would do that.”

I was blown away. He was 22 years old, after all, and talking about a religious marriage after just a few dates is a lot. But that’s the thing about Chris: he understands our cultural contexts are really different but equally valid. And he respects that what commitment looks like, in each of those contexts, are unique. His openness and willingness to meet me halfway is what made me certain that this relationship was worth risking my family’s approval for.

It’s been 11 years since that fateful conversation and despite a rocky start, my family have welcomed Chris into the fold. Now, he and I share a home with a cat, a dog and three horses. And I dibs him forever.

  • Zoya Patel is an author of fiction and nonfiction, and writes about race, feminism and the arts. Follow her work and musings at @zoyajpatel


Zoya Patel

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
The moment I knew: I thought two dates meant I was in a long-term relationship. Then we went on a third
Todd Alexander’s parents were teenage sweethearts who’d been together for decades. He thought he didn’t stand a chance – until he met Jeff

Todd Alexander

18, Mar, 2023 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: ‘Being with Lola felt instinctive – like breathing’
An unremarkable commute down the Nepean Highway turns into a moment of revelation for Katie Brebner Griffin

Katie Brebner Griffin

05, Nov, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: ‘A buffet of international men couldn’t sway me’
When she set out for a long international trip, Freya Bennett knew she liked Serge. But it took 10,427 miles of distance for her to realise how much

Freya Bennett

17, Dec, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: I arrived home days late after a holiday from hell to find 30 deflating balloons
Cold, exhausted and broke, Lucy Pearson realised she’d come back not just to her apartment but to a man who felt like home

Lucy Pearson

15, Oct, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: ‘She asked if she could kiss me. Tectonic plates shifted’
Three months before her visa was set to expire, on a warm summer night in Washington Square Park, Amanda Smith realised she’d do anything to stay with Carianne

Amanda Smith

08, Oct, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: the second I heard her voice again, the planets realigned
Andrew Clancey fell in love with Marianne in the early 1990s – then the pair didn’t see each other for 23 years

As told to Janine Israel

08, Apr, 2023 @8:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: our visa situation made things complicated – then he proposed, hypothetically
International students Vidya Madabushi and Jason shared a love of Scrabble and good poetry. After they broke up, Vidya took a last-chance shot at their relationship

Vidya Madabushi

17, Jun, 2023 @8:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: ‘The train station was where I first felt the magic’
Despite his chemistry with Alison, Paul Callaghan was reluctant to turn their friendship into something more – but a winter morning commute changed his mind.

Paul Callaghan

22, Jul, 2023 @8:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: ‘After months of emailing every thought we ever had back and forth, we met for a walk’
On a Saturday shift, looking for something to do, Jasper Peach signed up for a dating site. That led to a free-flowing conversation that started and never stopped

Jasper Peach

19, Nov, 2022 @7:00 PM

Article image
The moment I knew: the dancefloor parted and I found Merryn – we kissed all night
Neither Erin Riley nor Merryn considered themselves the type of people who get married, but as their love blossomed on nights out together, something changed

Erin Riley

09, Sep, 2023 @8:00 PM