In any marriage, in-laws are pretty important. If your potential spouse’s parents don’t approve of you, it can make building a life together exponentially more difficult. Nowhere is this more true than in Saudi Arabia.
In America, if families don’t approve of the match, it will probably proceed begrudgingly, with the understanding that no matter how unhappy the families are about the marriage, the bride and groom are adults who can technically marry whomever they please. On the other hand, in Saudi Arabia, if the families don’t approve of the match, or even if one of the families doesn’t approve, the marriage simply doesn’t happen (that is, unless both the bride and groom are older, perhaps divorced or widowed, and don’t have parents to answer to anymore).
Now, ideally, I would recommend that these standards be adhered to in the case of a relationship between a Saudi boy and a non-Saudi girl. Saudis can technically marry whomever they please in other countries once they are outside of the Kingdom, so this often happens. (However, for those considering this option, I would remind you that from what I’ve been told, if a Saudi man marries outside the Kingdom and then tries to get the marriage permission afterward, he could face jail time and a hefty fine.) And in these cases, I have heard of stories where women were married to Saudis and kept secret from their husbands’ families…and the babies that resulted from the marriages were kept secret, as well. Some (well, most) of these marriages failed. Others actually survived the volcanic eruption that ensued when the Saudi finally spilled the beans about his secret foreign family to his parents, albeit with incredible difficulty. But I have heard many more stories of Saudis who wanted to marry a non-Saudi but couldn’t get their families to approve of the match…and so they left the relationship and married someone else their family approved of.
Beyond being crucially important in terms of whether or not a marriage actually gets off the ground, the in-laws pretty much determine whether or not a non-Saudi will be happy in Saudi Arabia, especially since it’s common for a newly married couple to live with in-laws for a few years, as we do. I have heard lots of horrific stories about in-laws in general, but stories about Saudi in-laws mostly take the cake.
So with all that in mind, I feel incredibly lucky that my Saudi in-laws were willing to accept our marriage…and that they are wonderful. It took some convincing on Saleh’s part to get them to approve, but since I arrived here, they have done everything they can to make me happy and comfortable. They try so hard to include me in everything, and my father-in-law especially is always willing to translate to keep me in the conversation, even when he’s not exactly sure how to do so. My mother-in-law cooks for me, and always offers me anything in the kitchen. (“Nicole…come take anything you want. Our kitchen is your supermarket!”) My brother-in-law and my sister-in-law make me laugh. I feel so at home in this house…I can stay in my apartment as much as I want, and I can go downstairs to the rest of the house as much as I want.
When I first got here, my in-laws Skyped with my parents and assured them that they would take good care of me, as I was their daughter now, too. And they have. One evening I was terribly homesick, and I went downstairs, sat on the couch next to my mother-in-law, and said, “I just need a hug.” She put her arm around me, I rested my head on her shoulder, we watched TV for awhile (an Arabic show of which I understood nothing, but it didn’t matter), and I felt better.
But beyond the parental, my in-laws understand the massive adjustments I’m making here in Saudi Arabia, and they are willing to make adjustments, too. They understand and accept my limitations in terms of language and culture. They know I’m not Saudi and don’t expect me to be. But they include me in everything, even when I don’t fit, with a sort of “love me, love my dog” determination (well, in Saudi Arabia, it’s probably more like “love me, love my cat”). I always worry that I am an embarrassment to them, but they seem to be happy to have me around. For that, I’m so grateful.
And speaking of dogs, they’re even willing to accept mine. Now that…that is amazing.
It seems an embarrassment of riches that not only was I born into a wonderful family, I married into one, as well. But at least I know it. And I never, ever forget to be thankful.