Gani and I celebrated our second wedding anniversary yesterday. We treated ourselves to the best seats at a play over the weekend—Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem, which we both thoroughly enjoyed—and then a massive carb feast last night. I’ve still been burping pizza all day today.

It’s funny to think that I used to scoff at the idea of getting married. I thought people who wanted to settle down were so weak and insecure that they were willing to compromise their freedom just so that they wouldn’t have to feel lonely. I thought my singlehood proved my strength, confidence and independence. When my friends talked about a “happily ever after”, all I could think of were divorce statistics and horror stories about failed or unhappy marriages. A bitter voice at the back of my mind also reminded me constantly that even my own parents’ seemingly perfect marriage had crumbled—what made me think I could have a successful one? After all, wasn’t there some sort of statistic that showed that children of divorced parents were a lot more likely to go through divorce themselves? Why would I even take that chance?

Then I met Gani. When he told me barely a couple of months into our acquaintance that he intended for us to get married and that he was willing to wait till I felt ready, I thought he was crazy. Not only did I perceive myself to be of highly unmarriageable quality, I had also started to adopt the more westernized notion that marriage was a totally taboo topic to bring up at the start of a relationship. Wasn’t it something couples cautiously skirted for years and years and held off for as long as possible, until eventually there could be no other direction for them to head in, or until societal pressure got too great to ignore? Although this wasn’t an idea I personally subscribed to, it was something I understood and was used to.

But Gani was so persistent. He made it very clear that he didn’t want to just date without a goal in mind. He applied for a visa conversion so he wouldn’t have to go back to Russia after our “fling”. He introduced me to his family via Skype. He casually peppered his sentences with phrases like “when we are married”. It was very confusing to me. Here was this smart, logic-loving man, and yet what archaic ideas he had!

I was definitely attracted to him, however; there was no denying that. The more time we spent together, the easier it became for me to entertain his crazy idea. I fell in love with his intelligence and humor, his honesty and respectfulness, his willingness to listen and determination to make things work, and his infectious zest for life in general.

Still, the cynic in me wasn’t 100% sold. We liked each other a lot, but did that mean we could live together for the rest of our lives… and actually be happy? What if he had a weird secret fetish or something? Or what if he couldn’t tolerate some of my own quirks/flaws? What if we were just too culturally incompatible? I had never even had a Russian friend before. I knew nothing about the social and cultural contexts he had grown up in. There were just so many things to consider.

So here’s where I confess something (Islamically) controversial: I am, and have always been, pro-cohabitation.

We explored this idea together, although I was a lot more comfortable with it than he was. To me, it was the best solution. I definitely did not want to marry someone I’d known only a couple of months, no matter how awesome he seemed. Besides, I didn’t want to be married while still studying. I wanted to stay as responsibility-free as possible throughout my student life. Living together would not only help us understand each other better, it would also save us a ton of money. We both agreed that if we still enjoyed each other’s company after two years, we would get married as soon as we graduated.

So we did that for two years. Along the way, we had some of the best experiences of our lives, we made great friends, we traveled across the country, we had plenty of nasty fights, we yelled and apologized and laughed and learned… and we even adopted a cat (and then another).

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Cohabitation may not work for everyone. But for us, it really did. Physical isolation from our families and navigating life in a foreign country meant that we had to lean on each other completely for support. I was so used to keeping my distance, keeping secrets and putting up fronts, but living together forced me to break down all those walls and learn to trust that someone else could genuinely have my best interests at heart.

Looking back at it all, I know I have been immensely blessed. I definitely feel like a higher power has always had my back and I am truly grateful. But I also know better than to be complacent or to get too comfortable. Marriage is nothing more than a milestone, a technicality. It’s only been two years. We’re still learning. We still have unresolved issues. We haven’t yet had to face a really major crisis. Happier-looking marriages than ours have dissolved.

But I think we both have come a long way. And right now, I just want to acknowledge and celebrate that. :)

ETA: Oh and also, I finally got around to putting up all our wedding photos here: 10may.net. YAY!

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