My Big Fat Indonesian Nikkah

I grew up with the naive idea that there was only one way to get married – someone special asks you whether you want to spend the rest of your life with them, you say yes, you are engaged and then you have a wedding sometime in the near future. What happened in reality was a bit different.

Dating has always been an interesting experience growing up living in different places. Balancing my family's cultural expectations in a society with western ideals makes me feel like an expert in compromise. Of the various cultural rules that were drilled into me, the most common was that I was not able to live with someone before getting married and should the person I marry not be Muslim, they would have to convert to Islam as my dad once did. No pressure.

As you can imagine, this was the perfect recipe for some interesting conversations. If I was lucky, things wouldn't last long enough for me to even bring the topic up. Other times, I'd have to somehow casually drop into conversation the expectations that were placed on me (that's if questions from the other party didn't come up first). For most, it was too much. I met Arnold* at a friend’s birthday. We were introduced and spent the rest of the night talking to each other. I remember looking up at him and thinking, I can see a future with this guy. He had me at "A.S. Former business card owner".

About a year passed before we had that conversation. Being an atheist physicist brought up in a western culture, it was hard for him to accept these expectations. I understood. But Arnold was something else to me and I just couldn’t bring myself to make the decision to end the relationship as with previous relationships. I took a long hard look at myself and tried to make a decision that was true to me, regardless of any exterior pressures. I chose us.

Fast forward a year or two later and we are sitting on the couch, channel surfing when My Big Fat Greek Wedding comes on - it’s the scene where Ian proposes to Toula. “Stop! My favourite scene is coming up!”

Not having seen the movie in a while, I wasn’t aware how far my favourite scene in the film actually is. We continue watching Toula’s family coming to terms with her intending to marry someone from outside the Greek Orthodox Church.

Toula rushes to Ian in a panic:
Toula: Can we go to Vegas?
Ian: What?
Toula: Can we go to Niagara Falls or Fiji?
Ian: You want to go to Fiji? Sure.
Toula: Okay, let’s go. Come on.
Ian: Come here. What’s the matter?
Toula: I just feel like we can’t get married, not like this. It’s like, when I’m with you, I’m so happy but my family is so unhappy. And our wedding should be this joyous thing. But it won’t be for them, because it can’t be in our church. So let’s just go somewhere. Please, let’s just go.
Ian: Hey, I love you.
Toula: Why? Why do you love me?
Ian: Because I came alive when I met you.
Toula: But my family...
Ian: You’re a part of your family... and I’ll do anything, whatever it takes, to get them to accept me. Because you’re my whole life now. We’re not going to skulk off and get married as if we are ashamed of ourselves. Okay?
Toula: Okay.

We watch as Ian is baptized and family celebrations ensue. “My favourite scene!”

Toula: It’s just, Ian is a vegetarian… He doesn’t eat meat…
Thia: He don’t eat no meat?
Toula: No, he doesn’t eat meat.
Thia: What do you mean, “HE DON’T EAT NO MEAT”?
[Silence fills the room as the whole family turns to observe the situation]
Thia: That’s okay, I’ll make lamb.

“We can change the channel now”

Arnold clicks the mute button. “Steph, I’ll do what it takes"

It's a year (or two) later and Arnold is offered a job in Melbourne and again we are back on that topic. Do we both move? If we do, it would make sense to live together - but we aren’t married...

I break the news that we will have a religious ceremony to my mum who at first takes a moment to let it all sink in before bursting into tears of happiness.

As special as the day was, we look forward to taking our remaining relationship ‘steps’ together in our own time and continue on through our unconventional route - dating, nikkah, engagement (if he’s lucky) and wedding.

*Name has been changed for privacy and relationship amusement. Pseudo-name hand-picked by him.

 This article was first published on 14 August 2016