Note: I don’t have a moral to this story, and I see no upside. I wrote about it because it has been weighing heavily on my wife and me for several days now, and writing about it is oddly therapeutic for both of us.
Earlier this week we learned that my wife’s oldest friend is divorcing her husband. It is in my opinion not a frivolous divorce, but deeply troubling nonetheless. Her soon to be ex husband is a compulsive spender and after five years of broken promises, lies, and mounting debt she decided she couldn’t continue. Perhaps the most frustrating is the fact that with some very doable changes they could be very happy. Now the future is bleak for both of them.
My wife’s friend and her husband are both Muslim of Pakistani descent. I’ll refer to my wife’s friend as Amira, and her husband as Aban. Amira was born and raised in the US and is very western. At times she refers to herself as Muslim-Christian, which exemplifies the way she is trying to live in multiple worlds without choosing. She has a bachelors degree in Microbiology and a degree of feminism which doesn’t go over well at the local mosque. She didn’t take Aban’s last name when they married and at one point the tires of her 4×4 pickup were slashed when the men realized it belonged to a Muslim woman. She has a very traditional view of chastity and marriage, and has never been with a man other than Aban.
Aban is a smart, gentle, hard working, and easy going man. He is also a strange mix; when Amira suggested they go camping he agreed on the condition that they do so at a luxury hotel*. Aban prefers not to drive the truck because it intimidates him; he would rather drive a minivan or a car*. He is obsessed with the status he perceives as coming with the latest hot items from the most expensive brands/designers. He and his buddies like to watch Sex and the City*, and he is convinced that frivolous divorcées were just dealt a bad hand in life. He has a deep seated fear of dogs (he once jumped on the nearest couch when his boss’ toy poodle came into the room), and is afraid of guns*.
My wife has been talking with Amira about this blog for several months now, and Amira seemed to “get it” almost instantly. She was quick to share stories about a woman at her workplace who was bragging about her new boyfriend following her empowering (and frivolous) divorce. The colleague went from being married to a good man who was a successful dentist to dating an omega who when visiting the office explained that he always carries a change of underwear because driving in traffic often makes him so nervous he soils himself. She also picked up on the concepts of game almost immediately, and made some very insightful observations.
This week my wife learned that Amira has moved out and is filing for divorce. We knew they were having problems with Aban spending money, but we thought it was generally under control. It turns out that Amira moved out once before over the issue, and Aban had promised to stop his frivolous spending. She tried to help him by having him take cash to buy his lunch at work and cutting up the credit cards. Since internet shopping was a big part of his problem they turned off their internet service. They set aside several hundred dollars for eating out each month and bought gift cards for their favorite restaurants. When the gift cards ran out they would know they needed to wait until the next month to go out to eat. But nothing worked. He went to the bank during his lunch hour and withdrew money to shop. He went to friends’ houses to shop on the internet. He secretly took out a new credit card in his name only and racked up an additional $10,000 in only a year. Aban never saw his spending as a problem, even though both of them were working multiple jobs to pay the monthly minimum on their credit card bills on top of their nearly half a million dollar mortgage (they bought at the height of the housing market).
I don’t know what Amira could have done differently. If anyone has any suggestions my wife and I would love to hear them. Not only were they deep in debt and going deeper every day, but they are in their late 30s and neither has saved anything for retirement. However, while the reason for divorce isn’t frivolous Amira has now fallen in with a clique of frivolous divorcées. She has started parroting the clichés, saying things like “sometimes a couple stops clicking at the 10 year mark”, and telling my wife she won’t understand her like her new divorced friends because she is married. The speed of the transformation is astounding. This isn’t the same woman my wife has known since 7th grade.
While we have repeatedly gone over the reality of divorce for women on this blog, for Amira the future looks especially painful. Her parents had disowned her when she married Aban (he is of a slightly lower caste), and she is reconnecting with her mother now. But her mother won’t give her any peace until she has married her off to a Muslim man of sufficient status. As a feminist Muslim woman who divorced her Muslim husband, Amira will not be treated well by either the suitor her mother picks for her or the other women in her and her mother’s social circle. It is hard as a westerner to fathom the amount of pressure involved here. After Amira married Aban her family said they wanted to meet him. Her father brought a knife and tried to kill Aban. Years later her family contacted her and suggested she could reconcile with them if she met them alone in a private place and didn’t tell anyone she was meeting them. During the same period her grandmother in Pakistan wrote her to warn her not to attend her funeral when she passed, because once they had her in Pakistan they would have complete control over her.
As difficult as getting Aban to change would be, it strikes me as Amira’s best chance at happiness. I don’t know about her attraction (seems to be there more than you would normally expect for his level of betaness), but she does really love Aban. If she marries a non Muslim man she would have to break again with her family, something we don’t think she is willing to do. To her mother nothing short of an arranged marriage to a man of high status will be acceptable, and this would seem to mean a much older doctor or similar professional who won’t think well of her to say the least. They haven’t settled the divorce but from what I know it sounds like it will be about dividing debt and not assets. The one silver lining is they don’t have any children, so the only people harmed will be the two of them. For Aban the future also looks bleak, as I don’t see how he can manage to pay their 400k+ mortgage by himself. Once he/they default on the house his access to credit will dry up, and he will have to live on his own income alone. His days of buying $400 sneakers, getting the latest phone every six months and buying top dollar table cloths would seem to be numbered.
*They live in Northern California (Bay Area). Yes, I know NANCALT.