I recently found myself irritated with having to answer the same ohmygodyouliveinsaudiwhydontyoujustleave question for the one millionth time. Several times a week, whether in the comments or through email, I find myself having to give people a rundown on my situation and how I got myself into it. Why don’t they just read the blog, I always wonder. But I recently stopped being bitchy about it long enough to realize that this blog is more than two years old and I have removed much of my story for privacy reasons, so, for those of you wondering, this is a sort of catch-up post.
A little over a decade ago, I had just moved to a new city, split up with my high school sweetheart of 5 years, and got my very own one bedroom apartment, where I would spend significant amounts of time crying on the couch with a large glass of Crown and Coke, worried about being forever alone at 19.
Enter The Mr. He was tall, dark, and handsome. He had an accent, my God that accent. I used to make my friends listen to his voice message recordings over and over, because wow. He was exotic and soft spoken, unlike anyone I’d ever known before. Here was a gorgeous, generous man who wanted me at a time when I felt oh so unwanted. I was hooked from the start.
I had no idea what Saudi Arabia was and couldn’t have pointed to it on a map. I had never heard the word Islam, and the only thing I knew about Muslims was that they didn’t go to church like the rest of us. I was fascinated by him and his different-ness and had no idea what it meant to be falling for a young Saudi man on a student visa.
We were together for about a year when I became pregnant. He graduated and left when our daughter was two weeks old. I was prepared to never see him again. In 2007, after two and a half years of waiting, he got the permission for us to move to Saudi.
I went willingly, against my family’s wishes, prepared to fall instantly into domestic and religious bliss. Neither of those things happened. After a year and a half we decided to move back to the states. The plan was for him to get his Master’s degree so he could come back to Saudi and make more money. My secret plan was to somehow fix the marriage that wasn’t anything I wanted it to be or to move on while in the States and the law was on my side. Neither of those things happened.
We spent two and a half years in the States working and living life, ignoring problems in the marriage that were there from the start. We were never on the same page. Neither of us handled it well. The last 6 months that we were in the States were the worst of my life. Everything had fallen apart and I was scared of losing my daughter and of destroying her world.
One night he woke me up to tell me he was going to move back to Saudi and he was going to take our daughter. Not in a threatening way, but that’s what he thought was best. I resisted at first, but eventually agreed to come back. Part of me hoped that things would improve for us in the Kingdom and our marriage would work out. Mostly I was just afraid that if I didn’t go, he would eventually take her and I’d lose access to her. So back to Saudi we went. That was two years ago.
Things are ok here now. I’m surviving. I have my daughter with me the majority of the time. The Mr. is generous when splitting her time, so she stays with me during the week and he hangs out with her on the weekends. Her life is stable and she is blissfully unaware that our living situation is anything but normal. She’s altogether a happy, well adjusted kid.
I’m not going to lie and say that it’s always easy or that I don’t have my days where I wonder what if, or replay scenarios in my head of things that could have been. But most days I am at peace with what’s come of all of it. It’s not what I imagined it would be, it’s not what I had planned. Hindsight always has a way of rubbing in the things I should have done differently, but such is life, right?
I’ve made a nice little group of friends and I try to stay socially active. I try to make the best of each day. Most days I don’t even think about my circumstances and why I’m here and life is great. Sometimes it all hits me at once and becomes so overwhelming I cry for a few days. It’s life.
I get a lot of questions about why, if I really want the best for my daughter, do I stay in Saudi Arabia. It shocks a lot of people that I do not have any plans of taking my daughter back to the States. In a perfect world I would be able to do so, but the world isn’t perfect and it doesn’t revolve around me and my preferences. Right now my world revolves around my daughter and doing whatever I can to give her a happy life with both of her parents. We go back often, on The Mr’s expense, to visit family and friends, and I am content with that.
No, life is not always easy here. It is difficult, not to mention illegal, for me to work and financially support myself, so I depend a lot on The Mr. and his family. As a woman who was raised to depend only on herself and as someone who has been on her own since she was 18, it’s not always been easy for me to depend on others here, but I’ve learned to accept it for what it is. It’s hard to be away from family and friends and familiar surroundings. The language barrier is annoying. The lack of freedom of movement is infuriating. These challenges may be unique to my life in Saudi Arabia, but I’d have other challenges elsewhere.
The thing I worry about most is my own future. Many of you ask if I’m still married to The Mr. or why I’m still married to him. I am still married to him, because I have to be. I cannot live in Saudi without a sponsor, and for a woman like me without any family here, my only choices are to be sponsored by a husband or an employer. Since I have no degree, there isn’t a company that would sponsor me, and even if I found one that would, it would put me at risk for deportation should my employment be terminated. So I’m staying put with the husband option.
I could opt to divorce The Mr. and marry another Saudi (after getting government permission, of course) but you can imagine how excited I would be to sign my life off to another man who holds the power over if I can work or if I can travel.
So, yes. The Mr. and I are still legally married, but separated. Indefinitely. Sometimes I wonder how long I can stay like this. People here do it all the time. Divorce is taboo, women don’t want to lose their children, so they stay married but live separate lives to avoid the social stigma. A good portion of Western women married to Saudis living in KSA do the same. I’m not sure I’m cut out for it long term, but it’s what I have to do for now.
And there you have it, friends. The nutshell version of how I ended up where I am. It’s kind of depressing when I read it back to myself. I guess that’s why I stopped writing about my situation as much. It’s easier to cry it out when I need to or talk to a friend, but now it’s here for those of you who want to know. Thanks for reading