Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

A Different Kind of Love: Compatibility (Insijam) and Marriage in Jordan

Academic journal article Arab Studies Journal

A Different Kind of Love: Compatibility (Insijam) and Marriage in Jordan

Article excerpt

Love Tales

One of the earliest tales of "love marriage" in Jordan I ever heard was that of my maternal grandparents. In 1932, my grandfather, Adib, espied my grandmother, Wadi'a, when bringing his father (my great-grandfather) to the hospital in her hometown of 'Ajloun. According to my grandfather, it was love at first sight and soon after he asked for her hand in marriage. While awaiting her family's response, he heard that my grandmother's paternal first cousin intended to marry her himself. This news worried my grandfather since, according to tradition, the paternal first cousin had to concede his own right to marry before a woman could be betrothed. Determined to marry the girl he loved, Adib rode to the cousin's house on horseback, shot his rifle in the air and exclaimed, "Wadi'a is mine! Stay away from her!" My grandmother's family was reluctant to accept my grandfather's proposal because of his financial situation. Not to be deterred, my grandfather worked hard to prove that he could provide a good life for his wife. My grandmother's family eventually relented.

My grandfather professed his love for my grandmother before ever speaking with her. It would have been improper for my grandmother to reciprocate, if in fact the feeling was mutual. The initial experience of love at first sight led to their marriage, but it was through decades of life together that they grew to love each other deeply. As a final testament to their love, my grandmother outlived my grandfather by a mere forty days because, as the story goes, neither could bear to live without the other.

Despite the fact that these events took place almost a century ago, the tale of my grandparents' marriage parallels accounts of "love marriages" that I have heard repeatedly in the course of conducting research in J ordan.1 In the girls' high school where I conducted ethnographic research in 2005,2 students debated whether one should "marry for love," while they shared similar tales of the love marriages of parents and grandparents.3 Some argued that they would only marry for love, while others insisted that romance was a faulty basis for marriage. Not surprisingly, love talk abounded among these high school girls, as it did with many of my interlocutors when I brought up the subject of marriage. But while I heard many love stories, the relationship between love and marriage-the subject of much debate-was not a given.

In 2011, I interviewed forty-six single men and women residing and working in Amman about their views on marriage.4 In these interviews, I was particularly interested in hearing perspectives on the supposed "marriage crisis" (the delay or forgoing of marriage) regularly broached in the media and corroborated by some researchers and policymakers.5 In addition, we discussed my interlocutors' views on suitable marriage partners and their experiences trying to find one. In these interviews, men and women consistently referenced the importance of compatibility (insijam)6 as a basis for marriage. Many, however, were ambivalent about love-and particularly what was referred to as "hubb romansi"or romantic love-questioning its reliability as a basis for marriage. The practical issues of financial security and the ability of a couple's families to get along, as well as shared expectations of married life, made romantic love a luxury in finding a spouse. At the same time, almost all emphasized that they did not want a "traditional marriage" (zawaj taqlidi). In other words, they wanted to know a potential partner before committing, although what "knowing" a potential partner consisted of varied significantly.7 For some, love was a prerequisite for mar- riage, but many others spoke of the conditions necessary for love to grow over time-most important among them insijam.

The emphasis on insijam among my interviewees, with its echoes of companionate marriage,8 denoted a level or type of compatibility that would ensure marital stability, prevent discord among families and, potentially, foster love between husband and wife. …

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