x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Marriage is for a lifetime, so you should look beyond looks

Choosing marriage partners should be based on who they are on the inside, not what they look like on the outside, writes Khalid Al Ameri

Zayed University's Dr Justin Thomas, who has been studying what Emiratis are looking for in a spouse.   Andrew Henderson / The National
Zayed University's Dr Justin Thomas, who has been studying what Emiratis are looking for in a spouse. Andrew Henderson / The National

Are you a tall, single, good- looking female with long hair, beautiful eyes and a job? Well, then you might just have what it takes to meet the standards being set by Emirati males looking for a wife. A recent study, co-authored by Professor Justin Thomas of Zayed University – a regular columnist on this page – outlines a shift in the characteristics by which Emirati males choose a spouse. Traditionally, those characteristics were based on values, morals and personality. Now, however, they are more focused on beauty, shape and size.

The mentality of our young men, although dramatically changed from their fathers and grandfathers, comes as no surprise, because our society has grown more materialistic. We constantly aim for the most glamorous things this world has to offer, so it is only natural that those ambitions creep into our private lives. Men want to marry a young woman with the same glamour and beauty being showcased in everything else that surrounds them.

Now don’t get me wrong; it is perfectly natural for a man, or woman, to want to marry a partner who is physically attractive. The problem is when that is the only characteristic they are looking for, where intelligence, personality and religious values all take a back seat. Anyone who is married will tell you that, although looks might bring a couple together in the beginning, it is the kindness and care they show for each other that keeps them together until the end. If someone is looking for beauty first with personality not even a close second, then they might not be mature enough to get married in the first place.

I also tend to think that a lack of courtship, which is where a couple meet up and spend time together with the intention of an engagement and marriage, has played a big role in the shifting mindsets of men. It is frowned upon in the UAE, and in the wider region, for a couple to get to know each other better before getting married. Therefore, a young man is going to try to hedge his bets and tell himself what he doesn’t know about her personality he has to make up for with her looks. But that means that all he is marrying is her beauty; he controls nothing else.

It is no wonder that divorce rates are so high when the foundations of marriages are so weak. Our society as a whole depends on strong bonds of marriage that will lead to stronger bonds among families, neighbours and people across the UAE.

There are a few steps we can take to change this, the first being a shift in the mentalities of families towards marriage. We should allow couples to get to know each other better under the guidance and observation of their families; allow them to understand what makes the other one happy, and know their ambitions and dreams for the future. There is nothing wrong with this; it sets the ground for a strong relationship built on more than simply how a person looks on a given day. If intentions are pure, then the process will be too.

The second step would be workshops for young people on the fundamentals of marriage. I feel that we might be missing the point of marriage when our men are profiling women based on their physical attraction. We need to understand that wives are life partners, not specimens to show off to the world – and only love and a connection of minds can bring partners together for life.

Finally, we should create chaperoned environments such as social events or meet-and-greets where men and women can interact more freely. Men and women in the Arab world simply don’t interact with each other enough. The reason why so many work colleagues end up marrying is because they met in a safe environment that didn’t judge them for talking to each other and understanding one another better.

I have been married for seven years now, so believe me when I say that no matter how good we look the rest of the time, neither I nor my spouse is a pretty sight first thing in the morning. But it is how we make each other feel that keeps us looking and smiling at one another.

Marriage is the coming together of two hearts and souls, with the promise to love each other for life. Through that promise you bring more life into this world and create nourishing environments for your children to thrive, and to go out and make the world a better place. These are the building blocks for a society filled with joy, love and happiness. It all starts with who we marry – who they are on the inside, not what they look like on the outside.

Khalid Al Ameri is an Emirati who recently returned from Stanford University after receiving his MBA

On Twitter: @KhalidAlAmeri