Dear Margo: Love, Family and Prejudice

Margo-Howard_tall10Margo Howard’s advice

Love, Family and Prejudice

Dear Margo: I’m a not very religious Muslim who fell in love with a man who is Christian. We’re planning to be married in a few months in a nonreligious ceremony. My immediate (conservative Muslim) family is upset about this to varying degrees. While my dad hasn’t spoken to me since I broke the news, my sisters are kind of distant but basically polite, and my mom is the most warm and normal with me — until I bring up the subject of my fiance or our upcoming wedding. Then she becomes visibly uncomfortable and tries to shut me down by saying, “I don’t know yet if I’m coming.” My sisters have made it clear they will not be coming.

I’ve tried to take the high road with my family because I know they have a hard time dealing with the fact that I’m not very religious, and in their eyes, I am doing something they believe is a sin. Even though we live in the same city, I haven’t been visiting much except for events like birthdays. It’s becoming more and more hurtful that I can’t talk about the important things in my life — and that they’ve never met my fiance. On top of it all, my mom talks constantly about my younger sister’s upcoming wedding — a month before mine and to a good Muslim boy. My mom says I haven’t given them enough time to process it, but they’ve known about it for almost a year.

Should I insist that they accept me and my fiance for who we are, or stop visiting completely if they won’t allow him to come, too? Is it worth it to continue some semblance of a relationship because they’re my immediate family and I still love them? For what it’s worth, my fiance’s immediate and extended families and all of our friends are very happy for us. — Tired and Hurt

Dear Tired: You are living the modern version of families who used to be frantic about interfaith and interracial marriages. It is entirely a judgment call — yours — about whether to see your family if your soon-to-be husband is not welcome. I think your family will be the losers in the long run, but they are not writing to me. The good news is that your fiance’s family, along with your friends, share in your joy, and I suspect your family’s intransigence will solidify the distance you are experiencing now. I offer you a favorite saying of mine: Life is choices. Best wishes on your forthcoming marriage. — Margo, acceptingly

Kneeing Romance?  

Dear Margo: Getting down on one knee and proposing strikes me as really old-fashioned, if not silly. Isn’t that decision pretty well settled before this display? I can’t imagine the couple hasn’t decided that they would marry prior to this minuet. I am trying to imagine a guy getting down on one knee, sometimes in public, and the woman saying “no.” Many wedding stories in newspapers describe where and when the prospective bridegroom got down on one knee. Am I nuts or just not a romantic? — Trisha

Dear Trish: You have found a friend in me, dear. I find it a sweet but silly anachronism. The history of getting down on bended knee has to do with religion, royalty and surrender. Make whatever associations you will. To tell you the truth, I remember only two of the proposals I accepted, and no one got down on one knee. I do know of a long-married couple, however, where the husband got down on one knee — in public — to present his longtime wife with a new diamond, and she feared he was having a heart attack and screamed, “Get a doctor!” — Margo, empirically

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via the online form at Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


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44 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Ariana says:

    LW#2: I’m guessing you’re just not a romantic. Many couples talk about marriage, but don’t consider themselves officially engaged until one of them formally proposes to the other.

    Nowadays it doesn’t have any of the historical meanings behind it, but it’s a nice romantic gesture for someone to kneel down and symbolically throw their heart at your feet.

    • avatar Hawkeye says:

      Eh, it’s a personal preference. I don’t have a problem with it if one partner would prefer that the other get on bended knee to propose, but there are a lot of ways to solidify your intent to marry that are romantic but don’t involve the traditional show of subjugation.

      My husband and I had discussed marriage, but we agreed to be engaged while sitting on a log during a hike through the woods. There was no ring involved and nobody got down on one knee, but it was a lovely romantic moment to me.

      • avatar Ariana says:

        Exactly. I’m not sure why the LW’s personal taste would be worthy of a letter to Margo, just in order to call someone else’s preference for a marriage proposal old-fashioned and silly. It’s not like it’s offensive or something. If you don’t like then, then don’t do it – there are about a million different ways to get engaged.
        I personally find marriage proposals over a score board at a sports events to be silly, but hey – to each their own.

      • avatar Priscilla L says:

        It isn’t a show of subjugation. Wow.

        It seems a lot of people have some prejudices and also issues about power in relationships, and they are applying those to this discussion. Going down on one knee to propose is about an idea of chivalry and respect, not subjugation.

    • avatar bobkat says:

      I’m not romantic, either and I especially loathe all those very public wedding proposals. They almost force the woman to say yes. They manipulative and obnoxious public spectacles and I find them embarrassing even to watch. But then, I’m not much of a traditionalist anyway.

      • avatar John Lee says:

        While I believe those public spectables are obnoxious, but I think they are rarely done for manipulative purposes. People rarely do that if they aren’t already sure of a “yes”, actually, people rarely propose period unless they are pretty sure it’s a “yes”.

        In the rare case that it’s a no, it’s particularly entertaining for the observers. Oh, and if it is a no, just going along with a yes to spare public humilation, then afterwards saying it’s actually a no, well, the guy deserves it.

  2. avatar Pat Lang says:

    My husband and I decided we really were going to get married while standing in the line for the Matterhorn at Disneyland. We married a few months later. The following year, we took a trip to California to visit with my husband’s family and took my two girls to Disneyland. We got in line for the Matterhorn, got to about the place where we’d decided to get married, my husband (we’d planned this out) suddenly dropped to one knee and proposed. I accepted, of course (since we were already married). Everyone around went into “Awww, that’s so sweet” mode, my girls were beside themselves with embarrassment (the whole point, of course, they were at the age of being embarrassed by parents). They finally forgave us.

  3. avatar Cindy M says:

    L #1: I wish you the best. And must also say I’ve not known many Muslims on a personal basis. What I will say is, having married a man not of my culture, that here is a “teaching opportunity” for you (if you decide to go that route; and if so, be gentle and wise) that your fiancee and his family are being inclusive and accepting. My in-laws had to face the fact that in some ways THEY were prejudiced (at the worst) or, at the least, had some serious misconceptions (all blue-eyed people are rich and privileged and snobs and racist and never ever worked for a thing with their own hands/effort; we all had maids or slaves! [NOT]). Here is your opportunity to show your family that there are good, hard-working, worthy people in every “group.”

    L #2: To each their own. If it’s in a man’s heart to propose in that fashion, fine.

    • avatar olderwiser says:

      LW #1 – prepare yourself! Marriage is difficult even when two people share the same culture/religion, but when you mix it up like you’re about to, you might as well get the divorce papers ready. There’s a valid reason why families want their children to marry within their culture and religion – IT JUST WORKS A HELLUVA LOT BETTER! It has nothing to do with prejudice – and we are all prejudiced, by the way. The bride needs to think long and hard about alienating her family! Blood IS thicker than water and when the marriage collapses – which it will, just as most modern marriages do – then she doesn’t even have her family to fall back on. Yes, it sounds so romantic, doesn’t it – two people from very different backgrounds falling in love and getting married in spite of the differences. But when the hormones stop raging and the honeymoon’s over and Real Life takes over, the different upbringings and cultures are going to be a huge obstacle to overcome. Sorry – but that’s just reality.

  4. avatar normadesmond says:

    i’ve become less and less flexible regarding religion. religion is man-made. most are indoctrinated at a young age & the indoctrination is reinforced by the beautiful halls of worship with the throngs in attendance, all this is a choice. like margo says, life is choices. faith is a choice. faith is not fact.

    if people who “believed” would realize this and accept
    faith for what it is, the world would be quite different.

    • avatar misskaty says:

      Religion & culture are very pervasive, and influential in subtle ways that only show up after years of knowing someone, when the “little” arguments explode into big conflicts. That’s when you find out your partner was thinking that “of course” you “should” want to do XYZ, because you’re “the woman” and he’s “the man” or whatever other value system is in conflict. That’s when you realize the deep differences in worldviews. The other is truly the other, and we live in micro-universes unto ourselves. It’s amazing that we manage to get along at all.

  5. avatar misskaty says:

    LW1: I know many “non-Muslim Muslims”, as I live and work in a very multi-cultural city. One interfaith marriage went well (the Christian-ish man put a lot of effort into building relationships with the parents, but the parents were fairly liberal to begin with). One was a very good partnership since the couple was like two peas in a pod and had been together since 1st year university, but both sides of the family took a LOOOONG time to even tolerate the idea, and even pretended they weren’t “really” married for years afterwards.

    Be prepared for there to be a frosty “elephant in the room” at the wedding, especially if obvious family members (parents, siblings) do not attend. Don’t expect it to be otherwise. Try to make it joyous anyhow. Are there any small cultural things you could include in the wedding, even though it is non-denominational (special food, dress etc)? Something to show your family that you haven’t lost them from your heart. It sounds like they love you a lot and are struggling with your decision, since you’re doing something they just don’t understand.

    And make sure that this person is a good partner for you, and is a solid guy and is worth the friction it’s causing your family. If he is, then damn the torpedoes.

  6. avatar mac13 says:

    LW#2. There are a myriad of things that are symbolic and traditional for weddings. The actual meanings are anachronistic as Margo says. That being said, these things are what you always saw and maybe never knew what they meant. I STILL see fathers walking their daughters down the aisle and “giving” them away. It’s just what you do. No one really sees it as literal anymore. The white dress? Seriously, are there that many virgins getting married? Yet at almost every wedding, the bride wears a white dress. Dropping on one to knee to propose? At one time that meant something. Today many consider that romantic. I don’t see why that is big enough a bother to write and ask about.

    • avatar Priscilla L says:

      White wedding dresses have nothing to do with virginity. That is a recent myth. White wedding dresses became popular after Queen Victoria wore one in 1840; before that royalty wore very fancy dresses of any color and common people wore their nicest “church clothes” to be married.

  7. avatar mac13 says:

    LW#1. You family will the ones missing out on the important things in your life. I assume eventually grandchildren. I say give them something to miss out on. Have an extremely happy fulfilled life. Show them by how you live your life that interfaith marriages can work and be blissful. Whether you are extremely religious or just some.

  8. avatar D C says:

    LW#1 – You find yourself writing to Margo because your family won’t accept the one you have chosen. Your family thinks if they ignore it, it will go away. If they fight you openly, they will push you toward him. If they ignore it, you might change your mind and decide you want to stay in the loving embrace you grew up with. They will never accept anyone that doesn’t fit their choice for you, and you will never want that person.

    I attended a wedding years ago and with my husband and his parents, we sat in the place of the grooms family because they did not approve of or go to the wedding. The groom kept in contact with his family closely, and this couple, unable to get past the nastyness, ended up divorced 5 years later. A couple of years after that, he married someone his mother wholeheartedly approved of. They had a child, and then, he fell out of love with her. He “loves her, but isn’t IN LOVE with her”… but they are still married. They are cordial. They are friends. They love their mutual child and put on the good face, but he travels for work and has many girlfriends.

    Marry who you want. Be happy.

  9. avatar Patato says:

    You probably knew that your family would never accept a non-Muslim for you. But the heart wants what it wants. Take some time for quiet reflection, and imagine your life if you marry him, and your family disowns you. Will his love be enough to fill the empty place in your heart? If he will be enough for you, because you most likely will lose your family’s love and respect if you marry him, then commit fully to him, and learn to live without your family’s love and approval. I think a family that did not honor who you choose to love does not really love you; they love their religion, they love their traditions, and you are just a prop in their life plan. They have preconceived ideas, that you are supposed to fit into, and if you do not, they will banish you from their heart. I say, if they can banish you, then you can banish them. Respect is a two way street, and they are giving you none. Sad, but true. And once you have tasted freedom, you can never happily go back to being dominated. Reflect, then decide. And good luck, I hope you find happiness and never torture yourself by questioning if you made the right choice.

    • avatar D C says:

      What Patato said! Perhaps the best line ever: “I think a family that did not honor who you choose to love does not really love you; they love their religion, they love their traditions, and you are just a prop in their life plan. “

    • avatar Pinky35 says:

      You can still love someone but not agree with what they are doing. I’m sure her family still loves her but their beliefs probably make them fearful that she is making a mistake. I agree that she should think carefully about marrying this man because it’s hard to be happy when your family is angry with you. The exclusion is painful. Having kids can make it a lot harder, too. Even with grandkids, the girl’s parents still might not come around to accepting the situation. And then it’s the kids from this marriage that will suffer. I can agree with you that the parents have their own ideas as to who they expect their daughter to marry but that doesn’t mean they are unloving and are banishing her. They are probably fearful and hurt that she has turned her back on their culture.

  10. avatar John Lee says:

    I’m kinda curious what our bible thumping regular, Belinda Joy, has to say about Letter #1.

    I wonder if she believes in “separate but equal” as in, it’s fine for both Christians and Muslims to be conversative and narrow-minded and thus, requiring them to stay separate. Or if she believe that Christians are just in the right about everything and Muslims are in the wrong and will burn in Christian hell.

    • avatar D C says:

      Which level of Hell is “Christian Hell”?

      • avatar avast2006 says:

        That’s Christian Hell as opposed to Muslim Hell or Norse Hel, or the Roman or Greek Underworld(s), et cetera. For me, the question is, how are we all, as infidels by definition in every religion but our own, going to manage to be in everyone else’s Hell simultaneously? Will it be like a time-share condo?

        • avatar Ariana says:

          Maybe there is a rip in the hell-space continuum and you have to spend some time in each hell every day 😀

        • avatar River Song says:

          this is just such an interesting concept and one that might make even belinda joy stop and think for a moment. or not.

          each religion believes all others are wrong…. each thinks that if you don’t practice their particular religion and believe in their god, you’re going to spend eternity in hell. which means that, no matter what a good, christian, church-going, bible-thumping life you lead in your religion, you’re going to go to *somebody’s* hell when you die.

          do we get to choose which hell we go to? i do imagine that some hells are better than others…

        • avatar John Lee says:

          LOL, damn, so many hells to choose from if you believe there is a god and you choose the wrong one. Good thing I don’t believe in it, or Santa Claus or else I’d never get anything good for Christmas (yes, I celebrate it purely as a retail and family holiday with zero religious implications).

        • avatar Lym BO says:

          Actually, every religion believes theirs is the only religion. So, based on that premise, if any of them are correct, then there will only be one heaven , which that chosen group will go to, & all others will go to their hell.

    • avatar avast2006 says:

      Letter Writer #1: Ultimately, you have to live your life according to your own decisions about what is best for you. Nobody else can do that for you, though it sounds like your father thinks he has the right to. (It also sounds like the rest of your family is not so much in agreement with him as they are cowed by his vehemence on the subject of you and your partner.)

      If you let your family (your father) dictate your choice of partner, will you find yourself resenting him and ultimately becoming alienated from him over time? Because if you are going to lose Dad in either case, far better to not lose the man you love, too.

      Also, it sounds like Dad is a control freak. If not this battle, there will be something else in the future for him to be displeased with and give you the silent treatment, in order to make you bow and scrape before his might. I say call his bluff now, and if he rejects you permanently, that’s his choice, not yours.

      And if he does cut you off, sorry to be harsh, but good riddance to someone who values something entirely hypothetical and unprovable (face it, religion is completely unprovable) over his own family. You aren’t throwing _him_ away, you are choosing your mate AND you are choosing your father if he will have you. You are not the cause of the schism, Dad is.

      • avatar avast2006 says:

        One other thing occurs to me: if you choose your partner, that still gives Dad a chance to reconsider and reconcile. sometime down the road (And don’t think your Mom isn’t working on that behind the scenes, when it comes to it. She doesn’t want to lose her daughter.) If you dump your partner at Dad’s behest, that’s a lot more permanent.

      • avatar sdpooh says:

        I agree Avast. She is not a daughter, she is, in his mind, dad’s property. He probably had a bargain in the works for her with a “nice” muslim man twice her age. She needs to run, fast, if she is not a religious muslim. If she marries this young man and tries to also interact with her family, they WILL find a way to punish her. And we have seen how muslim dad’s punish those rebellious daughters, it’s permanent.

    • avatar JCF4612 says:

      John — Looks like the resident bible-thumper is going to sit this one out. Probably off to some marathon revival service.

  11. avatar traceygm says:

    Letter writer #1 – please don’t fret. Enjoy your wonderful day, revel in those that love and accept your marriage, and don’t worry about your family. Time will tell which way they will fall. Once they see your joy in your marriage, and once grandkids come along, they will probably sing a different tune!

    Letter writer #2 – call it romantic, call it old-fashioned, call it silly – I LOVED it!!!! And no, I didn’t have a clue it was coming; we had never talked about marriage, only that we wanted to be together forever!! When he pulled that little black box from his pocket and dropped to one knee at the top of Heavenly (overlooking Lake Tahoe), I nearly fell over in shock and joy!!!! To each his own cup of tea!!

    • avatar Patato says:

      I disagree that ‘when they see joy in your marriage, they will come around.’ My marriage was pretty joyful, but my mom could not accept my kids, or my sister’s step son. She only treated my sisters daughter with love and acceptance, because she was the only one who was of the ‘correct’ heritage. Too bad for her, my kids grew up knowing that the love of their mom and dad was unconditional, but their grandmother’s love was conditional, and they didn’t meet the condition. We were all polite on holidays, but didn’t go out of our way for her, and it was her loss. She chose not to come to their games, plays, graduations, or other occasions. She came late, and left early, every party she did attend. But because I was honest with my kids, and never asked them to deny their feelings, they grew up to be loving, accepting people, with no tolerance for bigotry of any kind. Grandma unknowingly became an object lesson.

  12. avatar susan says:

    LW#1 – I was in a similar situation, it finally destroyed my first marriage. It didn’t have to, my husband and I both allowed interference. In retrospect, what we both needed to realize was that our love for each other, what we built together and our children were the most important thing. Our parents desires for us were just that, their desires not ours. Marry your fiance and live your own life, it will be your family’s loss not yours. Wishing you only the best.

  13. avatar JCF4612 says:

    1) Make your plans … invite your family, and let them decide whether to be decent or to act like fools. That goes for all religions, not just muslims.

    2) Proposals should be private on one or both knees or no knees. It’s the big public spectacles that leave me cold.

  14. avatar A R says:

    LW, I think you should honestly ask your mom and sisters what they want from you, and what they are going to be able to give to and receive from you. In other words, will they see you in public, but not at your house? Will they receive you in their home, but only alone? Will they talk with you on the phone frequently, but not meet with you?

    Of course you are open-minded and progressive, but they are not. Your mom, moreover, is at the mercy of your traditionally-minded father who could really make life hard on her if she doesn’t at least keep up appearances of being obedient to his wishes. In other words, ask them what parameters they can work within and live with. And it’s time to drop the discussion of the wedding. Send the invitation, then don’t mention it.

    I think religions that cause these type of responses in people suck, but that’s just me. I had to disassociate from my parents’ evangelical dogma for similar reasons. I ended up choosing a much more progressive form of faith that works for me and my family.

  15. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW1: Tough decision. There are a lot of obstacles ahead for the two of you. Foresight will help you prevail. I have three friends who married “out”. It has been a huge learning experience for all of us. Their seems to always be one spouse who has a deeper faith & their religious beliefs prevail. Take some time to really, really think & discuss about how you will raise your children & spend holidays. Your holidays are completely different. It is a huge change to celebrate holidays that you did not grow up with—especially when you have children & have a desire to pass those traditions & fond memories on to them. There is more to religion than just the beliefs. There is the culture & you must consider the customs, ceremonies, songs, meals, etc. Right now, it may not seem like a big deal, but it will become much more important regardless of what you dream of happening. It seems to really only work when one spouse either converts or one truly, truly, truly doesn’t care & is willing to let the other share & pass on their beliefs.
    Try to find other muslims that have married Christians, befriend them & discuss everything you can imagine with them.

    My husband married out of his pure bred ethnicity, but not out of his religion. I am a Mayflower mutt. There is still animosity from the in-laws 15 years later. Hub & I have little respect for those family members. The more they push the farther we run. We moved 1000 miles away shortly after we married to live our own lives & things are good. They basically lost their son because of their “worries about what the rest of the ethnic community would think”. The cousins all think I am grande. Sadly, the parents still base their lives heavily on what others think. So sad. Meanwhile, their other daughter married completely out of their religion & the other married out of their ethnicity as well. We’re all happy and have no regrets, but the parents are mostly hysterical.

    • avatar Ariana says:

      That is really good insight about talking to other couples who married cross-religiously. I hope the letter writer sees your comment.

  16. avatar runt523 says:

    I’ve been proposed to four times. Every time I said yes. However, the first three got down on one knee with the roses, romance, said all the perfect things, and blah, blah, blah. We never made it to the altar—-thank goodness! But the last guy (and definitely The Right One) was so nervous he “forgot” to get down on one knee. We’ve been married eight years next month. I didn’t think it was a big deal about how he proposed. He, on the other hand, has never forgotten that he “messed up” and still to this day regrets not doing what he considered the perfect proposal. In fact, we had to pull over on the side of the highway driving home so he could do it again on bended knee inside the pickup. I say if the man proposes and you say yes, who cares how he did it. The marriage lasting is way more important than the proposal being perfect.