#40: I miss my friends

Plus, Massarah Mikati on defying *the* checklist, why we're all numbing out, and more...

Hi, I’m Alya Mooro and you’re reading The Greater Conversation, a weekly newsletter honestly addressing all aspects of life through the eyes of a Middle Eastern / third-culture / woman / human. Each week, there’s some thoughts from me, along with a guest piece and recommendations of articles, books*, podcasts and etc worth consuming. If you’ve just subscribed, welcome! If this issue was forwarded to you, add your email to join the list.

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I miss my friends, and simultaneously feel like I don’t have any. 11 months into a global pandemic and Zoom hangouts and ‘Houseparty’ and Instagram Lives and etc have given way to unreturned missed calls and dropped off Whatsapp messages and a clawing silence.

What is there to say? What news to update on? Better to just furrow under a weighted blanket and watch the latest thing streaming services have served up to us this week, last week, next week, it seems.

I’m not the only one to feel this way. Articles abound about the havoc months at home have wreaked on our friendships. The close ones, and the ones with acquaintances, whom, I now realise, enriched our lives in more ways than we ever gave them credit for.

I miss the people I don’t remember the names of, the ones I would see repeatedly on a night out and have small-talk with while dancing on the dancefloor. I miss the dancefloor desperately. I miss the people I only knew from Twitter. I miss the friend of a friend of a friend that I would only see once a year, on a birthday. I miss I miss I miss.

It’s lockdown number 3103910 in the UK and we have all numbed out. We have put our heads down and entered into survival mode, counting down the monotonous days that will bring us to the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s taking all the energy we have. I miss my friends but I can’t bring myself to call them.

“Do I even have any friends anymore? A 2020/21 narrative,” I posted to my Instagram story earlier this week, along with a poll to ascertain who else might feel the same. 93% of 185 respondents said yes, me too. Me too I miss my friends and yes me too I feel like I don’t have any left and yes me too.

The company in misery. Does it make it any better that we all feel the same? Yes, I suppose it does.

I miss who I was and who my friends were before this. But I look forward to getting to know us all again. Who we are after this. The streets, the restaurants, the nightclubs; our lives will be full of reunifications. And there is the light.

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Massarah Mikati, 25, Albany

I can't think of a time where I didn’t know the checklist; a time where my life didn’t seem to somehow, some way, revolve around it.

You’ve been preaching it to me since before I can remember. Arab — preferably Lebanese or Syrian — Muslim, good family, good money, good job. I remember fantasising about your perfect man as early as middle school, before I knew what love was, or the reality of what makes a relationship work.

The stories about my female cousins were recited to me on repeat, always with a twinkle of excitement and pride in yours or Teita’s eyes. Whether it’s the one who traveled back to Lebanon multiple times in her early 20s, met two suitors and “hooked" the better of the two. Or the one that got a man from an infamous family to fall in love with her when she voiced an opinion he agreed with in college class. Cousin after cousin ticked off every box in the checklist, even the Americanised ones, and the matriarchs of the family never tired of telling their stories, of boasting the family names of their new sons-in-law.

I always wanted your eyes to twinkle the same way when you would talk about my big love story. But the older I got, the more your checklist suffocated me. With every man I met who ticked – or at least came close to ticking – the boxes, my light dimmed. He disappointed me, hurt me, didn’t love me the way I wanted to be loved. It was a desperate dysfunction, a puzzle piece that never quite fit. And yet I clung, because he was the checklist — a needle in a haystack.

You made me promise you, from the very first time you recited the checklist to me — before I had even hit puberty — to never stray from the path you laid out for me. You made me promise that I would never embarrass you.

I broke that promise.

I fell in love with a man who was not Arab, not Muslim and whose family name your tongue stutters through with unfamiliarity. But with every seed of self-doubt that you attempted to plant in my head as you waged the war of your life, that love and bond persisted — much to your dismay. But God says, “We have... made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.” Isn’t there a reason for that?

As I peeled myself away from your expectations, I began to discover who my perfect man was, my perfect relationship. What my perfect life would look like, and who I really was.

We rang in the New Year with a FaceTime call. He and I sat next to each other, perched on a jagged rock on the beach, listening to the waves of the Atlantic Ocean crash into the shore, the water sparkling in the sun. Not a single cloud was in the blue sky. As he took his shahadah with certainty and conviction, I beamed with pride about the journey he had taken; that we had taken together. You and Baba smiled at both of us, knowing the war was over, finally allowing yourself to be happy that I was happy.

“I never thought I would be here. I never thought this would happen to me,” Baba then said, a large smile on his face as he chuckled in disbelief. But I felt like I could detect a faint sadness tainting his tone. My heart broke a little when he said that.

I looked back out at the waves and thought about how familiar they felt to the waves I’ve watched crash into the shores of Tripoli time and time again. I thought how far you both have come, all you have sacrificed, the life you envisioned for yourselves and your family. This was never part of your plan.

You used to tell me, “I can’t tell you to stand in the rain and not get wet.” But that’s exactly what you asked me to do. And even with the strongest of umbrellas you crafted for me, I was bound to get at least a little wet.

I know that it will take time for your voice to lose its strain when you say his name. I know that you will have difficulty breathing as you finally tell family members the secret you’ve been hiding. I know that my wedding day will not be the happiest day that you once envisioned it would be.

But I hope that, one day, you will fully accept my truth. That you will respect and embrace the life I have created for myself. Maybe that’s unrealistic, but I pray that, one day, your eyes will twinkle with pride and excitement as you share my story — not just my love story, but the story of how your strong daughter really knew herself, and never gave up on herself.

Massarah reports on immigration and communities of colour for the Times Union, the leading newspaper in New York. As a daughter of Lebanese immigrants and someone who grew up in the post-9/11 world, since the age of 13 she’s aspired to disrupt mainstream media with humanising, contextual and nuanced narratives that depict the multidimensional identities and experiences of people of colour. Follow her on Twitter.

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This newsletter is sponsored by The Doe, a digital publication which shares unfiltered, anonymous stories in an effort to encourage conversation and engagement with new ideas. The narrative I want to share this week is: Embracing My Muslim Identity in America Is Impossible.

It’s an important read about feeling like you don’t belong, and feeling unwelcome, in the place you consider your home. After the her father was taken by Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the author saw an America many never see. Here, she writes about that experience, and the realisations that it fostered.

Read the narrative on The Doe

  • Book: I sat down to read A Woman is No Man by Etaf Rum and I basically did not get up again until I finished. A novel that spans from Palestine to the US, it touches on themes of domestic abuse and why and how women so often pass shame down to each other. A brilliant, brilliant read.

  • Newsletter: It was my friend Tahmina's birthday this week and she is very wise. She shared 35 'truths' she's learnt thus far, including one that particularly stuck with me: "If you're shunning something, it's usually life asking you why you're so intent on not having it."

  • Podcast: Mo Gawdat on Elizabeth Day’s How to Fail, talking his algorithm for happiness, how to take control of your brain and ultimately live a contented life.

  • Watch: American Playboy: The Hugh Hefner Story. A fantastically executed 10-part series on Amazon Prime looking into how Hef started the Playboy empire, and the groundbreaking impact it (and him) had on sex positivity, the civil rights movement, and more.

  • Do: In the UK, there are currently no laws at all on deepfakes. This means that "revenge porn" perpetrators can get off by saying they acted 'for a laugh' (!) Under 7% of victims (95% of whom are women) get justice. Find out more and sign the petition to change US and UK laws on image-based sexual abuse.

In my latest column for Restless Network, I wrote about “effortless perfection” - the expectation that women should be “smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful, and popular, and that all this would happen without visible effort.” The myth of “effortless success” is giving me major imposter syndrome and impacting my mental health. HBU?

Read my Restless column


A quote from a book you should read:

“Mama was not only battling her community for my freedom but also herself. How does one come to terms with the fact that what was perfect for her was not good enough for her daughter?”

My Past is a Foreign Country - Zeba Talkhani



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Thanks for subscribing! I'm Alya, the person behind this newsletter. I am a freelance journalist and the bestselling author of The Greater Freedom: Life as a Middle Eastern Woman Outside the Stereotypes. You can follow me on Instagram here, and Twitter here.

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