Contemplating the Roller Coaster

Over the years, I have kept in touch with a friend I met in Riyadh. She is also an American woman, married to a Saudi (I was married to an Egyptian). We met at the Riyadh community college for ladies. We were both studying Arabic and we became friends. In addition to seeing each other at class, we talked on the telephone nearly every morning, after husbands went to work and children went to school.


We talked about everything–  Islam, marrying Arabs, living in Riyadh, cultural differences between Americans, Saudis and Egyptians. Every few weeks, she’d come with her driver and we’d go to Obeikan or Jareer bookstore, where we wandered around the aisles containing books on Arabic and Islam. We were happy with our husbands and our lives, in the 1990s.


Now, we are all in the United States. I am divorced and she is clashing with her husband about vital life concerns. Suddenly I remember conversations I heard long ago from other women, conversations that went like this:


“My friend was married to an Arab here in the Kingdom. As soon as they went to the States, they started fighting and now they are divorced.”


“Yes, I heard the same thing about a Western woman who used to live here, married to an Arab. Their marriage unravelled when they went to live in the States.”


I’d heard this conversation often enough to realize the truth of it. Cross-cultural marriages that flourished in the Kingdom tended to fall apart in the States, even when both parties belonged to the same religion. I knew that the challenge of repatriation, and adjustment to differing social and economic conditions, could put a strain on any marriage, but I never imagined my own marriage would follow the same pattern. It did, only two years after we left Riyadh.


Now, my friend and I talk about how and why our marriages became unsatisfactory. Neither one of us is happy with our situations, yet we do not regret our choices, and neither do our husbands, so what has happened? Sometimes I feel as though my entire Riyadh experience was a merry-go-round I’d been riding. I got on willingly, enjoyed the initial ups and the downs, and sat through multiple rides, next to the man who became my husband.


Then, the merry-go-round stopped, and we had to get off. We moved on to the roller-coaster. It made us both sick and dizzy.


I don’t think I can carry this metaphor any further, but you get the idea.


We’ve recovered our equilibrium, with feet back on the ground, somewhat the worse for wear. Do all marriages, and all lives, include a merry-go-round, a roller-coaster, and a grounded walk away from both of them? I don’t know. I am content, at least, thankful to Allah for everything, and so is my friend, and so is my  ex-husband.


الْحَمْدُ لِلَّهِ عَلَى كُلِّ حَالٍ 

“Alhumdulillah ‘alaa kuli haal,” we now like to say. “Praise God in every situation.”



About Marahm

At first glance, I may appear to be a middle-aged American woman with kids, grandkids, retired from a job in a hospital, gratefully relieved from the responsibilities that come with all of that. Behind the image, which is true enough, I am fairly unhinged from much of American mainstream living, having spent twelve years in Saudi Arabia, years that sprung me from societal and familial impositions, and narrow bands of truth. I have learned to embrace my identity as a seeker, an artist, and a writer. I study Arabic and Italian language, because I love them, and I love their people. I still dream of spending more time in the Middle East and Italy, though the dreaming now seems more real than the possibilities. I am a photographer. I write, and sometimes publish, flash memoir, and now a blog or two.
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6 Responses to Contemplating the Roller Coaster

  1. jhanajian says:

    Perhaps in time you will come to understand the reasons why living in the U.S. would take such a toll on so many marriages. There are many possible answers to that. I would be curious to know the answers. But then again, I would probably still not understand because I don’t have anything even close to your background. Still, I’m curious.

    • Marahm says:

      Actually, I do know the myriad reasons behind problems with marriages when couples move to the US. I should maybe write a post on the subject. In my case, the straw that broke the camel’s back was the fact that our roles because reversed in the US. My husband couldn’t keep suitable work, so he ended up staying home, while I ended up back in the workforce full-time. Neither one of us could abide that situation with respect to the other.

      I know most couples these days need two salaries. We never wanted nor needed that, but we did need one salary, and it should have been his. I suppose this explanation raises even more questions, but so be it for now.

      Of course you will understand! People like you, who read, write, and contemplate, do not need to experience a situation in order to understand it.

  2. Muslim says:

    Assalaamu Aleyikum.

    Many converted women / Men leave Islam when something happened like what happened to you.Your belief in ONE GOD , following his holy book and teachings of Islam is somewhat inspiring to someone who is ” crushed in between—> believing and losing <—the faith " in Islam.I think you are a real role model (If they are fortunate enough to read this post) for many converted and born Muslims.

    I pray to Allah, let many recently converted or born Muslims take lesson from you for the remedy before losing faith in Islam when something bad ( especially DIVORCE) happens to them.
    JazaakAllaah Khairan,

    “Alhumdulillah ‘alaa kuli haal,”– or — Alhamdulillaah alaa "KULLI" haal?

  3. Marahm says:

    وإيّاكم Muslim, waaleikum assalaam,
    I feel unworthy of your generous comments. I did fall away from the practice of Islam for some years, but I was not happy about the drift, as I never felt inspired to leave Islam altogether, nor was I tempted to join another religion. Now, however, I am ready to renew my faith.

    Perhaps many Muslims, born or convert or revert, go through waves and recessions of faith over the years. It’s probably a natural phenomenon, inherent in the human condition, and happens to people of all faiths. You are right, though; belief in one God tends to prevent a total relapse.

    As for the transliteration, I don’t know. I never learned proper transliteration, preferring to use standard Arabic, but maybe I should learn it, for those of us who know the difference and those who don’t read Arabic.

  4. susanne430 says:

    Such an interesting post and comments. I was also going to ask why you think coming to the US takes such a toll on marriages, but I see you answered it for yourself in the comments.

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