It is a truth universally acknowledged, that any student in attendance of an MSA event, must be in want of a spouse.

Or. So her mom tells her.

When Leila first gets her acceptance letter to Rutgers, her aunts are ecstatic. They don’t ask her about her major or her career aspirations or her school, don’t ask about if she’s dorming or commuting and whether by car or by bus; the first thing her aunts ask, with the grin of the Chesire Cat, is: “You’re joining the MSA, right? Pakistani Student Association? Indian Student Association?”

“I don’t think the Indian Student Association is a thing,” says Leila. Not by that name, at least…

“Well,” says one of the ladies, nodding thoughtfully to the other one, “you’re better off with someone from Pakistan anyway.”

“That’s… a little racist,” says Leila, doing her best to appear uninterested, and apparently failing.

Her aunts are wide-eyed behind their glasses at Leila’s remark, and they lean in close, inspecting her. “Are you planning,” they start, and then turn to each other before fixing her with a shaky look, “to marry a—a—”

I was planning on marrying my laptop, thinks Leila, but doesn’t say it. She doesn’t want to hear the end of that sentence. She’s signing up for a NetID, not an account on MuslimMatrimony, and, uh, do people seriously think this way? She was thinking about joining MSA before, but it’s starting to sound less like a Muslim Student Association and more like a Marriage Student Association, which… yeah, she’s eighteen. So not interested. She just wants some friends.

“Leila, darling,” one of them assures her with a firm hand on Leila’s shoulder, “this is the time to act. When my daughter was in college, she made sure to join all of the good associations on day one, and look at her now. Masha’Allah, a handsome husband and a daughter and two sons…”

And that turns Leila off so much that when she does get to Rutgers, she doesn’t join a single club or make a single friend the entirety of her first semester, so she’s safe from the weirdo meet-and-greet the MSA sounds like from all the testimonials… but, y’know? It’s also kind of lonely.

(She gives up, eventually; can’t hold out any longer, so she goes to the meetings and grits her teeth, but then she loosens them and smiles because hey, weren’t you in my class last semester? great to see you again!, and so what if her aunties think she’s out to fish for a “halal boyfriend”? What she wants is a good group of friends—and she gets them).

(And God is great).

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