Dear Dr. Faizal,
I’m a Muslim woman whose husband died when our two sons were barely out of diapers. They are 16 and 17 years old and relatively independent. Recently, I began spending time with a colleague who is not Muslim and we’ve been enjoying getting to know each other. Last week, however, my eldest began asking me about my new friend and became quite agitated when I told him my new friend is not Muslim. How do I help my son understand that I need some male companionship, even if he is not Muslim?
– Every Woman Has Needs
Dear Every Woman Has Needs,
I commend you for raising your sons by yourself. It’s obvious that for at least 16 years you have made many sacrifices, including adult companionship and the friendship that accompanies it.
Your son’s use of religious prohibitions against your ‘dating’ someone outside of your own religion is not only inaccurate but also insensitive to your needs – at least on the surface. You could simply put your foot down and tell him that as an adult you have the right to spend your time with whomever you wish and that your sons will have to get used to it. Such an assertive stance may work temporarily but the unaddressed underlying emotions will persist, resulting in resentment and fights at home.
Looking deeper into your relationship with your son, I sense fear. He could fear losing you to another man, someone who is not his father. Or someone taking you away from him and replacing the bond that you two have shared for many years. You see, your son, being the eldest ‘man’ in your life, has taken on the role of a protector. He may feel obligated to shield you from all harm, including a potential love interest who may hurt you. If I’m right, your friend being a non-Muslim is simply an excuse to prevent a strange man from getting too close to you.
I believe that your son may not take such a strong stance if he got to know your friend better. You can demystify your friend to your son by creating opportunities for them to spend some time together. Your son needs to learn about your friend and appreciate his good qualities on his own. Perhaps, if your son likes sports, your friend could invite your eldest to an upcoming home game. Many men bond over watching professional sports, discussing the intricacies of certain plays, giving each other ‘high fives,’ and devouring burgers and fries.
After some time, you could invite your friend for dinner at your home. After dinner, you could broach stories about your husband and what he meant to you. Your friend showing interest in these stories, and empathizing with your loss, would prove to your sons that he is not trying to compete with the memory of their father or replace their father in any way.
Just as children seek approval from their parents when they introduce a special friend, parents also need validation from their children. Don’t push your sons to like your friend. Create opportunities for them to spend time with each other. Eventually, your sons will appreciate in your friend the qualities you that attract you to him. This process may take some time but as the adage goes, “Good things come to those who wait.” What’s a little patience to earn the peace between those who you care for, right?