Why My Daughter Got (Temporarily) Married at 13

And so, I assented. I assented without calling home to consult my partner of 20-something years, a lapse in judgment that would become a sore point between us. In the crowded cafe, I was, perhaps not surprisingly, overcome with thoughts of my own mother, who was preoccupied until her death with the state of my soul. I thought of what it would have meant to her, to us, if she had been granted a religious ceremony that legitimized my desire, a ceremony that, even if temporary, would have made my touching another woman into something other than sin.

I didn’t want the boy or his mother to suffer in the way my own mother had. I could see that her beliefs, however different from my own, were passionately held. At the same time, I didn’t want my daughter to be prevented from touching the boy she loved. I didn’t want what had been done to me to be done to her.

So I assented, and the boy’s parents read the ritual phrases in Arabic, and the children nodded along and, without my understanding a word, they were married. When the ceremony was finished, my daughter and the boy reached across the table to hold hands.

Their temporary marriage lasted until they broke up a year later. By then, they were in high school, 9th grade, and had become an object of great fascination to their peers from whom they had not thought to keep the temporary marriage secret. My daughter had had to withstand a barrage of public questioning about how and whether they had sex, a level of curiosity she found disturbingly invasive and, indeed, exoticizing, although she wouldn’t have used that word at the time or understood how it applied in her new context.

When first love faded, there was no subsequent ceremony to end the marriage, only the familiar teen rituals of recrimination and tears.

Although my partner likes to tease that she would have negotiated a better dowry for our daughter than the symbolic gift bag proffered — an anthropologist, she was the only person in the family familiar with mut’ah contract before it was proposed — she was genuinely disappointed, on the day of the impromptu wedding, that I hadn’t insisted on her presence. She felt I had let the boy’s parents off the hook — my solitary participation allowing them to suppress their knowledge of our lesbian coupledom.

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