“Boys” have a lot more time to experience life before they have to become serious and responsible. That’s why the whole platter of “nice boys” out there being presented by the aunties just makes it a lot more suspicious
There is probably no statistical information to back up my claim but I have a theory. My theory is that every single Muslim girl – may be of any ethnicity – but since I can only speak for my community – every single desi Muslim girl has heard the phrase “but he’s a nice boy”. If you are a desi woman of “marriageable age”, then at some point in your journey to finding Mr Right, some aunty or your mum or an elder sister or maybe even a friend has come up to you to tell you about this “nice boy”. Again, I am speaking from a Desi perspective but I am pretty sure that most communities have that aunty. You know the one who knows what is happening with everyone and also thinks this makes them qualified enough to ask all the really personal questions. Before we go on though, let me just say I understand these aunties (well, kind of). They come from a different time – a time when there was little information about women’s rights and the differences between culture, tradition and religious obligations. It’s understandable but it does not make it acceptable.
It doesn’t even matter if it’s in an arranged samoosa run setting* or a more casual setting. One of the aforementioned women will come up to you and tell you about this aunt’s daughter’s neighbour’s son who they have heard is such a nice boy and advise you to give him a chance. Or it could be a person who isn’t so far removed and the person recommending them might actually know the “boy” but still, the only selling point of this person is that they are a nice boy and they want to set you up on a samoosa run. A samoosa run or a Rishta is basically a meeting between a woman and a man of “marriageable age” with their families present in order to see if they are a suitable match. The politics of the samosa run could be a whole other piece but there’s no time for that right now.
So back to the “nice boy”, yes nice… That will be the only information given to you as if that one word is an all-encompassing resume that will tell you everything you need to know about the person. No other information will be given except for that one single word: nice.
Sara Ahmed, The POC Therapist, as she’s most commonly known on social media explains why “nice” is not enough. In the video, Ahmed explained that she too has heard the phrase: “he’s a nice guy, what more could you want?”. She says that “nice” is not enough to make a relationship work – in any relationship. Ahmed says that everybody is nice until they get triggered and then they’re not so nice.
And isn’t that the whole issue – just because the “nice boy” supposedly ticks off all the boxes, doesn’t mean they are actually liked or will actually be liked. Assuming they have a good job or they are good-looking (beauty being in the eye of the beholder), or they are whatever other qualities that tick the box. And again that’s even assuming you get any or all of this information because we know that all the information you are going to get is that they are nice. (insert chai drinking game every time “nice boy” is mentioned) But going back to the point – even if they tick all of the boxes, it still doesn’t mean anything because that’s not how relationships are built. You don’t become friends with someone because someone else told you that the person is nice. So why is it expected that you would choose a lifetime partner because someone told you that they are nice? What about chemistry, compatibility, common values and life goals? There is so much more to building a relationship than the facade or picture that a person presents to the world. And fair enough, you could meet the person and they would be all of those things but already the start is off.
There’s another dimension to this “nice boy” saga. It’s how they become more persistent, the more “on the shelf” a woman is considered. This idea of a “woman being on the shelf” or “past her shelf -date” is something I will describe using a phrase I heard Dr Rania Awaad mention: It is cultural nonsense. Also for the love of all that is good, can the patriarchy stop describing women using food terms. But back to those incredibly problematic terms: it’s this nonsensical idea that once a woman passes the age of 21, 22 or 23, she’s too old. She’s missed her chance. “All the good boys” will be gone. And now what does she need to do? She needs to settle for anyone. But no, don’t worry you don’t need to settle because here’s this “nice boy” – why would you want to continue looking. He’s right here and he is just so nice! You are already over the hill, why are you waiting?! If you don’t snap up the “nice boy”, someone else will. And then you will be left to really settle for the bad options.
If you’ve been wondering why I’ve been using quotation marks around the word “boy”, it’s because in many cultures, but especially in Desi culture, men often get to be younger for much longer. Women are forced to become adults much faster (and I don’t mean in a biological sense) and take on responsibilities and be the bastions of perfection. “Boys” have a lot more time to experience life before they have to become serious and responsible. That’s why the whole platter of “nice boys” out there being presented by the aunties just makes it a lot more suspicious
The use of the word “nice” to describe this “boy” is the same thing as saying they pray five times a day or fast in Ramadan (if they are able and healthy) – it’s a bare minimum. Small aside but actually quite related: boys or men (as they should actually more accurately be described) seem to get off with doing the bare minimum when it comes to observing Islam. Oh, he fasts. Oh, he prays five times a day! He has a job AND a car! What a winner. Yet it’s never asked whether he has goals, dreams and ambitions. On the other hand, Muslim women are expected to be perfect. Pray five times a day, observe the rules of hijab perfectly (even though there are rules of hijab for men as well – shocker, right?), never break the rules and never step a foot out of line. This piece is about the “nice boy” but if we are being perfectly honest, no Muslim woman is allowed to just be the “nice girl”. It doesn’t work like that, does it?
Should we all not be nice people or at least try to be nicer? I don’t see how it can become a person’s entire personality. Furthermore, I wonder if these “boys” know (shame!) that their entire personalities, characteristics and selves are being reduced to a single word. They don’t get any further identity. Actually, more than the disservice being done to Muslim women by introducing them to these “nice boys”, I think these nice boys should be having a conversation with the people hyping them. Because they are really doing a terrible job at it. It would be impossible to fully explain a person’s personality and goals and dreams and spirituality and everything that makes them but honestly, won’t it be best for everyone, if the word “nice” was just retired. Let’s find some other words. I mean the English language does have hundreds of thousands of words. Nice itself probably has hundreds of synonyms. Let’s switch things up and find new ways of introducing potentials (if they actually are viable options).
More than that, I think Muslim women should be allowed to want more than just the “nice boy”. Muslim women are out here doing all of the things – whether it’s professionally, spiritually or even personal growth and development. Muslim women should be able to be introduced and be allowed to choose partners who are compatible with them, who they have chemistry with, who they share value systems with and even shared life and career goals. Nice is just not going to cut it anymore.
*Samoosa Run Setting: This is basically when a boy is looking for a girl and his mother takes him to see girls and samosas are usually served.
Fatima Moosa is a journalist and writer who doesn’t have all the answers but loves being on the journey to finding some of them.