ISNA: Take Two

Over the past Labor Day weekend (SAT & SUN), I attended the ISNA conference at the DC convention center.  Last year, I went on SAT (not knowing what to expect) for the speed dating (which the organization refers to as a “matrimonial banquet”).  Laugh or scoff, if you will, but over 400 Muslims (of course, in such a short time, it’s hard to scrutinize level of religious engagement) singles attended.  I only met a few local guys, so was disappointed.  “It’s OK, you had a new experience,” my mom said.  Maybe I overdid it this year?  I spent a good amount of time, money, and energy to prep for this event: facial (first time), hairstyling (smoothing), new (good quality) makeup, and even a few new accessories, clothes, and 2 pairs of shoes (cute, but comfy). 

On SAT, I was (pleasantly) surprised to see an acquaintance of mine (Pakistani-American) outside the hall.  We had hung out twice before earlier in the year, when we were in the same Meetup group.  We got to chat, sit together (she’s 31, so in my age group), and generally commiserate over the (somewhat bemusing) event.  She is tall, a practicing Muslim, and grew up in a mid-sized Southern city.  She has several degrees and works currently for a large non-profit.  I know she’s serious about finding a potential spouse- she regularly goes to Muslim speed dating events and has also used ISNA online.  (Here is her account of this event!)

Even before the doors were opened, I recognized a few people I had met before.  There was a petite Bangladeshi-American woman (my age) who was attending w/ 2 gal pals (or perhaps cousins).  I’d met her years ago when I first moved to the DC area; we both went to a few Bangladeshi non-profit events.  There were (at least) 4-5 guys I’d met last year, I realized later.  (Yes, the Bangladeshi engineer from Phoenix, who doesn’t shake hands w/ women, was there.  He was much more relaxed!  We know some of the same people from Tucson days.) 

As before, I was in the group of gals aged 30-35.  We did the “round robin” (term used by the organizer which elicited chuckles) w/ guys aged 32-37.  We were sitting in groups of 6 to a table- 3 men and 3 women.  The tables were pretty small/narrow this time.  People were dressed well, for the most part, though SUN was more casual.  The makeup was there, but not overly so (as I’d seen last year).  Maybe I was just more relaxed?  I tend to get nervous before these types of events, not during.  

Last year, I noticed that most of the people were Pakistani-American.  I was (pleasantly) surprised to see a more diverse group: Arab, Indian, white (at least 1 man in the older age group), black (esp. among the ladies), and biracial (including a man who was Pakistani and black) folks this year.  There were not many parents/relatives in attendance, but a few people did say they came with a sister/cousin/brother/friend (who was also single).  There were 3 male friends all the way from Toronto suburbs! 

Many of the men were doctors- it seemed more than last year.  (“That makes sense- doctors are very busy and don’t have a lot of time for dating,” a Christian friend commented later.)  There were other men who were in accounting, finance, engineering, and academia; at least 3 who were career switchers (not rare these days).  I met more local (DC/MD/VA) guys on SUN, but only a few on SAT.  The event took a long time to start on SAT; we only had 19 rotations (a friendly guy later notified me).  On SUN, there were supposed to be 26 rotations, but I highly doubt we had time for that!  We got 3 minutes to talk to each person, then there was food and social time (6:45 PM-8:45 PM). 

This year, ISNA sent out a profile sheet, which we were to fill out and share with each other.  Well, as I expected, some guys didn’t fill it out.  Some had business cards, but not all.  (“If they’re not serious, then why are they there in the first place?” my mom asked.)  I had the sheet and my networking cards, which I had gotten months back to hand out to possible friends.  

On SUN, the woman sitting directly next to me (a Pakistani-American corporate lawyer from DC), obviously didn’t want to be there.  She wore a long/plain maroon shirt, black leggings, and flat sandals (which were cute).  It turns out that we both know the same woman (also a single lawyer from Muslim family)- small world!  She pushed her chair back from the little table, thus further away from the men.  Even before the event began, she made little effort to be friendly to the others at out table.  There was no smile, just (thinly-veiled) annoyance on her face.  (“What’s the matter?”  “You look preoccupied.”  These were comments I overheard men make to her.)  Each question was met with a brief answer, even from myself and the third woman (a Pakistani-American woman from NJ).  Later, the NJ gal (who also worked for a non-profit) commented: “Seems like some of the people didn’t want to be here… Their parents pushed them into it.”          

On SAT, a very dapper guy (that my friend had met earlier this Summer) approached her while we were in line for food.  They had gone to the same speed dating event, but he hadn’t had time to contact her (since he was traveling for work).  She was a little surprised by this, but he gave her his business card and they chatted a bit.  Maybe something will come of it?   

Also on SAT, we talked (for some time)with an Indian-American family from the Boston suburbs- a brother (specializing in children’s neurological disorders), his sister (moving to NYC for a new job), and their female cousin (who was mistakenly grouped with slightly younger men).  They had never been to such a big gathering, and thought it went pretty well.  “There’s nothing like this in Boston,” the doctor commented.  They don’t speak Hindi, as I assumed, but Gujarati.  All of their family is settled in the US, the cousin said. 

On SUN, I talked with a Pakistani IT security guy (living in Virginia), who came to eat at my table.  He grew up in Qatar and got his masters in Pakistan.  He was nice/polite, but didn’t say too much about himself.  The NJ woman and Pakistani/African-American guy seemed to have some things in common.  They went off to talk on their own; both very nice, friendly, and intelligent people.  Maybe they hit it off?  Who knows?       

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