The Starter Wife

Maroc Mama explores the frustrations of being an American woman married to a Moroccan man.


Wife, mom, student, activist, traveler, Moroccophile and curious spirit 36 comments

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

In hushed tones with upturned noses…“shhhh shoofi shoofi lala americania….” There are sides to Moroccan culture and relationships that I love, the ones that encourage family values, stability, longevity and togetherness. There are also sides that frankly I would rather leave at the door. This concept however I don’t feel is a product of Morocco specifically but surely exists in many other countries and cultures. It is the ever present glare of women who have decided that you have stolen one of “theirs.” I’m not so narcissistic as to think there is something special about me, because there’s not however I have overheard and been party to the complaints, stares and cajoles of Moroccan women unhappy with my marriage as well as those who have no problem letting me know that I am the starter wife.

Moroccans are known for their hospitality, their openness and understanding, their tolerance and virtues. Moroccan women however are not known for their love of foreign women who marry Moroccan men. It started as a few stares here and there when we would go to visit Morocco, but when we befriended many Moroccans it became obvious that there was something else there. Out of a handful of 10 couples all of the men had married an American woman first, and only my husband and one other were still married to that woman. The eight other Moroccan women didn’t have to verbalize what was apparent to the two of us remaining.

Perhaps it was an anomaly however it was clear that we were looked at as starter wives and that eventually our husbands’ would divorce us and find the “real” wife from home. This might sound like paranoia but I’ve heard this tale and seen it countless times on my own. It has also made me realize that as an outsider I will never be fully accepted into the circle. Even if I speak perfect Darija, am a Muslim and do stay with my husband I will always be an outsider and the inner sanctum that Moroccan women inhabit will forever elude me as an outsider.

Moroccans are generous, hospitable, open armed and tolerant of others, but that is a layered reality. On the surface there’s the reception and drinking of a the’. A little deeper is the sharing of a room in a home, or a meal. Further yet is a marriage to a non-Moroccan and even children with them. Deeper is full acceptance into a household and a culture, the final step, and one I dare say simply isn’t done-no matter what the circumstance.

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Posted on Thursday, July 29th, 2010

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36 comments on “The Starter Wife”

  1. You have it easy.

    Picture if you will, the ordeal of a Christian, Buddhist, atheist or (gulp!) Jewish male foreigner dealing with Moroccans who think you have stolen one of “theirs”.

    Then try telling us with a straight face how “Moroccans are generous, hospitable, open armed and tolerant of others”.

    • My daughter is planning to marry a young man from Morocco that she meet on skype. They plan to go to Morocco for 3 months after that. I know nothing about Morocco. She is a stubborn opinionated 20 year old girl. I am beyond worried about her saftey going there. She is from a small town in Missouri. Does anyone have any advice?


      • don’t let her do it. I am a20 year old female who JUST got married yesterday to a Moroccan man… He was going to be forced to leave and go back home as us American people like to say DEPORTED!!! Me and my husband were together for 3 years we know each other very well but… He is strict he already is making me move away from my home town were my people are to go were he feels comfortable. Three months and she wants to get married she wants to go there NOooo don’t do it please its bad enough that he has words of wisdom on this Skype. If you go there you will be forced to live his lifestyle and i know that she would do the same thing as me and pretend everything is fine. But its not. Just tel her to move to new York she obviously needs to cut the wire and branch off.

  2. Seems to me that your husband’s friends got married for the sole purpose of getting a green card, then if you guys been together for more than 2 years now, looks like you are not “the starter wife”.
    the way I see it, the problem is your husband’s entourage, backward mentality.

  3. hafid – you’re right and it’s the same problem. I think what I was trying to expose is that the generous, hospitable nature is a veiled existence. There are layers of that disposition.

    Shak – you’re right they did and I in no way think I am the starter wife, but feel that from the view of Moroccan women I am just that and will never be accepted into their fold.

    • I am on the other side of the coin, an American man married to a habiba. My experience all throughout the Arab world is that I wouldnt want to be a woman, especially a Western woman, living in their societies. I am a man. It is a patriarchal society. I can do little wrong.

      I have noticed there is a pecking order within what I call the women guild in Morocco; I dont know if you noticed but just about every conversation they have — hopefully you know some Arabic — they compulsively, relentlessly, bitch about other women. I am at the point where I have gotten them to at least recognize it and even laugh about it within my wife’s family. At the same time I dont want them to change.

      I dont know, I feel your pain. But I have spent a lot of time with Arabs and Arab culture — I have gone from love to hate to love again — in the end I accept them.

      Even beyond that, I regard myself as an Arab, because — I dont know when it happened — I started processing things as they do and know why they do things and what the conflict is when something happens. I know why they do it and what makes them do it at the gut and heart level (not academic); and when things happen I am processing it as they do.

      But I am a man. You have my sympathies.

      • I have to admit within my husbands family this doesn’t exist – it’s with other Moroccan women – most of them that live in the US. I know exactly what you mean by the love hate relationship. We’ll be celebrating nearly 8 years together soon so I am past all insecurities. It seems that those that have problems are those in the most insecure situations. Thanks for your thoughts and comments!

  4. I too am married to a Moroccan man. I also do not feel that I am a starter wife. My husband tells me I am his first love and last. So, for the women who think I ‘stole” him…. how do u stick out ur tongue on this thing…lol

  5. Hi
    I am moroccan married to a very nice and beautiful American jewish woman for 7 years now . we have a beautiful 4y/o daughter. In the beginning , it was my mom who was skeptic . But after my two most favorit ladies meet they fall in love.

  6. Happy to hear such a good outcome!

  7. I am a Moroccan woman, and I think the main problem is not that the in-laws see you as a starter wife it is sadly the same way they would have treated a Moroccan daughter-in law.
    Mothers in law (the majority) are very difficult to deal with, they like to interfere in their sons lives and retain some of the control they think they have over them to satisfy a need: they lack control over their relationships with their own spouses.
    I have seen my own aunt do it with all their daughters in law: the French one, the American one and in more intensified way with the Moroccan one.
    With the language barrier not existing they can be at their worst; my own mom after 50 years of marriage still does not get along with the in- laws

  8. Interesting topic :)
    I do not think you are the “starter wife”…he would have left like his friends did, so you got something genuine.
    I’m also non Moroccan, married to a Moroccan…and I have to say I feel accepted (not at first) …I love my MIL…she makes the best Couscous…for real :)

  9. salam,
    This is t’kherbiq that tries to sound like some insightful outlook into the intermarriage that joins an American woman with a Moroccan man. Matters certainly get worse as the disccussion becomes a totalizing statement about what Moroccan normes about acceptance are.
    It is one thing to track a cultural trend carried out by a community in a geographical as unique manifestation of difference; it is another to singlehandedly attribute failed marriages with foreigners (Americans is a sample) to the very nature of marrying from a cross the border. In America, like in Morocco and the rest of the world divorce happens simply because fundamentals differences could not be fixed mainly by the people concerned .i.e the married couple. The so called Moroccan “interesting” (does this adjective mean anything at all?)culture and its adamant favouring of one’s own is a Myth comparable in its grotesquityto Boukhensha. Marriage to a Moroccan should cease to be experienced like the foreigner’s visit to l’hammam or those clandestine sexual acts on the roof after the future in-laws went to sleep. The please of experiencing a cultural difference on an intimate and especially shared level has to be snatched out of its exotic mind-blowing dimension and lived as a puerly universal, concrete, human interaction. In other words, looking at an Moroccan way of life through the biased lense of difference will always stress that very difference. When it comes to living together the cultural and geographical bouderies need to at least try to fade, because marriage is not a surreal walk in the old medina that ultimately ends at L’oudaya. It is a life changing experience, and for better or worse needs not be justified with the classical, backwardist rhetoric that only the tourists reverberate.
    PS: Please avoid approching this subject like the frog in high school labs

    • t’mara,

      Your reply, while lenghtly, tries to analyze and break down in a logical way the original post but fails considerably. Not for any grammatical error but for the simple reason is that you completely dismissed MarocMama’s post on her observation and first hand experience as if it is purely anecdotal. And it is not. Into your mix you also throw out to the reader, your own BIASED thoughts, based on heresay no doubt, about how western woman must be behaving w/ their Moroccan husbands or future husbands.

      You should know that there ARE people, outside from your own culture, who ALSO are happy to immerse into another culture and dont view it as a museum exhibit.. you get??? You should also know that there are western women who respect future in-laws and themselves enough to not have whatever clandestine trysts to which you are refering on rooftops of family homes…

      unfortunately, to me, it seems you must have experienced the western woman visiting morocco to get her kicks instead of meeting the real, well meaning woman who actually loves her husband

    • addendum,,

      my husband and I have been married 8 yrs and have a sweet little 6 yr old girl and he and i love her to pieces.

      I’m american, raised in an irish catholic household (i quit my catholic education @ 6 yrs old i hated it so much) and yes naturally, there were members of my family who were only too happy to repeat all the propaganda they’ve been fed about Muslim men and disdain my husband.. BUT EQUALLY i have experienced from a couple of women from his family (cousins) the SAME biased assumptions about american women that are out there also, as your own post reiterated VERY nicely. so t’mara it comes from BOTH sides. not just one…. I have been very forthcoming in my post about my own family, i like to see people be just as candid and sportiv and honest about the assumptions perpetrated among their own family/culture about those unlike themselves.

    • I’m not sure how I missed this response from some time ago but am glad to have discovered it. It’s curious to me how you’ve chosen to break this apart as I’ve clearly stated that these men married their “American” wives for the paperwork that accompanies them. My feelings on American women as a “starter” wife isn’t some random conclusion but as has been observed time, after time, after time (I’ve got no less than 50 PERSONAL cases that I know of and dozens of others). What I truly am trying to convey is the disregard that women of another culture are given when marrying a Moroccan man.

      The other comments you make about “visiting the hammam” or trysts on the roof clearly indicate exactly my point. Moroccan women have a clear way of viewing western women and for that reason will never be accepting of them into their families – even if they pretend to be on the surface. I have completely embraced life with my husband irregardless of where he is from – but even embracing life will never eliminate the clear differences that will always exist simply due to where we grew up and our life experiences. There will always be some degree of cultural difference. I am certain that the same is true for my husband or for anyone else. As for this specific instance – I’ve seen and heard it happen countless times and experienced the disdainful glances and gossip of Moroccan women …if only they realized I knew what they were saying!

      • it’s interesting the assumption that the western woman, in her marriage to a Moroccan, is seen as experiencing it soley for the novelty of a walk in an old medina and all that previous mentioned blahbity blah in t’mara’s post. That we have some stupid Cinderella idea of some unattainable romantic illusion of what marriage should be.

        Funny how we are not perceived as being humanly capable of understanding what marriage and living with a Moroccan husband, ANY husband truly requires of a wife. some of the nicer questions I’ve been asked are “what do you eat?”. my response: “food”.. what i want to say though is “well i’ve given up eating saw dust and tree bark and now have discovered the tomato, thanks to my Moroccan husband”.. but no i dont say that. only here i typed it.. but im constantly biting my tongue to be polite and not EVER appear rude.. even though the same consideration isn’t afforded to me likewise.. but eh.. what can you do.. :)

  10. MarocMama,

    As an American I feel you. I appreciate what you are saying completely and I believe that all people judge and are judged. I also have to say, and I’m sure you know this too at this point, that marriage does have to get beyond the exotic experience of being with someone COMPLETELY different from you, and you have to get down to the nitty gritty and know who that person is. And… if those two people dont get each other, then regardless of cultural differences or acceptance from in-laws, the marriage will never work. But, that’s a hard thing to come to realize when you let your mind start dreaming and your heart get carried away when you fall in love. I think God is the ultimate decider and for whatever reason that my Moroccan and I got together and worked it out, I am grateful and happy… and for others who have likewise made it work.

  11. Good discussion topic! My Moroccan Husband and I will celebrate our 22 Anniversary this year. We have a 21 year old daughter and even now some idiotic people still ask my husband when he is going to get a real wife! His family respects and loves me they are not the ones asking the stupid question. But neighbors and old friends think it is perfectly acceptable to ask. How long is long enough for people to accept that there are some mixed relationships that DO work?

    • ignorant people ask such stupid questions and the shame of it all is how/why women would berate another just becasue she is from another culture.. when we women know marriage and family is work enough we should be helping each other with kind words and action..

      Perhaps because we are american we are used to seeing “mixed marriages” and they are no big thing to us.. but in other cultures where society is largely homogenous ethnically and/or religiously, these questions will tend to abound.. :) congratulations to you and ur husband it’s heartening to hear

  12. Interesting observations here, but I think what you are feeling and observing is coming from the male-female dynamic in Moroccan culture where the male is a superior being and the woman is his fan club. She exists to serve his every desire and anticipate his every need and her greatest joy comes with his recognition of her.
    I have heard Moroccan women say that only Moroccan women can satisfy or take care of a Moroccan man. They are convinced and given that most are macho-babies and spoiled brats, they are probably right.
    I have a lot of women friends and we get along great and share everything, but I am not married into their families either. They put up with a lot of crap from their men, then laugh it off because it’s how men are here.
    Those of you with men who stepped outside of this dynamic should count your blessings and just ignore the rest of it. The fantasy of being fully accepted into any family that’s not your own is just a fantasy. The family that counts is the one you are creating right now in your own home.
    As for being a starter wife, aren’t we all at risk because sometimes the divorce papers come with the mid-life crisis and sometimes they come with retirement. Who knows? Make the best of what you have right now. Love the one you’re with!

    • I know I’m a bit late to the conversation it I am so thankful for it! Linda you have perfectly verbalized exactly where I am at, or I guess the trouble I’m in at the moment. I have known my husband for 17 years and we have 3 year old daughters and we have lived in America together and currently in morocco for the past 4 years. He has left me. Says he’s totally fed up…I’m blind sighted, devastated, feel like he is ruining these special precious years of my daughters being young. He says he fed up because I basically, have opinions about how to raise our kids and those are different than his. Not religion, or anything major, no were talking clothing lawyers and what they eat for emir snacks. He wants to never be spoken back to and have me smiling and perfectly soft spoken and loving to him when he gets home from work. Mind you I work just as hard as him at my own job all day and usually am the one also caring for the girls after work. Bref, I won’t g on and on. There is too much love and resentment and stuff in our almost two decade relationship for me to hash out on a blogpost reply but Linda…the advice I am getting is that yeah, I just need to shut up basically. If I want to stay with my husband I just need to be quite and to say anything ever that contradicts him. And that adivce…is from people that really love me and are really rooting for us.

      I didn’t realize that those were the new Moroccan rules of the game. I also didn’t know that my husband would undergo a cultural brain transplant and yeah, it’s an unpleasant surprise.

  13. hey.. i just feel, if i am visiting morocco with my husband, who doesn’t think he’s superior to anyone, let alone a woman and especially me, and he proposes an after-supper walk through the “old medina” i think that’s soley his and my business.. no one elses. I’d like to think that when that happens, that other people, seemingly moroccan women, would mind THEIR own business and let me to my own with my husband. so what if we took a walk in a romantic part of town?? who the heck doesn’t do that in Boston or NYC or Santa Fe? Everyone does everywhere, why should i shrink and not do it in Morocco because other people are going to assume that I am caught up in some romantic illusion of what life is w/ a moroccan husband? .. that’s basically my point w/ t’mara.

  14. it’d be like going to morocco, and returning home and someone asking me “did you go to djemaa el fna while in marrakech?” and me replying “no. i was so worried about what the locals might think about my relationship with my moroccan husband”.. gimme a break

  15. wow linda. you uh really have a blanket, low opinion of moroccan men.. in my experience, being married to one and having friends likewise from this culture, i have not seen ANYthing even remotely resembling this behavior

  16. I have an interesting question:

    I have 2 boys from a previous relationship and I am dating a Moroccan who lives in Canada (he also has his full citizenship and I am a born and bred Canadian). His father has 3 wives, and is an eye specialist.

    He has asked me if we were to marry if I would be willing to move to Morocco with him and bring my sons along as he would adopt them as his own. Now, he does not follow any religious affiliation, his only assertion is that he believes in God, but will not follow a religion (as he enjoys to have a drink and eat pork). He professes that he does not want to have multiple wives, just his one wife (me) for the remainder of his life.

    My questions are this:
    As a western woman, what might be some of my greatest challenges living in Morocco?
    How might I be treated since I have children from a previous relationship?
    How will my sons fair living there and will they be accepted?

    Thank you for taking the time to read my post and answer my questions.

  17. Can you give any insight to what a Moroccan husband expects from his wife? I was in his mthers home for a while but I have been home a year now and we hve been seperated all this time. He will be home soon maybe I am just being nervous but I dont want to disappoint him

  18. okay I have been dating a Moroccan man for a bout 2.5 years i have grown to love and except him and his culture, we have tried to meet up within these 2 years but we have not been successful. a few weeks back his mother has told him that he needs to be married by Feb. 2013, now maybe this is my lack of knowledge for the culture or maybe just his family or his mother in this case. but do Moroccan men have to follow what their mothers say!? he doesn’t want to marry anyone eslse but me and me vice versa. im just so confused i don’t know what to do. please help with any suggestions please kind of desperate. thanks Tonya

    • From my limited experience they do what thier families want especially thier mothers. I am assuming he is in Morocco and you are not so the dating has been online. Is he saying his mother says its been 2 years and you have made no progress or change? Where in Morocco is he? My other question to you is has he ever asked for your help or for gifts to show others you love him? There are areas where guys do this and they keep it up for years and you send gifts money etc and then they say their mom wants them to marry and he has to let you go. I hope this is not your situation as it is heart breaking I have seen others this happen to. But also remember you only know this person as their online personality. Do not rush something and listen to your gut not always your heart. You must meet them in person and know them before you get married regardless of what his mother says.

    • In Islam it is not permitted that anyone be forced into marriage. That being said, yes mothers do have quite a bit of sway over their children even when they’re adults. She could see that he is just playing around and be encouraging him to settle down. A lot of Moroccan mothers (and I’d imagine from other cultures as well) feel that a bride outside of their cultural group is not acceptable and will encourage their son to pick “one of their own”. If in 2.5 years it’s been impossible for you to get together then I would seriously consider the relationship. I know that it’s not cheap however marriage won’t change that – in fact it will be more taxing. If you can’t afford a ticket to visit him, then paying immigration fees and proving the economics threshold likely won’t happen either. I don’t want to be a “Debbie Downer” but all the love in the world really won’t help if the financial pieces aren’t in place.

      • your not a debbie downer i just don’t know what to do in this situation. he was he wants visiting and that when i met him, but he had to return to morocco because of the death of his father. which i understand whole hearted. so since then money i was in school and paying for school and at that time it was fresh relationship so i didnt know if we were going to work out or not so i wasn’t as pressed to visit or to save money to visit since i need to pay for things here. as of this year the funds just hasn’t be there. but as i told him i feel 2013 may be a better year for us to reconnect and visit. but his mother want him to marry by feb of 2013 which is in a month not enough time for my liking to have everything in order and make this trip. I don’t want to jusst throw my relationship down the drain but i feel like we are kind of stuck right now. thanks for all your imput. if you have any suggestions for keep them coming im not going to give up at least not now.

  19. I am married to a Moroccan a year now. We have been seperated the entire marriage by finances and visa process. I experience the bad treatment from his family here in the US but am loved and welcomed in Morocco by family there. I had hoped my sister-in-law would teach me foods and cooking and be my sister as I have none. She wont even be friends with me. I take gifts to my neices and nephew and they made me leave them at the door, oh they didn’t come to the door they called my cell to see what I wanted then told me leave the Eid gifts in the screen door. So I have no help here. What I need to know is what will my husband expect our home life to be like. I am traditional American independent woman. I know some things will be a culture shock to him but we do love each other and will work it all out. I ask what he wants what he likes etc… And I get the moroccan “be nice,kind and good” . I have watched his mom at home in Morocco, I am certainly not her and I work outside the home. He lives with his mother brother sister-in-law and nephew with a sister her husband and three kids just down the street. They all work together, the women, in the mothers house. Here at our house it is just me, no family just my son who is 9. He had had Interview for visa and we are waiting an answer. I’m starting to freak out about my possible lack of knowledge and ability. Anyone have any suggestions? I am Muslim but new so I don’t know much, I have a tangine and a cookbook and can read LOL . I’m not real domestic, help please?!?
    The rumor in the moroccan women who are here knowing his sister all shun me and I have heard them say no worries she is just the starter wife, but I confronted my husband and he says No I’m his forever wife and he loves me deep, he says I worry too much and think too much. I want to perfect my wife duties so Islamicly I give no reason of divorce in case his sister pushes him when he gets to come to me. Plus the rumor is that he will live with his sister not me according to the moroccan women here but they are notorious for stirring up crap causing issues.
    Please help

    • Hi Zahra –
      I’m so sorry that you’re sister in law is not very welcoming, even with your attempts to make things right. You may need to just back off and let your husband handle that relationship. It’s hard for me to say what your husband will expect because everyone and every relationship is different. The first year together is very difficult because you’re both still learning about each other. The biggest adjustments here were a) food – my husband didn’t cook (or have any desire to) and was very big on home cooked meals daily. While this started as a 3x a day expectation it’s now dinner – he fends for himself the other two meals. I say expectation because that’s what he was used to at home – it took awhile for him to understand this was not possible with our schedules. b) Bills – he had little experience paying bills and actually understanding the cost of things here. There were many arguments about why a bill was a certain amount until he understood set prices for services. c) Taxes – ugh complicated enough for someone who was born here – extra complicated for someone who wasn’t. d) Social obligations – my husband did not (and does not) like me to be out alone at night. We have children so “running around” is not really in the cards anymore but this was a big change. e) male friends – no just no. f) Cleaning – he really expected things to be quite clean and I’m not a domestic diva but certainly not dirty. In his family home the house is cleaned top to bottom daily – I have no time for that. We both clean the house once a week and then pick up during the week. Overall, I think it takes time and a lot of patience and open communication. Good luck dear!

      • Thank you that is along the lines that I am thinking. I know it will be changes for both of us. His sister just scares me LOL. I refrain from putting her in her place as far as I am concerned out of respect for my husband but inside I want to go all American on her. I’m being good and kind .

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