“Down for halal sex.”

I snorted and sank further underneath my cherry-red duvet. The midafternoon sunlight pushing through the blinds cast a glare on my phone, making it hard to view the man whose dating profile I’d stumbled on. This was a profile on Minder, a Muslim dating app that mimics Tinder but is aimed at helping Western Muslims find a spouse.

The guy advertising for halal sex (whatever that entails) was an exception; most of the other profiles seemed pretty chaste. However, this preoccupation with what was “halal,” meaning is what is permissible in Islam, ran rampant not on the app and in my mind.

I wouldn’t even be on Minder if it weren’t for my religious upbringing. As a single Muslim woman in my early 20s, I’ve yet to go on a date with a Muslim man. This stems from how most traditional Muslim parents, like mine, believe in a restricted code of conduct between men and women. Western dating norms are too relaxed for their standards.

I come from a long line of arranged marriages. My parents met once before their wedding day, and I don’t think my grandmother even met my grandfather before marrying him when she was 16 years old. It’s been ingrained in me that I will either allow my parents to arrange a marriage for me; or marry someone they disapprove of and be ostracized because of it.

Once I graduated from college and landed my first real job, my parents were ready for me to get hitched. 

So far, I have resisted. I hate the notion of an arranged marriage. My parents don’t look at the whole person; they look at a man’s biodata (a kind of résumé for marital candidates) that lists his education and genealogy, including his relatives’ career choices. So what if his aunt is a doctor? What about his personality? His habits? Does he leave his clothes strewn about or are his socks separated by color?

On the other hand, I also hate the idea of constantly butting heads with my family. There had to be alternatives. After some digging, I found that plenty of other children of immigrant parents want to date in a manner that combines their Western ways with their Muslim values. Which usually equals dating sites and apps geared toward Muslims.

First I tried Ishqr, a dating site specifically for millennial Muslims. Ishqr is anonymous. Users see one another listed through a username and questionnaire about their interests. Only people who connect with each other can see profile photos; and even then, photos are not required. Before this, I’d never used dating apps or sites. The only dates I’d ever been on were arranged by my friends, or with men who approached me on their own.

It became clear that I wouldn’t be dating anyone on Ishqr or even perusing my options. It wasn’t because I was picky or because the men I encountered were awful. In fact, most of them were pleasant and respectful. Rather, it was the logistics. Created in 2013, the site is still in its toddler stage. There were very few people who lived in my city, much less my state. The chances of me physically meeting someone was close to zero.

There was one man who lived in my vicinity, but it sounded like he essentially wanted a Muslim woman to babysit his future children. I didn’t accept his offer to connect on the site, and he proceeded to send me a request to chat every day until I left the site.

However, he wasn’t the one who persuaded me to leave the site; it was a boy who didn’t even say hello, but launched right into talking about our ages and asking me whether I’d be willing to move to his city, in a different country. He was straightforward and had an equally linear understanding of everything from politics to marriage. To him, all of America was racist, so there was no point in me living there.

Why did he want to get married?, I asked. He was ready to be a husband and father and to “take care of someone.” That was it, and it didn’t matter that he was still a teenager. I shouldn’t have accepted his connection request in the first place, but I was curious. If a guy who hadn’t even graduated from high school yet wanted to get married, where did that leave me?

Like Ishqr, Minder didn’t have many users near where I live. However, a lot of them lived near my parents. There was no anonymity on Minder, which made me nervous. Even though I joined these sites for my parents, I didn’t see them wholly approving of them either. In their eyes, online dating probably wouldn’t be halal. Within a few hours of me registering for the app, I found out I was talking to a distant family friend. After less than a day on the app, I deleted it.

This experiment to see if I could bridge the values of my hyphenated identity left me feeling empty. I recognize now that I could’ve persevered. I could’ve stayed for as long as it took to feel normal, or at least get used to the idea.

But I ended up feeling that I didn’t have enough experience to know what I wanted in partner. For now, I’ve decided to go on dates with men who interest me because of their dry sense of humor or their love of hiking meandering mountain trails. I’ve left behind my parents’ list of prerequisites.

READ MORE: