People tell me that most Turkish women expect a marriage proposal within six months of dating. How strange it is then for a tramp like me to be in Istanbul dating a Turkish woman. Her name is Dilara and we met one sunny afternoon on the terrace of a quaint cafe overlooking the Bosphorus. Jason and I were writing post cards when she sat at the table next to us and struck up a conversation. She said that she is an artist and had moved from the country to the big city of Istanbul to study painting like the protagonist in a Willa Cather novel. We exchanged numbers, met occasionally for tea, drank wine in the park, and shared serious conversations about the future before our first kiss.
“What do you think about marriage?” she asked me.
It was our third date. We sat in silence as I thought how to appropriately respond.
“My flat mate says that you are American traveller. She say you will want to see many women before you leave Turkey.”
“I cannot say whether or not I will ever marry, but if I do it will be to one person,” I told her, “but I will never marry one place.”
Dilara looked off in the direction of Galata Tower and smiled while humming to herself as though at least part of my answer would do just nicely.
She had told me on our first date that people put too much thought into marriage.
“You should fall in love, get married, have children,” she had said as though it were a simple answer to a question that wasn’t really worth asking in the first place.
She cooks me dinner, brings me dessert, prepares breakfast and promises, “Tomorrow I will make better.”
It’s an adorable phrase she often repeats that almost follows in tune to that antiquated expression, “The shortest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.”
“When will you tell your parents about me?” she asks.
Though Dilara has told her mother about me I am still a secret to her father and older brother. Her brother was in town for a few days and she would often hush me when he called.
“He thinks that I have a boyfriend,” she told me.
“But you do,” I replied.
She seemed satisfied with the response.
“Why are you afraid to tell your brother that you have a boyfriend?” I asked.
“Because he would say, ‘Why are you dating foreigner? Why don’t you find good Turkish man?'”
It’s not just her brother that asks these sorts of questions. Strangers often interrupt us in public to question Dilara about her choice in company.
“Why don’t you date a Turk?” they ask, “Why are you with an American?”
It is as though I am an afront to them, as if my very presence with a Turkish woman is a challenge to their own romantic competency. They tell Dilara that they have loved her from afar even though this is the first time they have spoken.
“That’s really weird,” I say, but this apparently is not abnormal behavior for Turkish men.
From what I’ve gathered Turkish men can be “intense”.
“Do you ever cry?” Dilara asked me.
“Sure. I cried when I watched ‘Les Miserables’,” I said.
She seemed pleased, squeezed my arms, and kissed me on the top of my head several times as she called me her “cute boyfriend”.
“Why are you smiling that way?”
“This is the way I smile,” I said.
“It is a stupid smile. Like you know everything.”
Something in her demeanor had changed.
“That’s probably true,” I admitted, “I sometimes think that I know everything.”
“Tell me,” she pleaded.
Still smiling I replied, “I just did.”
This led into a conversation about how I will leave one day, that she will not come with me, that her mother has warned her about me, that I will break her heart and how she won’t allow me to hurt her. She is always as honest as her grasp of a foreign language will allow.
I tell her that I am writing about her. I read some of it aloud. She likes the part about making it better tomorrow.
“When you fly out of Turkey,” she says, “Then I will make you a perfect breakfast.”