"When you want to share your entire existence with that person. It's just being one; I want to pour my mind into her mind."
Cherisé and Mark live in London. They met in Cairo, Egypt whilst Cherisé was at University reading Political Science & Middle Eastern Studies on her semester abroad in the autumn of 2011. Cherisé was born in the U.K. but was raised in the United States, living in New York and going to school in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Mark was born in Libya, to Egyptian parents, where his father worked as a doctor. He was raised in Egypt.
I couldn’t wait to speak to Cherisé and Mark about what makes a successful relationship and see what love means to them.
It was August 2011, during the Arab Spring in Egypt. The uprising meant that it was expected to avoid certain areas in Cairo; sometimes the breeze would carry over the smell of tear gas to the University halls where Cherisé was staying. During her time there, five bombs exploded in the vicinity of the area she lived. Her friends questioned why she was there, her mother begged her to come home to America but something inside her called her to Egypt. She felt alive there.
Cherisé was only meant to spend one semester in Cairo. After the Autumn term finished, she didn't want to leave Cairo. After fighting with her school and postponing her graduation she was able to extend her program and went back to Egypt in January 2012. Three weeks later, she met the love of her life.
Mark was in the same social group as Cherisé, but they had not crossed paths until they were both on a trip to Alexandria, invited by their respective friends. Mark was twenty-one, Cherisé recalled, "when I first saw him I thought 'whose hot dad is this?' he had a mustache at the time and looked much older". During that trip they bonded.
After the trip ended they spoke daily, sometimes as much as sixteen hours a day, until that April. Cherisé explained, "We both started to have feelings but neither of us would admit it. It was complicated because I am a black Caribbean and Protestant and he is a Coptic Christian Egyptian. Mark's culture made it difficult for us to be together. On 2nd April I asked him if we were dating and he didn't think we could." Mark said "I liked her but I knew that my family wouldn't accept her, so I told her let's just be friends." Cherisé said, "I felt so betrayed and decided not to speak to him again." The next day was long and painful; it was the longest they had ever gone without speaking. By 4pm that day Mark called Cherisé and pleaded with her to meet and talk. They met and the first words out of Mark's mouth were "I'm so sorry, I love you". They have been together ever since.
Mark had told Cherisé that he wanted to just be friends as he wanted to protect her, he knew what it would be like for her to meet his family. When the day came for her to meet his mother that May, Cherisé was so worried that an hour before she had a panic attack. Cherisé describes the meeting "It was so awkward, his family spoke very little English. But they made me a pizza to make me feel at home as I am American and they said that I was accepted in their house." After she met Mark's parents, they looked after her and cooked her an evening meal every night in their home.
In September Cherisé went back to America to finish her degree and Mark was conscripted into the Egyptian Army. It was the hardest part of their relationship. They spent sixteen months apart; it was hard to communicate. Mark spent a month in army boot-camp, there were no phones or computers, the only time they could talk was when his parents came for weekly visits and then only for four minutes at a time. One day there was an incident at the base and they stopped all privileges for the soldiers. Mark couldn't speak to Cherisé for eight days being unable to communicate was torture. Cherisé felt helpless and was extremely worried about him on the other side of the ocean unable to do anything to help.
In January 2014 Cherisé finally made it back to Cairo. Cherisé said, "When I came back Mark's parents could see that we were serious, they told me that they accepted me into the family". Mark said "It was nice that they accepted her because while Cherisé was in America my family really tried to convince me not to marry her. They sat me down with a priest and told me that we shouldn't mix our cultures." Mark finished in the Army in June 2014.
In Egypt, the engagement process is long and particular and usually takes one to three years before getting married. Mark commented, "We did it all the wrong way". They became engaged in February 2014; Cherisé was in her apartment admiring the new plant that she had just bought. Cherisé said "I turned around and he was just on his knee and I just burst into tears, I didn't even say yes as I was crying so much."
The procedure to get married in Egypt is very confusing and at the time a lot of government buildings had been destroyed which made it even more difficult. Eventually, it proved too much to get married in a protestant ceremony and so instead at the last minute, they arranged a wedding in Mark's family's church. Cherisé was re-baptized according to Coptic traditions on the Monday, she got her wedding dress from the mall on the Friday and they married on the Saturday. It was such short notice that most of her family and friends were not able to attend.
Emmaleen: Can you share a loving story from your relationship?
Mark: "We had been dating for four months and we went to the movie theatre, it was the day that solidified my love for her. We had gone to see a Batman movie. We were so excited because we both loved the series. We had arrived three hours early to make sure we got a seat. The movie audio was corrupted and didn't play properly. We were both really disappointed and annoyed. As we were getting ready to leave we noticed no one offered a refund, apologized or anything. Cherisé didn't accept this. I am not a confrontational person so I was ready to leave disappointed but she went to right up to the manager's office and demanded our money back. She stood up for herself, it was so attractive, I thought 'she is the one for me."
Cherisé: "I am American, the tickets were expensive, I know my rights."
What is the key to a happy relationship?
Cherisé: "Honesty and communication, we got married young and so we had a lot to learn. We don't keep any secrets, no matter what I do, the first thing I do is tell Mark. It is also learning to trust and knowing that they have your best interests at heart."
Mark: We moved around a lot and most of the time we only had each other. We were best friends and still are. That is important."
What is Love?
Cherisé: "Trust. I had never seen what a successful marriage looked like, so I hadn't been used to trusting someone. I have always been very independent so I didn't know I could relax and rely on him for support."
Mark: "Just knowing you can rely on that person no matter what; through good times and bad. When you want to share your entire existence with that person. It's just being one; I want to pour my mind into her mind".
So what is their advice to anyone looking for love?
Cherisé: "Don't look. You'll know when you find it. It's honest. I was listening to myself and following my purpose when I found him. When it feels, right just go for it."
Mark: "Some people these days believe that they must search for perfection; it doesn't exist. Get to know your partner, don't just be worried by certain aspects, Don't just go for physical attributes, Wanting a person to converse with intellectually is important. Focus on knowing each other and not impossible big qualities.
Cherisé: "Follow yourself and do what is right for you."
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