Never settle for what is…come tomorrow it will be what was

Category: independence

Forced to Marry

I see it every day, all over my newsfeed and social media: girls are forced into marriage. No, I’m not talking about overseas in some remote country. I am talking about here in the US.  You might be thinking “Jinan, you are CRAZY!” but let me explain what I mean.

I know women have the right to choose their partner in Islam. I know no one can actually force you to get married. However, culturally, I feel that we are still bound by the obligations passed down from one generation to another. Think about it: when a woman says she doesn’t want to get married, what is your first reaction? Probably horror. Or, let me put it this way: when you meet a woman and ask her age, what is your reaction if she is over 30 and still single?

I am not singling myself out in this post, although I do face both scenarios quite often. But I am trying to open your eyes to a bigger issue in our society- one where a woman’s marital status and her ability to bear children is valued more than anything else she can offer. Just scrolling though social media and seeing how many comments a woman gets when she posts an engagement or wedding picture versus one of her new promotion or a solo trip she’s taken is enough to prove my point. However, it doesn’t seem to be enough for people to be convinced that we- as a society- are obsessed with marriage.

That point alone could have been enough to push me away from that institution; yet I chose to still become a part of it at the age of 27, when I first got engaged. To be honest (and I didn’t admit this at the time), I didn’t want to get married. I did it because my parents were becoming more and more frustrated with me, I was close to thirty, and the guy seemed decent enough. Everyone I knew would always tell me they thought something was wrong with me because I just wasn’t jumping to get married. What can I say? I just felt like I wanted to be on my own, and that I’d never find a guy who could tear me away from my singleness.

So, I got engaged. I went through the motions, made everyone happy -and then just as quickly- disappointed everyone when I took off the ring and left it on the bathroom sink before work one day. It was just two months shy of our wedding day. Yet I felt freer than I ever had that day.

Of course, everyone told me that I shouldn’t give up, and that I needed to keep an open mind. So I did, and I entered into yet another serious relationship that would be the beginning of the demise of my character.

Our culture fails to understand that we of this generation are looking for more than just a man to support us. We want a partner, someone we can love and respect and build an empire with. This second relationship chipped away at my self-confidence over 9 months. By the end of it, when he decided he wasn’t ready to get married, I was the shell of a human being. I was devastated and went into a depression so deep it consumed me. I felt lost, confused, and unmotivated. I was sure no one would ever love me, and spent my days crying and wondering what was so wrong with me that no one wanted to marry me.

And that was it- the breaking point. I went to therapy, and she asked me “why do you feel you need a man to love you to make you feel valid?” And it was such a simple question. Yet all my life, I was taught that marriage is half my faith and my culture made me feel that without a man I was nothing. I mean, just look at the questions we are asked when we meet people: How old are you? Oh, are you married? Oh, why not? I mean, are we seriously validating a woman by her marital status?

So since that day in my therapist’s office, I have vowed to work on loving myself. I have thrown myself into work and activities, focused on my writing and activism, and learned to be alone. I have a great circle of friends, but they are all married. So to count on their company proved fruitless. I go to movies alone, I go to restaurants alone; hell, I even travel alone! It’s empowering and liberating, but even more so, it shows that a woman does not need a man in order to enjoy life. I am not saying I will never get married; but I will definitely be enjoying the journey until that happens.

Do I get questions from my family and friends? Always. Everyone is scared of the “single girl” especially when she is so content in her singleness. But no matter; I don’t let it bother me. I have learned to laugh it off, and to focus on what is important to me. The way I look at it is, this is my life. Not theirs. To live your life for others will mean you will never truly live. So be content in your choices, as I have become.

They won’t like it, but then again, who cares?

Laughing It Off

This past weekend I attended my good friend’s son’s wedding. It was such a fun wedding and we had a blast dancing and seeing some old friends. It was a traditional Palestinian wedding, so I knew that being single would be cause for conversation with some of the older crowd.

I was sitting at the table with my friends, a young couple, and the husband had brought his mother. She was the typical older Palestinian mom, and I loved hearing her accent because it reminded me of my own family. She had a woman about her age sitting next to her (I assume a lady she knew). After we all had settled in at our table, she asked her son who my friend and I were. He introduced us, and right after that she asked me “Are you married?” I told her no, I wasn’t, and she said that I “looked like” I was married. I asked her if that meant I looked older or what, and she said no, she just thought I was married. I told her no, I wasn’t, and so she asked me how old I was. I told her 33 (I will be in a few weeks anyways), and she jumped. She was so shocked I said that, but not because she thought I looked younger than that.

No….she proceeded to say “no, no, we don’t want someone that old, we want five kids!” I was confused at first, but then it dawned on me: she thought that because I was single, that meant automatically that I wanted to get married. LOL….I literally laughed out loud. I died. I looked at her and told her, no, I actually don’t want to get married, but thank you anyways. She asked me why, and I told her I was happy in my life and had a good job, and it wasn’t something I wanted right now.

She seemed to think I was lying, but the woman next to her told her that it was perfectly okay for me to want that and to be happily single. THANK YOU strange woman sitting at our table!

It wasn’t until I told my mom that story later on (and she laughed until she had tears in her eyes) that I realized something: usually a comment like that would have had me feeling offended. I’d have felt inadequate somehow, like it was my fault to be this old and still single. But I didn’t care. I laughed…and it felt good to not be bound by those thoughts or expectations. For the first time that I can remember, I felt free and happy, even with that comment directed at me.

That made me feel even more confident about the decision I made just 4 years ago. The promise I made to myself after my last major relationship ended was to work on myself and to become confident and independent. There is no validation that feels better than knowing that I am happy with being alone. It doesn’t mean I want to stay that way forever, but in the meantime, I can enjoy my own company and not feel like something is missing.

So that’s today’s lesson, ladies. Get to the point in your life where- as a single woman- you can laugh it off when people call you old, or tell you that you will not be able to have so many kids at your age. Honestly, it is the only way to deal with a situation like that. Besides, who wants to be miserable all time anyways? Laughter really is the best medicine.