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

Category: relationships

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.

The Right to Be Picky

Now that I’m over 30, a lot of my family and friends always have the same comment when I reply as to the type of guy I want to marry. After explaining my standards (which have nothing to do with looks or money, but more with character and personality) they tell me: “You can’t be so picky, there are less guys to choose from at your age.”

Ahhhhhhhh. There is that bad word again. Age. I thought I had already explained my thoughts on that (Which I have; read “Age IS Just a Number”), but apparently our culture is still stuck on that awful “A” word.

As I’ve explained many times before, you cannot place an age on when something should be accomplished. Marriage, school, kids, sustainable bank account….it’ll all happen when it’s meant to happen.

Here is my theory on why as we get older, we should be pickier. When you are in your late teens/early 20s, there are a lot more people in your circle who are compatible with you. A lot. So really, you can choose practically anyone and be happy (enough) with them. There are lots of single people in your age range (give or take 5 years) with your same interests and hobbies.

In your mid to late 20s, it starts getting harder. A lot of people settle down in that time, so sometimes you can find yourself in the midst of a pool of couples. So it might be hard to choose that partner who will suit your needs. You may have to look a little harder, but they are there. You also may have to go down or up a few years in order to find that person, but that’s ok, and still acceptable.

Once you go over 30, though, this is where it gets tough. At least in our culture. The stigma of being a “woman over 30” is still standing strong. I remember dreading my 30th. Not because I didn’t want to get older, but because I just knew what people would say about me still being single. Once you hit 30th, it’s a downward spiral. But not in everything. Your career will flourish. You will start having a more positive outlook on your body image. You will learn what makes you comfortable and happy. You will have a thriving social life. You will be more financially secure.

The only thing that will be missing is that other person in your life, and that is the one thing everyone will choose to focus on.

It won’t matter if you are happy; everyone will try and convince you are not. They will continue to mount the pressure on you, telling you that you need to find someone before you dry up and get discarded with the rest of the unwanted things in society. So you try and be open-minded, saying to yourself that you will not discriminate and raise your standards too high because- well- you can’t afford to!

But your newly well-established and secure mindset will not allow for that to happen. You want what you want, no matter how old you’ve become or how small the pool may have gotten. You still want the never-married guy with no kids, who is as outgoing and fun as you. The guy who will still want to wait a couple years before having kids, even though you are 33 and he is 37 and everyone thinks you’re crazy for waiting because you’re old enough as is. Or maybe you want the guy who is a few years younger than you, who is the opposite of everything you would have wanted in your 20s, but seems so perfect for you right now. He is outgoing, carefree, hasn’t had a serious relationship ever, and doesn’t even want to think about kids.

You can choose whoever you want, but that doesn’t mean that society will support that decision. If you choose the 37 year old, everyone will pressure you to start the family right away and to stop acting like you are in your early 20s with plenty of time for fun. The 27 year old likes you, but his mom doesn’t think an older woman would look good to the community, so she tries and convinces him that he can do better- namely, a 20 year old still living at her father’s house. (I have experienced both scenarios. They both hurt equally).

Whatever your choice is, someone will always have something to say about it. And it will rarely be nice. However, even though we are getting older, it does not mean that we must settle for something far less than what we truly want. After all, this is marriage; we will be with this person for the rest of our lives. Call me crazy, but I want to enjoy the next 50 years with him. So you know what, I’m gonna be picky. I am going to check my list off, one by one, and make sure I have everything I want in my partner. Is it going to be harder? Absolutely. That once large ocean of possible mates has become a shallow wading pool. So it may take a little longer to go through each choice because you now want to make ABSOLUTE sure that he possesses all the qualities you want.

Just because we get older, it does not mean that we do not deserve the same choices that those ten years younger than us receive. I have just as much of a right as a 22 years old to turn away suitors. I can meet a guy at a set-up by my friend and tell her no, he’s not my type. But YOU don’t have the right to tell me to not be “so picky” because of my age. Finding a partner is not easy, nor is it in our own hands to make it happen whenever we want. It is all fate. God will make it happen when He knows we are ready.

So next time someone tells you not to be picky and that you should settle before you get “so old no one wants you,” ask them this: when they finally found the One, did they settle? More than likely, they did not. So what gives them the right to expect you to do the same. Age is not a factor. Find someone you want to build your future with. And if it takes you a little longer to get exactly what you want, then so be it.

Happiness is not living for others. It’s living so others can respect you for being who you are, even amidst all the negativity.