Chasing life

“You need to dress sexier,” a friend in New York says, “Show some skin, go on more dates, and feign a bit of ignorance.”

“You need to be more modest, not so quick with expressing your opinions,” says my mother, “and above all, play hard to get.”

“You’ve got too much intellectual energy,” says another friend in California. “It scares men off.”

“You need a professional degree – law or medicine or something,” says the matchmaking aunty.

“Be yourself,” they all say.

“Be anyone BUT yourself,” is what I hear.

My fairy tale seems to be less Cinderella and more Goldilocks and the Three Bears. I am not the princess dreaming in her tower of love and a Prince who’ll sweep her off her feet, but the girl who wandered off in search of comfort and exploration and who views the world with an inherent practicality. I receive (unsolicited) advice these days on all the things I need to change so that I’m not too hot or too cold, too hard or too soft, too big or too small. Things that will apparently make me just right.

I’m one of the most independent women you’ll ever meet. I’m intelligent and ambitious, work in a field that I love, find joy in my family and fun with my friends, and am comfortable with my level of spirituality and religiosity. I am content and fulfilled, and by any measure, successful. I’ve never felt that marriage or relationships are about finding your other half, but about two whole people coming together on equal terms. But inadvertently, I’ve found myself succumbing to the marital rat race. I’ve been living my life in wait without even knowing it, postponing things for later: I’ll write more when I’m married. I’ll travel more with my husband. I’ll finally pursue that journalism career once I’ve settled down.

When success is measured not by the things you accomplish in life, but by being “settled” into marriage, with a husband, a home, and a family, the attributes which I value mean nothing. They are a means to piquing the interests of men and their families, and are only stones on the path to a rishtaa, a wedding, and a lifetime of marital bliss. For more reasons than one, that mindset needs to shift.

I’ve heard countless complaints from highly-successful single Muslim women, well into their 30’s, who love their careers and are content with their lives, but are viewed as something less because they’ve opted out of the traditional path. From those who are marriage-minded but still looking, there are complaints that we let guys ask for too much and get away with too much – that Muslim women are scrambling to fit themselves into the profiles and demands of the men. Too many times, I’ve met kickass, intelligent, beautiful, witty women who feel like failures because they’ve let marriage become the supreme definition of success, the ultimate endgame.

There needs to be a mindset and a space that allows women to come to relationships naturally and organically, in ways that are healthy. It’s high time we began defining success for ourselves, on our own terms. What if marriage isn’t something in our future? What if we don’t feel we have what it takes to be wives and mothers? What if we dedicate our lives to changing the world instead of just living in it? It’s time to recognize that there is nothing wrong with these alternatives, that we find our own measure of success.

This year, my 30th, has been one of contemplation. The numbers change and suddenly you’re wiser. There are things formerly imperceptible that become clearer. I’ve slowly begun to remove the idea that my life is on hold until I am married, and once the barriers of expectations and years are out of the way, so many possibilities present themselves – I am unrestricted by timelines and untethered to a plan. I’ve traveled abroad twice in the past year. I’ve started a blog. I’ve put myself out there for writing gigs. I’ve chopped off all my hair. Apparently, I’ve got all the time in the world.

I’ve been chasing a goal for too long, one in which there is fierce competition and where the ratio of Muslim men to Muslim women makes allowances for behavior that we would never accept otherwise. I find that I am not soft and yielding and uncomplicated, nor am I willing to sacrifice my intelligence, drive and ambition to make a man feel less threatened to the point where I can coax him into marrying me (and once he’s trapped, turn back into the Gorgon that I actually am). I’m not willing to dress sexier, be more modest, hide my brain or pursue a degree.

I don’t want for the sake of someone else. For too long now, I’ve been chasing other people’s elusive measure of my happiness. To change myself fundamentally is not something I’m willing to do.

The race to find a man and get married denies the journey, the best part of the story, the most thrilling, the most enjoyable. So excuse me as I step off the path and wander for a bit in a different direction. I want to chase life for a while.

Zainab Chaudary works in politics by day and is a writer by night. Her blog, The Memorist, ruminates upon travel, religion, science, relationships, and the past, present, and future experiences that make up a life. She tweets at @TheMemorist.

10 Comments on “Chasing life”

  1. Rose says:

    This was a very well written and really nailed the topic, in my opinion. I feel the best way to find out who you are is to explore. If you meet someone on that path, it can be wonderful. If not, the journey is still amazing. None of us is able to please everyone, so please yourself and I believe you will be a better person.

  2. sadia says:

    Very sweet piece. Much love to those who find themselves on a non traditional path!

  3. Majida says:

    There is lots of wisdom in the promise: “To love is to want to grow old together” and it takes two individuals being and growing themselves individually AND their in relationship on this path! Be yourself first!

  4. Ash says:

    I’ve read many such blogs by many such women and I keep on thinking why is it the same story over and over again? Do women have just this to complain about in different words? Rishta auntys, imposing parents and the need for society to look upon you dismissively just because you’re not married. Maybe, by Gods grace, I’ve grown up with different people, who don’t impose or judge or say such things as it is important to find a husband first and maybe these bloggers have not. But i find myself thinking, is it their parents fault, or maybe their aunties or even society? Its easy to blame anyone, but what everyone keeps forgetting is that the parents too had a life before these people, as did the other two players in this game. Parents grew up in a society Much different than the one we see today, in muhallas where things were taught differently, with different people, different social interactions, hence they grew up with a different mindset and it is pretty ignorant to blame them for not ‘understanding’ the changes that society has gone through. As for society, well that evolves with the people that inhabit it and comprise the majority, so society is something that is not going to change all that quickly or easily to suite anyone. So, where does the ‘problem’ actually lye? Well, in my limited life I feel that the problem is usually in the head of the person writing/speaking/expressing it. Somethings are inherent within a society and people, so they don’t go away because a few people managed to see a different one abroad and every society has its own levels of neutral thinking and expression. One should be thankful for the free inhibited life that one is living, rather than complaining about the few minutes or hours that one spends talking to loving parents who grew up in a different time, a different society.

    I can go on and on dissecting things, but while living abroad, I have found that it is not only us Pakistanis who have to “deal” with such issues of parents and society’s. I have seen my Asian friends actively making efforts to have a husband/wife because they feel that it is their time. Not because their parents are telling them to. But maybe that’s because they have been left free by their parents to go forth and choose the best path and that’s what I believe all Pakistani women need. To be left free, to see for themselves why parents say what they say when they say it and maybe in time they too will come to the conclusions that elders have or the more wiser Asians have and Then that evolution will be a more accepted one.

    • Marya says:

      Ash- it is even easier to blame the person writing/speaking expressing their perspective. Life is many different directions that does not necessarily lead to the same conclusions or paths of the elders.

  5. […] Chasing life ( […]

  6. Orbala says:

    This is truly an important and beautiful piece! Thank you, Zainab!

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  9. reece says:

    Anybody else think this woman is really beautiful…how the hell does she not have a man.