Why am I not married?Posted: February 27, 2013
Last year, I was invited to an interfaith banquet to be recognized for my efforts in weightlifting clothing accommodation. Although I was busy with competitions and training, the organizers had supported me in the past and I wanted to support them in turn.
My friend Hiba accompanied me as my guest. I wore a shalwar kameez with a hijab and Hiba wore a business suit. A South Asian lady recognized me from a previous event I had spoken at and we began conversing.
“This is my friend, Hiba,” I told her.
“Your GIRLFRIEND?!” she exclaimed with a shocked look on her face.
“No, I said my FRIEND, Hiba,” I clarified.
Hiba is from Sudan, so in addition to thinking we were lesbians, the lady thought we were in an interracial relationship. This made us laugh and joke throughout the banquet at the thought of this lady wiggling her brows like Bert in Sesame Street, thinking to herself, “I KNEW IT!”
Not everyone labels me a lesbian, but I deal with preconceived notions others have of me and this affects all of my interpersonal interactions. As humans, we put each other into categories as a way of neatly defining and dealing with those we don’t know or understand. My appearance as a hijab-wearing woman and persona as a weightlifter do not always mesh well together in people’s minds.
My weightlifting made me world-renowned, but added a judgment factor, since it is considered a male sport. Some people assume that that is what is scaring men off. B*****s, PLEASE! Don’t be jealous my traps are better than your traps, I am not going to stop lifting!
Furthermore, many people believe the stereotype that athletes don’t go to school, and are surprised at my PhD in Electrical Computer Engineering. Some people conjecture that my going to grad school decreased my odds to find a mate or was an excuse to delay MAWWAGE!
Beyond my faith community, many Americans have never interacted with a Muslim, or have done so only on a superficial level. The Muslims they have interacted with may practice Islam differently from me. Some winning comments I’ve received include:
“The Muslim woman I know doesn’t wear a headscarf. Why do you wear one? Can you take it off or are you going to get killed?”
“You don’t drink alcohol, and don’t eat pork. What can you do?”
“I know someone from Pakistan. Maybe you know them too?”
“You listen to Orbital, Mos Def, The Cure, Michael Jackson, The Smiths, Muse, U2, EPIC Trailer music, and/or Tori Amos? I’m surprised.”
In case you were wondering, I also shop at Trader Joe’s and farmers’ markets, collect mementos from places I visit, take photographs, find laughter healing, can be very indecisive, like to cook, am a proud nerd, and can be sarcastic. I am a Muslim woman, and a unique human being.
Everything I’ve mentioned also impacts my interactions with men, and the perceptions and fears they may have of me. There were a few who expressed interest, but wanted me to change something, like I was “not Pakistani enough”, or I was too “Americanized.” For others, I was WAY too religious, or not religious enough.
I’ve gotten comments, some good-natured, that I’m too picky, and that’s why I’m still unmarried. After my press coverage, many people assumed men flocked to my doorstep. Since I was attending competitions and speaking events where there were – presumably – tons of eligible bachelors, I must be doing something wrong.
Then there’s the good old, “You aren’t getting any younger.” According to some, at my age I should embrace my spinsterhood and live with cats!
The craziest accusation I ever heard was from an Iraqi guy at Walmart. He said that unmarried, unengaged women are actively “killing babies.” Apparently, because we are not reproducing every cycle possible.
Do I have regrets? Sure, but life is a learning process, we can only do our best with the knowledge we have, and I believe things happen for a reason. In spite of all this, I still have hope that there is someone out there who shares similar interests, morals, and a good-intentioned, non-hypocritical faith; is honest, patient, and kind; and would be happy and appreciative of who I am.
Writing this is sending my story, message and positive energy out into the universe. Maybe something cosmic will happen! I will continue to make dua to Allah to make things easy for me, help and guide me moving forward in all of my journeys.
Kulsoom Abdullah (كلثوم عبد الله), a Pakistani-American computer engineer, has been Olympic Weightlifting and Crossfitting for three years. She launched her blog Lifting Covered to document her experiences in weightlifting in the US and abroad. She was the first woman to represent Pakistan at the 2011 World Weightlifting Championships, and the first hijab-wearing woman to compete internationally in this sport. At present, Kulsoom is conducting research as a visiting scholar at her alma mater, Georgia Tech (Go Yellow Jackets!). More information about her research can be found at her professional website.