Half Agony, Half Hope

languidtones

“Do you have any children?” a nice woman making small talk asks me.

I reply pleasantly, “No, I don’t,” but my inner monologue is racing.

Children? I don’t have children because  I don’t have a husband.  I don’t have a husband because I never had a romantic relationship with a guy. I never had a boyfriend, I’ve never even been kissed and I’m way older than Drew Barrymore was when she was in that movie with Michael Vartan! I’m older than Jesus ( AS) when he was on this earth! Oh God, what if it’s too late for me to have children?

My inner monologue hysterically wonders about how hot hot flashes actually are, as I smile at the nice lady who’d innocently assumed that a Muslim woman my age is almost certainly married and almost certainly a mother.

I am an unmarried Muslim woman of a certain age. To be honest with you, I’m not surprised that I’m in this demographic.

I grew up in a tight-knit Muslim community, but no aunty in my community has ever suggested a son, nephew or cousin to me. I’m from the wrong ethnicity and I don’t fit their standard beauty norms. I never expected most of these families to embrace me, but I didn’t expect to be utterly invisible to my community, which is obsessed with matchmaking. When most of the girls in my peer group were getting married, I went away to college. By the time my friends were on their second child, I was past “entry-level” positions at work. Now, I regularly attend weddings where the bride, and increasingly the groom, is a decade younger than I am, but no aunty tells me “Inshallah, you’re next!”

There are other reasons why I’m not married aside from the ethnocentrism of my community. I grew up in a conservative religious community where no “good” adolescent engaged in a romantic relationship.  Not the boys, nor the girls. Since no one dated, the adults in the community helped to match couples, facilitating meetings and arranging for youth to get to know each other. Therefore, all my life, I’d been conditioned that girls don’t pursue the man. Since I naively assumed that the adults in my community would help and introduce me to suitable young men, I didn’t fret about finding someone when I was younger.

In college, I began to learn how to interact normally with young men. Non-Muslim guys were the best. They had no romantic interest in me and the feeling was mutual. Best of all, they didn’t have the weird gender paranoia that the MSA boys had. Because I wear hijab, many of the MSA boys assumed things about me. One of their assumptions was that I don’t talk to boys at all. Another was that I am conservative.  To be fair, many of my Muslim girlfriends shared these misconceptions. One of them once predicted that I would be the first in our friend group to get married. We all had a laugh about it.

But the joke’s on me. I’m one of the last people in almost all my social circles to get married. All of the kids I went to high school with are married. In fact, some of them are on second marriages. The same with my peer group from the mosque. The MSA boys and girls? Almost all are married except for me. This is also the case with my non-Muslim college friends. And thanks to laws being passed across the country, even my gay friends have been getting married!

The only social circle where I’m not a misfit because of my status is my close group of unmarried Muslim girlfriends. Some might consider us to be “too old and too career-minded” at this point in our lives. But these women are amazing. Professors, engineers, doctors, teachers, writers, you name it. We are intelligent 30-something women with sparkling, witty personalities. All of us are practicing Muslim women; some wear hijab and others don’t. Some are tall, some short. Some are dark(er) skinned, some very light. They’re all awesome. I frankly would marry any one of these wonderful women, if I were a Muslim man.

But I’m not a Muslim man; I’m an unmarried Muslim woman. And my pickings are slim. Not because Muslim men are terrible, but because I was never considered a desirable marriage match. Back when I was younger, I was the wrong color or ethnicity. Now, I’m still the wrong color and ethnicity and I’m also the wrong age. I’m not outrageously beautiful, I’m not rich and I’m not interested unleashing whatever “feminine wiles” are in order to find a husband. People often ask me, “Don’t you want to get married?” As if I’ve had zillions of proposals from men who would make Mr. Darcy go green with envy and I recklessly turned them all down.

I’ve had all of 3 marriage prospects in my entire life. The first was by a family friend who talked up Mr. Alif. I turned her down on account of his being much too old for me and his growing up in the home country, sharing no cultural commonalities with me, nor an understanding of what it means to develop a Muslim identity as a religious minority. Mr. Ba was a convert in my community. I turned him down because we were religiously incompatible: he was much more literal-minded and conservative than I am and he was also very macho and held traditional gender views. Mr. Ta was from the home country and had zero interest in living in America. He also had zero interest in taking no for an answer and stalked me via text, email, Facebook, Whatsapp and Twitter for almost two years. You might think that at my age now, I wish that I had married one of them, but I firmly believe I made the correct decision each time.

Having said that, I’m aware that I have a real problem being realistic about romantic love. I freely admit that decades of reading Jane Austen and watching movies like Never Been Kissed has warped my mind. I’ve come to think of romantic love as something that only happens to other people. Characters in a book or movie. Friends of friends. Not to me. Not in this lifetime. My unrequited crush will not send me a letter ala Captain Wentworth and tell me that he lives half in agony and half in hope. He will not tell me that I pierce his soul.

I’m aware this is a huge problem; unrequited crushes have been the only romantic relationships in my life. That’s not healthy. I’m an unmarried Muslim woman of a certain age who has never been kissed. I’m lonely and scared of living the rest of my life alone, but I’m honestly trying not to be bitter about it. I am praying to gain courage to do something, wisdom to accept God’s will and a supportive partner. My subconscious cheers me on.  At weddings of couples a decade younger than me, she tells me, “Inshallah, I’m next!

Zaynab Mohamed is a 30-something Muslim woman who lives and works in an urban metropolis that is home to many married Muslim couples.


23 Comments on “Half Agony, Half Hope”

  1. Fatima says:

    I love this piece! It was almost a mirror reflection of my experience in the marriage department. Kudos for a job well.done Zaynab !

  2. Zaynab, brava for this piece! I empathize with the space that you occupy. Many Muslim communities have created the wrong space for marriage. I hope that this changes soon. Hang in there girl, I stand with you!!

  3. jdeena says:

    Keep your head up! I am in the exact same boat as you. All my friends have been married for almost half my life now, as they started around age 16. I am the only single girl in my group of friends; even among acquaintances. I too have felt that loneliness, but what I have done to help alleviate it is fill my time with things that make me happy, one of those being involved in a charity. I dedicate my free time to helping others so I am busy and happy alhamdullillah. I pray you find someone to love and who loves you. It will come when Allah (SWT) wants it to inshallah!

  4. S says:

    Thank you for writing this courageous piece Zaynab. It touched me deeply as I am also a 30-something Muslim woman that was the last in her social circle to get married. I can painfully relate to a lot of what you wrote about.

    Quite frankly, I stopped believing I would meet the right person for me and so did my family (for a variety of reasons, mostly because I told them I was never getting married as a defense mechanism). I know as Muslims, we’re not to lose hope, but I did for a while. I still made du’a to Allah swt for a suitable husband, but times had gotten pretty rough and lonely on the inside for me. I did end up meeting a suitable match though, late into my 30s, pretty much out of the blue and I know that if Allah came through for me, he will come through for you and all of the other amazing sisters out there who are looking. Love hugs and prayers, sister.

  5. nadia says:

    It sucks to hear that ethnicity plays such a large role in our Muslim community when it comes to marriage. Marriage is easier when we have similar backgrounds however the uniting ground for all of us should be being Muslim. May you find the right person for you inshAllah and I hope future generations stop putting so much emphasis on culture.

  6. 31 yo unmarried sista says:

    Sweetheart, I feel your pain. I am in the same boat. I live in Toronto and am surrounded by unmarried, amazing, beautiful Muslimahs. I lost the last marriageable years of my life (mid to late twenties), in a relationship with a man whose parents refused to accept me for my skin color. Now that I’m 31, the conclusion I’ve come to is that I can no longer limit my search to Muslim men. I know that goes against coventional Islamic teachings but when I honestly asked myself if Allah truly wants me to miss out on motherhood, the aspect of life I have most looked forward to since I myself was a child, my heart said no. My options are this point are to either marry a highly cultural, newby to Canada, or someone raised here but who only matches me in that he too is single and Muslim (ie zero compatibility).

    Now that I’ve given myself permission to look outside the Muslim dating pool, a HUGE stress has been lifted off my shoulders and ironically enough, I’m meeting more Muslim guys than ever but still leaving the door open for non-Muslims with good morals (there are plenty of good, moral people who don’t call themselves Muslim).Other cultures/non-Muslims do not put so much emphasis on age of marriage. They don’t look at us and say, “oh I guess now that our son is 35 and not married, he can marry her since he couldn’t find anyone better”. It’s beyond insulting but Muslims are so used to these norms that they don’t stop and think about how hurtful and archaic they really are. Being part of the Muslim dating pool was destroying my self esteem but now that I’ve freed myself, I’m feeling much better. Please consider it with an open mind.❤

  7. she says:

    Oh zainab, you just wrote my story. Only difference is I’ve never even had the 3 proposals you had. I’m a 30 something muslimah and I literally do not have any unmarried friend. Even the one that got a divorce is now remarried. It is extremely difficult and in my community it’s getting more and more difficult as at weddings pple look at me with pity in their eyes. I always fight the urge to burst into tears whenever I’m out of the house. A friend even said I’m clinically depressed. Why wouldn’t I be? No one ever showed any slight interest in me in all my 30 something years. I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m never going to get anyone. My worst fear is dying alone and it’s getting more and more glaring. I’m writing this now with tears in my eyes. Tears I can’t stop. Don’t even have anyone now to talk too as I don’t want to “disturb” any of my friends with my problems which they’ll definitely share with their husbands and the husbands will then.look at me with pity in their eyes. Ya Allah the loneliness is so overwhelming………

    • Nadia says:

      InshAllah you will meet your Mr. Right. For the time being, focus on being confident and happy as an individual. Realize your self-worth. Realize that you can be “whole” without a husband but if that is what you want, may Allah help you find it. I don’t know your struggles but I hope you are utilizing various avenues in trying to meet the right person like websites, singles events, and even rishta aunties. And your real friends will not be “disturbed” by you calling them.

    • Hanan says:

      InshaAllah sister Allah will come through for you. I may not know you but I support you and I am exactly in my mid twenties and thought I would be far along in my life than where I am now. But truly the one who created us must know what is better for us and until that day comes keep your head up and may Allah grant you a hubsand of your duas and someone way better than all your friends’ husbands! I love you for the sake of Allah and know good things will come your way soon inshaAllah.
      Hanan

  8. Miss Deeza says:

    I’m not in my thirty yet, but i definitely feel you! As my friends and cousins around me getting married, relatives are starting to ask me “when is your turn?”. I don’t live in the US so ethnicity was never a problem but husband materials are not exactly sold in the supermarket! Beside, i’m the oldest in my family, my top priority will always be my family and my younger siblings. But i’m still scared that i might have to be alone for the rest of my life.

    God’s willing, we will find the right person at the right time. Love come in unexpected place. Insha Allah! Just remember the story of our prophet and Siti Khadija.. :’)

  9. Salam Zaynab.

    Like the other ladies I totally relate. I am a convert who was engaged to a bread and born Muslim. I followed him to the Middle East to marry him and he left me there to marry a woman from his community. I spent my entire 20’s with that man and now in my early 30’s I am starting from scratch again while everyone I know, Muslims and non Muslims are married with babies. However I have learnt that nothing is permanent. Your life can change overnight, so my lovely the only thing I can tell you is breathe and let it go. Nothing is set in stone. So trust for the best and carry on.

    I am thinking of you.

    Tam Tam

  10. FIFI says:

    May Allah SWT reward you 1000 fold for your patience. Unfortunately this has become an epidemic but i say lets keep the conversation going!!
    I am in Australia, recently a few public forums titled “Why aren’t we married yet” really addressed the issues women and men are facing. it seemed that 1. parents and elders in the community were at times the road blocks to accepting the choice of suitors 2. we need to go out there and seek, serve the community, engage, do anything to participate so as to increase your pool of prospects. 3. who said woman cant seek the guy?

  11. Ameena says:

    Wow. I’m in my early twenties and single and this article serves as a huge reminder and “warning” for me in regards to my apathetic, blow-it-off attitude towards love and marriage. I may be young and invincible now, but this can one day become my problem too. A few thoughts:

    You mentioned that no one in your community dated. Are you sure they didn’t date, or do you think there’s a chance you maybe just missed out on it or were unaware it was going on? (Young Muslims are in fact fantastically skilled at the art of covert dating). I think since it seems that the time has passed that elders within a community regularly make an effort to set up suitable marriages for the youth- this “traditional” matching is probably the case for a small portion of marriages I see in my community (i’m from a pretty large US city)- it is basically necessary for young Muslims today to be open to the idea of meeting and getting to know a potential partner outside of this realm of traditional family and community set-ups. Many of my older friends who are single are the ones who are not open to doing this. I understand that there are moral implications for talking to the opposite gender, but I would like to believe that with the right intention and smart decision-making, a “halal dating” process can be possible. Perhaps even talking more openly about this with parents, etc. will help remove the stigma and thus the secrecy behind it, leading to more suitable matches for more people, and less of these undesirable and unfortunate situations. May Allah bring us all closer to finding the special person for us🙂

  12. Amer Syed says:

    You seem like a very nice, perceptive person. I hope you will take this in the right spirit : I’m sorry you bought the lie of the community, there’s no such thing. The good news is that it’s now up to you. The price if wanting friends is being friendly. It’s not hard to meet guys. We are everywhere, in your bus, in the queue at the supermarket , at the rock climbing gym, at the doctor’s. Just say : Hello. You will have some bad experiences and some amusing ones and some good ones. Take action. You can do it.

    • Dahlia Eissa says:

      This is sage advice. There is nothing wrong with us getting to know each other independently and privately too – for friendship and for love. I applaud you for your encouragement.

  13. Dahlia Eissa says:

    Zaynab, you’ve written a brutally honest and touching piece. Living within a community that expects heterosexual marriage from its young men and women, yet can make getting married difficult for those who don’t fit in the box, is a challenge. It’s also a challenge because much of your identity may be tied up with that “next step” in life – that step that officially takes you to adulthood. I’ve written about this myself, and would like to share what I’ve written with you.

    http://dahliatellingtales.wordpress.com/2013/08/14/why-we-marry/

    Thank you for your piece. I loved reading it. And good luck, with wherever life takes you.

  14. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this – it echoes many of our (Muslim singletons’) sentiments so well! Thank you for sharing your story. I hope he finds you soon but, in the meantime, may God continue to give you strength and patience x

  15. S says:

    Zaynab, I applaud you for having the courage to write such an honest and insightful piece.

    I am sorry (but, unfortunately, not altogether surprised) that you have found yourself excluded from your local Muslim community on the grounds of your race/ethnicity. As a mixed race, unmarried muslimah (in a successful profession with good career prospects), I too have experienced much of what you refer to.

    As every year passes, I am persistently reminded by a(n often cruel) community (that does not truly accept me in any event) that I am a failure as a woman due to my lack of husband and children.

    Thankfully, I have the love and support of family and friends who value my worth as more than just a wife and mother.

    I hope and pray that you will find what you are looking for in life.

    You have my best wishes

  16. TR says:

    I feel this post so much – especially being a “good girl” and never fraternising with the opposite sex, and thus only ever saw Muslim men in the context of a “potential” – highly unfair on them and me. It meant that every conversation I had with men was coloured, confused and awkward.

    I am now thirty, have never been proposed to or even enquired about, and feel utterly rejected by everyone, including God. What is wrong with me, I wonder? All of my friends have gotten married, while I was trying my best to be a diligent human being. I waited for the aunties to fix me up and for someone to lock eyes with me across the room, and then grow together in love.

    Actually the problem is false expectations and a lack of realistic guidance from a generation that really did have their elders fix them up. And it’s also a problem of men not really getting the same message that we did – and an overall lack of understanding about what truly makes a good marriage partner. Same with all cultures I guess. It’s always about the pretty girl who can flirt and somehow ensnare them into the deed (how do they DO it? I wish I knew).

    Right now I feel like I’ve given up on God in this respect, and also on myself. In my heart I know I’m way too independent for most Muslim men, and too religious for non Muslim men. I feel like throwing all caution to the wind and really just having an affair for the sake of it. The lack of human contact is slowly turning me mental, and incredibly depressed.

    :-s

    I hope something turns out for you.

  17. Huda says:

    I can completely relate to you Zaynab. Inshallah ,you will find someone who you will love. Allah said that patience is a virtue.. if we are patient we get the best of fruits in the future. Inshallah.. . Although, I’ve not reached the age of 30 yet, I’m in the same boat as you are. I’m 25 years old and all of my friends have married. Some are engaged who will get married with ayear (they are just 22,23).. My best friend was engaged when she turned 18 and now she’s married.. I do get asked, unfortnately they are no good and my heart always tells me to turn them down (it’s my heart’s instinct I follow). My parents now think of me as a burden and my dad wouln’t care who the next one is, he just wants me gone.. But I’ve something my friends do not.. and it is happiness in my career.. You see, why they were getting married, i was busy in a university getting a degree.. I don’t want to be lonely either and want to find a man who will love me.. but I feel like that is not for me.. or no one will ever love me.. or would even want to be with me.. or maybe I won’t love that man I end up with…
    sigh, it’s a sad world for some of girls sometimes…
    in the end, I do thank allah that I wasn’t forced into a marriage at the age of 16! too..

  18. pearl says:

    You ain’t old. You talk like its gone and done with. The romance in your life. Don’t You wanna date now? Am sure a person with a mind that speaks thus, can fnd match and then you can explore? Right? Can’t you?

    Not that I don’t advocate single status. Its a life style choice You make. I advocate happy living. Whatever that makes You happy. But since You spoke about it.

    Warm wishes,
    S.

  19. Yasmeen says:

    Salam alaykom sister. Being in the same boat, I feel you. But it could be worse & God knows what’s good for us. Though I feel jealous of married women when I’m the only single one in the group, to be honest, I feel sorry for the ones that don’t have good husbands & sadly there are many. So when I feel lonely I think, hey Alhamdulilah atleast I’m not in an abusive relationship or the subject of a Dateline episode