The number of unmarried Muslim women aged 27+ is fast growing and it is about time that we, as an ummah, start to give these women the recognition, support and respect they deserve instead of just derision, judgement and pity.
Times are not what they used to be. We live in a world where we are surrounded by choice: what to eat, what to wear, who to associate with and who not to. It’s only natural then that, with so much on offer, the marriage process has become trickier than it was 20 years ago, and now needs serious re-evaluation.
We are still urging women to find a spouse and settle down using the old-fashioned mindset then criticise them when they do not get anywhere , calling them “picky” or “past it”.
How do I know this? It wasn’t so long since I was that woman: 30+, single, going on endless first dates, trying to find that ultimate connection that would mean I had finally found the elusive One.
And it’s not like I “left it too late” as many women are told. I had been looking since I was in my 20s but faced rejection after rejection for the most ridiculous of reasons.
Like so many of our sisters I went on endless first dates, disappointed each time I met the guy only to find that the “spark” wasn’t there. Or other times, I was delighted to find the spark only to be told he didn’t want to pursue it further. And sometimes I’d find that connection only to have the guy just disappear without a trace, knowing most likely that he’d found someone better. Probably younger too.
Like so many of our sisters, I’d lie awake at night, stomach churning , wondering what I was doing wrong, questioning myself as a woman, finding dissatisfaction in my looks and other such perceived superficial flaws. I’d project into the future, seeing myself as a single “older woman” and desperately trying to make the lifestyle changes in my head just in case it happened. The other option was to “settle” which was too frightening to contemplate.
I wondered whether I would ever find the one for me or whether the chance had indeed passed me by and I hadn’t noticed. I avoided anything to do with weddings be it weddings shows, Bollywood songs about weddings and often just weddings themselves!
I could never understand why others could do it so easily. I remember the gut wrenching feeling every time I received a wedding invitation from someone younger than me. I imagined them making wedding plans, surrounded by loving, crooning female relatives then later on after marriage travelling the world and making a flock of babies while I was still dragging myself out on those first dates trying to turn a coffee at Starbucks into something meaningful and full of potential.
But sadly this is not the end of the pain for our single sisters oh dear ummah. Oh no, we then have to face your criticism and judgment. The way you ignore us when marriage proposals come up, favouring the younger girls in your circle instead. The way you look at us with a mixture of pity and scorn for being where we are and not yet married, as if it is some kind of exclusive club and we are still merely children for not yet being a part of it.
Yet what you don’t see are the tears, the waiting, the uncertainty, the heartbreak, the endless rejection and the crippling blow to our self-esteem each time we are rejected or realise we have made a bad decision.
You don’t see the evenings we spend at home alone wondering whether everyone else is out there meeting their soulmate right now. You also don’t see the effort we make to attend social events in the hope that the man of our dreams might be there, then the disappointment when we get home and remove the fake lashes wishing we had just stayed home instead.
And let’s not forget the hierarchy of martyrdom! Yes single sisters you know what I mean. When I used to speak to my married friends about the trials and tribulations of my life I’d be met with, “wait until you are married then you will know what stress is!”. As if being married takes you to the next level of the martyrdom game and gives you extra points. (Incidentally, now I am married I get the “wait until you have kids” trump card , but I am saving that rant for another post!).
But the assumption is that your life is somehow way easier because you have no husband or kids. Oh and you also have all the time in the world to do things at the drop of a hat for people and attend all of their social events because, as a single woman, you can’t possibly be doing anything else with all that luxurious free time you have right?
You may be thinking, well what about the guys over 30? Aren’t they going through the same thing? The answer is of course they too suffer from rejection and anxiety because they too want to settle. But the difference is they have much more choice than the sisters.
A guy aged 35 with a great job , a car and a place of his own is at the top of the bachelor pile and will often overlook you for a younger sister if that is what he wants. A woman aged 35 with a great job, a car and a place of her own unfortunately does not share the same prestige. She is treated with suspicion and ridicule and Allah forbid she should be looking anywhere other than her age group or older!
As a result the single sister ends up taking near desperate measures. We become elated — almost grateful — when someone is showing an interest in us that we ignorethe fact that he isn’t treating us with respect and probably doesn’t intend to marry us. We put up with all kinds of questionable behaviour because we believe we are compromising but actually what we are doing is clinging onto the hope that he will be the one to marry us and show the world that we are wanted and loved.
Most of our lives we were told to stay away from boys and were led to view them as something taboo and wrong. Then all of a sudden we were told to go out there and meet someone just like that. It’s like sending us up Mount Everest in flip flops!
The problem is we have never been equipped with the tools to make those decisions. In western culture, girls have boyfriends from a very young age and quickly learn the rules of love, often supported and guided by the parents. Our sisters instead are raised to succeed in education and employment, which is great, but we were never raised learning how to choose a spouse other than looking at a bunch of useless biodata facts, making a decision based on his height, age, education and income and hoping that the one coffee we have with him after work one day will seal the deal.
But because these are the only things we have ever been told to go by, we cling to them, never daring to widen our options for fear that we are deserting all that we know to be correct in the art of choosing a spouse.
We are so preoccupied with getting married now that we fail to remember that we are choosing a man who will journey with us into old age one day and hence we make decisions based on our current needs and lifestyles.
So why am I sharing all this with you today? Because I want us as an ummah to recognise the pain and trials that our single sisters over a certain age have to endure and to show a little empathy and understanding towards their situation.
Most of these women are dying to find that one guy who will be their companion, their best friend and their soulmate and your criticism of them will only destroy their self-esteem further.
It’s like telling a sick person to just “get better already” or telling a poor person to merely “get more money”. Next time you meet a sister who has been single a long time, ask her how she is feeling not whether she has met anyone yet, empathise with her pain even if you do not understand it and treat her like the smart, valued, worthy member of society and the ummah that she is.
I created Soraya Singles Coaching for these very sisters. It is my gift to you in a world where no one seems to understand what you are going though and expects so much of you with so little support offered.
I want you to know that it will get better, there’s nothing wrong with you and you can learn to make it happen for you with a man who will treat you with nothing less that the love and respect that any sister deserves.