I'm 33 and still single. Well, the "still" is at least what I get from some people. As a Muslim born into the faith, I was brought up in a community that has its own culture surrounding marriage, specifically women and marriage. But, perhaps it's not so unique. I can imagine other women have experienced what I have experienced.
Many cultures to some degree have expectations on women with regards to marriage and motherhood. I know for some women being married and a mother is tightly associated with their identity as a woman. Their belief about what they think life should look like for them by a certain age strongly dictates their choices and when to make them. I've been guilty of this thinking as well.
In the Muslim community, it is not uncommon for girls to be asked starting right into adulthood, "When are you getting married?" After a certain age (which I can't say exactly what that age is) but certainly by the age of 30, the question changed from, "When are you going to marry?" to "Why haven't you married?" As if I have some grand scheme to avoid marriage at all cost.
I have even been asked by men that I was courting, "You're in your 30s and never been married. How come?" These questions really bother me because it implies that there was/is something wrong with me having never been married at a certain age -- as if there is a perfect age to get married. It's been quite offensive. I always found my reaction to be defensive until I decided -- no, there's nothing wrong with me.
I haven't married because I am clear on what I am looking for and I haven't found it yet, and I am not willing to settle. The truth is, getting married is the easy part. Having the kind of marriage you want is what's hard. But even in my assuredness about the life I envisioned for myself, insecurity is bound to creep in. I started to question if I was doing something wrong. Why aren't I married? I should be married by now, right?
You see there is some validity in the Muslim culture around marriage. Islam does value marriage; it's a religious institution. We are encouraged to get married. You don't have to but it's strongly recommended. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said getting married completes half our religion. In knowing that, getting married has always been on the menu, but it was never something I was willing to settle for just to place an order.
With the questions from others, the personal and cultural expectations, my own desire for family, and understanding that marriage completes half my religion, finding a partner and waiting to marry the right person has tested my faith and ultimately strengthened my spirituality.
I can remember it was right after I finished grad school at the age of 29 when I really started to go hard on this life plan I had for myself. After grad school, I just knew marriage would closely follow, and I started with the "I should be married by now" talk.
That feeling of fear, afraid that I would not find what I'm looking for, started to develop and at one point became intense.
I had many moments when I broke down crying in disappointment when a relationship didn't work. There have been moments when I met someone who I knew in my soul wasn't right for me and the thought of letting it go sent me into a panic -- what if I never get married? I have even put myself through mental gymnastics trying to convince myself of why I should settle and marry someone when I knew it just wasn't right. In those times, I tried to quiet a part of my consciousness that told me to go in the other direction. This was always coming from a place of fear. And I now know that fear is the very thing that opposes faith.
Looking back, I'm happy I have not let fear win. As I continue on my journey, hoping to find my life partner, I am discovering the answer to my internal struggle with waiting for love lies within my faith and spirituality.
I know to find the right person I have to be patient and trust that God will bless me with what I am looking for. I have to continue to pray to Him to send me what's best and guide me in my decisions.
I have to give up the arrogance that says I have a better plan for me than God. I have to trust that He can make anything possible because His power and blessings are limitless. If I were to settle in marriage, it would not only be because I did not believe in my own worth, but also because I have given up on the idea of what's possible.
I have to let go of this notion that things are supposed to happen by a certain time. I have to let go of cultural expectations that women are "old and washed up" if not married by a certain age, somehow undesirable, or something is wrong with them. I have to put my full trust in God and be open to whatever comes.
Keeping the faith has been a challenge and those limiting thoughts still manage to sneak in. But in the process my spirituality has strengthened - it had no choice. I had to get to a place where I told myself, if I am sincere about having the best life for myself, God will not forsake me. I've had to trust what God tells me in all situations, and in turn, trust myself.
As my faith teaches me, I can only trust that this "wait" is not a punishment of some sort, but simply my test. Marriage and family is something I really want and believe in its value. I'm not afraid to admit that and don't think it's wrong to strongly desire it. But as this particular part of my journey continues, I'm forever more convinced that my life at this moment is no way diminished in quality and doesn't have to be any less fulfilling or meaningful because I'm not married.
As a woman, I know my identity is not defined by marital or parental status, but simply defined by how I choose to engage the world around me no matter what I'm doing. My quality of life is dictated by how I choose to see it and live it. I know with God's blessings, I can have the life I want and it does not have to mirror some of the unfortunate circumstances I have seen around me. With God's help and my faith in Him, I don't have to settle and can have the successful and loving family life that I desire, no matter when it comes.
I know that my life is evolving just as it should be, as God planned it.