Dear Happily Married SuperMum,
You already know me so I won’t go into too much depth describing myself: I’m basically the antithesis of everything you are – the all-too visible single brown elephant in the room. You know, the +30-year-old “bogey-woman” who looks like she’s having way too much fun being single to get married and who, instead of being the heroine little girls used to be told to look up to, is now used as the subject matter for multiple horror stories (“warning little would-be astronaut: this is what happens to you if you’re TOO outspoken/opinionated/intelligent and don’t get lucky like your mumsy did. You die ALONE”).
It’s hard being me.
Mainly because the likes of me are constantly being compared to the likes of you. As though in between looking after ourselves and our families, holding down jobs, paying our taxes and mortgages, looking after ageing parents and basically surviving how we can, we’ve been sleeping away the years instead of attempting to reach that supposed pinnacle of human endeavour: marriage.
And to be honest, it’s exhausting.
Because at the end of the each and every day, what we are essentially having to defend ourselves against is a serious case of victim-blaming. We’re the victims – nay survivors – of a world (be you Muslim or not) that still places women’s worth on their marriage v singledom status. We’re not the ones at fault here. Trust me. And here’s why:
- There’s not a woman I know, be they in their late twenties, thirties or forties and who is still single, who hasn’t tried EVERYTHING to find a man she won’t end up throttling 24 hours post meeting. Online dating? They came UP with the concept! Intestine-curdling “marriage events”? They’ve been there, done a thousand and puked up after most of them. Shaadi/Elite Singles/Believe-My-Lies.com? Tick, tick, and major tick. Agreeing to meet men who are ‘players’/ ego-maniacs / ‘religious’ stroke other-types-of hypocrites / bores / intellectual misnomers / straight out liars / happen-to-have-had-twenty-girlfriends-in-the-past / so-vain-it-hurts? Of course – in fact, they were starting points! In short, there is nothing that hasn’t been tried – every stone has been turned over so many times they’ve been worn away to mere pebbles. So to suggest that a woman in her thirties/forties is single because she hasn’t been trying hard enough is like telling Stephen Hawking he could walk – if he just had a little more willpower! It’s beyond insulting.
- Our careers are important to us, certainly – but mainly because it puts food on multiple tables and roofs over multiple heads. Please don’t use it against us. We need to work to pay our way in this world – whether it’s because we have a choice or not is our business. Some of us have ailing parents to tend to. Some of us don’t have parents at all. Some of us are solo bread-winners thanks to high male unemployment rates. Some of us work because we find home-making too hard and tedious and want to contribute to the wider world. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter, nor does it mean our job is the one solo thing we give our lives over to (we can do more than one thing at a time, remember?). Would we give it all up tomorrow to trot the globe at leisure and fill our days with afternoon teas? Hellz yeah – if we could afford to and not risk being dependent on anyone else. To suggest those of us who are single and working are placing our careers ahead of every other desire in life is to be grossly negligent of who we are, what we’re about and what we both need and want out of life – not to mention the financial pressures we face (which hint, hint, are the same as men’s). It’s tragic that in 2015, single women earning are still looked upon as wilful rebels. My male counterparts would never have to justify their economic activities in relation to marriage. If men don’t have to put up with searing judgements for simply being employed, women certainly shouldn’t. And if we should happen to be enjoying our careers as an added bonus, surely that’s a good thing? Isn’t it? Or do we need to be miserable on all fronts as a ‘punishment’ for being single?
- Ah! The Ultimate Classic Boogey-Card: babies. There isn’t a week that goes by where I don’t hear the words “But don’t you want children?” Er, yes. I do. But only if I meet a man I would want to procreate with (so far numbering at zero). And besides: why is MY stance on the spectrum of motherhood of concern to you? Ah yes! Because it’s a viable threat to hold over my already over-burdened head! Well, let’s put this one to bed: fertility is SUBJECTIVE. There are women in Germany giving birth at 65, whilst I have friends as young as 22 who are having fertility issues. What part of children being a part of God’s blessings bestowed as is His/Her will is hard to understand? And who is to say that if I had married at 19 I’d have had no problems conceiving? Sure, my body would have been firmer/more adept/hotter, but then so would have my supposed hubby’s. And just in case you haven’t heard, men have age-related fertility issues too. So they may be able to produce sperm until death do them part, but the older they become (and the wider the age gap between them and their partner), the longer it will take for them to be able to impregnate an egg. Charlie Chaplin may have had Mavis at 76, but that’s probably because it took over a decade for his barely alive message to reach the mother-ship. Get it? Besides which, I’ve always found any discussion around “fertility” in relation to marriage abhorrent: call me whatever you want (fool, naïve, a gonner), but I want someone who wants to be with me for me – not for what my body may or may not be capable of producing. The last thing I want is for love to be conditional. Should I lose my legs or limbs or womb due to an accident or cancer or war (God forbid), I’d want my partner to…I don’t know. Stick around! Not scarper off and marry the next “fertile” woman he can get his hands on. Any children would be a blessing – an enrichment to a relationship that should be strong enough to survive with or without them. So please. Enough with the biological blackmail. I’ve seen this threat be used countless times to force both men and women into marriages they weren’t ready for, and the only thing given birth to is misery and divorce.
- 25 is NOT the perfect age. Hate to break it to you, but there’s no such thing. People are instinctively attune to when they’re ready for marriage – for some it hits young, for others it hits later in life, and for some (gasp!) it may never hit at all. It all depends on a whole world of things and again, is subjective. I’m a completely different person in my thirties than I was in my twenties and know myself far better – so my idea of what I want in a life partner is far clearer (and saner) too. The things I would have looked for a decade ago (basically a mix of Frodo and William Wallace) seem hilarious to me now. And how many of us have friends and family who married too young because of family/societal pressures and are now traversing the earth in a state of Divorcedom? Time to let this myth go too: we have enough to be getting on with already.
So, to all Happily Married Supermums out there, I offer my congratulations. You got lucky – extremely lucky, and I’m truly happy for you. But your circumstances were/are not the same as mine, so nor will my life-path be. I didn’t meet the love of my life in/before/straight out of university. Nor did I encounter him in my work-places or through my family’s attempted arrangements. So instead, I’m simply getting on with my life – refusing to marry men who I know I could never love and who simply wouldn’t “get” me. I don’t deserve censure for the way my life is going – nor do I need to be constantly treated like something that needs to be ‘fixed’.
So please, the next time a 25-year old comes to you for marriage advice, tell them what I tell their counterparts: love and marriage will come, if and when God wills it. By all means look and be open to it, but don’t forsake your own life – or careers – or sanity waiting. Men certainly aren’t expected to. Women shouldn’t have to either.
Onjali Qatara Rauf
Onjali was the former Assistant Editor for emel Magazine; Campaigns Manager for Women for Women International UK, and is Founder and CEO of Making Herstory: a self-styled human rights organisation working to end the abuse, trafficking and enslavement of women and girls worldwide. She was shortlisted for the Care2Impact and Emma Humphreys Awards in 2014 for her works in the women’s rights sector. You can follow her on Twitter @OnjaliRauf and follow @MakeHerstory1 too