Unmarried at 30: Handling the stigma with grace

Author’s note: As is often the case in real life, things don’t pan out the way we would like it to be, which leads to a constant tug-of-war between our dreams and reality. This article is inspired by the story of a friend who recently shared her shattered dreams via email. It’s fascinating how she copes with her struggle.
Her expectation of what makes a soul mate was formed at an impressionable age when the fairy-tale world appeared all too real. Seeing her parents in a cheerful marriage while growing up seemingly confirmed the dreams implanted by Disney movies and shaped her ideas of what a life companion should be like.

“It was typical that the women had to be rescued in some way by the manly prince and then they get married and live happily ever after,” wrote the 28-year-old woman, who wants to be called Alisha.

At age 13, she wanted to fly past the “awkward teenage years” to young adulthood where, at age 25, she expected to have finished graduate studies and be living a happily married life and working toward having a child.

“I still kept that hope of that fairytale ending for quite a while actually,” wrote Alisha, who is an Environmental Science researcher. “Embarrassingly, it was only in my 20′s where I was able to experience a new city to know that life was not a perfect bubble.”

Otherwise sheltered by her parents, it was only when she moved from California to New York that she realised “the atrocities that go on around the world” in wedlock.

“I watched friends my age go through divorces,” wrote Alisha, who moved to New York City to pursue a master’s degree at Columbia University. She was 24.

Two years after setting foot in the big apple, Alisha embraced Islam.

After three failed relationships, she realised that being swept away by prince charming was not as simple as it seemed in movies like Cinderella. Her first relationship did not work out because of religious differences, the second guy didn’t want to be in a committed relationship, and there were too many differences in viewpoints on life and the future with the third man.

“I did go through a period of where is the guy I’m supposed to be with?” wrote Alisha, adding that, “the past 2-3 years was the point where I knew I had to change my frame of mind before there came a time where I would have a rude awakening one day and say, what happened in the last 10 prime years of my life?”

As the years passed by, she resented the social stigma associated with being an unmarried woman at 30. The society designates a time for everything (as if all lives uniformly run like clockwork): complete an undergraduate degree at 21, marry by 23 and have children a year or so later. But, God forbid, if a woman doesn’t get married by then, she is nearing her “expiration date” (at 30).

“I hate the fact that I got sucked up in that,” wrote Alisha. “Why can’t I be an accomplished woman in my 30′s, 40′s, 50′s with a career that speaks for my passions and purpose in this life?”

The society couldn’t care less that she’s doing something substantial with her life. “If it comes down to it (where I don’t get married), I know there will still be people that will think lesser of me that I have not gotten married and do not have children,” wrote Alisha, who is of Asian descent. Whether she is scrutinised through the cultural lens of her ethnic origin or her Muslim friends, the norms are the same, even in America.

“I’m not a fan of people saying ‘you MUST get married,’” she wrote.

Having converted to Islam, she has learned that she is only answerable to God, not the people around her whom she can never please. People talk about others, irrespective of what they do (read an interesting folk tale: The Father, the Son, and the Donkey). Her faith contributed to keeping Alisha grounded and allowed her to maintain perspective.

“It [my faith] has given me a sense of peace, contentment, purpose, love and gratitude that I know I cannot find anywhere else,” she wrote. “Like I said before [in response to my recent article on envy], for me, an inoculation against “envy” of those in a loving relationship is gratitude. So for the “relationships” sector, I can churn up a huge list in a second of all the things I am grateful for (just to name a few: food to eat, fresh and clean water to drink, a roof over my head, financial stability, independence, good health, not being in an abusive relationship, etc.)”

Staying aligned to her newly adopted faith (previously being an agnostic), Alisha has trained herself to stay patient in lonesome moments when she craves companionship. She takes comfort in the Divine blessings as opposed to whining and grieving about what’s lacking in her life while remaining hopeful that she will be able to fill that void.

“I won’t lie and say that I never feel what I used to feel (that tinge of “I want that”), but I keep myself in check much better than before that’s for sure,” she wrote. “Islam has taught me to love my life…I easily could be been born somewhere else and have to walk miles upon miles just to get water.”

After several unsatisfying relationships and no luck in finding Mr. Right in her circle of friends, Alisha tried perusing several online dating sites, which also didn’t work.

But as she hopes against hope that she will find the one that she’s compatible with, she refuses to hear other people’s criticism. “I am neutral about marriage,” she wrote. “If it happens with the right guy, great. If not, then so be it.”
(Photo Illustration by Faraz Aamer Khan/Dawn.com)

Fahad Faruqui is a journalist, writer, and educator. Alumni Columbia University. You can email him at fahad@caa.columbia.edu or connect with him on Twitter here. This article was originally published on Dawn.com on November 5, 2011.

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