It took a while, but after protracted discussions, my late mother finally had come around to the idea. “Habiba, you don’t need to get married” she’d said. I had finally convinced her that the opportunity cost of marriage was too great to sustain.
I read Fatima Adamou’s piece with great sadness and felt moved to reply. “After years of anxiety and confusion” she writes, she has come to accept her status as a single Muslim woman “on the periphery [of the Muslim community].” She alludes to the depression into which single Muslim women “inevitably” fall. But I believe there is nothing inevitable about it at all.
Fatima speaks of spinsterhood as though it is foisted on us like a curse, or as though it is a slur. Many women view their status from entirely the wrong vantage point. What Fatima mightn’t realize is that she is a position of unprecedented, unrivaled privilege as a single, educated Muslim woman in 2015. You ought not to be an outsider, you ought to be leading your community.
“A Muslim woman’s place is where she is needed most. And it is for her to decide where that is,” my father would tell me. He hoped I’d make my mark by marrying my interests with a sense of civic duty. Throughout my 20s, my mother politely declined proposals on my behalf, as she knew I would dismiss them offhand. 50 or 60 proposals later, the offers soundly dried up, along with the skin on my face. Welcome to life on the self-imposed shelf. With greying hair and the inability to remain a perpetual size zero, I make no apology for this.
My parents hammered home the idea that my identity or sense of self-worth is not a function of my marital status. Not a word was ever said about becoming a dutiful wife. We didn’t sit around trying to bleach our skin with lemons to attract a man. And I remain convinced that time spent focused on securing the affections of a husband is an extraordinary waste.
Was I foolish to have run for the hills in my 20s? Was it foolish to throw myself into varied interests and reject those offers? No. This self-enforced spinsterhood is an intended, necessary consequence of putting specific values first.
The Readiness is All – Planning For & Embracing Spinsterhood
As Hamlet said: the Readiness is All. It seems Fatima was in denial when she talked of grief and of depression. Martial your thoughts, I would say to her. Do not plan for a life with a husband–plan for a life alone. I’m doing now what I should have done a decade ago.
It’s not that it is easy to embrace spinsterhood. There are three scenarios in which you are unreasonably tested: (1) you must be financially more self-reliant; (2) in sickness you must tend to yourself, and; (3) when facing loss, you must husband (I use that word with intent–you are the ‘husbander’ of) your own resources. Having come through all three scenarios, I have good news. You live to tell the tale. Having lived in twenty-three cities in my thirty-four years, there have been equally startling and educative times which have tried and tested.
To all the single women out there, I say: Plan for a financially independent and self-supporting life, where you alone are responsible before God for the state of your finances, your health and those around you. Embrace that a life alone is not a life unexamined or unlived. Travel far and wide because the majority of those around you simply cannot. Commit to public service or interests–some of which require odd hours and extraordinary commitment. Tethered folks invariably cannot do this, and if they do, it’s never quite effective. You are facing a tremendous opportunity to travel, to explore, and to be true to yourself.
I was struck by Fatima’s assertion that she had spent a great deal of time in depression over her unmarried, childless status. I was struck that she was gifted with her own time and chose not to use it more effectively. All that time worrying about your singlehood prevents you from leading just, true lives. It might take awhile, but now is the time to focus on putting on your own lifejacket. You can read, you can no doubt write, you have internet access. Even in constrained circumstances, you have the power of your mind, and your conscience. The gifts you have are powerful and ought not to be contingent on one man bending down on a knee.
But to do all that–and I have tried to–it is virtually impossible without first having a strong, stable foundation for yourself. So plan, and ready yourself for this adventure.
All this is not to say that I haven’t thought of marriage. Each time I have, the opportunity cost of marriage has terrified me. I frequently pay lip service to the notion of marriage and of an ideal partner. But it is merely that. Marriage is a mirage for women like me. The reality is that for 2% of the time, I might have a thought of marriage. Most of the rest of the time, I focused on specific interests, cultivating joy, kindness and having fun.
I’ve never idealized about a wedding, a dress, or kids. I have, however, had to warn my friends that they ought to bear with me if biology attempts to override rational thought. Perhaps it would have been wonderful to marry the activist, the thinker who lives by his ideals. But one cannot hold one’s breath, or you’d die in the process. Although a life alone might seem daunting, it is equally as exciting to imagine a life unfettered, where you are always free to contribute and stand on your own two feet.
It appears to me that single Muslim women are living in a death of their own making. And it is high time they woke up. Fatima, live a little. You have a mantle to adopt.
Habiba Hamid is a former editor, writer, and governance specialist. At the moment she is in Bristol, UK her 23rd city.