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There is a very specific way in which our parents’ generation view gender norms, especially with regards to marriage for their children in western society. It is different to the culture they left behind when they migrated here (which has since progressed without them) and unlike the western culture in the country they now call home (which they find too ‘white’). Gendered hypocrisy in Bengali culture regarding marriage is a specific topic but its themes will resonate regardless of culture or marital status.

A while back, I was speaking to a friend about an arranged marriage prospect she was looking into, and she mentioned feeling the scrutiny of ‘aunties’ who wanted to know details of her life in order to find her a ‘good match’. These aunties do have a rightful place in Bengali culture where they effectively play the role of Tinder and the first few dates. Their detective work and CIA -like connections provide details of potential spouses that otherwise require multiple dates and a lot of ‘research’ aka online stalking – you know what I mean – who hasn’t googled a name and then looked into their FB, LinkedIn, Instagram etc etc.!

Anyway! These aunties are not perfect and many of them are a product of a socio-economic upbringing that reinforces Bangladeshi middle class stereotypes of gendered norms. So when these same women are tasked to ‘match up’ modern, young things living in a western country (or even modern young things from Bangladesh!) – There is a big discrepancy in what is acceptable and what they find acceptable.

Now that alone would be fine – everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but when you hold the soft glossy paper of a beautiful young woman’s bio data in your hands and you have the power to shape how other people will receive information about her – your prejudices can do more harm than good.

Case in point – a young man and woman in our ‘community’ started seeing each other. Word got out and here are a few ‘rumours’ that were spread:

‘That girl is so modern. Too modern! How shameful for her parents that she’s dating so openly in public’

‘You know her dad works really long hours, doesn’t have time to teach her anything and her mum let’s her do whatever she wants.’

‘Who will marry her now if she breaks up with him? EVERYONE knows about them!’

Notice something? Not a single one of these ‘rumours’ is about the young man. Instead the aunties, the uncles and the community all spread gossip about the girl and even her family. First of all – it is none of your business what she does and who she does it with. You aren’t neighbourhood watch and even if you were this isn’t a kidnapping. Secondly – why bring her parents into this? If you are going to judge someone, judge them on their actions alone. Don’t bring in their family! And lastly – don’t you remember being young and single? Don’t you remember facing this same barrage of scrutiny and relentless criticism? Have some empathy!

When the couple broke up – the same aunties went on to say, ‘I told you – no one wants a fast girl, they will date her but not marry her. It’s not in our culture’.

Again, completely missing from these conversations is any comment directed towards the other 50% of the equation – aka the young man. The woman is to blame for being interested in someone, for dating them AND for breaking up with them because of course it was her fault.

When these same women sat down to discuss matching up ‘kids’, they bring these rumours to the fore and mothers seeking ‘beautiful, young, white girls’ for their ‘handsome, accomplished sons’ will look aghast at the prospect and move on.

Does it matter to these aunties that the ‘handsome accomplished son’ who is stated as ‘6ft and fair’ in his bio data is actually 5’8 and not (that fair)? Nope

Does it matter that he’s had a string of girlfriends that everyone knows about? Nope.

Does it matter that he has bad habits and his partying and spending is out of control? Nope.

Why? Because in our culture the man is ‘young and impressionable’ and ‘biye korle shob thik hoi jabe’ which means ‘everything will be alright after marriage’ Why? How? Is it because you are going to marry him off to a virginal young woman who will magically be able to reign him in and discipline him in a way you as his mother have not been able to? She has to be young enough so that you can mould her to your liking, pretty enough to entice your son, but also mature enough to be able to discipline him.

Add to that now she has to be accomplished (but not more than him. God forbid she has a PhD and he doesn’t), she has to be shorter and younger than him (yes our men (or at least their mommies) have complexes.

I feel that even young men and women raised in western societies are not as progressive as we would like them to be because of the sheltered communities they live in and the lack of intelligence and broad mindedness in those spheres. Parents need to stop being scared of their kids becoming ‘white’ or out of control if they mix with broader society. Even people ‘back home’ in Bangladesh have moved on from such narrow thinking!

It has been disappointing to see young men and women go through this embarrassing rumour mill process and yet, once they are through, somehow forget all about it and continue to propagate these same stereo types and play the same ‘aunty role’. If you adopt this mindset even though you’ve had the good fortune to be raised in a more open and tolerant society, then you will only end up teaching your kids the same thing and not breaking this vicious cycle. So to the young men and women out there who are being matched up and entering the world of parenting, please make sure you teach your kids about being more accepting so that we eventually phase out these old fashioned stereotypes within the next generation or two!

Why? Because this mindset is not only narrow and unforgiving, it’s also dangerous. There are women out there who have genuinely admitted they would stay in abusive relationships if it meant financial security. There are young women out there who see their dads beating their mums and not doing anything about it. That’s hard to listen to. It takes great effort not just stand up to your parents but to acknowledge that change begins within yourself and that sometimes even though you are younger – you have to guide your elders.

I know I might sound really mean and/or prejudiced towards men. I am not trying to be. There are great men out there and I know many of them. But men – it’s also your responsibility to correct this incorrect way of thinking and approaching gender norms not only regarding marriage but in all walks of life.

If your mother brings you a bio data of an 18 yr old and you are a 31 yr old man – allow it man! How much will you have in common with someone so young? Let her live! And make sure your own bio data hasn’t been spun to talk up your height and complexion!

If your father tells you, ‘there is no point pursuing this girl, she earns more than you.’ Stand up for her and let them know that financial parity is more than acceptable to you and you will live with it happily.

If the aunty at the party makes a snide comment about you being a stay-at-home dad, while your wife works, call her out and let her know that you were equally responsible for bringing your baby into the world and therefore equally responsible for its upbringing.

If your co-worker makes sexist jokes about the new girl in the office and her skirt, tell him off. Make sure he and others know it is not ok.

If they guy on the bus is staring at the woman sitting opposite him, move and stand in the way and make eye contact with him. I see you boy!

Girls – don’t put up with the judgement. Don’t let it get you down. You do you and you be you. Together we will outlive old notions of gender norms and encourage our children to be better.

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Prior to marriage, I was imbued with ‘knowledge’ about what married life is like from many sources. Disney told me I would meet a complete stranger, trust him, fall in love, and marry him without any hesitation and live happily ever after with song and dance. Bollywood told me I might suffer in the beginning but by being submissive and obedient I would win over my enemies and live happily ever after with song and dance. Magazines told me that marriage was a complicated concoction of mind games which I had to play out very carefully and complete all the quizzes to find out if I was going to a) live happily ever after because I am already the social construct that magazines aspire to create, b) live happily ever with ‘song and dance’ (and/or Netflix and chill) or c) live happily ever after with song and dance if only I would get out of my own way.

Having been married just over 2 years, I am in no way an expert on a subject many have spent decades living out skilfully. I do however bring to this topic the perspective of a newbie with my realistic and somewhat sceptical outlook.

  1. Marriage is the end of your individuality
    Having grown up as a tomboy in a ‘traditional’ household, I held marriage in contempt as a place where individuality goes to die. As I grew older and got sucked in by Bollywood, I was torn between notions of romantic attachment and the glorification of sacrifice for love. Time and again I found external influences gently reminding me that when I am married I would need to stop doing things the way I do now and adjust to a new way in a new family.  While this is somewhat true, it doesn’t spell the end of your individuality. Like any life changing decision (new job, moving to a new country), marriage has all the ingredients to throw stability and what you know out the window as you face unknowns. You can let marriage and the unprecedented proximity to another individual shape you and certainly that’s sometimes a good thing (like my husband increasing my patience) but this isn’t the same as losing your individuality. Shaping each other and growing together as one strong unit means melding the traits you each possess, be they good or bad. No matter how much patience my husband teaches me, I will always be just that little bit crazy and crabby because that’s who I am – it shapes my character and I like to think it becomes endearing after a while! It’s important to hold onto these unique traits that make you – you. Because as life throws you more curveballs, your job, spouse, kids and parents all expect different things from you and the more you try to conform to what they want – the more you lose out on who you are. But if you have spent time figuring out who you are, what makes you tick and what make you – You, then whatever comes your way will only add to your core individuality. So no matter if you are married or single, young or old, make a concerted effort to spend some time being introspective and figuring out who you are as a person because it will come in handy when life and those in it pull you in different directions. Then when marriage comes along, your individuality will benefit from the new experience rather than suffer for it.
  2. Marriage equals happily ever after
    This is the one myth Disney and Bollywood have done a great job of hammering into young minds. Traditionally marriage has been the end goal of romance, and most romance novels and films climax at the union as the pinnacle of happiness, but happiness is a journey more than a destination. You have to make a decision to be happy every single day otherwise even the most joyful of events or occurrences won’t cause you happiness. Marriage has its fair share of challenges and there is no assurance that signing on the dotted line will result in happiness every single day for the rest of your lives. That assurance comes from communication. Don’t let the marriage contract be the last meaningful communication that happens between you and your significant other by making sure you devote even five minutes each day to communicate not just superficially about your day, but about your emotions. Identifying, expressing and sharing emotions in a positive manner allows both partners to be aware and mindful of what the other is feeling and can explain a lot of behaviours or actions that may otherwise be misconstrued and lead to suspicion, hurt or worse. The happiness of a marriage is not an end goal, it’s something to work at, build on and savour every single day.
  3. Marriage is hard work and requires sacrifice
    The biggest lesson I have learnt is that compromise is not a bad word. Sacrifice is. When you communicate your hopes, dreams and fears to your spouse , you are sharing in each other’s world and when you co-create a world then the work required to sustain it isn’t hard because it becomes a labour of love. When one person feels they are sacrificing their hopes and dreams to allow the other design rights to their world, the co-created world quickly deteriorates into one that is suffocated with resentment. Do not sacrifice and do not pressure your spouse into sacrifice. Rather through active listening, planning and co-creating your world, fill it with both your hopes and dreams in a way that compromises to achieve harmony. If both of you want to study but it’s not financially feasible to do so at the same time, then compromise so that one of you can study first and the other later. Make sure you communicate your appreciation and continue to validate the other person’s needs so that their compromise doesn’t feel like a sacrifice. Don’t be a martyr to your spouse’s desires out of love because there’s a fine line between that kind of sacrificial love and the burden of resentment which lingers long after the love has dissipated.
  4. Marriages don’t last if you fight
    I am an argumentative person by nature and take a morbid delight in playing devil’s advocate ‘just for fun’. This kind of argumentative streak is not a particularly attractive quality and yet this is the trait that has gotten me the furthest in my marriage. Sometimes what a marriage needs is not flowers and cuddles but stubbornness, tenacity and a good all out fight (of the verbal kind). When you both burst through your emotional defences and explode into an argument you say exactly what’s on your mind without the filters that create vagueness and suspicion. The freedom of a fight gives words the power to drive home truths that you may be otherwise ‘afraid’ to speak. Like all friendships, a marriage is never truly cemented till you fight and I believe it gets stronger with every single fight provided that they are fought in a constructive and honourable manner. Your spouse is not your mother who will love you unconditionally, so don’t say the mean and hurtful things that are on the tip of your tongue because that kind of unconstructive verbosity should be beneath you and your spouse deserves better. A man needs respect like a woman needs love so communicate to your husband without hurting his ego and communicate to your wife without mocking her emotions. Find constructive and creative verbal ways to vent your frustration and clear the air and who knows that super annoying and heated argument may just turn into a laughs and cuddles!

I have been privileged to witness many lasting marriages which have all had their own share of issues and problems, but have endured and become stronger as a result. Marriage is not something to be taken lightly. That may seem like stating the obvious but when a marriage becomes something that is taken for granted, or you can’t tell the difference between your spouse and the wallpaper  – there is a problem. Love and dependency is in its own place but no one likes to be taken for granted. I like to think of my marriage as a work of art. A blank canvas on which my husband and I are equally invested and valued, where we both hold brushes of authority and palettes filled with hopes, dreams, fears and individual traits. A canvas that builds lasting colour, depth and texture with each fight, reconciliation, compromise and deep and meaningful conversation.

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I read a thought catalog article on being single today and then googled ‘single happy’ and the search engine returned over a million hits in 0.29 seconds. I am hesitant to add to this impressive array of material as I am sure whatever I have to say has already been covered and probably better. But this post is not only meant to be informative, but also reassuring especially from a Bengali/indian point of view. Everything I have read so far on this subject seems either very Bridget jones or very Margaret Atwood when I am living proof that you can be either, or both or neither on any given day.

So for the 1 or 2 people who haven’t heard my mother’s huge sigh of relief reverberating around the globe, I got married on the 22nd of March 2014. After 10 active years of dismissing proposals, arguing with my mother, looking for love, being despondent, being angry, being lost and finally being resigned to being single I gave up.
I gave up thinking that my single status is something that I could change.
I gave up thinking that I was in charge of my destiny and I truly left it to God.

This is easier said than done. I know because for the past 2 or 3 years I had been saying that I had ‘given up’ and that ‘God knew best’ but deep down I didn’t truly believe it, deep down I was still scrambling to control my relationships and whether or not anyone else saw I was still desperately hoping that I could do something to change the course of my fate. This is not at all to negate my favourite hadith which encourages you to ‘have faith in Allah swt but tie your camel’

One day Prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessing of Allah SWT be upon him) noticed a Bedouin leaving his camel without tying it and he asked the Bedouin, “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet (PBUH) then said, “Tie your camel first, then put your trust in Allah” (At-Tirmidhi).

It did bring home to me that births, deaths and marriages are truly in the hands of God. This simple hadith is so powerful. We are living in the greatest age if human intelligence and advancement and it’s so easy to forget that we are not our masters. That we are merely a speck in the greater infinite universe of God’s creation. When we lose sight of that bigger picture it becomes impossible to have blind faith in the fact that God will take care of me. And when that happens we scramble like crazy to dating sites, speed dating venues and our ‘bio datas’ do the rounds of aunties. But I digress. There is a lot I want to say on this subject – get it off my proverbial chest so to speak.

The start of the beginning

The moment you are born a Bengali/desi child, your parents begin to worry. They worry as you grow up, they worry as you start school, they worry when you get to university but none of that compares to the worry that begins when the first person casually mentions to them, ’She’s all grown up now! She’ll be getting married soon.’ And there goes a peaceful night’s sleep for the parents of a Bengali girl. From now till the day she says ‘I accept’ every waking moment is haunted by,

  • What will happen to my daughter?
  • Who will marry her?
  • Is she educated enough? Pretty enough? Good enough? Talented enough? Religious enough?

And it isn’t long before this worry and sometimes frustration finds its way, displaced or directly, to the child in question. And that my dears is when a girl truly becomes a woman. It’s not when your body changes, it’s not when you begin to notice or like boys, but it’s when you start realising that you parents cannot sleep because they are so worried about you. And that brings with it.. Guilt. lots of guilt.

The beginning

Two things happen at this point.

  1. The very select lucky few women on this planet find their prince charming (or their prince charming finds them) and they can happily dispel their parents anxiety and work towards their happily ever after. If that’s you. Pat yourself on the back. Good job. Now go away. Because for the rest of us your life is just as dreamlike and just as elusive as Jasmine and Aladdin and Elizabeth and Mr Darcy. We don’t hate you. We ARE genuinely happy for you. But seriously.. don’t tell us your life is hard ever again because what we go through, that you are spared from, is much harder.
  2. The rest of us are primped, primed and positioned to an inch of our lives as we are dragged to dawats. Any remotely nice picture of us is tacked to a bio data which is a resume for marriage purposes listing your life history, hobbies that show what a good girl you are (gardening and knitting anyone?), your family tree and their respective occupations to show you come from good lineage. And the worst part of all of this is that every single family friend is now eligible to ask you, ‘When are you getting married?’. People will delight in projecting your life for the next five years including who you will marry, where you will live and more often than not these ruminations from an overactive imagination become firm fast rumours doing a marathon around your respective social circle so the next time you are out you have to start every sentence with, ‘No I am not getting married. Where did you hear that from?’

If this is you, in the latter situation, please sit down with some chocolate and give yourself a hug. You will need it. This is only the beginning of a process which will define your womanhood. It will thrust you into the reality of social circles, it will enlighten you, quite harshly at times, to who your real friends are and it will teach you how to deal with unwanted attention, grief, guilt and depression. But know through all of your turbulent emotions, that your parents are doing this out of their love for you. A desi parent has no other avenue of showing you how much they care and trying to find you someone who will love you anywhere near as much as they do is their sole ambition in this elaborate and sometimes painful process. So strap yourself in, thicken your skin and buckle up for the ride. It gets harder before it gets easier.

The process

Typically by the time your first serious proposal that your parents consider comes around, you are around 18. Just beginning uni, just getting over that first high school crush and there are too many firsts going on in a life that you are still trying to figure out for you to deal with the idea of marriage and the notion of ‘forever’. But this first proposal will set the tone for the countless others you will deal with. Because it will be the precedent on which your parents and you interact on this subject. It is a truth universally acknowledged that daughters are closer to their fathers and some families might embrace this notion and your father may chat to you on this topic. But typically this conversation is mother daughter domain and it is a conversation so electrically charged it has very real potential to quickly disintegrate into a shouting match. Your mother will see this ‘boy’ to be a ‘great match’ and ‘exactly what we are looking for for you’ and she will be astounded by the fact that you will say, ‘I am not ready’ and ‘I don’t even know him’ and you might get the ‘in my day’ story. My advice to you. Shut up.

You mum/dad is not interested in what you have to say so save your breath. They are here to advocate and advertise their IDEA of what they think is best for you. So just let them. This is important. Because it shows them that you respect them, understand them and value their opinion. In doing this you set the tone for future conversations so that when YOU want to be heard, respected and understood – they will do so (hopefully). Having gotten this first conversation out of the way. Just keep quiet and wait. Because the first proposal will come and go and so will a fair few others before THAT ONE DUDE comes along and you need to be ready for this one.

That ONE dude

Every single person that has gone through the arranged marriage process has encountered what I call the ‘That one dude’ phenomena. He is that one person that makes you question every single argument you ever put to your parents. He is the one person that makes you want to give up because it’s just too hard to keep fighting. This may have nothing to do with the guy himself or the proposal and everything to do with the time at which this phenomena occurs in your life. Nevertheless ‘that one dude’ will come along. He is the ‘perfect’ potential on paper. He is tall (or so his bio-data says), fair and handsome (refer to the ‘best of a 100’ picture that his mum sent with the bio data) and has a great job (doctor, lawyer, accountant, engineer). So you agree to meet him in person and the meeting might happen at a dawat, gathering or over coffee by yourselves or in a group. But it won’t take you long (30 seconds) before you realise you have ZERO chemistry with this guy and he is BORING you to death. I need to clarify here that this has NOTHING to do with the guy (if you are THAT guy reading this.. you are REALLY nice. And sweet but just not the right fit). It’s just something is missing and you sense it right away. So you go home and when your mum asks you how it went you say ‘it was ok’ because it was. He wasn’t rude or smelly or stupid. He was a perfectly nice guy. And so the internal struggle begins. Because by now your about 23-25 and the pressure is really on. Your friends are getting married, you’re going to weddings every other weekend and there is always wedding talk going on in the house and the parents have already gone through a cycle of potential hope, frustration and then despair. This is when you are at your most vulnerable.

It is when you open facebook and the plethora of wedding pictures that affront you is assaulting.

It is when you have conversations with your mum that sound like simon cowell judging a contestant, ‘You gained a fair bit of weight, you have crooked teeth, I really think this is the best you can do. I am saying this because I love you.’

It is when this whole process comes very close to breaking you. When you lie awake at night and think, is this really the best I can do? Maybe it is. Maybe those butterflies aren’t meant to flutter in my stomach after all, I mean he’s a nice guy, Sure he bores me but he can provide for me, so what if we have nothing in common, he’s got a good job. So what if he has no interest in asking me about myself? He comes from a good family. So what if he never asks me for my opinion. Marrying him will make my parents happy. And all that guilt that’s been building up inside you throughout this process of tug of war with your parents will come to a boil and you will be very very tempted to give up. Don’t. I repeat. DO NOT GIVE IN. You are so much more that you perceive yourself to be. You are worth SO much more than you think and you deserve so much more than you could possibly imagine. DO NOT SELL YOURSELF SHORT. If you want chocolate cake then hold out for chocolate cake dammit! No matter how good vanilla cake is.. it will never be chocolate cake and you will never be satisfied. And you might be able to fake it for a day,. A week, a month, a year but eventually your parents will see that you are not satisfied and they will not be happy. So if you feel like giving in for your parents – it won’t work. Eventually the person you married will feel that no matter what they do- they just can’t get through to you. And you will have cheated them as well as yourself of happiness. So don’t. Eventually the initial relief of ‘getting it over and done’ with that you feel will be replaced by a feeling of dread and despair at the prospective of ‘forever’ with a person you do not like. So DO NOT DO IT.

Listen to your parents when they talk to you about him. But be polite and firm in your refusal. Use that thick skin you built up earlier and the guidelines of open conversation you established earlier to maintain your position of Thanks. But no thanks. I want chocolate cake and I will wait. For my Chocolate. Cake.

The emotions

This whole process can last from anywhere from a year to a decade. It can happen to a girl or a guy. It can happen to a Bengali or non-Bengali. It can happen whether you are rich or poor. And so there is no one way of handling your emotions that will work except the one cardinal rule you must never forget. Love yourself. I know. As lame, corny and clichéd as it sounds this process more than any other process in life (so far anyway), will make you feel like crap. So many many times along the way family and friends intentionally or otherwise will make you feel unloved, unwanted, and undervalued. Passing comments from people you do not know will sting and stick. Nights will be spent crying and sleep will evade you. Be Strong. Be the one voice in your head that is consistently loving to deflect the barrage of negativity from others. Because you ARE amazing and you ARE gorgeous and you ARE worthy and very soon a person WILL come along that will see that and be worthy of you.

But there is a reason that doesn’t happen automatically. In a world where we are the masters of our every action it is easy to forget that we are just cogs in a much much bigger wheel and it’s the maker of that wheel that asks you through this process to stop. Think. Re-evaluate your life and the purpose and intentions with which you wake up and go through the motions every morning. The process of choosing your life partner is hard BECAUSE it is so inextricably linked to the direction you forever will take. You need to get through a stage of angst and despair and pain and hurt to come out stronger and with more self-belief so you can espouse with confidence the life partner and the life path you have chosen for yourself and it is to ensure that you have this self-belief that god tests you. It is to ensure that you will not waver and that you have someone who you can lean on when life happens that God makes you certain through this process of elimination.

So don’t bottle up your emotions. A little bit of self-pity goes a long way if used in moderation and used wisely to self-evaluate and propel yourself to a certain direction in life. Develop your thick skin. You will need it much more as you get older. Respect your parents because though you might not understand their weird ways, know that they do it out of love and concern and affection. And most of all. Laugh. Find friends that love you and understand you for who you are and not who they want you to be. And laugh with them. Laugh the kind of laughter that will make you realise that it doesn’t matter if you are single and who knows it. What matters in life is having the right people around you to keep you on a path that takes you to your destination. That aligns you to a greater understanding of god and good. That makes you embrace with a passion the things you want to do and be the person you are capable of being.

The Desi way

When I told a friend at work about the arranged marriage process through which I met my husband, I expected some sort of remark, what I didn’t expect was her tone of wistfulness. She actually wished that she had parents and an extended social network that could facilitate arranged meet ups because ‘meeting a good man in town is impossible’. Through that conversation I realised that no matter how frustrating the network of ‘aunties’ can get, they actually provide an invaluable service of vetting men and women and forming connections that would be otherwise impossible. For her the process was to meet someone at work, gym, party, bar and go on at least 3-5 dates (think endless excruciating decisions on clothes, hair make up, venue, shoes etc not to mention the expense!) before she knew even half of what was provided in a biodata.

So as much as I made fun of the aunties in my spiel above. I am grateful for the vetting and ‘flow of information’ they provide. Just… can we stick to the facts please? Let’s not get all JK Rowling on my life story please.

While the arranged marriage process definitely works, there are a few improvements that can definately be made:

  1. Aunties: Reduce the cattiness. Aunties, uncles, girls and boys….you were all young once, You went through a similar phase. Have some compassion. Don’t kick a girl when she’s down. Don’t keep asking her when she’s going to get married. Trust me. When she does you will know. You are part of a network much stronger than Facebook.
  2. Parents: please be nicer – You are the people who are love us the most in this world. Your every word is taken very very seriously by us whether we show it or not. SO when you say things like we are not good enough even though you may not have meant it – it hurt. It stuck with us. This is one of the most emotionally trying times in our lives. Be our support system instead of our critic.
  3. Everyone else: tone down the gossip – this process is hard enough as it is without having to contend with the endless he said she said. If something is happening, let it happen. If someone wants to know what you think they will ask you. Otherwise. Just wait and watch.

What it all boils down to is

  • Have faith not only in God but in YOU who God created. Have faith in your ability. Your self. Your belief. Your feelings.. have confidence to act on them.
  • Don’t compare yourself with the girl who married her high school sweetheart. Don’t see her as having more than you. Instead see what you can share with her. Develop the skill of sharing because marriage is not about matching the other person tit for tat but about sharing pats of you to make a whole.
  • Don’t look for perfection. No one is perfect. Look for someone who is a good person. Someone who respects you. Someone who has ambitions and has a purpose in Life. Someone who wants to be closer to God.
  • This process doesn’t always end in marriage. Or even a happy marriage. Nothing is guaranteed. No one knows what Allah swt has in store for us. But if you learn the lessons of patience, respect and love it will put you in good stead to tackle any situation life throws at you no matter what your marital status.
  • Learn to be happy. As a child we laughed on average 20 times more in a day than we do as adults. Everything was new. Everything was good. Happiness was the default mode. Re-learn happiness. Do things that make you happy. Put yourself in positions that make you happy. When you are happy you feel good. And when you feel good you will Do Good.

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A frequent question set to me in the last few years is, ‘you are really nice… why aren’t you married yet?’ As if I had some horrid character trait or hidden secret that was keeping the myriad of eligible bachelors at bay. These well-meaning but very annoying people sound like they expected me to be an awful person so they could justify why I was not yet married. Because there couldn’t be any other possible reason right? I couldn’t WANT to be single? Never!

The truth is … I did not want to get married. There. I said it. And when you pick your jaw up off the floor please continue reading. For the longest time I did not want to get married because I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to give up my freedom, share my life, take on responsibilities and learn how to cook and clean and actually cook and clean on a regular basis instead of when mum yelled at me. When I thought I could potentially do this marriage thing, I realised I was too immature. With my immaturity came stubborness and hypocrisy. I knew that I was a hyperactive, crazy drama queen who dreamt big dreams and yet I expected Prince Charming to come along who would be everything I wanted him to be and nothing he wanted me to be or nothing I should be. I was stubborn in my insistence that there was a heap of things I couldn’t do because marriage would get in the way. Study, travel, career progression, charity work… the list was endless. And I was hypocritical in that I expected men my age to have their stuff together and be ready to be Prince Charming whereas I was still finding my feet.

These uncompromising ideals of mine took me happily through my early twenties. I had planty of time and there were plenty of fish in the sea. What I didn’t realise was despite both these factors – what I had failed to take into consideration was the Goldilocks Problem. A term coined by a friend of mine, this problem arises when you have too hot, too cold but not just right!

goldilocks

This was my problem when I finally decided to address the issue of my singledom. While there were very many very nice, handsome, charming, religious men out there… some wanted the hijab off, some wanted the niqab on, some wanted me to quit work, some wanted  me to move overseas.. just right was nowhere to be found.

So I began to consider that maybe it wasn’t me or the guy that was the problem. The problem here was compatibility. But what was compatible with me? The first thing was how committed the person is to Islam. Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alayhi was sallam) said,  “A woman is married for four things, i.e., her wealth, her family status, her beauty and her religion. You should marry the religious woman (otherwise) you will be a loser. “(Bukhari). The same holds true when looking for a husband. The problem here was that I was not ready! Even if I had completed my degree and found a good job and had a nice car, till Allah swt deemed me worthy of the beautiful act of marriage – I would remain single!

And so my goldilocks problem has a simple solution. Improve my deen. Strenthen my ties with God and my religion and I would mature into a person worthy of the spouse I seek. To love is not to love the way you wish but to love the way the object of your affections seeks to be loved. If God wishes for us to prostrate and ask of Him, then fulfilling the worldly requirements of marriage will not result in marriage. So for all of you who ask, ‘Why are you not married yet?’ My aswer is. Ask God.

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