For all of English’s faults, there are so many words regarding the loss of someone. An orphan loses a parent. A widow loses a spouse. A divorcee does, too, in a different way.
But there’s no word that details the devastation of losing potential. And neither is there a medicine, cure, or treatment.
The paradox of this catastrophe was that I was grieving someone who was still alive. Initially, he was still in my contact list, my social media list, walking around the same world as though mine hadn’t been shattered.
My world was upturned, but it shouldn’t have been, because I wasn’t married yet. Why was I crying? I tried to rationalize. Better now than in a divorce.
Family, friends, and strangers joined that internal crescendo of emotion. Ayb. Shameful. How is she not married yet? Is she sick? Too picky? Fat? What’s wrong with her?
As if that wasn’t enough, your mind makes a reprise of their statements.
Was I wrong? Was he wrong?
Should I reach out to him again, or will he come back first?
Our relationship-ish wasn’t public; the two of us never “dated.” We were close enough to be considered friends, on the pathway to more than that, when he decided to go on a journey separate from mine. And I had to take a different road, with pursed lips and tight smiles.
To lose an engagement is a hidden grief.
They say that there are five stages of grief, but no one told me that each stage is seemingly endless. There are no shortcuts—timeline is relative to everyone and recovery is certainly not linear. After the initial break, days were either hard, or harder.
Sometimes, I could laugh. How did I even want to marry him? I asked after hours of reflecting. I was trying to reach the covetous peak of grief, where I could finally say, “Alhamdulillah that that’s over.”
And the next minute, I found an old message thread that tumbled me back down the mountain. I crumbled into fetal position, like a baby in the womb, and wished that I was never born.
I would hear nasheeds that he liked in other settings, and I struggled to compose myself. I smiled when someone said a certain word, reminding me of an inside joke that the two of us shared. Then my face would fall when I remember how things soured. I knew his favorite food, and when I ate it, the taste of ashes was on my tongue. I saw photos and videos that I wanted to send him, and then I realized that I couldn’t. And that I never will. Never, ever again.
It still hurts to look at the dress I met him in, even though it’s one of my favorites. Wearing it makes me relive that time all over again, how excitement quickly turned to anguish. Never mind the irony that it’s mostly white—symbolizing a bride’s wedding gown and a departed woman’s kaffan.
Even when I escaped reality by means of screens, the algorithm was just as cruel. I got ads for rings and wedding dresses. I saw other happy couples—seemingly getting together for photo ops just to spite me. Friends sent me invitations to their nikkahs. Their cards felt like they cut even deeper into my wounded heart. Hermitage became more and more appealing.
There was pressure for me to bounce back quickly, to not give him the honor of beating me down. But I would only collapse again. Divorcees and widows have waiting periods, and while it wasn’t a ruling applicable to me, I took the recommendation that I had to allow myself to grieve. For as long as I needed to.
I made easy foods, my favorite food, and sometimes both. I slept a lot. I spent a lot of time at my apartment, with my friends long-distance and only a few miles away. We watched movies over Discord and played DND, too. They made my “‘idda” into an “Eid.”
An idle mind is the devil’s playground, and I don’t like being so bored as to invite Shaytan inside my cranium.
And like most singles, I traveled. Al-Aqsa was at the top of my list. The whole trip was ironic, because I’d told him that I wanted the cost of that trip to be my mahr.
When there was no more talk of marriage and certainly none of mahr, I remembered that the Prophet ﷺ went there when he was sad. I decided to do the same.
The English language fails me once again when I try to describe that trip. Few sights compare to seeing the Dome of the Rock for the first time, with its golden splendor shining right past the barrage of offensive forces. When I weepishly made my way to Masjid al-Qibli for tahajjud, a man would serve tea and coffee for us every mornnig.
“Tufadali!” other Palestinians would say throughout our travels. Our tour guide and staff made the hotel feel like home. I was showered with all the love I was desperate to receive from my potential in-laws. “Ahlan wa sahlan!” Welcome, welcome! It didn’t matter that I wasn’t their same nationality, or that my Arabic was poor—contrasting my would-be in-laws.
There’s a phrase: الصلاة معراج المؤمن (al-salatu mi’rajal mu’min.) Prayer is the ascension of the believer. To pray where the Prophet ﷺ himself had ascended lifted my own spirits when I was so down.
As a writer, I found it helpful to address letters to this same man who would never read them. Many were angry. Many were sad. All of them were torn after.
Eventually, I put myself in his shoes. I forgave him. Forgave his family. Explored their perspectives. These narratives explained their behavior throughout the process—but didn’t excuse it. In some cases, I could even sympathize with them, and see where I fell short. They became characters, distant human beings that I could close a chapter on.
And then I moved on to the rest of my story.
On an occasion where I tried to get married again, I heard from a therapist that if you have true yaqeen that Allah ﷻ will send you your spouse, that you should buy them a gift. I’m a nerd at heart, and I’m fascinated by Pacific Rim’s concept of “drift compatibility.” Drift compatibility is essentially potential. It measures how suited the two of you are to operate a jaeger—essentially, a giant powerhouse that defeats kaiju, gargantuan monsters all around you. Shifting shape, impossible to track, and only defeated by two people at once. In order for Jaeger co-pilots to synchronize, they have to unveil their traumas to one another, find strength through shared vulnerability.
Isn’t that what marriage is?
So, for the both of us, I chose a promise ring set made of moonstone. They glow in the dark, and that makes me smile, because it’s something new and something “kaijiu blue.” When I leave them in the sun long enough, and wear it on my finger, it reminds me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In case he doesn’t like rings, I also bought a silver chain for him to wear the gift as a necklace. But to be honest, I still wear his part of the gift sometimes. Call me selfish, but on the days that I’m struggling, it helps to have him with me, even in a small way.
But then I realized that that ring wouldn’t be solely his.
I purchased the inverted kufiya; black with white etchings. I have the original black etchings on white cloth. The pair reminds me of yin and yang, how we’re supposed to complement each other.
My wishlist goes on. I’d still ask for Aqsa as a mahr, or maybe an umrah. The engagement ring has been sitting in my Etsy favorites for years now. The dress is a white thobe embellished with threaded flowers, woven by Palestinian refugees. The destinations for all the occasions are in my head, where I’m torn between seeing the northern lights in a Finnish igloo or the Milky Way in the American Southwest.
I still have the kaftan I was going to wear for our engagement party. I know I need to get it hemmed, and delayed doing that for so long. As an act of private resistance, I wore it by myself, for myself—and realized how beautiful it looked. What a shame that it’s hung for so long, unworn and unloved. My intention is to wear it instead for this Eid, to celebrate a period of devotion to Allah ﷻ.
I take time to write letters to my future spouse as a wedding gift to him. I tell him that I’m struggling, that I’m waiting, that I thought the last one was him, that he’s taking too long, that I’m going to add a late fee onto his mahr if he doesn’t save me already…
I cry out similarly to Allah ﷻ, all the wishes above and beyond, that would take more than a dandelion’s breath or a fountain coin.
Friends take me out on dates, or I take myself out instead. My cat joins me at my side, and I try to focus on the love all around me from people who are willing to give it.
I wade through racism, nationalism, and now ageism on the off-chances I feel prepared to be vulnerable again—but when it’s too much, I resurface to laugh about the process with other singles. I call Muzz “Tuzz” (the Arabic word for “fart”), Mawaddah Matrimony “Maghabah Matrimony” (because no one is active, hence, absentees), Half Deen “Halve Deen,” Pure Matrimony “Sure, Matrimony” and Salams “Astaghs.” When a nikkah feels like it’s going to be like a janazah for me, I ask to go with a friend.
But some days, the grief comes back. Everyone says, “It’ll get easier,” but no one ever told me that it comes back.
Every time I get to know someone.
Every time I want to get to know someone.
Every time I go to a wedding.
Every time I hear of an engagement.
Every time I see pictures of a henna.
This time, I’m not ready. But I will be, insha’Allah.