When you’re a teenager in high school and you look around at all your friends, you imagine how strange it will be one day when everyone is married with a family of their own. What I could never know is that this future would come to pass, but with one important addendum: I would be the last unmarried girl out of this group of high school friends. In an effort to console myself, I recall my unmarried college friends. Surely, I’m not some alienated creature left out of this common way of life. Consolations aside, the fact remains that it doesn’t matter how many people are also currently unmarried, the single most defining characteristic of my life is that I am not yet married. I am not attached to the caretaking of any husband or children, so all my time is my own once I have discharged my duties towards work and family members.
I appreciate romance as a part of works of fiction. I have never explored this area in real life. This comes up when I talk to my married friends. They are, of course, romantically involved with their husbands, and they will drop hints from time to time as to the details of this attachment. The stories of their married romances are as fictional a concept to me as the details of Pride and Prejudice. After all, I have not personally participated in ventures such as these, which makes me wonder how long I can keep this up. You can’t miss what you’ve never experienced, but there is a curiosity within me as to what kind of a romantic partner I would make. The thought of there being a whole side of me yet unexplored, unknown and unexpressed is intriguing, to say the least.
Without matters of the heart taking up my time and energy, I think of myself as highly efficient. I can switch from work and school to lounging in front of the TV with little to distract me. While this may be a callous way of thinking about it, I find that it is better than pining after something that I can’t have right now. After all, I have my reasons for why, after keeping up the search for a husband in between my studies, I put Project Husband Search on hold in order to pay more attention to myself first. It was a conscious decision, and I knew I would come back to the marriage search easily and energetically once I was done giving myself the time I needed.
Sometimes I wonder if I am giving myself too much time, that I need to hurry up and speed up my personal development before it is “too late”. When this thought occurs, I think of myself as a writer. When I think of my characters and their adventures, I confidently plan their romantic lives even before I’m sure of how they will defeat the bad guy. It makes me think, I am but a character with a life story that Allah decided to bring to life, with the only difference being that this life and this world are real and that Allah is a perfect Creator. If I – as nothing more than a flawed writer – can think of a match for my protagonist, surely Allah has already planned someone good for me as part of my life story.
When I was younger, I used to say to my best friend, “Maybe I’ll get married in Paradise. Maybe that’s where I’m meant to have a husband, and not in this world.” She, who had already gone through all the challenges and insecurities of finding and choosing someone to marry, and who had seen it work out for herself and for countless others, simply assured me that I would get married right here in this world after all. It must be one of those insights that you get once you’ve conquered a mountain. It’s the comforting reassurance from the ones at the peak, turning back to tell those of us still climbing that the ascent is very possible and to not give up or lose hope.
Still, one thing is inescapable: every year I spend as a single person is one less year of my life that I will spend as a married person. Those people who get married young, as my mother did, don’t experience single life long enough for it to carry much significance to them apart from being a passing phase of their life. Their married life overshadows every other state they’ve been in. This puts me in a very different situation from my mother, who when she was my age, was already married with two children. For a time, this stark difference in our life trajectory was difficult for my mother to comprehend. She viewed my singlehood as something that must be corrected as soon as possible. While she was in this state of mind, I felt like I had lost my mother to the marriage police. I suffered more from lack of a mother than I ever did from lack of a husband.
When I finally got my mother back, it was after years of unsuccessful attempts at trying to correct my singlehood in any way possible. Finally, my mother began to see the importance of my personal growth and the time I would need to feel ready to continue my search. More importantly, she stopped trying to cure my singlehood. Eventually, talking about finding a husband became a normal conversation, no longer a family emergency in the eyes of my mother. Was it one of her most dear desires to see me married? Yes. Was she going to sacrifice our mother-daughter relationship for this cause? Not anymore.
One of the biggest steps we had to make in order to save our relationship from the disease of wanting to cure me of singlehood was to communicate our changing approach to my maternal grandmother. As it turned out, the root cause of my mother’s fixation with finding me a husband was incessant questioning from her own mother. In an effort to get my mother back, I had to get on a phone call with my grandmother and tell her to stop questioning my mother, who in turn, would stop questioning me, effectively giving me back the relationship I wanted with her. I told her that I was confident that I would find someone and it was only a matter of time.
What I didn’t share with her is that I was not looking. It seems like one of those things that a single girl and her parents are assumed to always be doing: looking for a match. I find it amusing that the parents of a girl who remains unmarried for years after her college graduation are assumed to be engaged in searching for potential suitors all year, every year. On long-distance phone calls from Pakistan, the question was always, “Have you found someone yet?”. Realistically, I know that explaining the idea of burning out while interviewing potential spouses and needing time and space away from conversations about marriage are concepts that can’t be explained to grandmothers, so I let the assumption of an ongoing full-scale marriage search slide.
As long as I have my parents on board, it is enough support for me to live a full life in the time leading up to the next round of marriage searches. Hopefully, one day I will succeed in my search and move on to the next phase of life, but until then, I’m happily single.