There’s a really great event happening in Sydney this weekend called ‘Why Can’t We Get Married?’ It’s a panel discussion featuring both single and married people discussing exactly what the name suggests: obstacles to getting married. Unfortunately I’m unable to attend, but after speaking with a couple of people on the panel I decided to share my thoughts on the topic and generate a bit of discussion before it takes place.
The reason I changed the title of this entry from that of the event was to reflect my interest in the very individual and unique reasons on why people aren’t married. I’m going to generalise a lot in this post, but I wanted the title to reflect the fact that I do believe that when it comes down to it, each and every person faces unique obstacles to getting married. Now, having said that, let’s get into some generalisations!
I’ve spoken to a lot of people about their relationship issues, not because I’m an expert by any stretch of the imagination, but because I’m genuinely interested in everyone’s journey. Naturally, since I’m female, I’ve spoken to a lot more girls than guys about this topic, but I’m not certainly not unfamiliar with male perspectives on it either. Being the huge softie I am, it shatters me to hear that beautiful, amazing souls I know and love are having problems finding a partner. I’m saddened to hear that people are facing the very real prospect of never meeting that special someone, and I greatly admire them for their attempts to come to terms with this reality and to understand what they can do to avoid it if possible.
Now to the crux of the issue. I have so many thoughts on this topic I thought it’d be helpful to structure them in some sort of coherent form, so here goes:
a.) The Opportunity Issue aka ‘Where are all the good girls/guys hiding?’
For Muslims living in the West, there are basically three ways of meeting a partner. One, going the ‘arranged’ way, which involves being set up by family friends and community figures and meeting in front of the girl’s family in her house. Two, through Muslim community activities, most commonly the MSA or volunteering for community organisations. Three, random luck, such as happening to meet a Muslim at work or running into someone on public transport.
As you can imagine, each of these ways are fraught with potential disaster. A lot of people don’t want to go down the ‘arranged’ path as they fear they’ll be unable to meet someone who they’ll be able to relate to, especially if the expectations are that a very ‘traditional’ marriage will transpire. But meeting someone in the Muslim community is also risky, because the pool of familiar faces is, well, familiar. Chances are that if you’re an active member in the Muslim community that you’ve already met everyone you’re likely to meet, and chances are that if you like someone they either like someone you know or someone you know likes/liked them too. This makes things both awkward and competitive, a particularly bad mix with the potential to create some bad situations for all parties involved.
The third option, relying on random luck, is the riskiest of all. It does happen. We all know that one person who gave up on love only to find Mr/Mrs. Right by some chance meeting, and bam, their faith is restored. (True love! Shining armour! Something about horses!) But as with most things in life, relying on something to come to you by chance isn’t exactly the safest strategy.
So there you have it. Each of those options could occupy a post of their own, but all I’ve tried to demonstrate is that there are very obvious issues with each one of them. I should also note that because Muslim events, whether social or specifically religious in nature, are usually segregated, there is also little opportunity for guys and girls to actually speak for an extended period of time. I’m all for segregation and certainly don’t endorse doing away with it, but I do acknowledge that practically it leaves little room for incidental conversation. Therefore, I have to conclude that opportunity is a definite issue when it comes to why people aren’t getting married. After all, you can’t get married if you never meet someone in the first place.
b.) The Getting to Know You Issue aka ‘I like you, but what am I going to do about it?’
So many feelings get flushed down the (proverbial) toilet in the Muslim community, often due to lack of opportunity as mentioned above. Someone catches your eye at a few events, but the opportunity never really arises to take it further so it just dies a quick and painless death. You don’t know them well enough to go out on a limb; they’re nice enough, but you’re not sure if it’s worth tackling it head on and risking rejection.
Besides, even if you were to express interest, there are so many issues to consider. Firstly, how do you even express that interest? Do you get someone to approach the person on your behalf to make it less awkward and confronting? Do you do it online, or in person? If you’re a girl, is it okay to initiate? If you’re a guy, do you ask for her number, her email or her mahram’s number/email?
Once things get going, the questions continue to pile up. Do you get to know each other over the internet, or over the phone? Do you go straight for the parents’ house? But you barely know her, is it really worth going straight to her parents when you could just lose interest after one meeting? For a girl, you barely know him, do you really want to let him in your front door? In that case, do you dare meet up alone for coffee somewhere? (Eeeep.) If you’re chaperoned, who do you take along with you?
You can see why a lot of people just don’t even bother. What a headache…and you haven’t even started getting to know the person yet! If you then pass the stage of the initial decision-making, you face more questions, like how long you should get to know each other for, when you should take it to the next step and precisely what that next step should be. These types of decisions are all daunting and can prevent people from even getting into the game at all.
c.) The Parental Issue aka ‘We like each other, but my parents/your parents are not going to like this..’
So you start to get to know someone, and it’s actually going well. Hooray! But then you reach a massive stepping stone, one many couples simply cannot pass: parental opposition. I’ve written about this in a previous entry, so I’ll keep it brief and say that parents have various reasons for opposing, some of them valid, some of them not-so-valid, all of them based on what they believe to be their child’s best interests. This last fact makes it very difficult to oppose them if they happen to dislike your choice of partner. As a Muslim, you don’t want to upset your parents. You just don’t. But if you do decide to press on, a difficult and perilous path awaits you. Many give up before the battle has even begun, which is completely understandable, but again, not exactly a conducive attitude to getting married, especially if your parents have a list of requirements in a spouse longer than Surah Baqarah.
d.) The Male Issue aka ‘I’m not financially ready, hold the gates!’
So many people I know do want to get married, but they simply feel unprepared in some way. For guys, the issue is often financial stability, that elusive doe of the modern world. If you’re a guy and you’re in a precarious financial position, chances are you’ll feel apprehensive about approaching a girl for marriage. She’ll probably feel apprehensive too, even if she has a good income as is often the case; she’ll want to know that you can support her if the need arises. Her parents will probably be even more apprehensive and may just put up a brick wall from the beginning rather than try to negotiate some kind of long-term plan together.
I feel sorry guys, I really do. It’s hard to feel like you’re emotionally and spiritually in the zone to get married but that you’re unable to because you’re still finding your feet career-wise. For girls, it’s completely understandable that this is a factor to take into account, but I’ve seen girls turn guys solely on this basis and then cry about not being able to find someone. I’m not passing any judgment on them whatsoever, but again just pointing out that if financial stability is non-negotiable, you’re going to limit yourself to a much smaller pool of candidates than if it was a somewhat negotiable consideration. Also, if you’re a guy and you’re waiting to set yourself up career-wise before you even think about marriage, you may find yourself waiting a long time, given the grimness of the current job market.
e.) The Female Issue aka ‘I’m a girl, I’m losing my marriageability with every day that passes and there aren’t just enough guys to go around!’
Ah, another sticky one. I don’t know if guys understand this or are even aware that it exists, but from my observations there is tremendous pressure being placed on girls to get married. They’re constantly reminded that clock’s-a-ticking, that the good guys get snapped up quickly and that (to put it crudely, as many parents do) if they remain on the shelf for too long, no one’s going to want to buy. They’re told that good guys are few and far between and that as such, they really can’t afford to leave things too late i.e. their mid-t0-late twenties.
I’m not sure if the perception of there being some kind of man drought is true. Certainly from what I’ve observed there seems to be less visible males than females in the Muslim community, which links back once again to the issue of opportunity. But it’s not really important if it’s true or not, as long as people believe it to be so. Once people start believing it, it becomes a social truth and affects people’s behaviours in tangible ways. For guys, it could potentially mean feeling like you can kick back and not worry about marriage until you’re well into your 20s. I’ve certainly heard guys of that age express sentiments to the effect of ‘I’m in no hurry’, which I’ve certainly not heard from girls of the same age bracket. As you might imagine, if girls are getting antsy while guys are kicking back, this could very well lead to a power imbalance in the bargaining process. Once again, it doesn’t really matter if tangibly guys do have more power in this process, because as long as the parties believe it to be true, it becomes true for them.
f.) The Niche Market Issue aka ‘I’m not getting any offers, what’s wrong with me?’
This is an interesting one. Based on the particular group or persuasion you identify with in the Muslim community, you may boost or lessen your chances of getting married. For example, if you’re known to be very Sufi-inclined, chances are you’re not going to get many Salafis seeking you out for marriage. If you have strong political views and someone has similarly strong views of an opposing nature, you may not want to go there. Of course I’m generalising here (I did warn you!), but often people with strong inclinations will seek out people who share those inclinations.
The niche market issue isn’t just confined to spiritual considerations. If you’re somehow different to the mainstream or have unique and easily noticeable traits, you may find yourself confined to a small pool of candidates, whether out of choice or out of necessity. For example, (and here’s another gross generalisation) if you’re a highly educated and outspoken girl with a reputation for being ‘independent’, you might find yourself intimidating potential candidates and getting relegated to the friendzone. I don’t intend to insult guys when I say this, nor do I intend to suggest girls should ‘tone it down’, as some friends of mine have been advised by well-intentioned friends and family. I’m simply describing a reality I’ve observed time and time again. I don’t want to get into why this could be; there are any multitude of reasons I could suggest, but it’s not really relevant to this discussion. The point is, that if you’re out of the ordinary in some way, you could find yourself in a spot of bother.
I could go on and on and on, but I’ll leave it at this for now. I’m sure many more issues will be raised at the event, so stay tuned for plenty more to come! At the end of the day though, it really is quite a personal topic and so I’d like to hear some reflections from you on your own struggles. Do you agree/disagree with anything I’ve raised? What other issues would you add?