“Are you married?” they ask as they glance at my ringless ring finger.
I have gotten this question from Muslims, Christians, whites, blacks, men, women, children and especially my students. This question knows no single demographic.
However, the degree of shock to my 30 years of singlehood is most dramatic within my Arab community – especially with my Middle Eastern students.
“What? You’re not married? I have an uncle you know…”
“You’re 30 and not married? Stop scaring them away, Ms. Saidi!”
“Ms. Saidi – I got your back. I made you a profile on eHarmony. You’ve already gotten 23 matches!”
“Don’t you want little Ms. Saidi’s in the world running around with red pens correcting grammar?!”
Each of these quotes has been said with the best of intentions, but it underlies a greater pressure for women (in any culture I think) to be married before 30. After this milestone year, people start to wonder what may be wrong with her (make that me).
I once had a potential suitor – after two days of courting – tell me that I was the one. However, after presenting his intent to marry me to his family and sharing that I was twenty-eight years old, his mother went from being elated to being concerned.
“Why isn’t she married?” mother queried. “Will she be able to have healthy children? Is she too career-oriented? She’ll be old by the time your children are ready for college. Did you think this through?”
Marriage is for better or worse and it seemed the mother convinced her son that he could totally control all factors to ensure that “worse” never came into the picture.
Thankfully, I grew up with strong Muslim women who never ever believed in the Maguire Principle: “You complete me.”
“Never need a man,” my mother would advise my sisters and me. “Never need anyone besides God and you’ll never find yourself in a miserable marriage.” My mother knew what she was talking about.
My mother’s father died while she was an infant. She was the oldest of six half siblings. She was married as a young teenager, brought to America without a driver’s license, illiterate in English and Arabic and only able to speak her mother tongue where no one understood her besides her husband who worked 10-15 hour shifts on the line at Chrysler.
Yet, with all these obstacles, my mother raised five children, got us all enrolled in public schools, found us tutors for our Arabic and Islamic studies, found the time to go to adult education classes to learn English, study and pass the US citizenship exam, and never failed to have breakfast, lunch and dinner on the table and the house running like a machine with each of her children sharing in the responsibilities of being a member of a loving, growing family. I barely remember my father as a child (he’s awesome in his own right), but my mother showed by example that independence breeds self-efficacy, power, and respect of self and others.
Some women may count on a man to bring them all these but therein lies the worst sort of dependence.
To my students and everyone who asks me if I’m married, I say that it will come when the time is right. Marriage should be seen as a supplement to one’s already fulfilling life, not a necessity.