Every culture has its taboos and stereotypes. When it comes to the Egypt and the Middle East, many of these have to do with sexuality and/or marriage. Some are about conduct with the opposite sex outside of marriage, how loud you laugh, how young you get married, the age of who you’re getting married to and – well, you get the picture.
Amongst the most common of these taboos is a girl staying unmarried until she’s 30 (before that, she still has the chance to land herself a catch, although chances get slimmer the older she gets). The stereotype is that unmarried women at 30 years of age and above are unhappy spinsters who want nothing in the world more than to catch an eligible spouse, ie: desperate.
Being women, however, we know this isn’t necessarily the case. Maybe you have a friend who’s facing social pressure to get married, or a cousin who’s divorced and doesn’t seem to care, or maybe you yourself struggle with finding the right match and get criticized for you ‘pickiness’. All these voices are worth being heard to reflect the changing dynamic in a typically “traditional” society. That’s why we’ve anonymously interviewed three unmarried women between 30 and 40, to see what they have to say. One of them is an academic, another a marketer and the third works in media and PR . Their combined answers help us fight against some of the most ludicrous generalizations and assumptions about the topic, even though their individual experiences are very different!
1. Unmarried Does Not Equal Miserable
The women we talked to were all unmarried by choice. Whether they’d been married and divorced early or had chosen to stay single from the beginning, it was their decision to lead their lives on their own. One of them, married for a very short period and happily divorced, mentioned that it was because she didn’t share the same view of life and values with her former spouse and needed to find herself and her identity. Nothing had made her happier than being on her own; her marriage, though a prized status in society’s eyes, had eaten away at her. Another woman, never married, stressed that she had been able to find happiness on her own, that it didn’t depend on someone’s presence (or lack thereof) in her life. Their stories, successful experiences of single women, defied the common misconception of a miserable and lonely unmarried woman.
2. It’s Not about Trauma or Heartbreak
Many people assume that unmarried women are not single by choice, but because they had failed at securing a match or they were too traumatized by some earlier romantic endeavor. If they’re divorced (especially early on), then something grave and extreme must have happened. The women we interviewed prove that this is not true. They had simply made the choice they felt was best for them. Those who had been married had parted civilly with their husbands, without there being the drama of cheating, domestic violence, financial problems or any of the problems people assume; those who hadn’t married had been wiser than to fall into the trap of marrying just for marriage’s (or society’s!) sake.
3. Not Everyone Thinks They’re Crazy
Because most people judge them, we’re quick to think they’ve had it rough. They have of course, but they’ve also been smart enough to surround themselves with supporters rather than people who bring them down. Sure, the women we talked to discussed the shame and the stigma that come with being a divorcée or unmarried female in Egypt. They cited the things that people would say/assume and how available (and sometimes desperate) men would think they are. BUT, they primarily focused on the support they got from their families and friends. Whether financial, moral or otherwise, it had been vital, appreciated and needed. It reassured them when they had doubts about whether they’d made the right choice. It was confirmation that their lives were their own and they weren’t crazy to claim them.
4. Their Lives Are Not On Hold
While all the interviewed women emphasized that they were not against the idea of marriage in itself, they are not putting their lives on hold because of it. They are single and their lives still have meaning and they’re feeling fulfilled. In fact, they’ve all pointed out that single life offers pleasures of a different sort. They have more time on their hands and more time for themselves. One of them mentioned enjoying “the small things” like a cup of coffee with friends and more alone time. There’s more flexibility, more freedom and more independence. There’s also less judgment. Yes, they don’t have a partner, but they have friends, families and a full life.
5. They’re Not Burdened with Regret
Looking back, these women would barely change anything. If they would, it’s about the smaller things of how they view life. One of them said she’d never go back, whereas another one mentioned that it was the hurdles, the difficulties and the choices she made that have taught her along the way and brought her here.
Based on their different experiences, these women are also sending an important message to girls and young women out there: don’t succumb to society’s pressures. “Don’t marry young”, “Don’t settle”, “Love yourself”, “Fight for your rights” and “Don’t waste your time ‘waiting’ for anything to happen” are amongst the things they’ve passed on, emphasizing that happiness depends on no one but yourself, that you need to know yourself before committing to another person for life and that there is no need to rush. Most importantly, these women are living proof that you can be successful, fulfilled and happy all on your own.