We all know the story about the annoying, old aunt, right? The one where she kept cackling ‘you’re next!’ at every wedding until you did the same at the next funeral? Okay, I have a lot of those. Not just maternal or paternal aunts, but the friends of the family and friends of my parents, which Arabic values dictate I should call ‘aunty’.
Living away from home hasn’t stopped them doing the whole marriage routine.
‘Amne, habibty! Why don’t you want to get married?’ they ask, right after the squealed ‘HELLO!’ and just before the ‘how are you?’
‘Darrrlingggggg. Don’t worry! There are sooo many good men out there. He’ll come! Just stop being so resistant!’
As someone who does want to get married one day, I had never quite known how to react to this. My response used to be something along the lines of ‘not now, aunty! I’m still in uni. I’ve got plenty of time’.
Alas, that excuse ship has well and truly sailed. I’ve graduated. I’ve been working for the last year. I have my own apartment and I’m settling into life. Somehow, by being one of the only girls I know who graduated from university (let alone finished high school) and didn’t slip straight into the arms of a handsome stranger, it means that I don’t want to get married.
I mean, I always knew this was going to happen – I had seen the older girls drop off one by one. They would finish high school with a diamond ring sat snuggly on their left ring finger. As I grew older, the girls around me started whispering of engagements and marriage. A handful sat through the last few classes of grade 12, absent-mindedly twirling the ring around, completely enthralled by the thoughts of their upcoming weddings.
They were too young to be married, yet somehow it seemed to be the thing for ethnic girls to do. Growing up in the cultural melting-pot that is Western Sydney, I was one of the odd ones out.
‘Has anyone come to ask yet?’ the others would inquire, almost in a competition to see how many suitors had come knocking, asking my parents for the honour of my hand in marriage.
‘Are you parents looking?’ they would ask, pushing the onus to find me a man onto my family’.
Have you been going out to the festivals? Maybe you’ll hook one there!’ they would suggest, giving me ideas of venues that I could go to in order to be seen by a mother or aunt who was staking out the local girls for their son or nephew.
In 2010, the median age at first marriage in Australia for men was 29.6 years and 27.9 years for women, an increase of more than three years since 1990 (26.5 years and 24.3 years respectively). That is definitely not the case in my world. I would say the median age at first marriage in the girls I know is around 19. Maybe 60% of the girls I know who got married at a younger age are still happily married. Some are onto their second or third (serious) engagement or marriage.
At the ripe old age of 22, some girls are onto their second or third child. My mum had given birth to all three of us by 25. So as you can see, I have fallen way, way, waaaay behind. I am that poor apple, forgotten on the tree, slowly rotting away… just like my ovaries – well, if I were to believe my mum and aunts, that is.
That’s not to say that I think people definitely shouldn’t be getting married so early. In some cases, it works out brilliantly and they live happily enough ever after. Some of the girls I know appear to be happier than anyone else – stay at home mothers who are raising their children to be fine young men and women indeed, completely content with what they have. I’d much rather that young, sexually active couples are married – I mean if you’re sleeping together and having babies, why would the idea of marriage be a difficult one to consider? It just hasn’t worked out that way for me.
But back to my mother and aunts.
My parents are just worried about me and want me to be happy. They’re worried about me being alone – I can’t be upset about that. However, at the moment, I feel like a tyrannical, self-obsessed narcissist who thinks that the morning sun literally rises out of her behind. These aunts seem to think that the reason that I’m not married is because I’ve just decided I won’t. Like it’s a challenge to society. It’s like they see me and my parents in a competition with them and their daughters. On the one hand, the fact that their daughters are married makes them better than me. Those girls have won – what else could you possibly want from life? On the other hand, by not being married, I have suddenly insulted everything they are about. Not just insulted it. I have defecated on it over and over again. By not being married, that see that as me screaming out ‘I’M BETTER THAN YOU. SUCK IT!’
Up until recently, the constant barrage of WHY WON’T YOU GET MARRIED was exhausting. It’s a strange thing to be so affected by, but constantly being told I needed to find a man before it’s too late just drained me. A majority of conversations I was having with my family and their friends involved marriage in some way and either ended with ‘you’re so stubborn!’ or ‘there, there, little one. It’s all naseeb (or fate)’.
The best part about this isn’t the fact that they won’t stop harassing me about it. It’s the fact that there isn’t really anyone suitable right now. So these people are on this determined war path to get me married to… well nobody in particular. Just someone. Anyone.
I’m excited about marriage – finding the right partner and settling into a cosy little family. I categorically refuse to marry someone just because they’ve given me the honour of considering me to be theirs *eyeroll*. Sometimes I just want to throw out Lily Allen’s ‘Hard Out Here’ – ‘Don’t you want to have somebody who objectifies you?’
When suitors come knocking (or calling), the Lebanese community collectively holds it’s breath, waiting for me to say yes. When I don’t, there’s a lot of confusion. What’s funny is that most of these aunts complain about their husbands and the characteristics they wish their husband’s had or didn’t have are the same ones they’ll chastise me about wanting. Women have actually told my parents they need to restrain me a little – ‘no man is going to accept a woman who lives alone and works so hard and has her own house.’
I constantly feel like I’m on the defensive about why I’m not married. I’m actually starting to hate being around big groups of Lebanese women (yes, hate is a strong word). When I’m able to take a step back and realise I’m young, I have plenty of time, it’s alright to be single and I’m not being unreasonable, it’s great! The responses I should give should really be something along the lines of ‘aunty, I will when he comes along,’ but instead I get pretty defensive. I reply to all all the comments they make, one by one.
Engaging in this argument is probably not the best thing to do.
*sigh* Oh well.
Amne is a 20-something year old Australian-Lebanese girl, born and raised in Western Sydney. She has spent most of her life working on projects with a focus on social justice and equality. To follow her other crazy thoughts, here and to follow her on twitter here.
What do you think is the best age to get married?