x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

A dilemma for brides-to-be: where are the Emirati men?

Most Emiratis today do not marry to gain freedom or for financial reasons, but because they have found someone they consider worthy. For many Emirati women, it's a long search.

Every couple of weeks I meet up with a group of fabulous young women whom I like to call "my girlies". They are a group of nine intelligent, highly educated, professional and attractive Emiratis in their late 20s and 30s.

We choose from a never-ending supply of coffee shops or friends' houses alternating between Abu Dhabi, Khalifa City and Yas Island, all of us looking forward to these evenings immensely. It is a chance to catch up and discuss anything without being inhibited by colleagues or worried about offending family members. We cover everything from the limitations of the burkini to the benefits of mammograms.

However, the one topic that comes up at every gathering is always the unavailability of single, intelligent Emirati potential husbands.

These young ladies seem to have everything: intelligence, education, manners, style and, even in some cases, property - and yet they cannot find a potential life partner. In other countries, having just a few items on this list would secure a husband. In Abu Dhabi, it seems that even when a girl has almost everything she cannot find a spouse.

In addition to worrying about not finding a partner, women must come to terms with the fact that they might never experience motherhood. As young girls we were taught the Hadith that "heaven lies at the feet of our mothers", and children's respect is always accorded to their parents. Even girls that do not fantasise about a white wedding still expect to become mothers and assume that they will be married at some stage.

These young ladies, even when their families would permit them to marry a foreigner, would usually prefer an Emirati husband. This should not be judged. It is only natural to prefer to marry a compatriot.

First, let us look at the Emirati population. Statistically, there is roughly the same percentage of males to females. Is it true that many Emirati men are only looking for a "baby-maker" from among cousins or approved tribes?

In the past, almost all marriages were arranged by the female members of the family. A young girl who received a proposal would have limited expectations of being able to decide on the marriage.

Although it was not a perfect situation, it ensured that most young people were paired with their cousins or neighbours of a similar age, and accepted that arrangement as the norm. It is common in our parents' generation to find four brothers married to four sisters.

The irony is that some of my friends feel that they have been let down by their mothers or aunts. These older women feel that our generation today is so independent and self-sufficient that marriage is not seen as a priority.

It has become more acceptable for Emirati men to choose their own partners, and more of them are marrying foreign women. In Emirati society, it is unacceptable for women and men to socialise, so Emirati men often tend to spend more time with foreign women.

The average age of men marrying for the first time is now in their late 20s, but Emirati women often marry much younger, in their early 20s. With such a big age gap, it is inevitable that an older man will have fewer common interests and more experiences with his younger bride.

Older men, in some cases, still view their wives as trophies, or someone to teach and mould into their vision of the perfect wife. But they would have much more in common with accomplished women who are my friends' age.

My friends have studied hard, obtained degrees and climbed the career ladder. They see themselves as achievers and are looking for a mate who is at least as successful. However, many men whom they would consider successful are in their early 40s and already married for 20 years.

Today, working women may not see marriage as a necessity because they have full lives with many other choices. They are mostly free to study, work, drive and travel, freedoms that were not so acceptable even 15 years ago.

All of these choices can lead to difficult sacrifices. While my friends are happy to listen to their bosses or go out of their way for friends, they are not willing to compromise on husbands. Most Emiratis do not marry to gain freedom or for financial reasons, so they will only do so if they find someone whom they consider worthy.

Reema Marzouq Falah Al Ahbabi is an Emirati homemaker and MBA graduate