x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 January 2018

Marriage can't be the only way a woman is seen as successful

As much as I adore marriage and the "happily ever after" concept, I would be the first to question it as a determining factor for success in a young woman's life.

My friends would say I am the "girly girl" type. I always tear up when I watch a romantic film. I anxiously wait for the bride to make her entrance at a wedding. I love to hear the details behind every love story. If a relative is getting married, I am the first to kick my heels together in joy and help plan her wedding.

When I was a child, my cousins and I would gather at my grandmother's majlis when our parents took an afternoon nap, and we would sit for hours planning our fantasy weddings. I imagined that mine would take place on a beach, and that I would arrive on a white horse with my long, black, wavy locks let down. It sounds so clichéd, but it was my imaginary wedding, and I could plan it any way I wanted.

That said, as much as I adore marriage and the "happily ever after" concept, I would be the first to question it as a determining factor for success in a young woman's life.

Marriage is one of the most discussed topics among young Arab women. It has been brought up at almost every female event I have attended. It was mentioned by either a girl, in saying she wishes to end up with a man she loves, or by an older woman, urging a young one to accept a marriage proposal she had recently received.

One of my dear friends, in her early 20s, is strikingly beautiful, respectful, well educated and from a prominent family. She epitomises what we girls would consider the "perfect package" as a wife for any eligible young Emirati man, or even a prince.

Although she is proud of her career and achievements, her confidence is often shaken by colleagues, both female and male, who aggressively question why she is not yet married, and who refer to marriage as the one thing that will make her life complete.

"You're everything any young man would want, so why aren't you married? Don't you want to? We need to find you someone before you're older," are the sorts of comments my friend receives. Often, she has no way of responding to the well-meaning but highly intrusive remarks except to remain silent. Some things are too personal for her to share, including the fact that a suitable man has not yet proposed.

I feel nothing but frustration when I see my friend being put down and made to feel guilty in this way. She has achieved so much, and I consider her a fantastic role model for young Emiratis. Why aren't her achievements emphasised as much as the fact that she is still single?

One is the loneliest number, but that does not mean getting married is tantamount to "making it" in life. It is not her fault if a suitable young man has not proposed.

Sadly, some people in Arab societies still look down on girls who are single, brandishing them as failures who have not achieved what is preceived as their highest role in life.

This pressure on young girls to wed has compelled many to change the course of their lives. In one example, an intelligent acquaintance of mine refuses to pursue her PhD for fear that this would ruin her chances for a good marriage.

Perhaps not everyone is meant to be married. Perhaps God has other plans and greater goals for them.

Sometimes I wish life were simple and sweet, like those long afternoons I spent with my cousins in our childhood, when we played with Barbie dolls and planned our imaginary weddings.

Manar Al Hinai is an Emirati fashion designer and writer based in Abu Dhabi. Follow her on Twitter: @manar_alhinai