I was recently asked to give advice to an adult male in my community who asked me a very poignant question. An older gentleman, his question radiated from a place of true concern. He folded his hands together, turning them in agitation slowly: "Yasmin, I want to understand what to tell the many women who have told me that they cannot find suitable life partners. There are so many of them. They are well into their 30s, unmarried, and I have nothing to say to them."
As someone who tries to professionally help people find their matches, I get this a lot. I responded to him in the best way I knew. The truth is neither kind nor convenient. It can be unpopular, and it is always something that some people are simply not ready to hear. So, I answered him, "You are asking me to answer what I consider the social crisis of Muslims globally. But, there are several reasons that have contributed to this crisis, and they are not all the fault of the male species."
What I continued to say was not easy for me to articulate because I knew that it inevitably would not fit every model. What I was about to share with him did not reflect the truth of every situation of a Muslim man or woman searching for a partner--naturally. But after a decade of doing this work, my personal experiences with people from America and around the world were what informed my words.
I have made it my mission to chip away at what I call the Muslim plight of marriage. But the dance that must be danced in order for this to happen is so intense--the advice, the prophetic reminders, the parental guidance, the pep talks, the draining feeling when someone isn't listening, the sheer man hours of it all! Bringing people together is daunting, and it is really God's work from beginning to end. We facilitate, only as a mere means. But if God does not want something to happen, even if things look perfect on paper, it just simply won't happen.
I believe that there are many women who have turned down good, decent, kind men because they do not fit the ideal in their mind for whatever society, school, work, culture, and non-Islamic values have told them about what they deserve or should expect. People's priorities are all out of whack. Basically, what I am saying are fightin' words as they say in the South!
At this point, I am overrun by females searching for the perfect partner--and these women often are not searching with zero relationship experience or never meeting a good man in their lives. Many have turned down eligible partners because "something" made them feel like they were settling for less. As I tell many women, this is the era of dua, imploring God, the Most Compassionate, to guide you to a spouse that fits you. Specifically, this is the time of tahhajud. This is the time of honest self-reflection. This is the time of explaining to your family that if a man comes to you with good character and religion, do not turn him down because he is not tall enough, educated with the right degree, or has the wrong skin color. This will spread corruption in the land. And it is spreading corruption in the land.
Our wedding culture spreads corruption as well. We make it impossible, nearly impossible to have a simple wedding, and the demands family place on grooms and brides are toxic and destroy relationships--often leading to the seedlings of divorce even if they get past the nikkah. We have family members guilty of placing their fears above the best interest of their adult children because they are holding on so tightly to an idea of who their kids should marry--preventing many compatible matches because of ethnocentrism, classism, and racism.
On the other hand, we also do have Muslim men who have incorrect notions about marriage and some serious character flaws that make them inappropriate partners. Many of these men end up divorcing, not remedying any behavior or their incorrect thoughts and notions about marriage, and marrying again--only to divorce again or make someone severely unhappy. Self reflection is the only cure for someone who is searching for happiness in another human being or has equated beauty with compatibility as a life partner!
We do not have enough men today who are not totally infected by the instagram, FB, twitter phenomena that is "beautiful" manufactured women. Men keep getting bombarded with seemingly more and more perfected, filtered images. It leaves every woman who does not share that complexion, eyebrow shape, fashion sense, makeup acumen, or body shape out in the cold. We have men and their families with an extremely ageist mentality--they will not even consider a woman who isn't 27 and below. Literally, 29 is the new 41. I'm at my wit's end to be honest.(And there is nothing wrong with women in their 40s or 50s or any age wanting to find love with a life partner!!)
This community, our community to which we are responsible is a mess. And I am exhausted.
I think the more people speaking real talk to young people (18-26) the more we can actually remedy this situation. But that requires a certain brand of tough love so as to not make people feel desperate or marry the wrong person to somehow avoid the avalanche of bad news awaiting them. It requires a balance of love, compassion, and fierce reality.
The older gentleman's face twisted--now I had upset him. "But you're identifying this problem and giving me no solutions. What do I say, go pray? Do I really tell these women who are struggling to go pray? Do I tell men they need to shape up and stop being addicted to pornography or other types of negative imagery? Tell me, practically, what are your alternatives?" He had a point. What advice was I really suggesting for him to share with the many women he knew who were facing this plight?
I also knew of many men too who were actually in similar situations. These men were "undesirable" for a multitude of reasons: they did not have high-paying jobs, they were losing their hair, they were not outgoing and funny, they did not have much experience speaking to women and charming them, women thought they were "too nice", they did not have a higher degree, or they lacked self-confidence in a time when masculinity was defined in warped ways that made humility a liability, not an asset.
So I answered him in a way that would be applicable to all those who were searching for the right partner--men and women--and looking for ways to make life even slightly easier.
I replied, "Yes, seriously, they do need to pray. You may not agree with my answer, but I believe it all starts with self. Self love, acceptance, and gratitude to God. It requires men and women to look and feel their best--changing diets, bad habits, and beginning to exercise regularly. It then requires being a part of many different communities and volunteering, learning, giving, and being involved--not just letting a career or work exhaust every minute of free time or hanging around the same group of friends over and over again. Telling all friends and family that you are looking is a step as well. Online searching is more popular now, but I am very wary of this due to a lack of trust. However, it is effective for some and should not be removed as an option to explore with an abundance of caution. Finally, and most importantly, they must, must, must temper their expectations. They must open their minds past racism and judgment. They must not be wedded to the idea that someone will be perfect and fulfill every check mark. They won't. You don't. You have flaws too! They must search for character above all else. They must listen to the signs God sends them after prayer. He is listening. I promise."
His deflated face told me what I already knew--I didn't have an entirely satisfactory answer. Planting love takes time and patience. It takes nurturing, acceptance, support, and attraction that is based on realistic standards. It takes the light of God's guiding principle, the water of forgiveness in Prophetic character, and the warmth of soil searching for truth in a world of illusions. Love is one of the last magical things on this planet. And that magic cannot be harnessed. I think of Christopher Nolan's Interstellar when I think of this--not romantic love per se, but the kind of love that spans space and time. If your love is based on something pure, I think it can change the world. Until we open our minds to that, I think we will find ourselves drudging in the darkness.
Author - Yasmin Elhady Nassiry
Learning about love everyday. Grateful for what I have. I'm a relationship consultant who plays a lawyer and public policy specialist on TV.