12 things not to say to a 30-something single Arab woman

Published September 27th, 2013 - 08:23 GMT

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sorry pity consolation
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Image 1 of 11: Ya haram: A common response from the smug-married to the shameless single is “haram” (shame/pity). This dose of empathy hammers home that for women of a certain age in the Mideast, being unmarried is considered an unfortunate situation. The Israeli-Palestine dispute is a situation! One’s bare ring-finger does not warrant the air-raid sirens!

break your fast with an onion
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Image 1 of 11: You won’t believe who my aunt ran into - you should totally marry him! There’s an Arabic saying, “You fasted, so why break your fast with an onion?” If your drought has lasted 30 years, friends, family and concerned neighbors tend to put on their matchmaking hat, happy for you to settle for every Ahmad, Mohammed or Khaled.

wives club
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Image 1 of 11: With your degree & smile, you’d make an excellent second wife. Entering the 30 plus age bracket relegates you to second best status. You’re no longer eligible for hogging the love of your life to yourself so must either share or scout the divorcee/ widower circuit. The assumption that you are only fit for 'undesirables' is hardly flattering.

single woman working
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Image 1 of 11: Well it would help if you weren't married to your job! The only thing standing between you and wedded bliss is that accursed career. You’ll not meet anyone with your pretty face and Arab charm hidden behind a laptop screen -- as a married woman the only skill-set you’ll need to keep polished for your CV is your vine leave-rolling.

Sixty is the new forty
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Image 1 of 11: He’s not old: Sixty is the new forty. Scaling 30 solo puts you firmly in the market for an older man. And by older we mean senior citizen. A couple of generations is suddenly preferred to the bog-standard 10 year age-gulf. Now when folk tell you they know someone - you can bet your bottom dollar that the ‘catch’ is he's your father's age.

Love habibi singles seek love
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Image 1 of 11: Have you tried Lovehabibi.com? With internet use on the rise in the Middle East, Western fads like online dating sites have made it to the region. Maybe considered controversial by the traditionalists in your family, but rest assured if Bentelhalal.com finally gets you a husband, they won’t be complaining about your online habits.

single at a wedding
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Image 1 of 11: How do you cope at Arabic weddings? As a singleton guest you must put up with the barrage of “3o2baleks” (may you be next) coming at you thicker than the bride’s make-up. Smiling through the slew of inane comments and pitiful glances must be a well rehearsed act from your portfolio of nuptial survival skills in the heat of wedding season.

hunting for a husband
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Image 1 of 11: Have you run out of cousins? For the Arab world, there’s still nothing unusual about keeping it in the family. Marrying cousins - 1st, 2nd, 3rd - it’s all good and wedded relations are common. By rejecting the kissing cousin track, you might be taken for a snob, spurning suitors by the dozen, or you might be looking to diversify your gene pool.

biological clock
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Image 1 of 11: Don’t you worry you’ll dry up like the desert around you? In a word tick-tock and we’re not talking about Kesha’s smash hit. Body clock, ovaries and your sell-by date -- you'll be wanting a 'mate' and no-one cares if hubbie's your best bud -- it's about the 4 letter word, KIDS. Forget that children can happen in those barren 30s or 40s..

lonely grandparents
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Image 1 of 11: What about your parents and their grandchild expectations? It's bad enough being reminded via Facebook of your reproductively successful peers' with their trophy sprogs, but your parents know all about their new arrivals through the well-oiled ME gossip mill and are asking you why you’ve sentenced them to a life without grandchildren.

not so lonely
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Image 1 of 11: Don’t you feel lonely? What they don’t know won’t harm them - but it has never crossed anybody’s mind that as a young unattached 30-something you might be playing the field (or squeezing the desert dry). All we’re saying is that you don’t need to be married to be courting and canoodling.

Suspicion, slurs and stings -- these are the comments a stigmatized single woman in her thirties is most likely to be subjected to in the Arab world.

As the Middle Eastern wedding season draws to a close, during which it seems that everyone you have ever met (and their cousin/dog/camel) is getting hitched, the plight of the single 30-something female in the Arab world is at the forefront of familial discussions and headshaking.

A Middle Eastern singleton is no Carrie Bradshaw, celebrated for remaining a strong and independent woman bucking traditional trends and expectations and navigating her love life in a hostile environment (whether it be New York or Amman). No, a single unmarried Arab woman in her thirties has it bad. The social stigma she carries is not unlike those old maids of the bygone Victorian era - immediately branded a spinster after she passes her 30th birthday as a single lady, and, for all their hospitality, Arabs take their gloves off when it comes to snide comments on marital status (or lack there-of).

In more traditional times, it was customary for girls to get married at a young age - anywhere between 16 and 25 would see you wedded off to a nice man who could pay your father a handsome dowry.

There’s been a low-level revolt by women in the Western world casting aside the shackles of marital expectation - with the desire to climb the career ladder and achieve life ambitions aside from those of the reproductive cycle, the age of marriage is getting later and later in the Western world. Middle Eastern women are following the same trend - a greater number of Arab women are marrying at a later age or not marrying at all. According to a study by the Population Reference Bureau, as many as 15%-21% of women aged 35-39 in countries like Tunisia, Algeria and Lebanon are unmarried. With better education, a growing number of career opportunities and greater financial independence, this trend is projected to accelerate and expected to cause chagrin amongst parents chomping at the bit for grandchildren across the Middle East.

Despite these very real societal trends, many in the Arab world have their head in the past and have an unfortunate habit of treating those single and over the age of 30 as pariahs, desperate or just plain weird.

A slew of questions spew forth at every family gathering that all hint at the same thing - to paraphrase Beyonce - why has no one liked that and why has no one put a ring on it?

A word of caution to the ladies: Now that you’ve crossed the 30 barrier, understand that you’re in the market for the social misfits and you'll be lucky to land a divorcee or widower! Even if you'd not ruled out the more experienced man, the blatant presumption that you're past your prime in what you can command may be mildly insulting. Your love life is now everybody's business - beware of the infamous family get-togethers - there is no way your third aunt twice-removed won’t have some nice young lad (ibn halal) in mind.

Several charming Arabic words and phrases have been specially formulated by distant relatives in a bid to question the motives of the singleton - our favorite being “Allah yostor aleaki” - what amounts to the charming suggestion that you should keep your eye out for a desperate widower. You might even be pressured to veil or unveil (depending on your current situation) to suit the men available on the market. Nothing rankles more with the thirty-something than the insinuation that she has had her days and should stop waiting for her Brad Pitt or Arabian Prince Charming or even ‘love’. And then there's the absurd notion or Arabic old wives' tale that marriage will cure that stubborn late onset acne.

From the tasteful “Habibti, you’ve been on the market for too long - you’re old goods or used baggage” (what am I, on an airport conveyor belt?) to the moribund expression adopted when talking to the aforementioned single lady, we’ve been on a quest to find the most insulting and ridiculous things you’ll be asked or told if you are unattached in the region in your 30s. Insinuations, digs and straight up jibes, laced in downright disapproval dressed in pity, feel the burn with our 30-something daughters, sisters and friends and laugh off the predicament of the ‘old maids’ on the singles circuit-- always keeping in mind that 30s are the new 20s and subverting the notion that a single woman in possession of a ‘3’ prefixing her age, must be in want of a husband.

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