Sometimes I think about how different my life would be if I had gotten married at 23 years old.

At the time, nine years ago, I was engaged to my first love, and so love-struck that I failed to see in him any flaw and naively dismissed many warning signs of serious potential pitfalls facing our relationship.

While he was perhaps “suitable” within cultural standards, when I look back now he was undoubtedly an improper fit for me for so many reasons, and I am thankful to God that circumstances, however messy and piercingly painful they were, unfolded as they did and our relationship unravelled at the seams. Severing ties completely was a hard blow but a precisely necessary one.

I sincerely believe that if this marriage had proceeded, it would have distracted me from realising my full potential in numerous avenues in my life. With him I was never completely myself. I was constantly adapting to his needs, desires and objectives, playing a role as though it was truly my own. Rather than seeking a comfortable complementary bond with a partner who would support my personal and professional ambitions, I was almost exclusively positioning my life to furnish his own.

Suffering from a glaring wake up call, I faced the broken heart of my life after that relationship ended. Innumerable minutes in months were spent repetitively wondering what had gone wrong and what I could have done differently to have salvaged our relationship from oblivion. Regardless of how inexplicable the moment of departure was, and how many times I tried to rework this failed equation in my mind, it happened as it should have. It was only years later that I realised a good deal of these negative emotions that had arrested me stemmed from a lack of self confidence and deficiencies in my faith.

At that juncture I very quickly moved from the cusp of matrimony to being plunged into singlehood for the better part of a decade. It wasn’t that I was closed off to the idea of marriage, but I did not cross paths with a complementary companion.

So, rather than learning how to live well with another person, I was compelled to learn how to be happy on my own. This has turned out to be one of the most-precious and valuable lessons of my life. Achieving a sense of contentment with being alone has been no easy feat. It is often difficult, for women especially, to feel at ease while being single simply because of the tremendous familial and social pressures that impede the process of finding comfort alone.

Arab societies, like numerous others, glorify marriage as the only means for women to achieve fulfilment and happiness. Women are programmed to focus their happiness on securing and maintaining another person’s affection, regardless of whether they have realised peace within themselves beforehand. No matter what they may have accomplished professionally and socially, Arab women are too often pitied and deemed incomplete without a husband and kids.

What I have found in the past nine years since that ill-fated romance in my early 20s, and especially in the past few years, is that cultivating a deep sense of self is in some ways better realised alone. Developing a quiet, nuanced awareness of who I am has actually been the best way to prepare myself for marriage, if God wills that I find myself in this bond someday.

Spending a lot of time on my own has forced me to really understand my heart, built my confidence, recognise my beauty and talent and, most importantly, fortify my bond with God. The peace of mind that comes with striving to live in Islam, Arabic for submission to God, has tremendously boosted my sense of self and purpose.

When this bond with the Almighty is the guiding principle, we become more careful and mindful of our interactions. We learn to treat our family members, friends, colleagues, spouses and strangers in the best possible manner so as to embody the assets of a good Muslim human being and thus fulfil a divine commitment prescribed by God. From this vantage point, our desire to form relationships stems not from a need to fill a void because of a deficiency, but rather to further enrich our lives and contribute to our faith.

We learn in Islamic teachings of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, that marriage constitutes half of one’s faith. Forming a family is the cornerstone of society and marriage is a bond that can be exceptionally valuable in our development as individuals. It is certainly a bond that I would feel very blessed to be able to build upon and strengthen in the next stage of my life.

But no matter what social pressures are exerted upon us, marriage cannot be rushed, uncritically expected or forced. When God wills for us to find a partner, it will happen, whether we are 23, in our mid-30s, well above 40 or not at all.

I genuinely hope to find a virtuous partner and build a good, happy marriage that enhances my life. But I find that this reflective time alone has given me a clear sense of self and faith that is of incalculable worth. I wouldn’t trade a day of my singlehood in the past nine years because of the sense of personal fulfilment and peace I uncovered along the way. It is precisely by building this foundation of harmony with self that, I believe, will bring us independent single ladies greater contentment in marriage when it does come to pass.

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