“Half our deen” is the chanted mantra when it comes to attitudes towards marriage. I like it, I respect it, and I have no doubt about the fact that the institution of marriage is intrinsically beautiful. It’s a form of companionship that is the foundation of a family and is, without question, one of Allah’s infinite mercies upon humanity.
But because I’m all about acknowledging realities, here’s another set of realities that we need to work with. Divorce rates are climbing. People are waiting longer to settle down. Well-intentioned relationships are failing. So a great majority of Muslims are voluntarily or involuntarily single. It might be simply because the right person hasn’t come along yet. Or it might be because they’ve been through failed relationships/marriages and don’t believe that being in such a situation is for them.
The reasons don't matter, as they, for the most part, can't be helped. For now, we need to put aside the cause and look at the symptom, the state of the younger Muslim generations. We are single. And there are too many of us who are miserable because we are single.
This makes me wonder whether there's a place for elongated singlehood in Islam. Singlehood that is not just a transient state, but a valid life choice that one deeply, genuinely enjoys. If we can't seem to settle down with someone, can we afford to keep being marriage-oriented?
I think singlehood shouldn’t just be a limbo-like stage one passes through until they get married (a life that has its own set of complications that, for some reason, are highly understated by parents and married friends). Singlehood has a tendency to be stigmatized across all kinds of cultures and communities, but it should stop being looked down upon. And I think the process starts with accepting one’s singlehood and perhaps even rejoicing in it.
In my search for the "single yet happy" equation I ended up reading a book called Living Alone and Loving It by former television actress Barbara Feldon. The great thing about the book is that she doesn’t delve as much into the reasons for being single (or whether one chooses to be single or just happens to be one) but how to make the most of it and rejoice in it. Some of the lessons and wisdoms from the book that made a huge impact on my perception of my singlehood include:
* The realization that it's better to be single and open and available than to be in an unhappy marriage. Not all marriages are unhappy, granted, but I trust that--for now-- if the only alternative to being single is being married and unhappy, I'm in the best version reality I can possibly be in.
* The ability to open myself and seek comfort from the world at large rather than one person in particular. This keeps me from putting all my eggs in one basket and makes me independent and self-secure.
* The importance of forging bonds with friends--especially other friends who are single, and rejoicing in the ability to have the independence and freedom to be there for and have a good time with such friends.
* The importance of having a life and passions that provide food for the soul. Things like reading, praying, being in activity groups, or even watching sports can provide nourishment that makes one feel less lonely and more connected with the world as a whole.
* The most important realization of all: when the right person does come along: he or she should be a delightful addition to your life, not the focus of it. We all have friends who disappeared after getting married and no longer kept in touch or made themselves available to meet up. While I understand that marriage comes with a new set of responsibilities, I don't understand why people--especially women--are expected to leave their old lives and friends behind and orient their new existence around their spouses. Being married without having one's own social resources and activities results in a very single-tracked existence that's draining and even detrimental to a marriage.
The general idea posited in the book is that we can't stop searching for that significant other, and that we as humans are made to want and need such a connection. But we also owe it to ourselves and our future partner to be independent and happy and with our own set of goals, dreams, hobbies, and social networks.
It doesn't end there. Here's something else that I think we as Muslims need to think about when it comes to being single. Being one.
God is One.
Some of us might be yearning to find that significant other and be done with it already, but shouldn’t we take a moment and ponder the fact that, for however a short period of time, He has given us independence, self-subsistence, and the possibility of being happy while being alone?
The spinster stigma has gotta go. Being single doesn’t have to mean being miserable - because it also means having even more time to seek knowledge, be an active member of the community, be a good role model as an older sibling or aunt or uncle, or be able to be there and spend quality time with one’s parents.
I won’t pretend that I’m joyfully single all the time. But I am grateful to have had eye-opening realizations thanks to having read and pondered about the virtues and vices of being alone. I'm also lucky to have the strong, content, independent single female mentors who demonstrate to me that there is a life outside of being married. As a result, I'd like to think I am beginning to understand how I can make the most of the gift of singlehood. And it is my deepest hope and fervent prayer that other single Muslims make the most of this gift as well.