A Race to the Altar: The Pressure to Get Married Before 30



6 minute read • by Elsa Moreck

Tick tock, tick tock. I might just murder the fucking clock.

It starts at twenty three: “your career is important, but…,” my mother’s infamous opening line to a carefully rehearsed monologue of anecdotes about women who don’t get married. She articulates her concern with examples: a cousin with so many options she ended up with none, or a peer who was too driven by her career to slow down for love. Her intention isn’t to mock anyone’s life choices. My mother is a kind person, and a dedicated physician. Though she always modeled the importance of having a career firsthand, she attributes a great deal of her professional success to her relationship with my father. My free-spiritedness is a threat to the balance she finds necessary for long-term fulfillment. While she may indirectly intimidate me into love, it comes from a pure place.

Despite her efforts to be gentle though, she sets off a ticking bomb. The pressure is real. My social media feeds overflow with proposal notifications, and social gatherings always have at least one guest insistent on making toasts “to my future wedding.” Unfortunately for my ticking bomb, find a husband has never made it to my to-do list. I navigate romance much like the rest of my life, spontaneously. While my heart stays open to love, I’m not comfortable planning it. My career, I can work towards. I have a vision, and I try my best to align my actions with it everyday. But unlike a human, my career isn’t fickle. My career doesn’t wake up with existential angst and a desire to fuck my best friend. While there are ebbs and flows in professional life, most of what happens is more or less in our control.

The traditional romantic plot in Lebanese culture is as follows:

From the day a girl is born, she is being primed for the warm handoff from baba to baby. Break her nose and get her a new one. Laser every crevice of her body to eliminate any trace of human hair. Preserve her virginity, and auction it to the highest bidder.

Yes...I said it.

There are hymns dedicated to the girl being pursued by El Doctor. Now show him you’re wifey material by filling up his iCloud storage with everything you cooked that year. Hook him with sexy profile pictures. Laser focus on him until he’s all yours. Tick tock. We’re fighting the clock. If we don’t lock in a man to save us from our inherent incompleteness before we expire, well…

let’s just hope we’re setting aside for Botox.

From the day a girl is born, she’s being primed for the warm handoff from baba to baby.

The issue I have with this messaging, aside of the blatant sexism and double standards, is that it hammers in the idea that a woman is somehow incomplete on her own. There’s nothing wrong with getting married and having a family. In fact, it’s a noble and honorable feat, as is choosing not to get married and have a family. There is a fundamental flaw in the sentiment that until a woman has a man on one knee, her life’s worth isn’t enough. Our families may not see how their projections of our future impact our self-esteem because they’ve been so hardwired to direct us that way. But the fear of running out of time to get married is like a cold front that sweeps in unexpectedly and cuts to the bone.

Moreover, many of us default to this washed up script when we’re in love. We succumb to the plot of acting subtle while simultaneously grasping desperately for the ring of salvation. Traditional Arab gender roles don’t exactly offer much room for creativity. The man is brought up to be the main breadwinner, automatically demoting a woman’s career secondary to her family duties. Here I want to emphasize that is it a beautiful feat for a woman to become a wife and mother, so long as it is a conscious and genuine choice made by her. What tends to happen though, is we fall into conventional roles without questioning them enough. I don’t mind being with a man who has a more lucrative career than me. However, I do not limit myself professionally because I depend on being supported by him.

Unfortunately, an ambitious and independent woman is not a popular theme in the marriage handbook. I’ve had to dilute who I am numerous times to accommodate the perception a man and his family had of me. And I’ve been presented with the same projection. Without intending, we build a wall between who we are and what we think we need to be for each other. In doing so, we sabotage the sincerity of our bond. We even argue in ways we’ve been programmed to, stressing over things that may not even personally bother us. But when one is indebted to a script of what things should be like, love isn’t as forgiving.

The script doesn’t stop there though. We also come with a preinstalled fixation with what our family thinks. If we were just ticking our own boxes, it may be straightforward enough. But we’re also responsible for honoring Auntie Layla and Uncle Sam’s criteria for a suitable partner. This makes it nearly impossible to love organically because it doesn’t always happen in the context of familial approval. Using religion, race, age, and social status to narrow down the search for a partner, is patronizing at best. No matter how it’s rationalized. We may cross paths with all kinds of people. Are we to deem the opportunity for love any less worthy because it lacks a premeditated box to tick?

Despite my empowerment, I’ve often fallen victim to ideals I didn’t take adequate time to understand, and I’ve internalized fear that my desirability is diminishing everyday. So to an end to the bullshit, I’ve decided to make love to the clock and rewrite my own manifesto:

I am whole. Everyday my knowledge and experience of the world become richer, so the value of my presence only increases with time. I cherish who I am independently, and make time to treat myself alone. My pleasure is important, so I allow myself the freedom and privilege to explore and enjoy my sexuality. Solitude allows me to see who I am in the context of the world without a partner. By filtering out the noise of society and relatives, I alleviate myself from the pressure of seeing love as something to accomplish, rather than experience. In turn, I reap the benefits of true love: the support of another person who sees and accepts me as I am.

The pressure to achieve love is not unique to women however. According to the script, men are to build a fruitful career and find a wife in that sequence. They are inundated by the rigidity of their role, and often suffer trying to live up to it. The difference is, men have much more time and freedom than women to figure it out. While we are constantly haggled in our twenties to land a mate, men are coaxed into the idea, always relishing in the alternative of being a bachelor who grows more charming with age.

But the script affects everyone, regardless of gender. When we are busy ticking off boxes, we miss out on connecting with people who appreciate us for who we are. Unless we dissect our traditions, disentangling what needs to stay from what needs to go, we act as blind followers. No one knows better than we do how to define this sacred area of our life.

Hence why it’s so important to explore our questions and qualms about permanent partnership before we involve other people in the equation. Instead of ruminating about past love and lack of future prospects, we can seize that time and freedom to become better versions of who we are now. It is, after all, when we’ve connected with our own divinity that we create the right conditions to meet an equally amazing soul to do life with.