Sunday, January 27

Single Female Seeking Space

Imagine you're a single female in your late twenties, you're at a social event, and some guy walks up to you and demands to know:
1) If you have a boyfriend/significant other
2) Your name
3) Your birth year
4) Where you work
5) What you studied
6) And nothing else.

Many of you are probably thinking, clearly, this kind of thing happens when you're speed dating, at parties, bars or clubs when there's alcohol and inappropriateness involved in general, people "dressed to impress," etc....

Unfortunately, the events this post describes are at no such venue. Young women do not find that kind of behavior acceptable at bars or clubs, any more than the culture-driven spaces I'm writing about now.

This is the rant I was hoping to get by without vocalizing for the past few years. This is why that won't happen.

You've lived 27 years trying to get your ducks in a row for yourself--to create coherence in your life. To live in a way that you hope will make sense in retrospect. To clean up your messes, pain-staking as you realize it might just take forever, and try to write down the salient points along the margins. First you tried to make everyone else happy. Then you understood being spineless is not the way to go--no one will look out for you when it comes down to looking out for themselves. And you can't blame them for that, but you can blame yourself for not having your own back.

So you commit to being honest with yourself, try things that you might have precluded not your thing years ago, attempt to face your realizations with a quiet courage that involves no one else but you and your Maker.

And what is your greatest challenge? Accidentally answering your parents' landline and being asked 1) what you are doing with your life; 2) what year you were born; 3) if you have a boyfriend/are dating someone; 4) being told to embrace "FAMILY VALUES."

I actively stopped attending the overwhelming majority of events my parents otherwise would drag me to over the past 3 years. These are the dinners and cultural events I obediently went to my whole life, taking family photos as demanded. It took me longer than it really should have to acknowledge the superficiality of these things, and the reasons to not attend continued to pile up, exponentially. Recently, I decided to attend a wake for a family friend's grandmother. My dad was out of town and I also felt a bit obligated as the only person able to drive my mom into Chicago for the event. Many good reasons to have gone, enough for me to take a break from my boycott.

We walked in, prayed, there was a sermon about the importance of taking care of your parents and the adult generation to set an example for their kids. There was food. I talked to the only other two girls in their twenties for most of the remainder of the 2 hour event.

Within that short time frame, not one, not two, not three, but 6 women took it upon themselves to accost me individually:
1) Are you still working at ---
2) What year were you born
3) Do you have a boyfriend/are you dating someone
4) You can continue your education and raise a good family by…

I stopped wearing makeup to all cultural/religious events a few years ago. Didn't even have chapstick on. I showered and brushed my teeth--the basics--out of respect for the masjid. On most days, I consider myself between a 4 and a 5.5 out of 10; on the best of days, with A LOT of effort, I might get myself to an 8. To these events, when I've had to attend in recent years, I make sure to go as a 3, for good measure. It never seems to dissuade anyone.

Now I've been fairly polite to these people only because I don't want to ruin my parents' ability to socialize with them. That said, here are some facts:

I am at my wits' end with a culture of individuals who feel entitled to projecting their notions of that girl who will make up for all their spoiled sons lack. I am tired of being cast as a solution to their imaginative problems. These individuals know nothing about me or my personal life, precisely because they are not in it. And I'm experienced enough to know predatory behavior when I see it; you see a "nice girl" you can still mold, it's convenient for everyone, you'll convince her you support her "sense of individuality," she will bear your grandchildren. She will be happy, she just doesn't know it yet.

Is that the gist of it?

Here is a glimpse of whom you are not perceiving:

I see you as an influence-lusting woman looking for someone for her son (nephew, etc.) to mate with; your methods are anachronistic and inappropriate. I am in the middle of my own life, and you would not believe the details even if I told you. Had you a normal conversation with me, you would find me abominable. Telling me what you think of me ("you are a nice, religious girl and I see you pray and you're well-mannered" etc.) does not make any single one of those traits/behaviors real--it makes you presumptive at best, delusional at worst. You don't know what fabric over my head means, if anything at all, you don't know how I prefer to spend a Saturday night, you don't know what drives me. And if you really knew these things, you would be taken aback at best, and be horrified at worst.

I'm not writing this in response to just one event. Variations of this conversation have become frequent for me ever since I graduated high school (?!). We can all recognize that there is a growing cultural gap between young adults and their parents in 1st+ generation immigrant communities. What is dangerous is one generation dictating the future paths ("what is right/acceptable") to others. If you really have "family values," you will let young adults figure this out in their own ways--be open and they might even seek your advice at some point. Continue dictating, and you will likely run into kinds of horrors even you can't imagine quite yet.

Do the world a favor and give the kids some space.


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