It’s the day of my cousin’s wedding and I am ready for the evening to be over. After sitting in a chair for over two hours to get my hair and makeup professionally done, I am wearing the most uncomfortable shoes that are already hurting my feet. I am anticipating comments on my dress that will be disliked by most Arab moms for being too revealing or the wrong colour on me. Those same women are assessing the scene for potential spouses for their children, myself and the revealing dress included as an option.
As I’m talking to my family members and friends, I know the one phrase that’s coming my way. I see a woman I know walking towards me with a smile and I can feel my anxiety begin to build; her opener before even saying hello is “Oh Sarah, 3a2balek insha’Allah.” My very polite response is “insha’Allah.” I know in the back of my mind that she will not be the first nor the last to wish this upon me. The evening is still very young.
For every occasion, good or bad, Arabs have their standard sayings. When someone dies it’s “Allah yerhamo” or “may god have mercy on them” or when someone finishes a meal they enjoy it’s “daymeh” or sa7tain” which translates to “always” or “to your health.” 3a2balek loosely translates to “I hope this happens to you soon.” Don’t get me wrong, 3a2balek is not only used for weddings; it’s thrown around during happy occasions like graduations, a new career, promotions, or starting a family. It’s meant to be positive.
As the evening progresses, the first, second, third, fiftieth 3a2balek has come my way. I can feel myself wanting to remove the heels that are cutting off circulation to my feet and hurl them across the room. The term needs to stop, at least for the rest of the evening. Or be turned into a drinking game. You’re probably thinking “what’s the big deal? They want you to find a partner.”
“3a2balek” is never a stand alone statement; there is always a follow up; a bombardment of questions. They want to know whether you’re seeing someone and if not, why you aren’t putting more effort into finding someone. Would you like me to ask every single Arab muslim male on the planet if they’d like to get to know me?Sarah Daoudi on 3abalek
The reality is, it takes a toll on my self-esteem. I am a 26 year old female (which apparently is old in Arab years), who went to graduate school, has a full time job in a top company in my field, and I have a career I am very proud of. And yes, I would love to meet someone and fall in love. But by constantly asking me questions about my relationship status, it makes my accomplishments in life seem small and that I am not good enough to find a spouse. “3a2balek” is the introduction to opening a can of worms about my quality as a woman. If I am “old” and unmarried, there must be something wrong with my personality or my upbringing. It’s as if my worth is determined by whether or not I have a spouse.
I have no filter. I have talked back when this word is being thrown at me or the questions begin. I have stunned people with my responses of “not anytime soon” or “I’m focusing on work.” For non-Arabs, that’s completely understandable, but for Arabs, it’s unheard of for a woman to not want to get married right away. I’m not sorry to break it to you; there are many more men and women like me.
Also, did we forget how hard it is to meet someone this day and age where social media and dating apps give us hundreds of options?
I reflect on the potential options that are available:
You have the mama’s boys who will marry the girl his mother has already picked for him.
The men who don’t like independent or opinionated women.
The wallah bro’s and the guys who only came to dabkeh and show off their cars.
The man who sits and stares for hours and never approaches you.
The man who just wants to sleep with you.
The ones who are still figuring out their careers or finishing school (there’s nothing wrong with that, you do you) or
The ones who just want a housewife (nothing wrong with being a housewife either).
Before you tell me there’s something wrong with me, look around at the quality of potential suitors surrounding me. Yes, there is a small percentage who are nice, genuine men who are probably hiding from the Arabs just like some of us are and I will not disregard that the same struggles happen with men as well. But when I look around a room and think “if these are my options, I would rather adopt a cat and live alone for the rest of my life.”
But from an older Arab female perspective, the pressure falls on us younger women to find a spouse due to the archaic practice of attracting men with our looks and modesties. Can’t I just make you happy with my sense of humor or success? Instead, I am reminded for a whole evening of the men I have met who haven’t worked out and reminiscence on the heartache. It’s already hard enough being at a wedding where you’re feeling some loneliness when the reality is tomorrow night you will be home alone again in your PJs watching The Office for the fifth time. Plus, the “3a2baleks” and pressure never end. First it’s the spouse, then it’s the children, then it’s more than one child, then it’s a house, then it’s cars, degrees, your children’s degrees. The list and pressures never end.
The fact of the matter is that we don’t know the reality of someone’s struggle. Yes, we want to have joy in our lives and I understand you want us to be happy. But if you’re telling someone “3a2balek” and they’ve just been through a rough breakup, that’s a continuous reminder that they are hurting and the fear of being alone sinks in. If someone is struggling to have a baby and is being pushed about their turn, that’s a potential trigger. If school and graduation seems further out of reach, the pressure of success can get to someone.
Instead of “3a2balek,” let’s say something along the lines of “I hope to see you this happy”. Or “I wish you all the success and happiness like this moment.” Or how about a simple “marhaba, how are you?” and leave it at that. Instead of breaking someone’s self esteem and making them feel insecure, let’s build each other up and celebrate any little accomplishment.
The first? Celebrating and surviving all the “3a2baleks” you’ve encountered so far.
By Sarah Daoudi