The princess found her prince charming, got married and lived happily ever after. This is the ending all of us women are striving for in our love lives, right? We are taught to find the right man that will be the right father for our children and that is where happily ever after lives. Happiness lives in a marriage. And in my case if you are a triple minority, Muslim/Egyptian/Woman, your purpose solely relies within your marriage. God forbid the D word, because that means failure and an Arab woman never fails. Divorce as an Arab woman is going to be one hell of a ride.
But what if my happiness lies within my divorce? Is it possible I can find my purpose through my divorce as an Arab woman? Can it be possible that my marriage brought me misery? Did I settle? Can I actually be happy divorced? Am I a failure because my marriage broke apart? Will I even find another Muslim man to marry in America? These are questions a Muslim and Arab woman like me dared to ponder about because I couldn’t believe that I wasn’t living the happily ever after I was promised.
As I sit here and write this with tears down my face, I can’t help but feel a sense of relief. Yes, I am crying, but I feel free. Free from the notion that only a man can bring me happiness. I am free because I left misery and chose happiness. I am free because only I can create my happily ever after. But see this all comes with a price if you choose to be the odd one in a culture like mine.
One in three Muslim-American marriages end in a divorce. Islam makes divorce extremely easy on women. It’s a quick piece of paper we sign with the Imam of the Mosque and off we go. We are free and divorced. We are even given spousal support by our husbands and the right to maintain all our assets and properties. Sounds like a dream divorce to me. But the Muslim part isn’t the hard to pill to swallow. It is the divorce as an Arab woman part.
I am a lucky Arab woman that has a family that supports her decision to divorce her husband. But it wasn’t an easy process. Arab women are taught to never resort to divorce and to try everything they can in their power to maintain the peace and keep their marriage together. It comes to a point where one is afraid to even bring up that word because of the judgement placed on women. Because of that taboo in the Arab world, women end up staying in these marriages because of the idea that no man would want to marry a divorced Arab woman.
I was afraid to get divorced because I thought that it was better to stick it out and hopefully my husband will learn to love me the way I deserve to be loved. Since marriage is extremely glorified in our culture and divorce is frowned upon, we are afraid to step out of that misery because of the stigma around divorce.
There is this idea as well that I brought the pain onto myself because he is the man I chose. I would hear comments that if I was a little patient my husband would learn to put me first and put his ego aside. It’s all in my hands to make him love me the way I deserve to be loved and with time he’ll be responsible. Comments like these are exactly why Arab women end up staying in their turbulent marriages because we live on false hopes of our husbands growing. Our culture has enabled men’s toxic behavior and it’s acceptable because they are men.
I decided to document my divorce journey to show what really happens in a divorce on social media. I call it my “Divorce Diaries”. It’s crucial for me to create a community, especially for Arab women, that normalizes divorce and vulnerability. “Divorce Diaries” started because one day I was fed up with all the TedTalks talking about the light at the end of the tunnel and no one was sharing the pain and heartache that comes with divorce. It’s as if I wasn’t allowed to feel pain and I should wait until I find the light at the end of the tunnel. The self-help books were no help either. Ironic isn’t it? They were all women that knew nothing about my culture. That’s when I decided it’s time Arab women own their divorce and embrace their vulnerability.
The Arab culture doesn’t teach us that it’s OK to be vulnerable because we are taught that showing that side is a sign of weakness. It requires strength to be vulnerable and that is my mission to remind other Arab women that mourning a life we had is strength within itself. For a culture that glorifies marriage, it is quite hard to glorify divorce as it’s the antithesis of what our society teaches women about their purpose.
Divorce is a traumatic experience. It’s a slap in the face every morning reminding you that you need to start a new life and let go of the life that you once desired. It’s a constant reminder that the love of your life is no longer there. But divorce is also the start of a new relationship. It is a new relationship with myself that is raw, real, messy, ugly, beautiful, painful, joyful, etc. I’m getting to know myself on another level and understanding strengths that I never knew I was capable of. My marriage with my prince charming ended and as I found out it wasn’t happily ever after. But what I have learned so far and continue to learn, is that the relationship I have with myself is a marriage to myself. That is a marriage I will never quit because I will never quit on myself.
By Nora Mohamed