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Delayed Marriage: How to Treat Single Offspring

“We are SO worried,” says my friend to me with a sigh, “that we are beginning to wonder not about when it will happen, but if it will happen at all…”

Her voice trails off as she leans back on the sofa resignedly, her eyes giving away her despondence.

“Please,” she continues in earnest, her tone pleading, “if there is any decent family you know of, anyone at all, who is looking to get their ward married, please refer them to us….”

I nod in quick agreement.

The Story of Almost Every Family

Every family has a few such singles, both young men and women, whose ‘timely’ marriage they are getting increasingly worried about.

“Whenever we bring up the topic of his marriage, he just becomes aloof, and tries to end the Skype call,” says an elderly mother about her son, who has moved abroad to live alone. “We are so worried about him, because he is living all alone, and has no intention of returning here. How long can he live like this?”

“She spends most of her time locked up in her room when she is at home,” says a young girl about her older sister, “She hardly talks to either parent any more. Just the mention of marriage makes her flare up and lash out at them.”

The situation of an aging single in the family who is not getting married, either out of conscious choice or by chance, is often tinged with increasing despondence and desperation among the elders, as the years pass without the coveted marriage taking place.

This situation is actually a distressing trial for everyone involved, because no one wants to see their loved one end up alone in life, without a spouse and/or children to call their own.

The worrisome aspect of this situation is the gradual souring of mutual relationships that sometimes occurs, because of the frequent, back-and-forth, emotional conversations at home, which can often turn into heated arguments.

Ironically, the love and concern harbored by close relatives for their single family member becomes the very cause of, and the driving force behind, a gradual breakdown in open communication, friendliness, trust, and cordiality with them.

As the desperation heightens, some relatives begin to knock on the doors of greedy charlatans, such as deviant witch-doctors and money-minting matchmakers, and frantically implement spiritual ‘shortcuts’ in the form of unauthentic du’a recitations and prayer rituals, in order to ‘magically’ bring about the desired marriage.

Du’a – The Most Effective Solution

Du’a (supplication) is the most powerful weapon of a believer. It is also true that the du’as made by a father and mother in favor of their child are one of the most swift to be answered by Allah.

I want to mention this crucial point right at the beginning, because it is the best means that a Muslim parent can use to get what they wish for, for their child.

Before turning to other people and practical means, a Muslim parent should make regular, earnest du’as for their offspring’s marriage. They should, however, bear in mind that Allah accepts du’as at an optimum, appointed time, which might appear to us as if He is not listening to us. They should not give up these supplications, even if years pass without anything happening.

One of the best times for making du’a is during the last third of the night, an hour or so before Fajr.

Never Use Force or Coercion

Whether a family passes or fails the trial of their offspring’s delayed marriage, it depends on how they allow themselves to behave and act during it.

I’ve heard of shocking things that family members, primarily parents, have done in order to force their son or daughter to get married at a particular time, and with a certain person, that they had single-handedly chosen for them.

From forcing daughters to get ridiculously dolled up to attend parties, to treating them like unwanted guests who have long overstayed their welcome and forcing them to work at undignified jobs to bring in an income; to making them talk to the weirdest and creepiest of aging single men when proposal-seeking families came over; to publicly begging other people in front of her, with teary eyes, to “find proposals” for her,- the changed behavior of the parents of many single daughters really strains their mutual relationship, as the years go by without a betrothal, because of their desperation for finding a husband for them.

Sons also experience a different but disconcerting form of coercion. A single son is often forced to go house-hopping by his mother to “look” at girls (all the while sampling goodies on tea trolleys), the way a customer hops in and out of different stores, shops and markets in search for the perfect product that will best satisfy their needs.

His valid protests and requests are often ignored and undermined in favor of the often strict criteria his parents have pre-set for his future wife, most often based on ethnicity and physical attributes.

Many a time, the most illogical of reasons that parents provide for their unjust behavior towards their single offspring is, “Our parents also forced us to marry whom they chose for us, and we turned out alright. So we are doing the same to our children. How could that be wrong?”

Show Respect and Act with Dignity and Wisdom

What many parents and elders of Muslim societies often do not realize is that, as the years pass, their sons or daughters mature into adults who have their own opinions, preferences and wishes, which should be respected. This transition warrants a change in parenting style from that of “command and control” to “listen, advise, and guide”.

Parents should remember that, as a single person approaches or passes the age of thirty, he or she should be treated with more respect and dignity. They should not be scolded, ordered around, or talked down to, as if they were still an immature child or teenager.

Many parents, sadly, continue to treat their grown-up son or daughter the same way they treated them when the latter were an immature teenager.

All Muslims must remember that the greatness of parents’ right upon their offspring doesn’t justify their mistreatment or injustice of the latter, even if it is based on concern and love.

Update Your Thinking to Changing Times

Parents of adult singles should also realize that, nowadays, marriage is more about having the right educational degree, nationality and residential location, than about branded dinner sets and elaborate trousseaus.

Times have changed. Now, young women are more often expected to relocate to a new country, drive a car, and bring in a second income after marriage, than to intricately embroider table napkins, cook up traditional recipes, and knit sweaters.

Similarly, many new husbands are now expected to bring in much higher incomes, possess foreign citizenship, and provide a separate accommodation to their wives much earlier on in married life.

Parents should identify, accept, and adjust their mindsets to the many changes that have taken place in the how’s, do’s and don’ts of the institution of marriage since they got married 25-30 years ago.

One of them is, like it or not, that the marriages of younger people are now getting delayed until their thirties (and in the case of men, their forties) because of other goals being put first.

Hold a Mirror to Your Own Marriage

Parents should consider turning the fingers they are pointing at their supposedly ‘stubborn’ adult son or daughter who is not getting married, inwards towards their own selves, to see whether their own marriage is one that their child would want?

Are they really happily married? Do they put forward a picture of a loving, compassionate couple who respect each other? Or do they depict a picture that makes their adult child dread the prospect of getting married?

For example, many young girls might dread marriage because they do not want to “end up” living the way they see their mothers and aunts do: akin to overworked, unpaid “maids” whose financial dependence on their husbands doesn’t even allow them to take care of themselves, let alone enjoy life.

Many young men might dread marriage because all they see is their father come home in a foul mood and attempt to escape from the burden of the responsibility of providing for his wife and children, by “losing himself” in front of the television, or at recreational clubs with his friends.

Let’s face it: most marriages of elders nowadays are not the ideal scenario that the young singles nowadays would want as a vision for their own lives thirty years down the road.

The reality? Our marriages are not happy enough to be the coveted future ‘vision’ for our youth.

Conclusion: Listen to Them

In order to keep the relationship and cordial communication from crumbling just because the marriage of the singleton that the family so wants to see happen quickly is not happening yet, parents and family members should stop expressing their own views about the volatile topic and let the person in question do the talking.

Parents should remind themselves that once their offspring or sibling is married, they might be seeing much less of them than they already are, so they should cherish the time they have left together and spend it in cordially, having fun and being happy.

The singleton should remember that their parents and family members only want to see them enjoy the same family relationships that they have hitherto found so fulfilling, which came about only as a result of marriage.

They should also remember that their parents will not be around forever, looking out for them and going out of their way to help them stand on their own two feet in life.

Once these realizations hit home, mutual understanding and respect will automatically enter the picture, Insha’Allah.