“When are you getting married?” or, Why We Need Married Heroines

While I was East Coasting it recently, the 10-year-old daughter of one of my friends dashed through the door of my hotel room and flipped herself onto the bed. “Where have you BEEN?”

Everywhere. The answer was everywhere. But seeing as I don’t live anywhere near her, it was a peculiar question. I ran my fingers through the hair she’d spilt over the comforter. “In space, darling,” I nearly sang.

“No really!” she insisted, pushing against me to sit up. “You never visit.”

“I’m visiting now.”

“No, only because you have work to do, so you’re not really visiting,” she added, “and you never pick up the phone—”

At this I blushed a little. Guilty as charged.

“I wish I could travel places. I wish I could visit my friends everywhere. And wear perfume. And lipstick. And bring presents,”—she hugged the gift I’d given her—“and have roses in my room and a beautiful calm voice and fly away and make everyone miss me.”

Struck with a combination of shock and protest, I suddenly realized how she saw me. I watched her, remembering what it was like to be 10—frustrated, imprisoned, full of desires I could not name.

“I miss you,” I said gently.

“I’m not really anyone to you, though, am I?”

Ow, kid. 

“Is something wrong, love?”

“I can’t explain it.” She asked suddenly, “When are you getting married?”

“Why would I get married? You’re the love of my life,” I cooed.

“What if you get married and you disappear?”

“I wouldn’t I’d still come—”

“No, I mean what if you get married and you stop wearing dresses like that,” she patted my thigh, just above where the form-fitting black dress ended, “and wearing perfume and playing music?”

“Why would I stop doing any of those things?” I asked.

“Because married women are boring.”

She didn’t know it, but she’d touched on a concern of mine. Not that I would ever become boring (unless I’m boring now, because I am certain I will be exactly the same) but that somehow my life would be less significant, of less importance, or potential impact and promise, that I would mean less, cease to be the heroine of any novel. After all, what novel doesn’t dispose of its heroine after her marriage?

“What if my husband is kidnapped?” I asked.

“Well, that would be highly extraordinary,” she remarked doubtfully.

“What if I think he’s dead because I saw him fall into a river, but really he was pushed, and the river is an entrance to another dimension opened by people like him, who can manipulate space, and have locked him there in order to merge together all existing universes and cause chaos for humankind?”

I was roughly reciting off a manuscript written by one of my classmates, the only writer I know to make a married woman in her early 20s the main character of her novel. Until I’d read the manuscript I hadn’t realized I needed it. It wasn’t just that it was a young married woman—it was that it was a novel written for young adults. It was a young married woman whose biggest issue wasn’t her baking contest or her husband’s infidelity or the mysterious murder of her neighbors like some cheap soap opera. It was a woman who travelled dimensions to rescue her husband and thought everything was ridiculous.

“Married women aren’t like that,” she said, though sounding uncertain of herself. “But… you… can be like that. I see it.” She reached out and moved a dangly earring I was wearing, as though to inspect it for otherworld-suitability.

“Then there’s nothing to worry about,” I said in a soothing tone. “Would you like some tea?”

“Yes! Mom never lets me drink tea!”

“Is that so? Maybe I shouldn’t…”

“No! Please!

“Okay.”

As I ripped open tea bags, she jumped off the bed. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

“I will never have a boyfriend. I don’t use that word.”

“Then what word do you use? How should I ask?”

“Ask me if I’m in love.”

“Are you in love?”

“I’m in love with everything,” I announced.

She sighed, evidently unsatisfied. “No, I mean really. You never answer my questions.”

“I answer your questions all the time! Just yesterday you called and asked what’s on the other side of space and I spent half an hour answering your question. I love your questions.”

“You don’t answer them when they’re about you.” She moved to a chair and dangled her legs. “We had sex ed in class today.”

“Oh? I forgot you skipped a grade.” I poured hot water.

“Can I ask you a really really personal question? Like really personal.”

“You’ve been off to a good start, haven’t you?” I teased.

She swallowed a mouthful of air. “Have you lost your virginity?”

“No. And I don’t use that word either.”

“What do you say then?”

“Sexual debut?” and when she giggled I turned to her with a look. “Really?” Although, I wasn’t sure about the term myself.

“I’m trying not to giggle,” she said, attempting to straighten her face.

“No, that’s okay,” I flipped a section of hair over my shoulder decidedly. “Do what you want.”

“I guess we’re not supposed to until we’re married right?”

“Be careful, it’s hot.”

Right?” she pressed.

“Certainly, if that’s what you believe.”

“I don’t know what I believe. Just what people say I believe.”

“Well I’m glad you can recognize that. One day you’ll decide if you believe it.”

“Do you believe it?”

“Whether or not that’s an accurate interpretation of Islam doesn’t make much of a difference to me in terms of how I live.”

“You always do whatever you want.” Her voice sounded distant. “I hope I don’t disappear after I’m married.”

“Now listen to me.” I was done. “This is important. Your value is not dependent on whether you are still available to other men. Do you understand? You don’t just disappear because you’ve got a ring on your finger.” I was suddenly fuming, remembering a particularly horrendous episode of How I Met Your Mother. And Scrubs. And every comedy ever that tried pulling the same running gag in which a woman literally vanishes off screen as she slips on her ring. “Your availability is not something you contribute to society. It is not something that makes you important, or valuable, or a person—it’s not something anyone should even think to care about. You are not a commodity to lose all value when you’re ‘off the market.’ Whether you are available to men is absolutely and despicably meaningless. Only the worst of people think otherwise. Do you understand?”

Well, do you?

33 thoughts on ““When are you getting married?” or, Why We Need Married Heroines

  1. Narjis

    I love this. I can’t think of a single book I’ve read where the heroine is married. Thank you for saying so many of the things I think about but never can manage to say. Someone has to say it, and I’m so glad it’s you.
    And I’m so glad you’re back!

    Like

    1. Flowery Hedgehog

      In Lois McMaster Bujold’s Sharing Knife series, the lead couple gets married in the first book, then go on to have three more books worth of epic adventures in which the happily married heroine is PHENOMENAL. :D

      Like

  2. Redda

    Your writing is absolutely beautiful. A married heroine is a notion I had not thought about before, surprisingly, even though it is evident in a multitude of tv shows these days that once their married the story is over and or centered around the “house” life. Thank you thank you thank you Nahida! I have, seriously, missed your writings <3

    Like

  3. ninjanurse

    Margaret Atwood wrote a novel, The Robber Bride, about how a ruthless woman breaks up marriages and relationships, and she just published an e-short I Dream of Zenia With the Bright Red Teeth that I like as much as the novel.

    Like

  4. AngeliaSparrow

    I don’t write many heroines, but when i do, if they marry, they keep having adventures–now more fun with someone to watch their backs!

    I need to write the DJ book where she is handfasted. She tells her cousin it’s like probationary marriage, and he asks who has to wear the ankle bracelet.

    And I adore your young friend!

    Like

  5. Ametra

    I want to read this book. I needed this…I need to know this years ago. But now should I every be asked I will know what to say and how to say it. Thank you and tell your young friend thank you as well.

    Like

    1. Thank you! I am hoping we all soon get to read this book. It’s her thesis (MFA in Creative Writing) so she’s going to have to finish it, and I hope it’s immediately snatched up by a publisher! =)

      Like

  6. Pingback: Monday Link Encyclopedia and Self-Promotion | Clarissa's Blog

  7. Ibtisam

    This is a lovely, little story, Nahida. Thank you for sharing it. I particular liked how you prefer to say, “sexual debut”. Far more appropriate to losing something, I think.

    Like

  8. Leila

    Love your little friend. I’m surprised she didn’t ask you if dating was allowed too! I remember in Islamic school. I said out loud dating is haraam (i was 5 or so) and I was SO surprised when the teacher corrected me!

    Do you date? Do you have any funny stories about bad dates / dates where the chaperon makes it awkward? little off topic I know lol

    Like

    1. Salaam Leila.

      I don’t date chaperoned, and I wouldn’t date someone who felt it was necessary. I think I would be a little alarmed, in fact, that he couldn’t trust himself to see me unsupervised. Either way, I doubt our values would be compatible.

      Alas, I haven’t been on any particularly awful dates, so I’ve no hilarious stories to tell. I am quietly amused by some of my friends’ ability to tell laughter-inducing tales about dates gone wrong, but since I tend to not date men I couldn’t see myself being very serious about, I will never seize such an opportunity to entertain my girlfriends. I could, if anyone insisted, recount instances of perfectly decent men who had just happened to … total fail.

      There was a time when I went out with someone who knew, because we had had a lengthy discussion about it, that I ate vegetarian, which I don’t any longer. As I’m sure everyone can predict, we ended up at a place where (non-halaal) meat was incorporated into every item on the menu. When he told me where we were going, I hadn’t commented. I have an almost scientific inclination in wanting to see how bad things can get, and anyway I figured if he hadn’t cared enough to listen before–well, you know. When I ordered a side of salad (mind you, I almost never order salad) and asked that it be converted to the main course, he made some light comment about how women always order salad, and of course it rubbed me the wrong way. Back then I didn’t know why, but I could recognize when something was off, an uncanny gift I am happy to say I still possess. I bit my snarky tongue (“Especially vegetarian women,”) and only smiled at him politely. Because I was not going to see him again, I’d decided to be kind.

      He was surprised and disappointed when there wasn’t a second date. I assured him it was only because I am unusually hard to hold on to and that I hoped he had better luck with someone else. I didn’t tell him the exact points it had gone wrong; he was mostly nice, if not for that lapse in consideration, and I didn’t want him to really beat himself up over it.

      Like

    2. Funny; I was raised to believe that dating was a no-go!

      That said, I’m still happy that I never dated as a teenager, because the boys who expressed an interest in me throughout that period were extreme bullies. I still have horror stories about what they put me through…

      Like

      1. I was raised to believe the same. I never dated before graduating high school, and I wasn’t much interested in dating anyway. At all. I was put off by nearly every invitation.

        Sorry to hear about your experiences! o.o

        Like

  9. A Guy

    I have an almost scientific inclination in wanting to see how bad things can get

    Sorry, but you sound like you LOOK for things to go wrong. You think you can get away with this, but one day you’ll stop being attractive. Then they won’t put up with it.

    Men want a woman who doesn’t look for reasons to end a relationship.

    Like

  10. A Guy

    Unattractive women are not confident enough to whore themselves out on their website banners. I say from her lips she’s a 9 at least. Too bad she’ll also only end up with 9 cats.

    Like

  11. Farah Abshire

    Your website is what I’ve wanted and needed so much in my life.

    As a seventeen-year-old questioning (but loving) her religion and its trickier-to-find feminist aspects, this site has helped me a great load to love my self, my femininity and my faith. I wish I could have found this site or maybe met you or someone of the like mind a whole lot earlier in life.

    I hadn’t even noticed the lack of married heroine and wow, that speaks volumes. We take it in a stride and just go with it when we should be more like you and question the magical disappearing acts of The Married Women. I hope that when I allow someone to be my permanent life buddy, that I don’t become what society hopes for, and turn into a secondary character in both his life in mine. Instead, I hope we both gallivant across this great big world of ours taking turns on who gets to go in the pyramid first or be the first up the mountain and maybe, somehow end up with a happy ending.

    I love how you use sexual debut instead of virginity because, despite what patriarchy tries to make truth, being a virgin or not does nothing for your personality and you know, what makes you – YOU. So when you lose this sparkly, mystic, heaven-sent, glowing orb that somehow makes you a more and a better woman, you turn into a old, useless or ‘slutty’ (don’t even get me started on slut-shaming) woman no one wants to touch with a ten-foot bargepole.

    ARG.

    By the way, incredibly smart young girl. All I ever paid attention to at that age was the Powerpuff Girls and Sailor Moon.

    (WOWOWOW, tangent much. Goodness, I’m sorry for the essay!)

    Like

  12. Reblogged this on KeepItDeen and commented:
    I really did like this article a lot because it is true that a woman’s worth is not dependent upon her availability to men. She is and should be considered a whole person, no matter what.

    Like

  13. rkiajfir

    Salaam Nahida.

    I don’t know if you’ll ever see this comment, but I wanted to tell you I discovered your blog today and it really resounded with me. It is so reassuring to know that other people think about the same kind of things as me and find the same things difficult to swallow.

    Sorry to see that you’ve stopped writing and also sorry to see that the comments section seems to attract a lot of idiots bent on hate. Funny how they don’t pick on white men and tell them how unattractive they’re going to be later on in life, hmm? But thank you for this article, I really enjoyed it and I completely agree with everything you’ve said, plus it makes me feel less of a freak for caring about these things.

    Rukaya

    Like

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