This is the first time I’ve actually tried to actively seek help… Tbh I don’t really know where to start. There are quite a few things going on. But I think for now the main concerns I have is marriage. I turned 30 … and a sort of reality hit me. Most of my friends are now married and well settled. I’m not comparing my life to theirs. I spent my 20s obtaining 3 degrees so my focus was elsewhere before. Although I believe Allah swt the provider of everything I can’t help the anxiety I feel sometimes.
So the other issue is regarding a guy that I think I have fallen in love with. Bit of backstory, we started working together about 3 years ago. Initially I couldn’t stand him cos he came across as a typical arrogant Asian guy with a huge ego. However a few times I gave him a piece of my mind and his attitude towards me changed. We started to to get on really well professionally and always had a laugh at work. He is very flirty in general but I never thought these were ever directed at me cos why would he like me? In hindsight, I think I was in denial about my feelings…So I carried on with life as normal and just considered him as a colleague. Then one day I found out that he was getting married. When I heard this it felt as though my world came crashing down. I really don’t know why cos up until this point I was sure that I wasn’t in love with him. So why the shock? I cried a lot as if my heart was broken. I kept telling myself its not as though we were in a relationship or anything so why am I feeling like this. I had to keep up a front at home so no-one found out what was going on inside me. We still work together occasionally (not been at work now since COVID) and get on well like before. But for some reason I still end up thinking about him even though I don’t want to think about a married man in this way… At this point I feel very confused and don’t know what to do.– S
Firstly, I would like to thank you for trusting me and telling me about your problem. I don’t know you, but I am very proud of you for seeking help. It is often a scary and difficult first step to take. I hope you are proud of yourself for taking the initiative. It can be intimidating to talk to someone if you are not used to sharing your feelings. Secondly, yours is also my first question! This is a big milestone for me. I am not a therapist* and can’t give you professional advice, but I do hope this post will be useful nonetheless.
There are a few things going on here. It sounds like you are in a troubled period of your life. 30 is a big milestone, particularly if you belong to a more “traditional” culture or society. There are a few things going on in your post, so I have broken them down into three sections to make things a bit easier to follow.
Marriage is a big word. To some it can be triggering, to others, the thought can bring a smile. It is a word that can hold promise, love, unity and growth. But it can also evoke feelings of despair, confinement and entrapment. We are probably all familiar with the term “ball and chain”. There was a time when I would hear the word “marriage” and I would feel my heart constrict in my chest and my mouth dry up.
I can only speak here for Muslim women as that is what I am, but I think a lot of women can identify with these issues. Coming from the Middle East as well, the emphasis on age can be debilitating. I got married when I was around 27, I think my parents and grandparents had kind of given up on me already. They would keep asking me when I was getting married but the questions were less frequent the older I got. I think by Western standards, 27 is just fine but I remember someone telling me a girl needs to find someone when she is 23 or 24 so she can be married by 25.
S, I understand how scary it must be. Especially if everyone around you has gotten or is getting married. I am sure you are happy when you hear another friend is getting married but is there a secret sting somewhere deep inside? I’m not sure about you, but I was like that. When I heard another friend was engaged, I was so happy for them but deep inside I felt…something. I don’t know how to describe it, but I could feel my stomach drop. I was overjoyed for them, but I couldn’t help feeling “when is it my turn?”. Then I would feel so bad and guilty afterwards for my feelings of jealousy and inadequacy. It shouldn’t be about me, it’s about them. But this feeling isn’t unique, I know many women experience this. To be honest, I still experience it but for other reasons. We are human and imperfect and we need to acknowledge that.
Your feelings of anxiety are totally normal. You should not feel bad or feel shameful about them. Be kind to yourself and acknowledge that your feelings are human. It is hard dealing with these feelings because they won’t go away easily. As discussed, the best thing you can do to alleviate these fears and anxieties is to get professional help. The main theme of my website is seeking help. If you have the means, go to therapy. I have done it and it has helped me so much, I often regret not taking it seriously when I was younger. Therapy will not solve all your problems, but it will teach you how to cope.
If you are a believer, which you are S, I think it’s also so important to just put your faith in God. As Muslims, we believe that “Allah is the best of planners” and that our fate is written. Sometimes, it’s not enough to be told this but the reality is that it does help. If you can truly find that faith and comfort, it will make things a little easier for you. Life is not fair sometimes (don’t we know it!), but we have to trust that there is a reason for everything. As discussed in a previous post, I’ve learned to ask Allah to grant what is for good for me and not just what I want. I have had many prayers left unanswered or denied in the past, and I would spend days lamenting and crying over it. Then some years later I would realise all of a sudden that, actually, I dodged a bullet and I would have been so miserable if I did get what I had asked for. Trust in Allah’s judgement and wisdom, He will not fail you.
That said, there are people who use this aspect of our religion to shame others. “You are a Muslim, you believe in Allah’s plan, why do you still feel anxious?” or “you just need to pray more and read Quran”. You can do those things and still be anxious, depressed, scared and worried. For people with mental health issues or those who are experiencing particularly difficult times in their lives, it is not always enough to rely on faith. This is something that is so damaging to our community and I know most people will have experienced this at some point or another, “why aren’t you grateful?”. You should lean on your faith, but also supplement with other proven methods of healing. That doesn’t mean you are a bad Muslim in any way. Is it correct to ask Allah to heal your broken leg without visiting a doctor? Of course not!
One of the best Hadiths (sayings by the Prophet Muhammad, Peace Be Upon Him) I have come across is the one about “tying your camel”:
Narrated by al-Tirmidhi, the hadith outlines the story of a Bedouin man who was leaving his camel without tying it. The Prophet (PBUH) asked him “Why don’t you tie down your camel?” The Bedouin answered, “I put my trust in Allah.” The Prophet then replied, “Tie your camel first, and then put your trust in Allah.”Iman Jafri, Carlton
Islam does not say you should put your faith in Allah full stop. You have to do everything you can and also have faith. I’ve noticed people forget this very often. The point of faith is not just to sit back and let a higher power do all the work, you have to put in the work required. Those feelings of anxiety will not magically disappear if you don’t get treatment.
Another problem with this way of thinking is also what those feelings can do to a person. When I have been depressed sometimes, I can’t even find the strength to turn to God. I feel ashamed of my sins, my ungratefulness and I feel unworthy. I don’t deserve God’s mercy and love, what have I ever done to earn it? Thoughts like this can hold people back even if they are extremely devout and believing. It isn’t fair to expect people to be cured using religion alone. Sometimes, it isn’t possible to even use religion if you are not in the right headspace. Everyone’s relationship with Allah is complicated and different.
The pressure on women to get married is huge and, consciously or subconsciously, we derive a lot of our self-worth and self-esteem from our marital status. One of my friends asked me, “what is wrong with me?” and I didn’t know what to say. It was heartbreaking hearing that because there is nothing at all wrong with her. Unfortunately, chance seems to be the number one factor in the game of love. We can be accomplished, gorgeous, well-mannered and well-raised but if the right person doesn’t find their way into our lives we can still end up single.
Of course, we all want love in our lives. We’ve been raised with Disney movies, happily ever afters, the idea of “soulmates”, etc. We are social animals and need companionship. However, in this day and age, I don’t think anyone needs to get married. Women are independent now and can support themselves. They have great friendships and relationships with family and friends. I don’t think it should increase someone’s social status.
There is nothing wrong with being single. Someone I know once told me, “it’s easy for you to say because you are married”. I agree completely. It’s true, I can’t exactly identify with being single at this age. But what I do know is that it is 100% easier to be single. Being married is wonderful and I am so grateful I found my husband alhamdillah, but it is not easy. In fact, many studies show that single people are always happier than married people.
I went from a life of doing whatever I wanted whenever I wanted, to having to plan my life around someone else. No matter who you get married to, there is a loss of freedom. Marriage sounds simple enough, but actually doing it is something else. It is amazing having a companion and someone you can depend on, but you have to work to maintain the relationship. Your actions directly impact on someone else and you can’t freely make decisions anymore, you have to take someone else into consideration. Small flaws become big and hard to ignore. This is coming from someone whose husband is pretty much perfect (to me). Imagine if your husband is not “perfect”? If you are compromising a lot and you are settling?
I know many many women who are intelligent, beautiful, kind, from great families who are still single. It has become so much harder to find the right man to marry. Some of them have compromised and unfortunately do not seem happier for it. Marriage is good, but only if it is to the right person. Marrying the wrong person can be one of the worst mistakes you ever make in life.
The next part of your question, S, is about the age-old heartache of unrequited love. You have explained the situation to me, said why you think it has happened but you are confused about what to do. In your various messages to me, I think you have found the answer on your own question and know what you need to do next.
You said this man was arrogant at the start and you didn’t like him, but he warmed up to you after you challenged him and you eventually found some common ground and friendship. It sounds like you managed to turn things around in your professional relationship, but I would pay attention to his arrogant behaviour. This is not really related to your main question, but I thought it may be useful for others to delve a little deeper into personalities and what to look for in “Mr Right”.
It sounds like he had put up walls and was being standoffish because he didn’t know you. Sometimes people don’t trust others and need some time to become “themselves”. However, sometimes those walls are part of a personality. Arrogance can be a sign of potentially serious underlying issues. When people are arrogant, a lot of the time they are trying to protect their self-worth and ego. They are insecure and trying to make up for their shortcomings.
For the benefit of any single women reading this, I would be wary of this kind of behaviour. We want to believe so much that we can change people, that we can have a strong effect on them, “no one’s ever made me feel like you do”, “I’m not normally like this”, “he warmed up to me”. From my experience, give it time. People default to their “factory settings”, no matter how much they try to change. That insecurity could crop up later and cause problems in your relationship.
Insecurity and inferiority complexes are character flaws that are acceptable to certain people. Many people tolerate it (I think it is a very common issue, especially in our community and certain cultures). But consider how this will manifest in your life and how it will affect you. You will be living with this person every day. How will it affect their parenting skills in the future? Their dealings with your parents? Their response to your life goals? It’s a lot more complicated than, “oh he can be rude and arrogant sometimes, but he’s a good guy overall.”
I met a few people I thought were “different”, but with time showed their true colours. Either because of the influence of their social circles, or their inability to keep masking their real personality. We always want to be our best selves when we meet new people to make them like us (some believe the need to be liked and accepted is an evolutionary instinct because it was easier to survive in packs).
I took a psychology class once and the professor said, “It’s easy to make someone fall in love with you. Do the things they like, take them to a restaurant they like and tell them what they want to hear. Make them feel good and give them good experiences. They will fall for you.” Create only positive experiences and it is inevitable that person will like you eventually. The problem is that we usually can’t keep this up, none of us is perfect and our shortcomings will crop up sooner or later.
It is always easy to ignore someone’s flaws when you first get to know them. As said by a character in BoJack Horseman (one of my favourite shows):
“You know, it’s funny; when you look at someone through rose-colored glasses, all the red flags just look like flags.”BoJack horseman: SEASON 2, EPISODE 10
You will never meet someone that ticks all the boxes. I had a very detailed list of what I wanted in a partner when I was younger. Then I met my husband, and he didn’t tick all the boxes. But he did tick the main ones I thought were crucial in a relationship. He was Muslim (and practicing), mature, dependable, of good character, open-minded, supportive, kind, caring, intelligent, from a good family and funny. He understood from the start that I wasn’t going to be doing all the cooking and cleaning and that my career was very important to me. I couldn’t give him the same home life he had, I wanted to make sure he knew that before we got any further.
Instead of just tolerating it, he actually said he admired my ambition. It is very hard to find a man who is a good Muslim and who expects equality in a marriage. This was extremely important to me because I did not want to compromise my goals and dreams. For once in my life, I felt like I wanted to be even better than I was. I found someone that made me strive to be a better person.
Having common ground and shared values and ideals are important. It’s not enough for someone to be “nice” or “kind” or “funny”. In my opinion, there is a combination of qualities that are necessary for any good partner. Mainly, they should be of good character. More often than not, the important qualities will flow from that. What do I mean by “good character”? They should treat everyone with respect (including you!), they should be well-mannered, kind and courteous (pay attention to how they treat waiters, shop assistants or other strangers) and they should be humble. These are basic qualities every good human should have. Any less than this and I would think carefully before proceeding.
What if we find Mr Right and he isn’t available?
S, it must have been a devastating shock to find out this man was married without any warning. You mentioned in a separate message you had been away from work for studies and he had gotten married in that time. It comes as a shock because there was nothing there, right? You didn’t discuss anything romantic, so how could you feel so strongly? Unfortunately, we can’t help the people we fall in love with and are attracted to – even if they are not right or available.
I think you will find many women have experienced moments like this. You meet someone, you get along really well, there’s chemistry and they are over-friendly or pay special attention to you. Then one day you find out they don’t feel the same way at all. I’m not sure about you, but for me whenever a new and exciting opportunity comes into my life my brain starts running at 100 miles an hour with different scenarios. If it was a guy I clicked with, I would start thinking would he be a good husband? If it’s a new job posting that I am really interested in, I will start imagining myself acing the interview and joining the company. When your mind goes into this kind of overdrive but the reality is completely different, it can be a shock.
In your subsequent messages, it seemed like you had a real connection with him. I can’t tell if it was romantic on his part, but it sounded like you had a good friendship. You already grew attached and you thought something could happen. It’s not your fault and you shouldn’t feel bad about having these feelings. It might seem foolish and you might feel embarrassed, but don’t be. I know this has happened to many people (including me!) a few times. It happens to the best of us.
It is natural to keep thinking about this person even if he is married. Sometimes we are attracted to people who are wrong for us and we can’t help it. You should not feel guilty about that, but I would urge you to try to move on. It sounds like you are in a lot of pain. I promise you though, in time it will get easier. While you seem to have developed deep feelings for him, the time you spent and the relationship didn’t get very far so I think you will be able to heal quicker than you expect. You sound like a very kind and caring person with a good heart. Keep trusting in Allah and praying that he will guide and help you move on to better things.
The long and short of it is that we can’t turn off our emotions. Believe me, I have tried! I truly believe if something is meant for you, it will find its way into your life. If this man isn’t an option for you anymore, then there is a reason for that. You may never able to confirm, but you may have dodged a bullet?
The only thing you can do here is move on. You mentioned that you haven’t had another relationship, so all of this is new and challenging for you. I can understand how you feel. But I know you can get through this, be kind to yourself and give yourself some time. Therapy will be so useful to you and will help you navigate future relationships with more ease.
I just want you to know you are not alone. You are not wrong for having these feelings. We are human beings and we can’t control a lot about ourselves. But what we can do is help ourselves grow and heal. You sound like such a lovely woman and I pray that things become easier for you and you move on to better things. I hope this has been helpful to you and thank you for helping others by sending your question in.
Until next time,
*DISCLAIMER: I am not a therapist, the information and advice on this website are based on my personal experiences. I am not a licensed therapist, doctor, or other healthcare professional and the advice and information found on this blog do not replace the advice and services of therapists or other healthcare professionals.