By writer and blogger Sejal Sehmi of www.sejalsehmi.com
“Don’t worry Sej, we’ve still got our mum’s 40th banner ready for you!” Yes this was my 19-year-old cousin’s way of congratulating me on moving into what is often known as the “wrong side” of the 30’s. Of course the zimmer frame and grandma remarks are all in jest, as by the end of my 37th birthday celebrations, my cousins and I (our ages ranging from 18-37), are in high spirits discovering the joys of dubsmash.! (whilst others discovered the pains of a hangover the next morning!)
Birthdays, for me personally, have a weird way of elevating different emotions. Where there is the excitement and buzz of celebration and merriment, the silent reminder of the not-so-slow ageing process can just as equally dampen that joy. Now don’t get me wrong, you’re not reading the diary of Kingston’s answer to Bridget Jones, (however Mr Darcy’s entry at this point would very much be welcomed!), but society’s obsession surrounding the sudden realisation of a woman’s age is never ending.
Culturally, I’ve always appreciated that the generation of women before me, and even my mum, were expected to conform to social norms. Education and financial independence for women from similar ethnic backgrounds in their home countries became more accepted in later generations, but marriage followed by children (ALWAYS in that order), was and still is deemed the preferred, no, I mean, the expected life goals wherever you reside, at the right “age” of course. And for me, it’s no different; even when trying to blow the candle on my cake, I swear I could still picture my aunt’s birthday message on my Facebook timeline “Happy Birthday, now go and get a good husband!”. (#brownskinissues)
As much as I admit to being a feminist and following my I-live-my-life-my-way ethos, being raised within a diverse, cultural, warm and loving family environment is something I pride myself on, and see myself continue to be a part of. So if I’m yet to cross paths with “Mr Right”, do I continue to remain in anxiety whilst I anticipate if “The Chosen One’s arrival is upon us to come and save me from my bad run of luck!?” (Wise words of an astrologer; and here’s me thinking it’s 2015!)
Unfortunately, it seems that whilst I may not be crying myself to sleep over my unmarried status, many choose to mourn my apparent bad luck, including other girls of my age and background. A few weeks back, I met a newly married friend of mine for dinner, and I was eager to share the details of my new home that I had been saving up for. She introduced me to another newly-wed friend of hers, whom I then discovered would be living in my new neighbourhood. “So are you moving with your family/husband/boyfriend?”, she innocently asked. “Err, nope just me..!”, I say. The oh-so-familiar head tilt follows with a sad and almost apologetic tone, “Ah so you don’t want to settle down then..”, she asks.. I didn’t have the heart to say that I’m just unmarried love, not dying!!
The word settled to me is unsettling in itself because yes I choose not to just settle for any one particular thing or person, I choose to make the decisions that will shape my future, which includes who I choose to remain committed to. I may be the first on the dance floor at the average Big Fat Indian wedding, but not all of life’s problems are resolved by the magic of marriage, as reflected in the increasing number of divorces that I have seen within South Asian marriages in the UK.
A few months back, I went for a yoga retreat in Ibiza (yes it’s not just party land!). This certainly was not an attempt at a New Age find yourself tactic, just some time out for myself, whilst I tried to top up my tan in the sun! It was refreshing to meet like-minded women, and on the surface they seemed so confident, independent and secure. Some were in medicine, others were businesswomen, yet they were all faced with society’s stigmas, mainly that without a man’s presence by a certain age, their intentions were questionable.
One of the girls in our group, who had recently taken the brave step in leaving an unhappy marriage, attended a party, where she happened to be one of the very few single women. “The minute your age and single status becomes public at such an event, women like me are looked at with suspicion.”, she says. Forget what she had achieved since moving back to her hometown alone, a single 40-year-old woman at a predominately couples’ party raised plenty of eyebrows and simply fuelled gossip for the night.
Women are often prone to getting caught in an emotional spiral of what they desire vs the guilt of what they should be doing to satisfy others. “Your parents must want grandchildren by now..!” I often hear… Well of course they do, and I want that for them and myself; but with the right person and in the right relationship! Fortunately, I know, that with my parents, everything else I have achieved doesn’t go silently unnoticed.
The sympathetic head tilts in not reaching certain goal posts may be out of good intentions but can be equally as patronising. Contrary to people’s beliefs, not all women of my age are walking around fashioning a sandwich board that says “Stay away!” in front of every guy they meet or are introduced to! As we get older (and slightly more mature! She says!), our tolerance levels with relationship debacles becomes somewhat heightened and we learn to just move on.
Human nature is strange; our materialistic desires are never fulfilled and we make our lives complex by adding the need for society respect and acceptance at different levels. Where does our need to love ourselves just as we are fit in, I often wonder? Why judge if an individual desires something that is right for them?
So next time someone wants to ask me, “What are you doing about your future Sej? When will you settle down?”, my answer is simple. I’m doing what I should be doing, loving who and what I have now; my family, friends and home. Because if I can’t absorb what I have now, how can I ever move ahead? So on that note, thank you for the birthday wishes, and now let me eat my cake!
This article first appeared on www.sejalsehmi.com