Every year, around Christmas, my colleagues at work give me a pity-look when I tell them I won’t be celebrating the holiday. They think I’m missing out on all the “cheer” and gift giving. They don’t know that Muslims have just as much fun NOT celebrating anything over the winter break, as they do celebrating Xmas. Some of us travel to the ICNA convention in Chicago, and others jet off to Saudi for Umrah. This year, due to concerns over Covid, I had my own version of fun at home. I decided to interview single Muslim men about their dating experiences. I put out the call on Instagram, received a bunch of requests for interviews, and narrowed it down to ten eligible bachelors. I asked them a series of questions over the course of one hour, with the million dollar question being:
Why aren’t you married?
Everyone I interviewed were between the ages 27 to 39. They all had great jobs, and were pretty decent looking. About half of them were divorced. I did group sessions, and one-on-one sessions based on their availability. During the interviews I asked questions and listened. I didn’t give them any commentary when I heard something that I thought sounded ridiculous or shocking. I just took notes and held my tongue. Overall, I believe the men were honest and sincere. I really appreciated how candid some of their responses were.
I was expecting to hear the usual claims that the men are burdened with financial expectations or are judged for arbitrary things like height, but what I heard were less obvious, and more problematic reasons for singledom.
I asked them all the same set of questions. I started off with the big one “Why are you having a hard time getting married?” Then, I slide into questions about their past relationships, and their current “preferences.” When I asked “what does attraction mean to you,” they all emphasized the importance of physical attraction. Most of them said that it was number one on the list of things that attracted them to a woman. If they weren’t physically attracted to a woman at first glance, then they wouldn’t be open to a conversation with her.
This statement came as no surprise to me. Men throughout centuries, across cultures and religions, have always placed a high value on outward beauty. Yet, women are completely opposite. We seem to be more likely to give guys that aren’t physically attractive a chance because we understand the importance of other qualities like education, career, or passions. But for these men, it wasn’t something they could get past, or warm up to. Looks mattered to them.
Obviously this is contrary to what Islamic tradition and the well-known hadith about marriage: “A woman may be married for four things: her wealth, her lineage, her beauty and her religious commitment. Seek the one who is religiously-committed, may your hands be rubbed with dust (i.e., may you prosper).” al-Bukhaari (4802) and Muslim (1466).
While some of the men were currently on a break from online dating, at one point in the last year, they had all tried the apps or matrimonial websites. Everyone seemed to agree that the opportunities to meet women in-person were few and far between, and that the online space provided them with options. Lots of options.
One man, a 36 year old consultant from the Midwest said it was a “paradox of choice.” Too many options made it harder to focus on just one. At the same time, he did mention that he thought women had more matches than men. That was a sentiment echoed by another man. They believed they received fewer options than some of their single female friends because women were more selective when swiping right.
I was interested to learn about their communication styles. I specifically asked them if when they were ready to call it quits, they ghosted. A few of them denied doing so, and said it was better to be direct and state disinterest before unmatching. One said he did so only when he couldn’t find a polite way to leave, and another said he did so, but it wasn’t intentional. He said that sometimes he just forgets to respond (usually because of disinterest) and when he realizes he missed a reply, it’s too late to restart the convo and decides to let it go and move on!
*Yawn.* Not shocking. Most of them said they were looking for wives that were a few years younger or their same age. Some of them didn’t mention brackets, but one of them did say his cut off is 31 because he’s concerned about fertility issues and rushing to have children. Another one, a 33 year old dentist, was currently trying to get a woman who was barely 24 to marry him. He didn’t understand why she was so scared about marriage. He had already been married once, and was financially ready to take on the role of husband once more, but he couldn’t get her to see that marriage isn’t that big of a deal.
The whole time he was telling this story about his prospective bride, and his frustrations, I was like well, duh, she’s young, why don’t you try someone a little older!
I was surprised by how many divorcés signed up to speak with me. Maybe it was the way I found my participants (through a voluntary call on IG). I thought maybe the divorcés were reaching out more because they are having a particularly hard time due to stigma against divorce. But only one mentioned that as an issue. Overall, it seems like these men had a hard time finding love a second time because they are more thoughtful, and cautious in their selection. The attention to detail, also demonstrates that they are more serious about their search.
A few of them expressed the difficulties they had in their first marriages, lamenting about infidelity and uneven distribution of responsibilities. I asked two of them if they had gone to therapy after the divorce, and they said yes. It was a good reminder to me to ask that next time I consider a divorcé. Regardless of the reason for the divorce, going through a healing process and receiving emotional and spiritual nourishment is essential to moving on.
There were two different guys, from two different sessions, that said they liked when women showed some reciprocation and gave them “positive reinforcement.” What does this mean? I asked the same thing. Apparently, they thought some women “play games” and instead of showing them that they enjoyed a conversation or had fun on a date, they would be avoidant, or aloof. It often left them wondering “is she even interested in me?” They suggested that women would do better showing more emotion and giving some indication that they are really interested.
As I said, I didn’t give a lot of responses in the interviews. I just smiled and nodded. If I chose to respond, I would have said that women too often do all the showing of emotion. We are the ones that often start showing “too much” interest and then sometimes end up scaring the guy off because they are less sure of their feelings at the beginning stages (and even at the end). At the same time, it was a good reminder that if men and women are both open, honest, and committed to “dating-to-marry” then all one’s cards should be on the table. If there is interest there, it should be communicated, clear as day:
When asked the question of why he was still single, a 35 year old finance guy from Miami told me plain and simple: career. He had been working so hard since he graduated college to climb the ladder in the investment banking world, that he didn’t have time or mental energy for a proper marriage hunt. He said, and I quote, “There was a good chunk of my life where my career was the center of my existence.” Whoa. I had heard stories about these types of men, but I had never dated them. However, I have always wondered why highly accomplished, successful, Muslim men were still single. It makes sense that some of them prioritize careers. This one said that he was dating on and off for years, but that his relationships always were second to his career. The women involved realized that and would quickly leave, or the relationship would fall apart on it’s own. However, now he feels ready for marriage because he has gone to therapy and figured out his priorities.
Another man, a 31 year old California native, whose career took him to Asia, where he currently lives, continues to prioritize his job as he searches for a wife. He says he wants to marry an American woman, someone who understands his culture (since he’s not Asian), and so he always sets his Salams account to U.S options. However, he can’t seem to find a woman willing to drop everything and move indefinitely to Asia for his career. When I told him maybe he would compromise on a time frame to come back to the U.S, where his family lives, if he met the right woman he said “she’d have to be really really really special for me to give up a passion, a job and an opportunity.” Even for one woman who was willing to leave her family, friends and career for four to five years to allow him to pursue his career, it wasn’t good enough for him. He needed someone that had no strings attached to the U.S and was ready to go abroad indefinitely. (Looks like he needs a mail order bride!)
Even though this was an extreme case, it reminded me of how much women are expected to sacrifice and compromise for their husbands. Women are the ones who are expected to drop everything and move wherever their husbands are, without question. Why couldn’t this man have said, I need my wife to be willing to sacrifice a little in the beginning, but I am also prepared to make compromises for her and our family. Isn’t that what marriage is all about?
This phrase “toxic femininity” came up several times. I didn’t even know such a term existed. Apparently, these men (mostly the divorced ones) had encountered women who felt too empowered by feminism. They complained of women wanting a fifty-fifty split in household responsibilities while insisting that their men pay for everything. One guy, the 33 year old consultant, said that he broke it off with a woman once he heard her throw around words like “objectification” or “misogyny” one too many times. He viewed these terms as red flags and indicative of a toxic view that “all men are trash.”
It was very surprising to hear these comments, and I feel this is a subject area we need more dialogue on. Some men feel attacked when women discuss their rights from an Islamic perspective, or when they address issues they encounter with men.
There was one guy, a 39 year old from California that had never been married. He was brutally honest with me and said that his biggest enemy in the marriage hunt was himself. He only began his search seriously when he was 37. He said all the time before that he wasn’t “ready.” Now, teetering on the edge of 40, the women he meets are put off by the fact that he’s never been married. They want to know what’s “wrong with him.” He seemed like a terrific guy, he just seemed scared.
I wondered what it was about marriage that was so scary to him. Was it the responsibility? Was it the burden of future children? Or just a general fear of the unknown? I’m not sure. Maybe all of the above. I’ve been told that some men enjoy bachelorhood and it’s just a sense of complacency that keeps them single for so long.
I asked the men about chemistry. I wanted to know how they define it. I had heard on many occasions that even after a woman “checks off all the boxes”, men sometimes still don’t feel enough “chemistry” to commit. I had often wondered if maybe they are expecting to feel romantic feelings that may only develop after physical intimacy occurs. While I made it a point to keep my interviews very PG, I did get a few responses from men that indicated to me that they engage in naughty, haram behavior (i.e physical intimacy of varying levels) before marriage. One guy specifically told me “I don’t kiss and tell,” which told me everything I needed to know on that subject.
And because of the aforesaid information in #9, I was told, and I quote,
“Marriage is a nice-to-have, not a need.”
I really appreciated the guy who spoke up with this information. He opened my eyes to the fact that men who are more likely to engage in zina (fornication), are less likely to pursue marriage. A lot of the women I’ve met have been able to stay in their lane, and practice chastity as they wait to meet the man destined to be their husband. Based on my conversations, the men these days aren’t waiting and therefore are taking their sweet time to settle down.
Obviously, this revelation is heartbreaking. It’s tragic to witness people losing their religion over a desire to engage in fleeting pleasures. That being said, this information, while demoralizing, shouldn’t make any women reading this do anything other than what they’ve been doing, remaining faithful to God, and continuing their search knowing that Allah rewards those that are patient.
Now, take what you’ve read with a grain of salt. My sample size was small (ten men). I’m not writing this post making grandiose claims about ALL single Muslim men. I’m not that foolish. However, I do think there is value in some of the overlapping concerns and topics they voiced. I hope the women reading it gain some insight into how single men are encountering the dating sphere, and I hope this is just the beginning of increasing transparency between single Muslim men and women.
Writer Nailah Dean