The specter of aging that haunts me in my mid-twenties
May 31, 2023
Yesterday, I visited my neighbor, a young woman in her twenties—one year older than me—and a mother of three.
After welcoming my mother, sister, and me into her home, I was shocked to hear her say to my mom, “May God help Wafa overcome her complex!”
To her, my ‘complex’ is my unwillingness to get married. It is considered detestable and elicits pity from the rest of society simply because I am in my mid-twenties, unmarried, and not a mother.
I felt suffocated by her words, and I was also bored because it wasn’t the first time I had heard such comments. I face this situation repeatedly, to the point where those around me perceive me as a person with many issues just because I haven’t found a suitable partner for marriage or because I am not interested in marriage, which is my current belief.
As a woman in a rather close-minded society, I suffer greatly. I struggle to learn, fight for the freedom to leave the house alone, and strive to have personal space or even the opportunity to be alone in any corner of our house without facing criticism.
Since graduating from university, I have longed for a normal life where I can be free from the constraints, challenges, and limited rights imposed upon me. I yearn to escape the days when I am unable to enjoy a simple cup of coffee with a friend or make a decision without seeking permission from a male family member. In the society I live in, a woman going out alone without a man is not even considered an option, let alone other rights such as independence and the freedom to dress as I please.
I fight one battle after another and claim one right after another, all in strict and harsh conditions. Progress is slow, but I patiently await each step in my quest for freedom. However, nothing comes easily, and sometimes I fear that nothing will come at all. The signals remain conflicting and confusing, and years of my life pass by while I await the next step, which I sometimes fear will never come. I worry that my days will end before I can reach my aspirations.
In my mind, conflicting questions exhaust me. Will I live the life I want? Will I be free? Will I achieve independence? How much will it cost me? Will I attain freedom when it’s too late, or before? Will I become the person I aspire to be before or after turning forty? Will I experience the joys of freedom as a forty-year-old woman? Will I be accepted by society as a forty-year-old woman who is unmarried and childless, or will I face rejection because I chose freedom over marriage and motherhood?
So many questions, yet no answers have surfaced. Perhaps I will continue on my journey of struggle and eventually attain what I desire, even if it means reaching my goal feeling exhausted. Or perhaps confusion will overwhelm me, leaving me trapped in frustration and anxiety about the years I’ve wasted.
I ponder how my current life passes in a state of boredom and stagnation, while my youthful days, which are supposed to be the most vibrant, are consumed by exhausting routines. Will anyone or anything compensate me for these lost moments? A life devoid of friends, travel, and accomplishments… lacking any true fulfillment that satisfies me.
Will I follow in the footsteps of my friends who succumbed to societal expectations and married without love, merely to appease others?
Or will I end up like other girls who obtained the opportunities they desired, only to lose their passion and desire along the way?
I fear aging because I am changing, and my capacity to fight diminishes with each passing year. I am currently in my mid-twenties, but in five years, I will likely be less vibrant, energetic, and rebellious. Perhaps the slow pace of change in my life leaves me drained and unable to persist. The girl who once defied societal norms and boldly said no, who rebelled against numerous restrictions, now finds it challenging to fight constantly, especially considering the mental exhaustion that arises from these internal conflicts.
I don’t understand how time has passed so quickly, and why I find myself asking these questions instead of embracing my youth, with its radiant skin and slender body. Yet, I live in a society that alarms me with warnings that in less than three years, I will be an undesirable thirty-year-old woman, with little chance of marriage, and the world will judge me based on missed opportunities. Perhaps I will find no path and remain stuck in the middle… I am neither the free-spirited girl living life in a city that reflects her, nor the traditional mother raising children as society desires.
If I were in a different society that respected me more as a human being, that valued a woman’s decisions and desires in all aspects, I wouldn’t feel this way. Five years have elapsed since my university graduation, during which I focused on my career and knew what I wanted and how to achieve it. Simultaneously, there were desperate attempts to break free from my restrictive environment.
I embarked on fierce battles and traveled to Cairo, taking steps on the arduous ladder of life and freedom. I explored different provinces in Egypt and left the country for the first time, which transformed my beliefs and ideas, revealing something worth fighting for.
Beautiful countries and communities, open-minded individuals, more humanity and less subjugation of women, and cities free from harassment and violence. I envision myself and contemplate what I would lose if I were the girl society desires, a married woman and a mother to several children.
I fear aging, not because of solitude, wrinkles, and old age, but because I am afraid that I won’t live a life that reflects who I truly am. I yearn to go out, engage in sports, and go camping with my friends. I dread the thought of dying without having truly lived and experienced the vibrancy of life. Yet, even enjoying my present life seems beyond my capabilities.
I didn’t pursue a major I love, and I didn’t work in a field I am passionate about until I fought for it. Will I find myself forced to fight again, this time against marrying a man I don’t love, just as I was compelled to become a different woman who doesn’t resemble my true self? Isn’t all this fighting and struggling for basic and natural rights enough? My soul is exhausted and weary from the long journey, which may ultimately prove futile.
These questions haunt me incessantly whenever I witness another woman achieve a remarkable feat. I mutter to myself, “I could have done the same.” Yet, when I attempt to do so and realize the difficulty of these accomplishments, I pity myself for the next step. I continue to dream, worry, and mourn the wasted years of my life and my twenties, which I largely spent confined within a framework that diminishes my worth to mere procreation, alongside a brother who believes that my entire life, no matter how high I rise, will never surpass his because he is a man and I am a woman.
I am a woman who doesn’t fit in, who doesn’t resemble the place she resides in, and everything around me urges me to leave, yet it is not an easy task. I rise from my turmoil to convey to the world how difficult it is to be an ambitious Arab woman who loves life!
Written by Wafa Khairy.