I turned 39 on November 2020. And to begin to part ways with the third decade of my life with grace, I decided to write an article on my ideas of marriage and being 30s and single.
When I was 30, I dreaded the possibility of family and relatives forcing me to get married right away. I even vocalized my objection through an email from a cousin – which I forwarded to Dad. I know it was bold, but I’d been afraid. I’d had the same argument with Mom since my early 20s about this.
To my surprise, Dad responded to my email by apologizing. He reasoned that all parents only wanted the best for their children. Unfortunately, sometimes they forget to ask what their children really want. The subject got dropped and, thankfully, my parents had stopped pushing me regarding marriage.
When I was 31, an old male colleague (who was younger but already married) at work patronized me with this statement: “You may feel it’s okay for you to lead an unmarried life now, but I bet you’ll start worrying when you turn 32.” I disliked his smugness, because it sounded as if he really expected me to feel miserable for being single. Soon after, I learned that he was complaining a lot about his own life on social media.
Also, my then male employer told me about his younger sister. She’d gotten berated by relatives when she was still 35 until she cried. They scolded her for rejecting a suitor they’d picked for her:
“You’re supposed to be grateful. Take a look at yourself and remember your age.”
Furious with such an insult, my boss flew to his hometown one weekend to defend his sister. Later he told me not to worry too much about marriage. All happened in God’s time, according to him. His sister eventually got married at 37.
When I was 32, a distant cousin had the nerves to ask me when I’d be getting married. When I shrugged (since I couldn’t supply any satisfying answers for her), she gestured at my then wheelchair-bound Dad, who’d been quiet throughout the family gathering because of stroke. She blurted out mercilessly: “Don’t you pity your father?”
What was that supposed to mean? I thought angrily. Another distant relative told me how I should’ve been more like my older sister: thinner, more feminine, and perhaps less critical – so that I could find a husband more easily. I was furious with her too, because I hate it when women pin other women against each other like that. It’s not fair; it’s downright rude.
When I was 33, Dad passed away. Despite the grief, I silently dreaded any possible, nasty comment like: “Too bad he never had the chance to see you get married.” Thankfully, nobody said it. Two months after that, I moved out of my family’s home and started living on my own. I figured it would be a learning experience to be more independent, before I’d consider settling down someday.
When I was 34, my younger brother got married. I understood why he was crying during our Langkahan* procession. He was still worried about me, even after I told him I had no problem with him tying the knot before me. It was his time and I just wanted him to be happy. I didn’t even care that another relative teased me about being “over passed” by my younger sibling in terms of getting married. I simply told them off, half-jokingly, that I’d never compared that to an F1 race.
When I was 35, the idea of marriage didn’t come to my mind at all. I was relatively happy with my life. I focused more on my career and my social life. I had like-minded friends I could often hang out with.
When I was 36, I sank to the lowest point of my life. My career digressed, so did my social life. At that moment, I met a foreign man online via a poetry group. We’d gotten close and I simply let my guard down. I’d been lonely, feeling mostly isolated.
At first, I hesitated about starting a relationship with a man I’d never met before. I asked friends around. Some warned me to be careful, others suggested that I gave it a shot. After all, I’d heard success stories from some friends. Unbeknownst to me, he would eventually lead me to a further downfall.
When I was 37, I was severely depressed and nearly suicidal. The man who had said he wanted to spend the rest of his life with me turned out to be a serial cheater and a monster inside. It was much too painful to reveal the details, but I suspect Mum sensed something was up with me. She helped pay for my trip overseas to meet my brotherly best friend and two other best buddies. That was the therapy I needed, although the three of them agreed that I still needed further help.
I remember crying my eyes out one night in the arms of my other friends at an open karaoke night, hours after I’d sung a happy song on stage. A ballad was played and I suddenly thought of him.
When I was 38, I started picking myself up again. My career improved and I had lots of support from good friends. I started writing again. Another good news: the monster who was once my love was imprisoned for his crimes. It turned out that he was also a sex predator.
Looking back, I know that my life wasn’t always what I had planned it to be. I’m heading 40, but, surprisingly, that doesn’t scare me. I still believe in love and marriage, but I’ve never treated it like a “do-or-die” competition. In life, anything can still happen – but you must always work on your own happiness.
*Langkahan: an old Javanese ritual where a younger sibling must ask their older, single sibling(s)’ permission to allow them to get married first. In some cases, they’re required to fulfill the older sibling(s)’ wishes or special requests. (For the record, I didn’t ask my brother anything that day!)