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The Big Question

The Big Question

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By Daniella Zulkifili

When I was 22 years old, I had a vision of what I would be at 25. I would be married to my then-boyfriend, have a daughter named Annabelle, and be a superstar lawyer-mom. I’d graduate, go through pupilage, get called to the Bar and then maybe get married after 2 years or so in practice. And then we’d all live happily ever after.

But that didn’t happen. We broke up not too long after I graduated law school, and although it hurt, I’m glad we did because I realise now that that relationship was just not meant to be (don’t worry, we’re still best friends). I have since left the legal profession, and I now realise that Annabelle might not be a good name for my child because it reminds me of that creepy doll movie. And what did I think was going to happen after 25? Surely marriage and children can’t be the end game.

Except for my mother, my family is very traditional when it comes to marriage. Some of my family members have been pestering me to get married for many years. The question “so, when are you going to get married” is so old I have learnt to ignore it altogether. Apparently, my value as a woman decreases every year that I am not married. I have been referred to as “tak laku” (not valuable) and I have been told that “muka macam ni, tak ada siapa nak kat kau” (with a face like this, no one would want you). My mother on the other hand has always been supportive of me, and believes that I should pursue my dreams (as long as it’s not radically unreasonable) and get married only when I am ready to.

The “pressure” doesn’t just come from the family. I have been to numerous weddings where I would be asked “kau datang dengan siapa?” (who did you come here with?) to which I reply that I’m on my own. “Kesiannya…” (what a pity), was this person’s comment. Excuse me, there is nothing pitiful about going to weddings alone. I choose to be on my own.

Despite all of this however, I’d be lying if I said I don’t somehow feel left out. I have always seen myself as a competitive person, and this is that one race I seem to be losing in. I have sometimes questioned if I am missing out on something, but after years of going through a quarter-life crisis trying to figure out my career path I realise that priorities can change. My priority now is my career. Now that is a race I cannot lose.

I’m now in my late 20s, and while there are some who say that I’m still young, many, if not most my friends from school and university are married, some with children. I’m happy for them and think it’s great that you know you are ready for all of that, but I’m not. I don’t know if I will ever be ready and I’m all right with that. In fact, I’m glad that I didn’t get married as I had planned 6 years ago because I would have regretted it so, so much. I wouldn’t have been where I am, seen what I’ve seen, experienced what I’ve experienced if I were married.

I’m thankful that when I had to quit my job, I only had to support one person – myself. I am able to take on a job that requires a lot of travel and long hours because I don’t have anyone at home. I’m glad that I don’t have to worry about my spouse should I choose to uproot and move to another country. In addition, I am certain that I am not fit to be a mother, and as long as I feel that, I don’t think it’s a good idea to want to have a child simply because everyone else does. I am not going to get married solely to cross it off a bucket list. In fact, it’s not even on my list.

Is it necessary to get married? The answer is yes and no, depending on who you are and what you want. For some people living in the Malaysian context, the answer is yes because the current law in Malaysia does not recognise intimate partners who are not married, so registering your union is important for you to earn certain rights and benefits such as those relating to inheritance, property sharing and income tax. The situation is also different where a person is legally considered as a Muslim, as co-habiting with an intimate partner outside of marriage is an offence under the syariah enactments.

For some other people, the answer would be no as marriage does not guarantee eternal commitment – one of the things I learned from conducting divorce cases. At best, marriage is a way to formalise a relationship in order to gain certain legal benefits. And then there are other people who can’t get married. Some have financial restraints, some have legality issues (eg. same-sex marriage is impossible) while others have other personal issues.

At the end of the day, an intimate relationship, whether within a marriage or not, requires the same ingredients to work: love, friendship, acceptance, patience, tolerance, etc. We have to understand that not everyone wants to get married, and if they do, the question of when they want to get married is really up to them.

Intimate relationships are, well, intimate, and very, very personal. Pressuring someone to get married is not helpful if you don’t understand the people who are in the relationship, and the circumstances within that relationship. We also have to accept that some people choose to be single. And there is nothing wrong or “kesian” about that.

So, when am I getting married? It’s none of your business, really.

Daniella Zulkifili is a prominent women and children’s rights activist in Malaysia. She is currently the Treasurer of the Association of Women Lawyers (AWL) and is AWL’s representative to the Reproductive Rights Advocacy Alliance Malaysia (RRAAM). She is passionate about gender equality, and has been an active member of the Gender Equality Initiative 2015 steering committee in organizing events to raise awareness among university students on the issue. A former lawyer, Daniella has represented women and children in respect of child sexual abuse and domestic violence matters. She spends her free time reading up on Egyptology and practising her French.

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