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Skip ! Urooba Jamal. I started wearing the hijab a few months shy of my 13th birthday, as a commitment to my Muslim faith and dressing modestly.
It waswhen nerdy-girl-gets-a-makeover movies were at their peak. In defiance, I developed my own personal style: loud, expressive, colorful… and modest.
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I layered yellow stripes with purple polka dots and blue floral prints. When other girls wore strapless gowns to prom, I thrifted a blue full-sleeve dress and fashioned a yard of silver sequin fabric to wear as a hijab. And so it would go for 10 years. A year into university life, however, my rose-colored glasses about Islam started to change hue.
Over the years, I would go through an angry atheist phase and a feminist Muslim phase before finally, exhausted with the Atheist dating muslim girl dissonance, I settled into where I am now: an agnostic. Before my final semester of university, at 22, I decided to stop wearing the hijab.
It simply no longer held any meaning for me. And frankly, I was tired of being the face of a religion that I had so many doubts about. The first time I stepped out of the house without the hijab, I felt like everyone was staring. But it soon became obvious that without the covering, I was under the spotlight of the male gaze in a way I had never experienced before.
It was as if by taking off my head covering, a flip had been switched and men suddenly began to notice me.
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Men had flirted with me before, but very rarely. The first time it happened, I was 20 and living in Singapore.
While eating out with a group of new friends, the waiter kept passing glances at me as he went around the table. He double-checked with me — and only me — to make sure that my order was right.
I was a little bewildered by the attention. I was still practicing Islam, and therefore not even considering dating. Being perhaps annoyingly well-versed in post-colonial theory, my only thought was: Are the beauty standards in Singapore less Eurocentric than in Canada? Gone were the loose, long clothes; instead I bought dresses with plunging necklines, barely-there miniskirts, and spaghetti strap tank tops for the first time. I went on dates that turned into one-night stands.
Without even realizing it, I had dived deep into the throes of modern hookup culture. I soon ticked off a of firsts that a year earlier would have seemed unfathomable to me: drink, kiss, date, hookup…. I quickly got used to the experience of a person expressing interest in me. It was exciting, fun, empowering.
I was taking charge of my sexuality, which had long been taboo. As I moved around to different countries, hookups were some of the Atheist dating muslim girl ways I met locals. Meeting new men offered a great way to practice languages. I still have screenshots of my early, embarrassing attempts at sexting in Spanish. And I was thriving as a single, non-committal, and independent young woman.
Sometime in the last year, however, a question began nagging at me: How am I 28 and have never been in a relationship? The one time I did get close to something resembling a relationship was with someone on the other side of the world who I met on Twitter.
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Under the constraint of distanceI emotionally connected with a man for the first time. But to this day, I wonder what would have happened if we had met in person. Would we have connected, or would we have slept together on the first date, then a few times more, before eventually fading out into nothing, the anticlimactic finale of modern hookup culture? My hijab catered to the male gaze by putting the onus on how I, as a woman, covered up; my revealing clothes cater to the male gaze by giving into it.
Another factor may be my social circle. Despite their distinct cultures, races, locations, and sexualities, the easy majority of my friends are now in committed, long-term relationships. Some are even beginning to have children.
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With my constant moving, my ly large groups of friends have shrunk dramatically. Without a bustling social life, and especially during the Atheist dating muslim girl, I see the appeal of having a partner who could be my travel buddy, dinner date, and lazy-Sunday-night-in companion. I still scoff at the thought of marriage though my mom constantly pesters me about it, fulfilling the South Asian stereotype. But the idea of long-term, monogamous companionship — and a truly equal partnership — has begun to sound appealing.
In fact, just before the pandemic hit, I had made a resolve to date more seriously. The Single Files is a bi-monthly column. Each installment will feature a personal essay that explores the unique joys and challenges of being single right now.
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