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Onely Overseas: On the Things We (Americans) Take for Granted September 18, 2011

Posted by Onely in Food for Thought, single and happy.
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I’ve been in Beirut for more than a week now, and here my marital/relationship status is of utmost importance.

Interested strangers include: The plumber; the neighbors on the fourth floor of my building; all taxi drivers; the life insurance company; my employer; and the shirtless guy on the Corniche who stopped me and my dog for a brief conversation.

And, if I happen to get pregnant, I’d better have already registered my marriage with the health insurance providers because otherwise I’m not covered.

To the plumber, my employers, one of the taxi drivers, and my neighbors, I told the truth (I am not married, have no children); to one taxi driver I lied for inexplicable reasons – blame it on the jetlag? – (In’shallah, I hope to be married and have children someday); and I also lied to the shirtless guy (I have an American fiancée).

All of the inquiries have taken me by surprise, and my various (sometimes embarrassing) responses reflect my desire to be left alone. But my surprise, and my uncertainty about how to respond, underline just how much I have taken for granted as a single American woman writing about “being Onely” from an American perspective. I am not Lebanese and cannot claim any real expertise on what it might be like to be an unmarried woman here (though at least one of our readers has already shared some valuable insight in this regard), but even as an outsider who’s only been here a short while, it’s clear that cultural pressures are much stronger and less easy to negotiate than in the U.S.

I am sure I will be fine as an unmarried American woman living alone in Beirut. But I am also certain that the inquiries will not stop, and the longer I live here alone – especially if I don’t end up with a boyfriend or express an interest in getting married – the more of a curiosity I will be to some.

At the same time, I look forward to the moments when my superficial impressions of this country and this culture are disrupted – such as when I told my neighbors (who have a recently divorced daughter) that I’d never been married, and the man replied, “It’s better that way.”

— Lisa

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