As I thought of this article, many of the issues I have faced as a single Hmong woman in her mid-twenties came to mind. Should I discuss the functional reasons why marriage is so important in the Hmong culture, especially for women? Or do I talk about the lack of eligible, older Hmong men? Better yet, should I complain about the attempts by my relatives to find me a good husband as if it were an unfortunate circumstance that I was single instead of a conscious choice? Thinking it over, though, I decided that all those questions boiled down to one fundamental truth the Hmong community is still trying to learn how to treat the increasing number of Hmong women who, like me, are making the choice to stay single in their mid-twenties.
Today, single Hmong women in their mid-twenties are living on their own, sometimes in different cities, earning their own income, and making decisions independent of both their parents and clans. However, in a community where marriage defines the moment an individual becomes an adult, these successes still have not allowed them to be treated or perceived as adults by the family and clan. Furthermore, in a culture where a womans role continues to be defined by the dominant male in her life either her father or her husband the independence of Hmong women in their mid-twenties has led to a displacement of traditional roles.
My sister coined the term Christmas Tree Age when someone told her that in order to be able to find a good husband, a Hmong woman needed to be no older than twenty-five years old. Just like a Christmas Tree which is discarded after the 25th of December, the Hmong community seems to disregard women older than twenty-five as in-eligible marriage material.
At twenty-five years of age, Ive attained many of the goals I set for myself as a young girl, starting a successful career in Corporate America, gaining financial freedom and traveling the globe. Yet, to many of my relatives, it seems my life is still lacking the most critical ingredient a husband. While in college, my single status seemed more acceptable. However, as I have continued to focus on my career instead of a husband and as I have reached the magic twenty-five, the choice to remain single has become an increasing concern for my family. Their comments have sometimes been subtle and other times overt, sometimes mentioning available young men they have come across and other times joking about expectations from my yet-unknown husband. Occasionally, their comments are outright statements about how I should stop waiting and marry as soon as possible.
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I must admit that there are moments when I, too, am concerned about my prospects for a good husband. After all, I have seen numerous friends marry, have children and lead fulfilling lives. I have had relatives caution me against waiting too long and I understand that even though I am surrounded by the American culture and ideas, I am still Hmong. I was raised, as are all Hmong girls, knowing that marriage is a part of my future. With the pressure from my family and clan, it would be easy to believe that I am letting any opportunities for a good marriage past me by. But I know I am not.
In those moments when I am concerned about my state of single-hood, I am calmed by some key things. First, I know what I want, not just in a husband but also the type of life I want to lead. I know that Im not just looking for a husband, but Im looking for a partner in life, either within or outside of the community, who is as willing to be as committed to my goals as I am to his. Im comforted by the fact that I am not alone. Today, there are more and more Hmong women who are making the decision to stay single through their mid-twenties to do other great things with their lives. Simply knowing that they, too, continue to pursue the goals they have set for themselves also gives me the strength to know that, although my decisions are different from most women in our community, they are not extraordinary. Finally, I am emboldened by the fact that I love my life. I love the freedom I have to travel and see the world. I love the freedom to go out late and have fun with my friends. I love the freedom I have to stretch the boundaries that exist around me.
Although no one can ever know what path their life would have taken if different decisions had been made, I know that I have never regretted mine to delay marriage. I continue to be thankful every night for the opportunities that have opened up to me as a result of my decision to stay single longer and remind myself that it is only resisting the cultural norms around me that makes this decision hard. I will likely marry some day, just not today. And when I do marry, I know that my marriage will be on my own terms, and not those of the society or my clan.