We had been driving for about an hour outside of Aman having a pleasant conversation. But then it the question came…my taxi driver in Jordan finally asked me what he wanted to know.
“Sherry, I want to ask you question,” he hesitated and then continued, “a private question. Is ok?”
I knew exactly where this ‘private’ question was going; I would have bet what little I have on what was going to come out of his mouth next – and I would have won. I just wondered how long he had been sitting there wondering how he was going to ask me the private question.
“Ok” I said.
The Question Everyone Asks When You Travel Alone
“You married?” he asked while looking in the rear view mirror at my reaction.
This wasn’t any surprise to me, I had been asked this question as I traveled around the world so many times I lost count.
I wasn’t offended that he asked, I totally understand that different cultures have different dating, marriage, and family norms. In fact, it’s one of the most fascinating things for me to learn about a culture when I travel.
The non-western cultures are normally very confused by the concept of women who are older and not married and don’t want a family. And you don’t normally see many women from those cultures travel solo around the world – it’s pretty unthinkable.
How to Answer the Marriage Question When you are Traveling Alone
Sometimes I answer truthfully and sometimes I lie. It really depends on the situation I’m in; it comes down to a matter of safety in many instances. This is where you really have to trust your gut as a solo female traveler.
Sometimes people ask you the question becuase they are generally curious about my culture and me personally. Sometimes they ask it out of concern for me; afraid that such a nice appearing person would be alone. And sometimes they ask it for the wrong reasons – to hit on me or to know that they can take advantage of me.
As a solo traveler, you really have to error on the side of caution who you tell that you are traveling alone.
In fact, from a safety perspective I travel with my Grandmother’s wedding ring and occasionally put it on just so people won’t ask or think I’m traveling alone.
But in this specific instance, I felt like this taxi driver was more concerned for me, and wanted to make sure that I didn’t end up an old maid! So in my mind I weighed the pros and cons of telling him the truth.
Pros: I’m proud of my decisions, independence, and my culture which accepts that women don’t need to be married. There’s a part of me that wants to educate other cultures to my own. I know they don’t have to accept it, but I think it’s important to understand different cultures have different thoughts around marriage.
Cons: Do I really want to get into this conversation yet again; trying to explain to someone who doesn’t have the best grasp on English (and consequently I can’t communicate very well with) why I am not married? Explain it to someone who has never been to America…let alone Europe. Will he then try to marry me off to one of his family members…yet again?
I answer, “No, I am not married.”
The Next Question Ever Solo Traveler Gets Asked
I know what is coming next. The script is always the same.
“Sherry, you have children?”
I’ve already decided to go the truthful route, so I might as well keep trudging along this cultural crevasse.
“No, I do not have kids.” I answer.
The inevitable comes next, “Why not married?” he asked in a concerned, fatherly tone.
I sighed, and tried to explain in 2nd grade English, how I haven’t met the right man yet and that he shouldn’t worry, I am happy with my life.
Then he surprises me with the next statement and goes off of the usual script.
Cultural Divides are Large When it Comes to Women and Families Around the World
“Oh…I am so sorry,” he says.
I nearly laughed out loud. I don’t think I had ever had anyone express their sympathy regarding my single lifestyle before. That floored me. I of course quickly tried to explain that there was nothing to be sorry or sad about; I was indeed happy with my life and my freedom.
But I knew that I wasn’t going to get through to him.
He went on about how I needed to have children, they were the best thing in the world and I would be sorry if I didn’t have them. I don’t think he knew I was 40, nor did he have any idea that kids were the last thing I ever wanted.
I tried to explain that my brother and sister have children and I see and travel with my nieces often – they were like my children. I also told him how much I loved to travel and experience new cultures, I couldn’t do that as easily if I had a family.
However, he didn’t listen and he kept on going on about how it would be too late and then I would be sorry.
That’s when I gave up trying to explain my cultural oddities to him.
I knew we were at an impasse. An impasse that I’ve been at many times before as a solo female traveler.
However, each one of these encounters and my travel all over the world has made me realize that the one thing I’m incredibly thankful for is that I am a woman born in the United States where it is fine for women to be independent, make her own decisions, and not have a family but still be successful.
Read my other musings on Travel vs. Motherhod