To clarify, there is no literal translation for the term, oukbalik (عقبالك). It is used in response to a congratulatory comment meaning, “I wish the same good fortune for you.”
It’s wedding season and you know what that means. If you’re a single girl, regardless of your age, you’re going to be told “oukbalik” at every function you attend. And if you’re over 25, you’re going to be told “oukbalik” A LOT!
My brother’s wedding kicked off the season this year but since Ramadan directly preceded it, I didn’t have the energy to mentally prepare for all the times I was going to hear “Oukbalik” or “When will it be you walking down the aisle?” or “Come on, already. What are you waiting for?” before, during, and after his festivities. I also had yet to perfect my forced fake smile that would help me get through all that mindless small talk. Apparently, I can’t simply enjoy his big day without being constantly reminded of my own unmarried status.
What is “oukbalik?” It doesn’t literally translate well to English, but when said particularly at a wedding or wedding function, it means, “I hope/wish for the same for you,” in regards to marriage. It’s kind of like someone telling you, “God willing, you’re next.” There are actually a variety of ways the saying is used in the Arab community and depending on who says it and how it is said, the term has not only become a daunting phrase heard by singles everywhere, it has also begun to reek of desperation. And because intention and interpretation are everything, I’m providing you with a list of the different types of “oukbalik” commonly heard at weddings.
Types of “Oukbalik”:
The Endearing Oukbalik
This typically comes from a close, but not too close family member, usually a few generations older than you, like your grandmother or great aunt, for example. You can feel the sincerity in their voice and know they are being genuine when they say they hope you find the person God has written for you. My favorite endearing “Oukbalik” came a few years ago from one of the sweetest matriarchs of my extended family. We were simply chatting at a wedding and she said, “I hope Allah (SWT) has written for you someone just as scrumptious as you are.” Of course it was said in Arabic, so it sounded much sweeter than it does in English.
The Snide Oukbalik
This one usually comes from your female relatives who can be older or younger than you. These girls are married and may possibly have children. They are saying it in a way to chide you for having the audacity to pursue an education and/or career rather than taking their path in life of getting that MRS. Degree and calling it a day. There could be a hint of jealous undertone to this oukbalik as the girls who say it this way tend to be envious that you are fulfilled by your life as it is because they were probably taught that life is meaningless if you’re not someone’s wife.
The ‘OhMyGod Just Get Married Already’ Oukbalik
This is usually said to you by your close relatives when you’re approaching or have already turned 30. No one, and I mean NO ONE, can fathom how you have yet to find someone you’re willing to take that leap with after being a ‘Picky Penny’ for the last decade or so. This one usually has a frustrated undertone to it because that person just doesn’t get it. And no amount of words you say can make them understand that you, indeed, have tried but don’t necessarily have control over these things if they’re just not meant to be.
The Entitled Oukbalik
This one might actually be the worst. This one is said by your cousins or other distant relatives who are significantly younger than you and happen to be engaged or married before you. They say it with their noses up in the air like they have one over on you because they found the person they learned to “love” five minutes after meeting them… even though they know nothing about them. They also say it with the belief that you would be engaged or married too—if you actually wanted to and tried hard enough.
The Sarcastic Oukbalik
This one comes from your close friends and maybe your siblings. This one is either said as a joke or to mock someone else who just said oukbalik to you in their presence. They know how much you dread getting told this, so it’s said in good fun and you both typically erupt in laughter together while you talk about how much you hate weddings for this reason.
The Unnecessary Oukbalik
This is the one that is said by any relative or family friend to a girl who has yet to even walk the stage at her high school graduation ceremony. Come the hell on, people! We’re not living in the early 1900’s anymore.
The Dreaded Oukbalik
This one actually has a double meaning. Surprise! On one hand, The Dreaded Oukbalik is the one that’s told to you by your parents. You dread it because you know that finding a life partner to marry and starting your life with him/her will make them happy and allow them to breathe the sigh of relief that comes with that, but you feel as though they say it in a careless manner —as if it’s easy, as if they don’t take into consideration the struggles you have been through in your attempts to pursue a lifelong relationship with someone or the heartache you’ve faced.
The Other Dreaded Oukbalik
This is the one that’s said to you by that guy or girl you’ve pined after for years and it’s like you can feel the knife being twisted in a little deeper when they say it. You just want to scream out, “Yes! With you! Please! I’ll ride off into the sunset with you at this very moment if you ask me to!” But you snap back to reality and maintain your composure, smiling back at them like they didn’t just send your world spinning on a different axis for a moment.
I’d like to note that the word “oukbalik” can be and is also used for other things such as when someone you know graduates or gets an awesome new job that they love. But in stereotypical Arab culture, the ultimate goal is always, always, ALWAYS to get engaged, then get married, then have babies— the trifecta— so this word is used and overused in that regard for the most part. And in typical misogynist fashion, it’s usually said more to girls than it is to guys—because in the Arab world, if your end goal ain’t about trying to lock down a man, you’re chasing the wrong dream, honey.
Reality Check: you can have more than one dream in life! The options are endless. Finding fulfillment in something other than marriage isn’t just an activity to hold you over until you do get married. So, please allow us to enjoy our lives in the moment, the way that makes us happy, and keep the pity and snarky comments to yourselves.