We were having a meeting in Hannah’s room the other day.
I notice Hannah has a new ring on her finger (I remember her talking about a relationship anniversary last week. So I ask ‘new ring?’, and she says yes, boyfriend just proposed to her. While I was drooling over her be-ringed finger(a gendered response), Rhoda at the other end of the table after congratulating her announces matter of factly ‘Hmm, I am not planning on marriage in the next 5 years’. She says this is so firmly and confidently that I don’t doubt her. And me, Nigerian girl that is fasting, praying, kneeling by my bedside every night crying, 'Lord, don't forget me’ I'm a bit shocked. I want to ask ‘why’ but I guess the question should be ‘why not’.
Welcome to Oyiboland where people do not define themselves nor are they defined by a wedding band or their fertility.
Scene 2 – This was at Loh’s birthday party that I went to back in March. Her British brother after surveying the messy room of kids said aloud, ‘I don’t think I am going to have kids’. Lawdy, the Nigerian ladies nearly lynched him. ‘Are you not a Nigerian?’ ‘Our brother has gone mad’, ‘It seems you are dating an Oyibo woman, if not where would you get such a hackneyed idea from’. When I rushed to his defence, a pointed glance at my unringed finger by one of the ladies made me thread softly…..very softly. See intimidation! Lol.
Scene 3 – I met an older course mate of mine recently on a train. We chose to sit together and an interesting conversation ensued, about hereditary diseases, children, adoption (he told me he was adopted). Somehow the question got around kids and the high cost of education, and he said how that wasn’t a worry since he and his wife of 15 yrs didn’t have kids. I asked why and he said they weren't interested.
Scene 4 - I attended a Church spring cleaning session last month. Partnering with me to polish the brass was a sprightly cheerful lady called Rosaline. During our conversation I got to find out she was 79. She didn’t look a day over 65. But more than that my nosey parker -“Nigerian assuming that every adult female should be married with 20 grandkids especially at her age”-self asked her about her husband. She chuckled and answered ‘Oh I never got round to marrying’. End of story. As for me, I furiously polished the candle stick in my hand blushing with embarrassment. Truth be told, it is probably harder to find a ‘single woman in her 60s’ in Nigeria than to find a needle in the haystack.
Don’t get me wrong, there are millions of women in the west who want the whole marriage enchilada too. They are depressed about their single status. About not being married. But, the huge difference is that society is not adding to your headache. Their marital status isn’t stopping them from getting jobs, attaining the pinnacle of their career, attaining political significance, becoming role models of the society. They are not being singled out for prayers at wedding receptions, in churches, single summits are not being held for them. They are not being asked questions like ‘How is your husband?’ (for the young woman who looks old enough to be married), Or ‘How are the children?’. Which leads to embarrassed answers of “I am not married” or ‘I don’t have children’ which then leads to prayers and/or criticism.
A fallout from that is that Nigerian women hide their ages unlike their western counterparts. If your age is public knowledge, it leaves you open for censure. The day you say ‘Nigerian men are unromantic’, someone will snidely remind you of your ‘advanced age’. (See how Genevieve Nnaji’s comment about ‘wanting a man with a personality of Johnny Depp was received).
Western culture extols individual choice above all, when you marry, who you marry is a personal choice.
As an avid reader of historical romances based in Western Society, I realize that it wasn’t always like this. Women had Best Before dates for marriage too. Remember those stories of aristocratic Britain where the debutantes (16 -18years) were presented at court at the start of the social season? The sole purpose of course, was to launch them into society so they can be noticed by eligible bachelors ;). If after 2 seasons you haven’t been married off, you are dubbed an old maid and hidden at home (old maid is prolly 20 years of age). Queen Elizabeth abolished the ceremony in 1958...Go Lizzy Go! Guess she was a feminist in her own way?
Since I‘ve been here, I haven’t thought of marriage as much as I did back in Nigeria. Why? Cause nobody asks me those stigmatizing questions above. Nobody cares :))