We all have those friends. The one we went to school or grew up with and formed a deep enough friendship. The one with whom after graduation or family relocation, life happened and you drifted apart. Inevitably, they track you down (or you them) and the lines of communication reopen. The sharing of confidences pick up right from where they left off and years, even a decade of separation melt away.
This happened to me recently. A friend from childhood contacted me on Facebook and we exchanged numbers. She called me and we got to talking about life, achievements, milestones, hopes and dreams. I’ll call her Lum (name of course changed to protect the innocent). Lum is a couple of years older than me, has a graduate degree and a pretty awesome job in a Europe based pharmaceutical company. Lum also seems to have retained the bubbly spirit and kind heart that I knew her to have in our childhood days. Lum seems to have achieved that balance that African women seem so good at. She's very ambitious and driven, career oriented and quite successful, deeply spiritual and has that comfortable sense of domestication about her. Our conversation was peppered with references to conferences she attends, breakthroughs at work, the wonderful church community she belongs to, as well as her forays in African markets to find just the right ingredients to make her goat meat pepper soup taste exactly right. Ah yes, and her quest for a husband.
You see, smart, gentle spirited, successful, deeply spiritual, beautiful Lum is not married and this is starting to be a source of deep anguish for her. Matter of fact once that topic came up, it dominated the rest of the conversation.
First, there was the guy her parents set her up with. He met all the criteria that any self-respecting African parent would want for their daughter. Good family? Check. Smart and successful? Check. (He is a pharmacist in the US). Good manners? Check. Looking for a good girl? Check. There was an immense amount of pressure for her to marry the guy. She was on a student visa in Europe and he is an American citizen. It’s not like he would treat her badly, their families had known each other for decades, heck they had played together as children. He wasn’t unattractive. He was by all standards a pretty darn good catch. But, it would have been a typical arranged marriage to a guy she had literally no desire to marry. Bucking convention, she turned him down. Her parents were horrified. His parents were insulted. He moved on to the next candidate and Lum stayed single.
Since then, there have been a couple more attempts at arrangements and set ups by friends and family. She has also dated widely and across all races even though her preference is Cameroonian (…and parents have made it categorically clear that they do not care for the idea of a non-Cameroonian as a son-in-Law.) There have been the ubiquitous heartbreaks from the jerks and the assholes and the one’s whose hearts she broke because things were just not going to work out. Lum is becoming the weary single woman, tired of travelling the convoluted land of love of which there is no map. She is ready for it to be over.
This is a familiar story. I’m willing to bet each of us knows at least one person who is living this story right now. But here is the twister. When in all my earnest, modern woman, self-righteous indignation, I tried to tell her that marriage was not the be all and end all of her existence as a woman, in her quiet and gentle manner, Lum set me straight:
“Do not mistake me for one of those misguided African women who feel that marriage is a woman’s purpose. I easily could learn to be happy and content as an unmarried woman, but I’d rather not have to. I do want to get married. I want to share my life with someone. I think it is a beautiful thing to have someone to share life with. I want to have children. I would like to be able to do it when I’m young and healthy to minimize risks and also get the chance to spend more time with them. I’d prefer for that to happen in a loving two parent home. The thing is I cannot take the chance of marrying someone and waking up one morning asking myself what the hell I was thinking. I don’t ever want to get a divorce and I know I will if I was truly unhappy. I want to marry someone I know I can commit to no matter what happens. I’d also prefer to marry Cameroonian and the reality is that for us African girls the older you get, the more successful you are the more complicated things become for you.”
She admitted that she had begun to feel anxious and depressed because she will soon hit the big 3-0 with no viable prospects in sight and aside from her personal longing to get married, the pressure from family is enormous. Furthermore, things are not helped by the fact many of our peers are married and working on baby number 2. She is terrified of one day feeling so desperate to marry; she takes the plunge with whoever is available.
It struck me then that there really needed to be a re-examination of the attitudes African women have towards marriage. Sure there are still many, many African women who cave in to family and traditional pressure and have either married for the sake of marriage or have adopted the manipulative get married or die trying attitude because as an African woman, marrying is what you are expected to do when you reach a certain age. There are still many for whom poverty has made marriage (in all it’s configurations) the only solution but that’s a topic for another blog post.
This, however, is no longer the whole story.
First of all there’s the ones like me, who really could take or leave marriage (mostly leave right now…hahaha!) and who, as a friend recently said, would probably end up with many cats and many ex-boyfriends and many PhD’s. We think about it and on paper it sounds like a good thing. But then we think about the nitty gritty and just how much stronghead (stubbornness) we have and we decide to spare the hapless fellow the trauma.
There’s also the one’s like Lum who do want to get married not necessarily from family or societal pressure but because it is something they see value in. They have genuine desires to forge those bonds with another person, to bring children into the world and partake in the joy and privilege of raising them to be the best humans they could be. It is an institution whose power to advance society they believe in and they are willing to put in the work to make it a successful partnership and want nothing more than to find a man on the same wavelength.
The sad thing is, too often, women like these (who I personally think are awesome…) get mixed up with those nuptial ninja’s, and their sincere desire for one of life’s most fulfilling experiences gets ridiculed and belittled by self-righteous militant feminists: the ones who would act like men are completely and absolutely useless, (I mean they are but that’s something else…. Hehehe… I keed) that the notions of family and childbearing are inherently oppressive and any woman who yearns for these things is weak-minded and an idiot. It creates an atmosphere where they feel like they can’t talk about their wishes and desires for fear of being typecast as the mewling, simpering female waiting for the man and children to give their lives meaning.
Another sad scenario is that these wonderful women, because they want to marry, open themselves up to the possibilities and repeatedly get hurt by careless men who do not see the rare and precious gift that they have. These are the men who would try to suppress their ambitious and career oriented spirited by getting on some “you have to be an African woman” high horse, or the chronic cheaters for whom the term commitment has no meaning, or the leeches with absolutely no self-respect who will try to profit from their success and bring nothing to the table except for their penises or the men who have simply refused to grow up. This leaves many of them cynical and bitter.
Meanwhile the clock’s ticking and as us African women very well know once that certain age O’ clock passes... To which it is easy to say "You don't have to marry Cameroonian or even African, age is not a factor for many of the other nationalities and races out there...." except there is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to marry within circles you feel comfortable and familiar. Interracial/international marriage is not for everyone.
To all the Lums out there: ashia mamas. I cannot say I feel your pain but I hope you have or can find female friends with whom you can talk about your issues without fear of censure. I hope you eventually find men who can be the kind partners you trust to build successful marriages with (goodness knows we could use some successful marriages with today’s statistics), I hope you have children because I know you have within you the potential to be the kind of mother that any child would be lucky to have.
I believe that your hearts are in the right place.