by Temilolu Odunayo
What’s it with the heavy pressure on young Nigerian women to get married? I refuse to succumb! I initially brought this up question as a Facebook status update. I must admit, the pressure was getting to me! A few months ago I was feeling young and happy to be a graduate with my ‘whole life ahead of me’. More recently, I started to feel like a ticking time bomb. I must confess I was feeling a little desperate for Mr Right a while ago. I even gave God a ‘deadline’… (Yes o, I’m only being honest). This is an absolutely crazy sentiment because I am just two tens and two units old! That was before I gave myself a good slap (I literally slapped my own face as I do from time to time).
When I was in school I violently dismissed the fact that this pressure existed. A friend of mine spoke of an alumnus who was ‘still unmarried many years after university’. ‘God forbid o! 11 years out of school and she’s not married? *Shock horror!*’
I was always the one who would turn statements like these into arguments. I would passionately state that this ‘ marriage-by-force mindset’ is backward. So what if she’s not married? Why should a woman be judged by her marital status? Why should she be made to feel that the whole reason for her existence is to trade in her father’s last name and begin to manufacture her husband’s babies?
I realise that I may have been in a bubble – trying (too) hard to ignore/deny facts.
I can not speak authoritatively about many cultures, but I know that in Nigeria, a person, particularly, a woman is judged by her marital status, and the number and sex of her children. It may not be the truth, but the cold, hard FACT is that without a husband and children a woman will not be taken seriously. Take two women – Frustrated Married Madam (FMM) and Happily Single Babe (HSB). FMM’s husband would give Tyson and Ali a run for their money. He could also possibly outrun Tiger the ‘Cheetah’. FMM has two beautiful children though.
And then there’s HSB. She comes home to a peaceful, albeit very empty house, where she is free to just be.
Put both side by side in my society and FMM comes up tops 8 out of 10 times. What does that say about us? Quite simply, it says that in our own convoluted, paternalistic way, we are not so different from the big, bad West who we criticize for all our woes. We also value appearances (i.e. our idea of what is good) over truth and reality.
I must commend my parents. They have never made me feel this strange, premature pressure. On the contrary, my dad is understandably mum on the subject. I’m sure the notion of his only daughter getting married off will never be a wholly gratifying topic. My mum shakes her head and says ‘Marriage is no joke o, you must get it right once and for all, so take your time.’ Truer words were never spoken.
Still this doesn’t mean that my other family and friends share the same view.
I have gotten lectured, speeched and talked, by older family members. Case in point – my auntie’s comment on the said Facebook status update was this: ‘You haven’t seen pressure o…just do quick and bring husband, otherwise, the ‘real pressure’ will mount up’. Hmmm…
However, the crowning glory was one morning at my grandparents’ (I love to stay at their house – I get spoiled beyond belief). That morning I was lying down, reading my bible. Grandma comes in and sits on the bed.
‘I want to talk to you.’ My heart skips a beat. I sit up, puzzled – I think it’s something serious.
She begins. ‘You know you’re now a big girl. You’re not a baby anymore, ehn. You’ve finished school and if you have someone that you like….’
Ah ha! The lecture; the speech; the talk.
The snag is that I would never ever have expected to get it from my grandmother, at least not yet. It was a full thirty minute speech. She waited for my comments at the end. I simply smiled and said ‘Grandma I’ve heard.’
And then there’s the men! Ha, what the hell! They’re suddenly sprouting out of nowhere with renewed brashness, as if I have desperado written on my brow. Or am I being over sensitive? Please (help me) judge.
One gave me a gift – a Christian book titled ‘The Single Life’ after our SECOND meeting. This first meeting, it lasted no longer than five minutes o, and even then I spent the whole time inching further and further away from his assault-by-halitosis.
And another one. I am walking into UBA House on the Marina, when a Random Young Man (RYM) comes up behind me and grabs at my hand. Imagine…
Me (squinting and frowning in shock, surprise and everything in between): Sorry, do I know you?
I expect him to say something like, ‘don’t you remember me from school/church/somewhere?’ At least I would have been a little relieved. Alas…
RYM (grinning from ear to ear): We entered the same BRT from Obanikoro.
Me (mildly hysterical): You don’t even know me and you just tried to hold my hand!
RYM (still showing his 32): Hope you don’t mind.
Me: I don’t know you!
I start to walk faster. To cut a long, weird story short, he asks for my number and I refuse, still in shock. He explains that he only came this way because of me. I smile and tell him he’s much better off going his way….
With these few points of mine, I hope I’ve made my point.
Another point is….
I want to travel to obscure countries – I want to meet people from different cultures. I want a rich life! Of course I can do this as a married woman but guess what? You guessed right! The same people – grandparents, parents, uncles, aunties, neighbours, family friends, enemies who were singing ’Where is he?’ will begin to wink at your belly as soon as you return from the moon. They’ll ask about your health. Which is a (not subtle) way of asking if you don swallow belle. They will not stop! So what if I had put off my dreams and pursued marriage just to please them? I will have to put off my dreams again for the next how many years while I raise children to please them! By then, who knows what will have become of my joie de vivre? Do you catch my drift…
Do not get me wrong o. I want to be married, and I will be. I will make all the necessary sacrifices to build my home and take care of my family. I have strong feelings and no illusions about the idea of being a ‘working mother’. But I will do all this at the right time and for the right reasons. I will have the pleasure of knowing that I am giving up/holding on on some goals as MY CHOICE. Not because of the ‘pressure’ from the people around me, but because it’s God’s time.
I will not succumb!