Hope O’Rukevbe Eghagha
In Nigeria, to marry or not to marry is big deal; bigger than having a university education, being poor or rich, being a pastor, or even being a scumbag. It is considered a sign of social and cultural failure for one, man or woman, not to marry or not to have been married. In a sense, a person, especially a woman, who has gone in and out of a marriage, is placed on a ‘higher scale’ than a person who had never married, who had never tasted the sweetness and bitterness of marriage. You know, we are allowed some foolishness in reasoning to ascribe some worth to something just because it is, not because of its value. Foolishness is the way of the world, the new world especially. How else do we explain scoring a disastrous marriage higher than no marriage at all? The big point is, often, perhaps always, it is not in the hands of young people whether to marry.
Marry they must! Except you are married at a certain age, people look at you ‘one kind’, as if to say, ‘this one na wa o; as you fine reach or know book reach you no fit get husband?
As for the ladies, the unwritten rule is harsher – they must marry a man or get a man to marry them, by hook or crook, fair or foul means. There is also a time frame, that is, the time frame of age. A lady at thirty who is not married raises more than eyebrows in the family. She raises the bold pressure of some people, particularly the blood pressure of mothers and to some extent that of the father. Fathers have a way of feigning indifference or showing more understanding than mothers in some of these matters.
Mothers are often the first to say ‘when will you bring a man home? Or, ‘what about that man who used to call and talk to you at odd hours? Or, ‘if you carry on this way, you will never find a man to marry you! Such inanities often drive our girls into all kinds of marriages, abusive and or successful. I recall one lady saying some years ago ‘just let me taste marriage, even if for one or two years, let me wear the wedding gown, let people know that I got married at a time! The pressure is on the lady to find a man, not a man to find her. For this reason, she must do things that must make her attractive to and worthy of the other sex. Even stupid things!
Sometimes, who to marry or who not to marry, is beyond the control of the young people too, particularly the ones who are not yet desperate on account of age or some other spurious factors! And this cuts across all religions and social classes of people. Ethnicity is considered a problem. Religion is also considered a problem sometimes. Sectarian issues also come into the picture in some cases. What about social class? It is also a factor. These days, young people discuss marriage as a social contract or a commercial endeavor. The ladies say ‘I am not ready for marriage until I have something concrete doing, like a job or a business that will give me a comfortable income; I don’t want any man treating me like a liability! And the guys say, ‘My potential wife must bring something to the table from Day One! We must share responsibilities’! One young man actually told his wife some five years into their marriage, when the marriage was on the brink of a divorce: ‘I married you for your commercial value and now that you cannot run the business what are we going to do? Can you beat that? This is not Nollywood; it’s a real-life situation!
Love! That arcane four-letter word that has led to great experiences; that has also ruined empires, now wears a new face, a new identity. Love ought to be a matter of the heart. Some used to say that love is blind. These days, love wears glasses or magnifying lens to peer into little things. Love knows boundaries. People scorn at persons who ‘followed their heart’, you know, because the heart could mislead one into dangerous territory, into unhappiness, into blind loyalty and into disaster. ‘How can you follow the heart and marry into poverty’, they ask. ‘Shine your eyes’ the new way of thinking is a reality!
Added to this is the reality of whether to have children, when to have them and the number of children. Our parents pumped nine or ten or eleven children into the world. My generation stopped at three or four, not including the undeclared ones. Our kids are content with two. Some are even planning to have just one kid because ‘it costs a lot in funds and time to bring up so many children’. As ‘advanced’ as the world is, some of us still return to our primordial thinking when it comes to male and female children. Yet there are some who have stopped at two girls, ignoring all other arguments against having only female children. There is a whole big issue on female children. The Urhobo people have a name they sometimes give to a female child ‘Omotejowho’, a girl child is also a human being! Notice the pejorative subtext!
Marriage should be an individual thing. Truth also is that not everybody is wired to marry someone or remain long with a partner in a union, holy or unholy. Shakespeare talks about ‘finding love as we like it’, so too we find marriage as we like it. As individuals are free to make a choice on marriage, so the constituent parts of a nation should have a say on the terms of the union. An unworkable union should be re-negotiated or rejuvenated in order to get the best deal for everyone. When all things fail, of course, divorce is the next best option, that is, ‘to your tents O Israel! Which is what the western world has perfected, sort of! Two people marry and after only six months, they find that the marriage is not working. They simply file for divorce and everyone moves on, happily or unhappily. And some remarry almost immediately! The prince and princess do not live happily ever after! The Prince Charles and Lady Diana marriage taught us this lesson before the 20th century came to an end. Why should we subject our young people and our ethnic groups to an unhealthy union in the name of ‘family values and a sense of history? See you in the new year!
Eghagha can be reached on 0802 322 0393 or firstname.lastname@example.org