My father was wearing his trademark brown khaki shorts, it’s roomy pockets sagging at the sides, and one of those old singlets he loved but which every other person at home hated because they looked like suspenders. The memory stands out in my head, very sharp. He stood straight with his back against the wall, his hands – the only visible sign of his anxiety – busy doing nothing in particular. My mother stood in the space between my dad and I; her wrapper was tightly cinched just below her breasts and she had rolled up the bogus sleeves of the fading Hollandis blouse past her elbows. She took up most of the room in the tiny corridor, her back to dad and her face in mine.
“I si gini?” she asked, her voice a chilling ferocious whisper. What did you say?
I swallowed the ball of bile that threatened to clog my throat. I had thought this through, I was sure that it was what I wanted, what I needed to do. So I willed my racing heart to calm down, and I said to her – to them, “Acholum inu nwanyi kita a” I want to get married now.
I was just 16 years old when this transpired between my parents and I. If you are Igbo, or Nigerian, or human, then there is a 99.5% chance that you know exactly what my parents did afterwards. In fact, you all now have different versions of the ensuing events playing over in your minds but like Nollywood, we all know how it ends – I didn’t get married. Heck, it’s been a long time since then and I am still not married.
This Thing Called Marriage is a matter that will neither lie low for us nor our generations to come. An elderly friend of mine once said that even if humans evolved into giant clumps of metal eons from now, our hills of steel would still find a way to pair off with each other in marriage. It is so important to us that a lot of the time, marriage is the most important medium with which we classify adults, second only to gender.
Think: when you first meet that dashing young auditor who just started at your office, your first thoughts are not about her state of origin, or birth stone or the trait of snoring in her family history, are they? No. You want to know if she’s married. Or when you first see that hunky form from behind, all you want is for him to propose so you can hand over the children you already had for him in advance; then he turns around…and he’s wearing a priestly collar. Bam! And it doesn’t stop at adults either – even 5-year old Kamsi goes home to tell Daddy that he will marry Miss Tayo, his kindergarten teacher.
Marriage – it’s the all-important issue. Question though is, why?
Some say it’s a holy order anointed by the gods of society: from ‘School’ to ‘Job’ to ‘Marry’ (S-J-M). Others, like my friend Paul, disagree. He believes that it subtracts from the beauty of the union when people say such things about marriage as ‘it is next on the list’. Paul does not think of marriage as a requirement for whatever accolades are given out at the Pearl gates; he thinks of it as a privilege, one he presently is favored by.
When asked about his partner, he gets all dreamy and emotional and starts to cry tears of love says “moments together with her are moments in bliss. There really is nothing more beautiful that when two people give themselves completely to each other. When we disagree, there is this lovable tension between us; the rest of the time, it is the legendary tale of love birds. Fight or no fight, the feeling is awesome. Words really can’t explain such feelings, neither can words describe how anxious I am to consummate it in marriage”
Then you think that it is all roses and chocolatey panty hoses…until you talk to my friend, Walter. In a recent piece, he recounted how in a moment of – I like to think – sheer bravado, he updated his Blackberry dm with the message: ‘I do not believe in the institution of marriage.’ Now Walter is past 25 and talented, so, promising, and he has a day job! So of course, “the aftermath of that declaration was a series of pings and phone calls from friends and acquaintances who wanted to know if I was suffering a fever or feeling inebriated, for me to have the temerity to say such a thing”
You’re wondering “but why” and I’m saying “Wyclef” “I wondered too” Walter stated as his reasons for his disposition, a compulsive nature and his penchant for lonesomeness. He had more to say – or more rightly, ask: “Why do perennial bachelors need to explain why they don’t want to put the ring on it? Does all of humanity have to want the same kinds of things? Must my happiness and fulfillment come from wanting to spend my life with someone, just like everybody else does? Couldn’t I simply live my life, putting out good stories, paying my taxes and occasionally traveling around the world, unfettered by familial obligations or spousal guilt?”
Then I wondered “why not?!” Really, why not? With the calls for equality and fairness multiplying faster than Ebola is spreading, one would have figured that if the married do not have to explain their reasons for marriage, the unmarried should not have to explain their unmarried status either. I remember one time watching Serena Williams claim another tennis trophy on television; I turned to my buddy and said how it was a shame that such a beautiful, strong woman with so much talent was unmarried and without children. Now I think of it, and the real shame is sitting on my head.
The problem of the human obsession with This Thing Called Marriage is that in the long run, a lot of us marry without knowing the half of what to expect. Some of us confuse wedding for marriage and enjoy the breeze of the former only to wake up in the latter as…
Even the internet is guilty; try googling the word ‘marriage’ and you’ll find yourself deluged by a litany of rings, white gowns and pristine wedding smiles. That is so wrong. Even for those who understand that the concepts of wedding and marriage are well and truly divorced, it is no guarantee that we understand This Thing Called Marriage.
As at the time I made my intention of marriage known to my parents – yes, at 16, I wasn’t thinking about a wedding. Neither was I thinking of conforming to the societal creed of S-J-M – going by the creed anyway, I wasn’t even half ready. All I was thinking of was the sweet girl (let’s call her Bimi) I was in love with at the time and how I wanted to spend the rest of my life with her.
Like many of us, I was thinking of babies – how they would have my eyes, Bimi’s hair and nose, and a combo of both our lips, and how it would feel to sit in the evening breeze, with them curled up on my chest, making the cutest infant sounds.
But I wasn’t thinking of children – the mess they can make, the noise which knows no seasons, the tantrums, the pranks, the school runs, the allergies, the grooming and the raising.
Like many of us, I was thinking of starting small with Bimi – in a little bungalow in this polite neighborhood where the neighbors minded their business and the rain fell softly every Sunday morning; we would spend the days laughing and playing, I would let her win at cards and she would let me win at table tennis; and at nights, we would make babies.
But I wasn’t thinking of money – the university degrees neither of us had at the time; the rent for that tiny bungalow which we could never afford without jobs; the PHCN bills, generator bills and water bills, and maintenance bills for when the roof leaked or when an errant child smashed a football against a window; hospital bills, transportation costs to wherever we needed to go, and food.
I wasn’t thinking of Life – the food that would never come without money; the hunger that was bound to come without food; the attention I would need to pay to Bimi, and her hair and make-up – at 16, she had only just started experimenting with lipsticks; the clothes she would outgrow and the new ones she would need; the girl she would outgrow and the woman she would become; the boy I would outgrow and the man I would become.
The list is endless, and common among us, if we dared to be honest about it. We think of a lot of things, true, yet there’s a lot more we do not think of. And as if it isn’t hairy enough, reality is that a lot of the stuff we never thought of is still mysterious to even the married ones among us.
In correction therefore: The problem of the human obsession with This Thing Called Marriage is that in the long run, a lot of us marry without knowing the half of what to expect that all you can expect is to meet with the unexpected.
On this issue, I am neither for Paul nor Barnabas Walter; I am only that voice crying typing out in the wilderness, questions that you must answer for yourself: Firstly, do you ever want to be married? Why? After which you may then answer, what do you think of This Thing Called Marriage?
I am @ojukwu_martin on twitter