This Thing Called…Marriage

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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.

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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.

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

 

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THIS THING CALLED…WEDDING.

I attended the early morning mass today; it’s Ascension Thursday. I was early (for an early morning mass, can you imagine?!) so I sat just outside the door and smoked a joint while I waited. LOL…ok, goofs stop here.

I sat and watched people shuffle past me to sit in different pews. There was quite a handful of people but one couple caught my attention; the man was in a suit and the lady wore a simple black dress so it wasn’t their dressing. What drew and kept my attention was the thing they had going for them. They giggled, laughed, never stopped touching – they were clearly in love. I was seated a few seats behind them so I just looked on with this silly half-smile on my face, crying and wailing “Lawwd, see ME!!!!”

When altar activity indicated that the priest would soon be out, the lady picked up a black polythene bag I hadn’t noticed before then, and stepped outside. Moments later as she passed by me enroute her seat, I did a double take. She had changed into a white wedding gown with a train and veil to boot, jewelry winked from her arm, neck and in her hair. A little murmur swept through the sparsely-occupied church and she smiled this small demure J and took her seat. I was dumbstruck and enraged – Cinderella came to church and nobody saw it fit to pre-inform me?!

We all learnt eventually that it was their wedding day, Cinderella and her prince. They wanted a really really small wedding with – the Monsignor made sure to add – “no noise”. I slept through most of the homily – blame it on the sexy-chilly morning – but I was wide awake through the wedding parts where they exchanged vows, rings and kisses.

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What is the deal on This Thing Called Wedding?

Why do people spend so much money and time planning a wedding only to suffer through the day worrying over who received a souvenir and who did not, or who ate the goat meat reserved for the Umunna? When did weddings stop being about a man and a woman, excited as toddlers at the park, committing their lives to a union of love in the presence of God and man? And become a (townspeople) + (friends)*(ex-friends + people-you-never-met-before) reunion? When did it become about having THE wedding of the year and because you never could have afforded it, spending your honeymoon cooped up with your partner eating Pringles and playing ludo?

Some days ago, I met up with friends from my university days for a mini-reunion. Because the rest of us hadn’t been at her wedding about a month back, Jane regaled us with tales of her new life with her ‘my baby’ – she kept calling him that…all dis freshly-married people can know how to make somebori jealous shaa. Anyhow, we got talking about weddings and she mentioned that all she had wanted was a traditional marriage and a wedding blessing. She had eventually agreed to a church wedding one day after her traditional marriage and it had been a small one; a small, happy and classy church wedding (see here if you can’t remember the details).

I asked Ifeanyi what kind of wedding he envisioned when he imagined his; he wants his traditional marriage and white wedding to hold within the same week witnessed by only close friends and family. He thinks it foolhardy to have “the whole wide world at my wedding on top my own pocket!”

Ekene is a friend whose personality is the exact opposite of Ifeanyi’s. Surprisingly, he wanted the same type of wedding as Ifeanyi – “small and classy with very close friends, cousins, uncles and aunts who have actually spoken to me before,” Ekene said. He went further to place a limit on the number of guests he would have at his wedding – “100 and not half a baby more.”

I asked another friend, a female. Your guess is as bewilderedly true as mine – Kaka also wants “a small and classy wedding with just family and a few close friends”.

My poll on ‘This Thing Called…Wedding’ was targeted at young men and women, 20-30 years old who were unmarried, about to be married or less than a year old in marriage. The ‘small and classy wedding with close friends and family’ party won by a landslide over the ‘big wedding with paparazzi and screaming crowds’ party.

Who then wants the big weddings? Who wants the noise, the crowd and the paparazzi? We have them every weekend, in those town halls, school auditoriums and even out in the open to accommodate as many people as are interested. If nobody starts out wanting them, how then do people end up with these weddings?

My research fingered society as the major culprit. My sources will remain anonymous for those of you looking for who to carry wedding-akpo for, but according to them, society in this context means those people you know or have met who will get offended because they didn’t receive invitations to your wedding, THEN show up anyway. They are those people who you sent invitations just so you don’t hurt their feelings, only for them to show up with an entourage. They are also those ones who because they want to do something nice for you – either for genuine or selfish reasons – reproduce your wedding invitation cards and disperse them unto the biblical fertile soil.

We all want our weddings to be about us – that special day where you smile, laugh and dance the best and most you ever have, and then get to treasure the memory forever with the one you love. By virtue of its nature, big weddings rarely ever deliver that yet many a couple find themselves having one.

So if you want a small wedding and you already feel the choice slipping through your fingers with calls and mails from old colleagues and acquaintances who just assume they are invited and “can’t wait to see you at the wedding”, here’s a tip from my wedding-savvy source: HAVE IT SOMEWHERE FAR FAR FAR AWAY. Have your traditional marriage at home – one, it’s tradition; two, ‘they’ always elect to attend the white wedding. If you can afford it, stage it abroad. If you can’t afford it or if like me, it doesn’t sit right with you to wed outside Nigeria, hit google.ng. Search out little places far away from the region where you have spent most of your life. That way, only family and friends who care enough to go through the trouble of travel will be at your wedding. Also, you save some money to have yourselves some good ol’ delicious honeymoon.

Maybe I’m being overly sentimental or hurried in my judgment, but I daresay everybody likes a small, happy wedding. Yours doesn’t have to be without family like the couple whose story I shared at the start of this piece, and you definitely can choose to wear your gown to church rather than bring it in a bag. But if it’s small and classy and filled with joy and laughter, everybody likes it. You best.

That said; I will add that there is nothing wrong with having a big, loud and classy wedding, so far as it is the wedding you and your partner want. That is really all that matters – your choice. Your happiness.

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So what do you think of ‘This Thing Called Wedding’? Have you had any relevant experiences or do you know any secrets or tips for having the dream wedding – big or small? Don’t be shellfish, SHARE IT!

Mention me @ojukwu_martin on twirra