If you’re an unmarried late-twenty-something African women in the diaspora, you’ll probably have had to explain more than once to family members that there’s nothing wrong with you. Don’t bow to the pressure!
I’ve reached that shame. I mean stage. I am a 25-year-old Congolese woman and I’m still not married. I don’t even have a Mr. Potential. Typically, an African woman in my shoes – worrying about not getting any younger – might contemplate ceasing the search for Mr. Right and settle for Mr. Alright. Before you do ladies, ask yourselves the following:
“Should I really drop my standards for the sake of marriage?”
“Is my culture worth more than my happiness?”
“Is marriage going to fulfil me at this point in my life?”
Fifty years ago the answer might have been yes, when African women were subject to patriarchal control and their sole aim – so they were told – was to live for a family and nothing more. Independence was frowned upon. When DR Congo gained its independence in 1960, there were only four graduates in the entire country (a country the size of Western Europe), and all were male.
Fifty-three years on it doesn’t seem as if we’ve made much progress, as most managerial, office and government jobs are still taken by men and there are still not many women graduates. Patriarchy is still prevalent, women’s rights are not much exercised and many women in Congo still happily acquiesce to the status quo.
Sadly to say, this mindset even exists among Africans here in the UK. Our parents, who were born and raised in Africa and came over to the UK at a later age, still cling to this mentality and expect us to have the same ideals. So when you reach 25 and haven’t met your potential partner for life, they remind you that, when they were your age, they were married with three kids.
Our parents fail to realise that living in Africa and living in the UK are two totally different experiences. We have grown up in the latter with more freedom to do what we want along with the opportunity to do and aim for more in life than settling down to get married and having a family.
Now, before you begin to wonder, I’m not anti-marriage or bitter that I’m not married, nor am I trying to rant against Congolese or African culture. I once read a sign that said, “a man is like a parking spot, the good ones are always taken; the rest are too far away.” In most Congolese households, and I presume most African ones (but I could be wrong), 25 – 28 is the critical age bracket when all eyes turn to you in anticipation of the day you bring home a man for the ‘presentation’.
The presentation, for anyone who might not know what this is, is when the man – along with several of his family members – comes to your parents’ house to present himself to your family and say, “I am the official man in your daughter’s life and I would like you to know that because I want to ask for her hand in marriage” (as if he hadn’t already proposed to her earlier).
Her family will then say something like “Is that so? In that case here is a list of things we want in exchange for her, including 4 goats, Versace shoes, five 20kg bags of Tilda Basmati rice, £2,000 in cash, African wraps and the head of a train.” The list varies by family and their level of need.
Back in Congo, however, if no one is knocking at your door around those crucial ages, then there must be something wrong with you. “How can a fine woman like you not be getting marriage proposals?” people will start to mutter. As the tongues wag, you soon find yourself wondering whether you haven’t indeed passed your sell-by date.
Matters aren’t helped when everyone around you is changing their relationship status on Facebook to “engaged”. Then there are the countless wedding invitations that start pouring through your letterbox once you reach a certain age (I received 17 last year, I kid you not).
There are also the church aunties who never stop asking if you’ve met someone, and when you say no, respond with, “Don’t worry, the devil is a liar; we will break the yoke of singleness and pray against this spirit of unwantedness.” Thanks aunty, if I didn’t feel like killing myself before, I certainly do now.
We all know that in Western culture there isn’t a right time to get married (the right time is when you’re ready), so there’s no need to rush. So when our parents say “But we’re Africans,” we have to remind them that we don’t live in Africa, as much as Africa lives in us. It’s not a competition and we’re not in a race against time, though I understand, as an African woman, that my culture tells me otherwise and that my mother wants grandchildren.
This is the issue that many young Congolese women face and I worry that the cultural pressure and parental expectations are what cause so many young African girls to rush into marriage before they even know how to cook fufu. I fear that most young women are more in love with the idea of getting married than to marriage itself.
Let’s be honest, the reason our parents moved to the West was because they felt – rightly or wrongly – that there were better systems of education, more opportunities and a higher standard of living abroad than back home. Many of them made immense sacrifices for their children, some even giving up their own dreams so their children could succeed.
And here we are, going to universities and getting degrees but failing to pursue careers or fulfil our potential as one by one we quickly settle into marriage for fear of being the last one on the shelf. For how long will this carry on before we realise that marriage is not the be all and end all? Yes it’s a beautiful thing, but it’s a lifelong commitment that says “till death do us part.”
When you’re doing your own thing on the way to achieving your goals, the laws of attraction suggest you will meet an equally driven partner, so you don’t need to settle for anything less. Otherwise your guests and family members will be happy and filled with food on your wedding day, but when that’s over and it’s just you and him, reality will bite. We need to be happy and fulfilled within ourselves before we can be with a husband, otherwise we become a liability to someone else.
Honestly, I would rather be happy and alone for the rest of my life than rush to get married and be in an unhappy marriage because my biological clock was ticking, even if the consolation is kids.
Before you say “our parents did it and they’re fine,” we should remember that that was then and this is now; society was different back then. Our parents set examples for us to follow, but while we accept the broad brushstrokes of those examples we also need to apply them with consideration for who we are now and what we need; this is how we will set a good example to our kids, who will, in turn, accept only the broad brushstrokes.
It’s not carved in stone that every woman must get married. The ratio of women to men on the planet is still roughly 1:1, even if it feels like 3:1. If it’s your fate to meet “the one” you will meet him. We can’t fight fate any more than we can nature. So if you’re 25, not married and worrying about it, relax, you’ve got your whole life ahead of you. Literally.