“You’re moving back to Ghana? You will be married within the year.” I smiled at my Uncle and said nothing in response. Marriage was the last thing on my mind. Or more accurately, getting married again was the last thing on my mind.
I thought about my Uncle’s words after living in Ghana for about a year and laughed, in all of that time I hadn’t met anyone whom I wanted to date let alone marry. In subsequent years, women looking to move to Ghana or other parts of the continent would contact me seeking advise, and one of the questions they would inevitably ask would be, “So, what’s the man situation like over there?” Inevitably my response would be, “There are no eligible men available”. “What do you mean there are no eligible men available” would be their inevitable rejoinder. “Well in Ghana people tend to get married early, and they stay married no matter what, even if they are in unhappy marriages. So for women like us who are in their 30s the choices are to be a side chick or mistress to a married man, or to hook up with a guy in his 20s who is just looking for a bit of fun. When you meet a man who is his 30s and unmarried there is usually a very good reason why”. I deflated a lot of women who were previously excited about moving to the continent and dating a fun, educated African man who has a great job, holds progressive views about gender roles, and cannot wait to be matched up with a well educated African woman, who also has a great job, and can hold conversations about anything from the conflict in Syria to the latest trends in African fashion.
But recently I’ve had cause to change my mind. Last week I was reading a blog post that Afua Entsuah wrote titled ‘The Plight of the Single Returnee Woman’, and from the title alone I thought, “No, no, no”. She referenced a conversation with me where I had recited my “there are no eligible men” refrain as well as a twitter exchange a number of women including myself had held with the late Komla Dumor on the subject of a BBC Africa discussion, ‘Is it harder for an educated African woman to find a date?’ My co-blogger Malaka in response to this radio discussion topic later wrote a post with the title, ‘Wanted: Small Boys for Educated African Women’. All this concern about whether educated African women struggle to find suitable mates or not, and the small role I have played in creating that impression got me thinking again about the trite comment I have been regurgitating for years.
I thought back to my Grand Aunt, a woman I have interviewed a number of times as part of my personal project to learn more about the lives of older African women, especially those women who are not literate in English, and have no means of documenting their stories for posterity. I remember what she told me about her first husband, “I did not love him. I married him because he was my brother’s friend.” That marriage had been an unhappy one, and a second marriage to a husband of her choice had been the one to bring her happiness. I thought of how my Grand Aunt had felt she had very little choice about whom to marry initially, and about her fear that if she displeased her brother he would not intervene if she had any challenges in her marriage. Then I thought of how far apart I am from what had been my Grand Aunt’s reality. For a start, I do not have to marry anyone because that’s the man that my brother thinks will make a suitable match for me. I started to dig deeper into what I thought of as eligible – a good looking man, a man with a job that he enjoys and one that rewards him adequately for his labour, and someone with whom I share common interests. I realised how many of those men I have met, sometimes gone on dates with, and been uninterested in pursuing something long term with for any number of reasons.
Take Alex, the building contractor. He was a divorced man in his 40s with a 10-year-old son. We went to La Chaumiere for dinner one night, Golden Tulip for a buffet breakfast another day, and then a trip to Mount Afajato one Saturday. He insisted I choose the venue for each date, and insisted on paying each time. He asked me to order the wine because he didn’t know much about wines. He was happy to go along to the mountain because he knew I had an interest in local tourism. He called me ‘my heart throb’. Somehow he just did not light my fire and I concluded that he was not eligible enough.
Then there was Kofi the wannabe musician. We met in a club one night. We had drinks the following week, and he couldn’t stop telling me about how much he was into me. That was an instant turn off but I continued to see him for a short while. He sent me badly constructed text messages every night. One night in the back of my car he came when I was on the precipice of what I am absolutely sure was going to be an earth shattering orgasm. I don’t think I ever forgave him for that. And by then I had had enough of the sms speech texts. He was definitely not eligible.
And there have been plenty of single men between Alex and Kofi. Yet somehow they have all not been eligible enough. Sometimes I just don’t find them sexually attractive. Other times I think they are too traditional in their views of gender roles. Sometimes their conversations bore me. Sometimes they are brilliant in bed but have too little options in life for me to want to hitch my wagon to theirs. Other times they are just not that into me. Whatever the case is, I have realised that I am a single educated African woman because that’s who I want to be. I am happy and satisfied with my life choices. There are plenty of eligible African men out there who want to date women like me. I just haven’t met one that I would like to date… yet.