A few years ago, a friend of mine called off her engagement. Her dad was very upset about that decision. He thought she had embarrassed the family. The man she was meant to marry came from a very good family, and both families already had a good relationship. This marriage would have sealed the two families together, but that was not to be. I remember the conversation I had with my friend’s dad.
Him: Have you seen what your friend is doing?
Me: Yes Uncle.
Him: Hmm. I don’t even know why I’m asking you. I know you’ll support her. You also left your husband.
Me: Yes Uncle.
I was proud of my friend for choosing to end her engagement when she realised she didn’t want to go through with the marriage. In the Ghanaian context, my friend was already married. What I’m describing here as an “engagement” is the Ghanaian traditional marriage. Ghanaians, in an effort to blend traditional and western marriage ceremonies, now commonly describe the traditional Ghanaian rite of marriage as an engagement, with a significant number of people following said engagement with a Western style wedding.
Ghanaians are obsessed with marriage. From your early ’20s, parents, aunties, uncles, and members of your extended family that you see only once a year start to ask, “So when are you getting married?” When you get past your mid ’20s “when are you getting married?” becomes more of a chorus, and once you hit your ’30s people look at you with pity and say, “So you’re not married eh?” My aunt once told my sister, “You’d better find a boyfriend while you’re at university; it will be too late to find someone to marry once you leave.”
I got married at 25, was separated at 27 and divorced by 30. The three month period that characterised the breakdown of my marriage was easily the most difficult period of my life. I would call my friend up and say, “I’ve had enough. Can I come and stay with you”, and move out of my marital home. Within a week I would be back. I did this thrice. I would finish a king-sized version of Cadbury’s Fruit and Nut chocolate in one go, and go and back forth in my mind about whether leaving my marriage was the right thing to do. I was an emotional wreck. Eventually I made up my mind and left for good. In spite of the emotional trauma of going through a divorce, I am glad I got married. By most standards I had a good marriage (while it lasted), but my marriage was not meant to have a ‘happily ever after’, and that’s all right too. I am especially glad as a single 35-year-old woman living in Ghana to have had this experience because otherwise I would have felt that I was missing out on something. But I know I’m not. I look dispassionately at the state of most of the marriages around me, and wonder, “Why don’t more people get divorced?”https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HJ-pZoV7H8s
Lets face it. Most of us get married for the wrong reasons, including those listed below:
• Getting married has been a dream since childhood.
• We fell pregnant
• She or he seemed like a good match
• All my friends were getting married
• We were dating and I thought we were going to get married in the future anyway
• I wanted a baby
• We were dating, I got a good job abroad and she or he could only come along if we were married
• I want to have guilt free sex
• My culture/religion/tradition demands that I get married
• Married people are respected in my society
Which begs the question, “What’s the right reason to get married?” I confess that I don’t know the answer, but I doubt any of the reasons above are it. There’s one thing I do know: procuring a marriage needs to be made as hard as procuring a divorce. I find it incredibly odd that our societies do everything possible to get us married, yet make it really difficult to get divorced. The legal aspect of divorce is just one challenge.
There are multiple challenges facing people (in particular women) who want to get divorced in Ghana. A huge one is the sense of failure that people seem to associate with a marriage ending. “Oh your marriage failed” is commonly heard. In a country where marriage is between families, a divorce also means you are breaking up more than a couple. Get ready for the family delegations coming to reconcile your marriage, whether you wish to be reconciled or not. And when the laws of your country state you might just decide to do what lots of Ghanaians do and stay married unhappily ever after.