So you have graduated from college, started work, what do you do next? While most guys between 24 and 29 worry about career advancement, women of the same age worry about getting married. Your parents, neighbors, friends, everyone expects you to get married. For guys, the pressure comes once they hit 30. People should marry for love, right? So, why the pressure? Is it parents? Is it our culture and traditions? Are we ready for marriage when society says we are? Could this rush to get married be reason why many marriages don’t last? (Tanzania has some of the highest divorce rates by age group on the continent. According to the most recent figures available, 0.9 per cent of our women between the ages of 15 and 19 are divorced, as are 5.1 per cent of 20 – 24s, 6.5 per cent of 25 – 29s and 6.5 per cent of 30 – 34s. We’re beaten only by Zambia, Ethiopia and Mozambique).
The reasons some girls rush into marriage may appear, frivolous or even old-fashioned, but make sense in the circumstances. Well, some of them do, anyway.
Sounds crazy, but some girls get married so they can finally enjoy legally endorsed coitus. Tanzania’s biggest religions are Christianity and Islam, and neither, anywhere, has been fond of pre-marital sex. Tanzanian women are expected to behave in a certain way. We can’t just move in with a guy, or let it be known that we are doing the forbidden stuff with guys. We can’t even say SEX out loud or engage in it without feeling guilty of putting our hands in the cookie jar. Therefore, if I am twenty-something, with raging female hormones, the only solution for me is to get married, lest I shame my parents.
Men on the other hand, have it easier when it comes to pre-marital sex. Although they are also not allowed, their engagement in it is not followed with sexual slurs like bitch and slut.
In Swahili, marriage is often referred to as being handcuffed for life, but it is ironic when marriage is also thought of as the ultimate freedom a woman can get. A woman cannot move out of her parents’ house without being married. Unless you are a nun, is nearly impossible. Even if you are thirty and un-married, you will still live with your parents, and have the same curfew since you were ten. So if you want to have your own freedom, you have limited choices – move out of the country, or out of the city your parents are from, make sure you move to a new city where you have no close relative or family friend, because you might just end up staying with them. Or get married.
Who doesn’t need to feel secure, emotionally, physically and otherwise? Marriage provides security to most women, someone to provide and care for them. Whether you agree with this aspect of my culture or not, it’s a man’s responsibility to take care of his wife and children. This certainly makes marriage appealing, although it only takes the wrong partner, to make it appalling.
The fairy tale
We’ve heard of Cinderella, and we’ve dreamed of the day we’d become her. We want our own Prince to dance with at our own ball. It is easy to have a fairy tale these days. In the old days, our parents had to walk or if they were lucky be piggybacked some five kilometers to church, but now things have changed. We have luxury cars for rent. We have the right to slip our feet into glass slippers, and have a prince charming that will sweep us off our feet into limos or range rovers, dance the night away, and live happily ever after for about a month.
However, when “I think you’ll make a beautiful bride” becomes a bar pick up line, we have a problem.
Membership of the Cool Kids club!
Acceptance is a basic human need. Just like in high school when we did whatever our friends did, to feel part of the group, when all your friends are getting married, and you aren’t, you are bound to feel pressured. Even when nobody comments on your singleness, you would still feel like an outsider. Marriage in our community is a validation of our womanhood, as if we aren’t quite women enough until some guys make honest women out of us.
External pressure also affects men to a point where they can rush into marriage with wrong partners. Sometimes the pressure is from friends, sometimes it is from family, and sometimes from the expectations of community, and what is considered a norm.
What makes our brothers feel pressured to marry?
Marriage is the utmost success for most Tanzanian men. You are not truly successful unless you have a wife and kids at home. It is not about the vows, or being faithful to one wife. It is a show, that you are now a man; you have conquered an African woman and reared children.
There must be some kind of male biological clock that ticks around this age. And then there are parents that want grandchildren. They are constantly reminding you that you haven’t provided them with one. It is even worse if you are the first-born; the entire clan is waiting for your offspring.
My African brothers and sisters, any similarities with the way things work in your culture?
The pressure to marry is not just external, parents wanting grandchildren or society wanting us to conform. When marriage is not just about love, or starting a family, but also about fulfilling basic physiological, safety, and esteem needs, how do we not cave to the pressure? Do we tell churches and mosques to relax their commandments? Do we ask families to abandon ideals such as honour and respect? Do we redefine freedom, security, and achievement? Or do we just accept our norms, and ready or not, marry at the expected age?