BY OJELADE OJETUNDE
Seven years ago, straight out of MSc, I was having a chat with the respectable Prof. Stuart Lambert – recruitment coordinator for London Metropolitan University – and I informed him about my ‘decision’ to get married. His first reaction was a question. “Why are you getting married now?” which then led to series of other questions. “Have you taken time to do the things you care about? Have you travelled to see the world? Why do you think marriage is the next step?”
All these questions and a lot more from a British man, whom I later found out was a devoted Christian and married with children. At the time he was asking me these questions, I thought he was one of those atheists, loner European types.
I can’t recall the rejoinder I gave to Prof. Lambert that day, but it must have read something along the lines of “I think it’s the right time” or “I love my fiancé” blah blah blah!
Seven years later, I am sitting at my computer, writing out what I have learnt and what I wish I knew back then before getting into the marriage business. And for the yet unmarried, here are a few thoughts. They are my thoughts and yours to process and make sense of. As much as I could, these words have been written from my heart – with a childlike genuineness.
So what would I have loved to know before getting married?
1. I would have loved to know that marriage is not a certainty. That it is not the ‘logical’ next step for a man after he has finished a master’s degree, landed a job or probably bought a car. That neither is it the ‘logical’ next step for a woman after her 25th birthday. I would have loved my African parents to tell me that it is okay to take your time and in fact, it is okay NOT TO GET MARRIED AT ALL. Because as I would later find out, marriage is actually a covenant to lay your life, aspirations and essence down for some other person – with that person doing the same for you.
It is akin to two lumps of clay being broken down, squashed, melded together and rebuilt into one pottery piece and then passing through the most important step – getting fired up in the kiln of life so you can harden together and stand through all weather. As I have described it in my own words, marriage, like pottery, is not for ‘that person’ who merely chanced upon it. Or that person who danced better on the wedding day. In fact, thinking back now, I think weddings should actually be more sober ceremonies because, for either of you, that may be the last time you will see your old self. From the moment you cross that threshold, you have indeed become another person. I recall another of my mentors saying to me that when two young people are getting married, they are unaware that they are going to face their biggest challenge yet but they are smiling to the altar because the picture they have been presented with doesn’t tell the entire story of what lies ahead. He said that I should imagine myself as a worm that woke up the morning after to find out it had turned into a butterfly. On looking into the mirror, my first reaction was likely to be surprise and fear rather than elation at the sight of my truly beautiful but fragile wings. My mentor should have told me this before saying I do. I honestly would have loved to have someone tell me: YOU DON’T HAVE TO DO THIS. YOU CAN BE BETTER OFF ALONE. And gone ahead to give me some solid debate for my money.
2. I would have loved to know that courtship and marriage are two totally different things and that church marriage counselling sessions ARE NOT ENOUGH PREPARATION FOR THE REAL THING. What do I mean? I re-read something I’d written many years back before getting married and my naivety was laughable. I imagined that courtship and marriage were the same thing. What I didn’t realize then was that in courtship, we always tried to put our best foot forward. We glossed over the inconvenient and celebrated the convenient. We were more emotional than rational. And perhaps most importantly, that evasive concept called ‘Proximity’ had not entered into the matrix of our relationship. We would see each other for brief periods of time and we made those brief periods count by making it as pleasurable as possible. We rarely said things that upset the other person because we ‘loved them’.
What we didn’t see then and what we didn’t count on were to be those things that would show up later when we woke up next to each other every day and had to think about the other person before we thought about ourselves. While marriage counselling played its part, knowing the things that I know now, I would say marriage counselling in church was akin to our lab practical classes during my undergraduate programme in a Nigerian University, where we ran practical courses about cathode ray oscilloscopes for example. We could draw them, we knew how it worked but there was never one in sight in any of the labs and worse still, a number of our tutors were none the wiser. Marriage counselling was just too theoretical. “Don’t fight each other”, “Forgive each other”, “Keep joint accounts” blah blah blah. In my opinion, two things that were lacking in those marriage theory classes were honesty and practicality.
The priests/conveners were not honest enough to tell us all what they faced. Of course, they couldn’t have? Or could they? Could the ones that had shit marriages have come out to tell us what shit marriages they had and how they would have loved to club their drunken husbands to death when he spent all the money in their children’s education savings account on booze? Could they have brought all their clean and dirty linen to air in our presence, to show us not just the good side of marriage but the bad and ugly side as well? This, in my opinion, would have provided a balanced viewpoint for us to take decisions upon rather than all the theoretical idealized rhetoric that was spun in many of those sessions. I would give anything for a female speaker to say, “My husband, the Sextant is a lousy lay. We haven’t had sex in three years and during the period we did, he never satisfied my sexual needs. Yet I know he is f***king the lay reader. I am only in this marriage for my kids and also because we have to keep up the appearances here in church.”
Now that’s one to wrap our heads around. The other point is that of proximity. I actually think a full residency pre-marriage boot camp should be held before marriage where the intending couples ACTUALLY LIVE TOGETHER for a period of time, say three months. After that period, they can decide whether they still want to get married or not. While I have theories on how this model can work, especially to forestall pre-marital sex (which the bible frowns against but has probably already happened) I rather want to emphasize on the core notion of this concept. LIVING TOGETHER before marriage actually gives you a truer picture of what it would be and allows you to make up your mind whether it is what you want to continue with or not. Though, this may take away the novelty of living together for the first time, it would also do well to take away the shock of finding out that your partner of 10 years masturbates daily to gay porn and is probably more addicted to it than you could ever imagine.
3. Another point I’d love to raise is to the parents and wedding planners: TONE DOWN THE F***KING MARRIAGE CEREMONIES. Introduction, engagement then white wedding … and later feet washing when you get to the in-laws? Almost 2,000 people attended my society wedding, one-tenth of whom I didn’t know personally. A wedding budget which I would never have been able to pay for if my wife and I were the ones paying for everything. Godamnit, I didn’t even have a stable job back then. It is not out of place to find out from that little map recently released on Google that ‘weddings’ are the most Googled ‘product’ in Nigeria. Perhaps, we should start the enlightenment such that in another 50 years, it will be ‘Happy MARRIAGES’ and not ‘Weddings’.
I once met a girl who confessed to me that on the eve of her wedding, she knew she was marrying the wrong person but she didn’t have the nerve to call it off. She didn’t tell me why but I can infer that asides from the complex web of in-laws that come into the fray, one of those reasons would be the people we have invited, the cards we have printed, the money we have spent and blah blah blah. While we want to make the wedding ceremony one to remember, we must also try to make it one to walk away from if at the point the priest is asking if we have any impediments, we feel we do because in reality, once married, we are bound as in a covenant only breakable by death – the debate on separations and divorce, we can leave for a later time but my take on it is comparable to those blood oaths we see people taking in Yoruba Nollywood movies – marriage is that sacred. Perhaps we should even ditch the westernized Anglican bullshit and start to make marriages traditional blood oath ceremonies with the chief priests and a really ugly mask overlooking the proceedings – it is not unlikely that fewer people will get married this way and there would be even fewer divorces. I am yet to see a blood oath ceremony on Nollywood with as much fanfare as the least owambe-ic Nigerian wedding ceremony.
So if I had known all these before getting married, would it have changed anything? Definitely, it would have. I may probably not get into it at all. Or I may have opted for an open relationship instead and tried my best to cope with the moral conflict of living as a bachelor or spinster for life knowing God doesn’t find it cool if I have sex with someone I am not married to. But aren’t we humans used to finding ways of justifying these things (since year 0000 in the Garden of Eden) hoping that God would buy our rationalisation? And then there would be the question of how do we get to raise godly children with a partner we care about when we are living for ourselves alone? On the other hand, I may also have chosen to give it a shot but I would have been more informed and this may have tempered my expectations in ways that would make me better prepared for marriage. While you’ve already noticed that the above answer comes across as a political answer – where I, the writer, am trying to avoid the obvious reply to whether or not I would get married in a latter life, my advice to you would be as follows:
If you desire a highly individual life, like, say, Jane Goodall or that character played by Johnny Depp in the creator of Peter Pan or you use the word ‘I’ more than the average person does, PLEASE I BEG YOU FOR ALL IT IS WORTH, DON’T GET MARRIED! You will just be wasting your time. Marriage and individual pursuits are rarely compatible even though once in a while you will find a Pierre and Marie Curie whose passions align so much that they are still one even in their personal passions.
If you desire that kind of deep companionship that quickie sex and flirty messages don’t offer, the kind of deep companionship that is borne out of respect for each other, then PLEASE GET MARRIED because that is the only avenue where you can get this. The reality is that while great friendships exist outside marriage, true sacrifice can only be expressed in marriage and I dare say that a good marriage is at the peak of all friendships.
If you are an African woman and your passions revolve around being globally mobile and you are not ready to sacrifice that passion, PLEASE DON’T GET MARRIED or if you want to get married considering its other perks, tie your womb (with your husband being aware of course) because from that first cry of the baby you will soon realise your whole ‘free’ life is over and you are forever tethered to that tiny thing who relies on you totally for its existence. Before the feminists take me to the cleaners on whether or not fathers shouldn’t be involved too, kindly let me finish this beer I am drinking at a beer parlour with a friend whose wife just delivered and is at home suckling the little one.
If you are an African man and you like to sample and by sampling I mean sleeping with as many woman you can rest your eyes upon, then DON’T EVEN BOTHER! Because intrinsic in the expectation of marriage both from a Christian point of view and from your spouse’s point of view is exclusivity and just as you are unlikely to be willing to share your spouse, your spouse is unlikely to be willing to share you, too. So don’t play the all men are naturally polygamous card to justify your screwing Biliki, your next door neighbour’s housemaid, while throwing your wife the ‘I am staying home today because I am not feeling well’ line. You are not being smart, you are just downright stupid. Same goes for women in this metrosexual age.
If you are a man and your idea of earning respect is removing your belt or plucking your koboko from the roof rafters and all your money first has to go to satisfying your personal needs before anyone’s, then PLEASE BUY A DOG and whatever you do, DON’T GET MARRIED.
Finally, if you desire to know the depth of true love, to know the worth of sacrifice and to come as close to God on earth as you possibly can then I WILL SAY GET MARRIED. Marriage will teach you a lot of lessons that are valuable to understanding the essence of life. It will teach you compromise and the uncanny ability to negotiate your position. It will teach you that ‘two’ is better than ‘one’ (if they are aligned in the direction they are both going). It will teach you that when one is about to stumble, the other will be there to lend a helping hand. It will teach you to love unconditionally. It will teach you profound things and bring you profound joys and sorrows, too. It will also give you room to have some of the craziest sex ever if you both invest in this exciting avenue for expression.
More so, if God blesses you and your spouse, it will give you a rare opportunity to be a part of someone else’s life (your children). To mould them, to become their first mentors and to constantly be a reminder to them that marriage is truly a beautiful thing. So if you ask me again, knowing all I know now, would I still get married? I will answer ‘YES I WILL’ because I know that while the short-term gains of being individualistic and free to gyrate may be attractive, life is much more than ME’s and I’s and the greatest gift of living is giving. But all that said, it would have saved me many-a-friction if my African parents, the church and the society did more to prepare me for this Chaucerian pilgrim called marriage.
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