It is interesting, even strange the way the marriage institution has evolved, revolved, devolved or degenerated these days, the last days, if I may borrow that apocalyptic phrase from Christian theology. Now, I’m not going to discuss anything serious like the extreme development of same sex marriage though I am yet to get used to the very idea of a man introducing another man to me as his wife or a woman introducing another woman as her wife, and they both ferry three or four kids around the place even when they cannot multiply and fill the earth. You know, like Elton John, singer of ‘Sacrifice’, that beautiful song, and his husband!
We are still very backward in Africa, you know, we still marry four wives or keep concubines, go to church every Sunday, spend hours praying instead of fishing or farming or working; we are yet to catch up with the culture of subverting nature and creating a new world where it is wrong to say certain things even if the Bible or the Koran instructs its adherents to go in a particular direction. Be sure that we have benefitted from science through IVF treatment because procreation is very dear to us. We do not mess around with that divine injunction to populate the earth. Birth control only becomes meaningful after we have fulfilled our quota of four children of different sexes!
It was while in this mood, whether foul or fair, that I started ruminating on marriage, how people rush into it, and sometimes rush out, how it used to be taboo to divorce your spouse, how men beat up their wives, how women have become empowered and sometimes lord over men, and how it is very troubling to the men folk that some women earn more. The first thought that came to my mind is: must everyone get married? I just think that some people, men and women, are not wired for marriage at all. Coping with a man who is perpetually nasty to his spouse is a killer; or a woman who is as stubborn as a he-goat, always ready to fight or show bad mouth and bad manners. Or must couples stay together for good, that is, for better or for worse? Whoever developed that idea that even if things get so bad that death becomes a palpable threat the couples should stick together! Guess it was done by some European pious fellow who thought that all human beings will remain human at all times. Is marriage a commercial transaction that loses value with the passage of time?
Too many young people are eager to marry and opt out once the road becomes rough or challenging. I can’t stand that rubbish, has become a popular refrain, and they move out and remain ‘second hand’ material in Nigerian parlance. Which is derogatory, and meant to make a divorcee less woman than the others, created by male folk, promoted by men too. Now, I wonder what has become ‘second hand’, and why is it/she second hand! Is it her anatomy or her sense of self, or her dignity as a person? Can she still make another man happy? Yes, she can. Can she still produce kids? Yes. What makes her second hand?
Conversely and in confirmation of the patriarchal system we swim in, the male-divorcee is not second hand! That’s the reason a sixty or seventy-year old man marries a twenty-five year old and she is happily in love and treats him a like a father and lover! I have also seen some funny-looking photographs of some twenty-five old hunk of a Black man prancing around the Ikoyi Registry with a sixty-five year old white lady from America or England or some outlandish country in Europe in the name of love. The bemused audience knows that the young man is seeking a green card to the prosperity of the western world!
Some marriages now last only a year or less. Now, that is new in our clime. We were taught to remain in a bad marriage and that a bad marriage was better than no marriage at all; and we must never ever shame the family. It was in that spirit that a young lady once told me that she would like to get married to a guy whose intentions were suspect ‘even if for one year”, and let it be on record that she ‘once got married’. Well, the marriage has gone beyond her one-year target and she ought to be happy, but she didn’t reckon with a worthless man who had thought that her people ‘would bank-roll the marriage and life in marriage!
“The marriage did not survive the first anniversary”, a friend recently told me when I enquired about a couple we had all travelled to witness their union in some remote place in Plateau State. “Irreconcilable differences, the man had no job or business, no source of income and he turned the woman into a sparring partner, no subject, with a haul of verbal abuse from sunrise till sunset”. She put her tails between her legs and fled the marriage. The young man has gone ahead to marry another woman.
There is also the notion and practice of office marriage, that is, a married man or woman who has a close friend in the office and both carry on like husband and wife. Sometimes, they go the whole distance and the house-husband gets to find out about his rival at his wife’s workplace. ‘There is nothing between us”, she remonstrates, “am I a fool to monkey around with another woman’s husband? “You may monkey or not monkey or even dog around with that man; but the day I see both of you eating together in the cafeteria, that day, you will pack back to your father’s house and return my bride price” “You are just jealous and looking for any excuse to push me out so you marry that ugly guinea-fowl who messes around with you in your office” “I have told you my own; don’t say I didn’t warn you”.
Well, you will find marriage as you like it and hop out when it gets too hot. Yet I say, those who have stuck out thirty-five years of marriage did not always sleep in a bed of roses. They quarrelled, fought, made up, quarrelled again and learnt to live together in spite of challenges and fears and errors. The triumph is in the end when you come to see your spouse as the only genuine friend you have! For some they never have that privilege!