Marriage and The Mischief of Managing

Dissecting generational disparities in approach to marriage within Nigerian culture.

by Stephanie C. Nnamani

From the mouth of the woman that birthed me, sustained me, and affirmed my efforts and my beauty at every turn came the word, “ manage”. In the moments that followed, I wondered if the word did indeed materialise; was it indeed made real? The context did well to unforgivably multiply the blow: we were discussing marriage. I know too well the moments that motivated that word. So, I stood there at the edge of it, and sought to cut through.

Alas, I had reached the age where talk of marriage did not need to be verbalised nor vocalised to be felt. It reared its menacing head, stretching stifly across the silence in the in-between of each encounter — with an aunt, family friend, or acquaintance, alike. It warranted a stranger’s pause to ponder the absence of a ring on my finger and a child at my hip.

After all, a peek into the legacy that precedes me, that is of me, reveals one path of many I am sort of prescribed to follow. My mother was married at the age of 19. By the time she reached my current age, she was a mother of 4. The same can be said of her mother, my father’s mother, my aunts.

Understanding the conversations surrounding many young Nigerians and should I say — their reservations — regarding marriage requires delving into the nuanced ways in which its underpinnings, whether religious, traditional, cultural, social, societal, invades and permeates nearly every stage of our life. We wear on our backs details of our grooming; suffocating under the confines of our communion dresses as they inspire gloss-filled glares from grownups insisting its insightful presence as a preface to the inevitable walk in our wedding dresses.

We learn, early, the power of desirability, and its demons.

The Vice President of Nigeria, announced the “betrothal” of his daughter, seemingly affectionately, this past Valentine’s day via Twitter. I immediately began to envision the circumstances that may have transpired so as to allow the term to be utilised so casually in 2018. I hoped it was an incredibly formal way to express an “engagement” given his office, and considerably, his age.

It appeared exhaustively antiquated amongst the content that generally grace my timeline. And, so from wonder came words. Words formed into a thread of thoughts, which in turn forged the draft I shared on Instagram. It inspired what I found to be one of the most enthralling, engaging discussions to-date.

“My mum is trying to fix me up with someone. The only description she gave was that he is Nigerian and a medical doctor,”

read a next-to urgent message from my younger cousin. Interestingly enough, the message was received after having encountered the aforementioned tweet. The words peeled at her patience, piece by piece.

I assured her one can’t (entirely) blame an eager parent and their investment in seeing the family grow. However, it is necessary to dissect the chosen description in the message and the ideas it empowers. The description focuses on nationality and occupation as adequate introductory points. In doing so, it implicitly promotes the essential role of marriage as a performance of duty, not desire. This approach is especially corrupt in its attempt to acquaint two individuals with the veritable, seemingly inescapable truth: your desires are secondary to your duty. Further, it forgoes and undermines the unique yet very valid reality of those who neither desire nor are designed for the institution of marriage.

For some, however, desire and duty merge. It forms an insufferable combination, because not only does one want to marry, they must marry. A brand of pressure that has long plagued women. Amongst other things, it is indicative of the role of patriarchy in allotting emotional labour to women, and physical/financial, to men.

What do we know best about duty, if not that it is measured by discipline. It is in the manner with which one pours into the maintenance of a given status or position. In other words, it is a matter of time-spent. There is the misconception that because someone married long, they married well. Duration does not denote depth; intimacy; regard.

I say with conviction: long marriage is neither similar, nor does it equate to long Love.

Marriage is a place; a burial ground. It is a duty to family often disguised as duty to oneself. Marriages fail in Nigeria, only very few are willing to embark on or entertain this reality. A reported 0.2–0.3% of men and women are divorcees, according to The Economist (2016). And under 1% of couples admit to being separated.

You will find there are young Nigerian men who urge women to maintain their virginity “for their husbands”. They utilise any opportunity to outline unsolicited, unsavoury behaviours they believe are not befitting of a wife. This behaviour, I believe, is partly rooted how most parents guide their children, extending the importance of developing attributes that meet the qualifications of a worthy mate; a desirable mate. Anything that is its opposite is generally met with immediate vilification and possible alienation.

As a female child, I am reminded often that my culinary prowess will make “my husband very happy” and is sure to triple my “bride price”. Each display of productivity is met with its translation in profitability. In other words, I am a product.

And, each time I am thrown into the sentiments that guided my essay, “A Man Is Not A Mirror” to come to life.

When a given brand of love is modelled and performed for you, you come to normalise it; you come to seek it for yourself, despite its inherent dysfunction.

One must pair that with most Nigerian parents’ tendency to be overprotective disciplinarians and mourn the ugly, ugly condition it creates. You have children who are not only born from, but are subjected to an affection-deficient union. And, now they stand too shielded from the world to discover nor discern otherwise.

The skeleton of Nigerian marriages is one that is fraught with scars of abuse, whether emotional, financial, or physical, generally spawn from serial infidelities.

The mischief in managing marriage, is that it dismisses the freedom to determine and define. There is a darkness underlying the emphasis, “till death do us part.” One is urged to “endure” in the midst of monsters. To seek to escape, is to enter a hellish union with societal stigmatising. And we owe much of this, in part, to the curse of self-carriage.

Nigerian culture compels one into the mischief of managing marriage, because an admittance to its failure eats at one’s own sense of status; it inhibits the ability to perform in the guise of carriage. Carriage is a curse, a cage. It is what guides the gait of a mistreated woman, bending to the one who broke her wings; bearing his name and his ring and his offspring.

I want to write this – for her; for her mother – her mother’s mother. The words want to reach her; to reach you. But the truth of it may very well be: I am writing for me. To fall into the necessary healing that breaks the cycle of duty-bound, often loveless connections.

*The full version of this essay’s upload is pending. Date of publication was personal to the writer, so that took precedence.*