Why did you wait so late in life to get married?
Last Friday night, I was invited out for roasted fish and chips. It is a typical hangout on Friday nights across Nigeria. If you head out to any of the local “gardens” in Abuja, you are bound to find Nigerians enjoying roasted fish. What is so unique about this experience is that you go to a bathtub or barrel to select your fish and then they roast it for you. Usually in enough pepper sauce to clause a five-alarm fire. The first time I did it, I was in complete awe (and my mouth was on fire)! On this particular night, I was invited by an American friend that I have gotten to know here in Abuja. It was a nice crowd of individuals and when I sat down, I felt like I had known the group for a long time. In the midst of our conversation, my American friend asked me about the wedding. I gave her details about our planning process, the traditional activities that I have/will participate(d) in (for later blog) and the various ceremonies. One of the gentlemen sitting at the table bluntly asked, “Why did you wait so late in life to get married?” Everyone chided him for asking such a blunt question but his question made me laugh because it made me think back to all the conversations and uncomfortable situations that I went through when I arrived in Nigeria. And honestly, no one had ever asked me “why did I wait?” Most of the questions I face here in Nigeria is when…
First, I told him that I appreciated his question because no one had ever asked that question before. Secondly, I don’t think of myself as old…I mean, yeah I didn’t get married in my 20s but in my circle of friends, I am right on time. Again, I’m 36, which doesn’t feel that old to me. I told him that I faced many situations where people were trying to fix me up when I arrived in Nigeria. No one could imagine that I was still single. Unlike in the U.S. where your career often gets in the way of “settling down,” marriage is the next step after getting a job for most Nigerians. It’s common in the urban areas of Nigeria to meet men and women that waited until their early 30s to get married but once you cross 35, it can be challenging finding other single individuals.
What I have also found intriguing is that many Nigerians are very quick to push you into a marriage but are difficult to find once the marriage begins. As I have said before, my Nigerian colleagues “assumed” that something was missing when I arrived in Abuja since I was not married so they conspired to set me up at every turn. Never once asking me my likes and dislikes. Just pushing me into hilarious and uncomfortable situations. Their good intentions often fell on death ears.
Marriage is a challenging and complex relationship that requires years of understanding (as I am told). In Nigeria, the quickness to marry often leads to unsatisfactory marriages where people resign to the fact that this is what marriage is all about. It seems that some churches exacerbate the situation by telling you “it’s your season for prosperity in your marriage and your home” without helping you understand the fundamentals of marriage. In some instances, men (and sometimes women) seek the emotional and physical satisfaction that they are not getting at home in other individuals. When a man picks up a mistress, it is often common knowledge among friends and family, forcing the wife to be the care giver of his children but not the receiver of his affection.
Marriage in Nigeria is not unlike marriage in the U.S. The biggest difference is that the culture of divorce in the U.S. allows people to leave marriages with little to no recourse – no fault divorce or irreconcilable differences. A Nigerian colleague once mentioned to me that if you had “no-fault divorces” in Nigeria, many marriages would end overnight. It was a funny comment but a sad possibility.