Love, marriage and suburban bliss

My first boyfriend approached me not because he liked me, but because it was a bet. He was dared by his mates to see if he could get the girl that played hard to get, and he won the bet. This was in primary school. The nature of boyfriends and girlfriends was different back then: a boyfriend meant that I would have someone to dance with at the disco we had once a term; if we interacted with our brother school, he would be the boy I would sit with most of the time. It was mickey mouse stuff, just to keep our curious minds thinking that boys were relevant in our world. Although this was a mickey mouse relationship, it somehow painted my experience with the opposite sex: a love-hate relationship. My interactions with boys in school was further complicated by what I saw in the Bold and the Beautiful, magazines, popular culture and more importantly my parent’s marriage.

The history of failed marriages and fatherless (or rather absent fathers) the women in my family have had to contend with has made me wonder about the question of love, marriage and suburban bliss. I don’t have a model of what a good marriage is and I certainly don’t have a good model of a stable home. Sadly men have often been central to conversations where the women in my life lament about their experiences. There are seldom good stories to tell. My grandmother had 6 children with 3 different men. She never married and there was little if any talk of a grandfather in her house. She didn’t raise many of her children, but gave them away to relatives to look after until they were mostly in their teens. My mother often reflects how difficult life was being married to my father who often lied about his employment, leaving her with the burden of being the bread winner from the money she made sewing people’s clothes. She confessed to not marrying for love; marriage was an escape route for her as it was the only option she felt she had if she was to grow apart from her family (independence and no marriage was not an option she considered). Aunt number one relates her story with her husband who was unfaithful and displayed his affair openly to the point of telling her face to face, “Andikufuni" (I don’t want you in my life), but now they are ageing and live happily together. Aunt number two has three children. By the time she was 22 she’d already had two children. She relates a story of how she was preganant at the same time as my other two aunts in their early twenties-complete scandal for 3 young unmarried women from an unmarried mother nogal and no promise of marriage in the horizen. Aunt number three is still married, she met her husband while he was in a relationship with someone else while they were singing in the local choir, “wangena nge-window emzini wakhe” (she was married clandestinely and accepted as a makoti without the paraphernalia that is often expected).And what of these women’s girl-children? Three are married, one was almost married but left the abusive relationship that she had been warned about, one is a lesbian, one is expecting a baby and we’re all assuming she’s in a committed relationship that should end in marriage and then there’s me, single for 7 years. We all have daddy-issues and overbearing mothers but I doubt we are unique.

People across the world have the cloud of their parents' relationship to contend with before taking the leap of faith into any kind of relationship. Those who choose to question the structures in society when it comes to love and marriage are left with no bearings. It’s either you are in a heterosexual relationship where you reproduce what society deems as normal, or you risk a homosexual relationship where society creates endless problems for you (wanting to kill you being one) or you remain single and risk being seen as a threat by those who are protecting the frontiers of their homes or seen as not fully woman if you choose not to have children in or outside of marriage. And then there’s celibacy where you are accused of being fearful and abnormal if you even think that being single forever and ever as a viable option (how do monks and nuns and some priests do it?).

Then the liability of being a single black, educated, modern woman! I have often been accused of wanting too much...a superman complex! I used to have a list with what I wanted in a man and have recently learned that doesn’t matter anymore. That doesn’t mean I don’t have a mental picture of what I’d like in a relationship, but apparently the man doesn’t exist: he has to be smart, somewhat attractive so I can point him out in a crowd, he can’t be a social dropout so a job or a sense of purpose in the world is important and spiritual (he doesn’t have to walk on water or turn water into wine, but living consciously is sufficient) and love would be a great ingredient to add to the perfect match. If he doesn’t exist then educated, opinionated, thinking women repel these kind of men. There seems to be a disjuncture where women are being encouraged to be independent(financially or otherwise) and seeing themselves as fully human as possible; where we own our choices and decisions instead of stepping into our mother’s roles of wife and mother; in relation to men who still pine for a replica of their mother with the figure of a magazine cover girl with perky B cup boobs and perfect make up. I’m no expert on men and I won’t attempt to speak for all women, but I’ve been told that highly successful black women are not at the top of the list when men are looking to settle. We’re all facing a nervous condition: we question the structures of marriage or even "shacking up" because we pine for the picture perfect idea of love and marriage where there are defined roles and responsibilities, but recognise that there has to be more. Some young educated professionals opt for a postmodern “neither here nor there” approach to relationships where even the titles girlfriend and boyfriend are too scary for people to consider: do you count the anniversary from the day you kissed or the one night stand that turned into regular dates (seeing as “asking someone out” or courting doesn’t really happen anymore)?

And where do I stand on all this? Part of me wants to ignore the questions my family poses about my lengthy single status while my cousins and sisters are either procreating or getting married or both in whatever order. I don’t have an answer to why I am still single, I can’t exactly date or marry myself. The best I can do is learn to get to know myself better and appreciate my own company with friends (who are mostly in the same boat because friends who are in relationships or married with children talk about their sweet boyfriends or the price of nappies respectively). Sadly I have been unable to ignore the fact that I am a woman who has emotions and feelings and I’m learning that my sabbatical from relationships has left me with no skills or a game plan. Do I act upon the feelings and tell a guy I have a “crush” on him (which I’ve done and have learnt that men don’t know what do with this piece of information as they are destabilised hunters)? The best advice I have received has been to let it be and go through the emotions...and then what? I hope and pray a guy will eventually notice I am a girl and act upon the instinct of pursuing me? Or do I throw in the towel and risk being told that my fear of heartbreak and disappointment got in the way of completing the picture of having it all—a thriving career, the perfect husband, healthy children and the suburban middle class lifestlye—with people feeling sorry for me because “she had so much going for her but simply couldn’t find a man”?!


Anonymous said…
Langa here -
a friend of mine once said, "society isn't bringing up the calibre of man that free women have rightly come to expect."

I think as modern black women, we're still living through some social and generational upheaval.

My view is, why hold up marriage as an ideal. You're unlikely to find a perfect situation. We're the statistic of urbanisation someone will study one day.

I remember I used to attend a very horrible white church once. But I observed that even the most seemingly politically passive, fundamentalist Black women there were still vocal that being strong educated Black Christian women made them unappealing to men. One black guy came out with it and said - "Black women are admin."

what are the sisters to do - They have no choice but to be strong, make their own way in life, resist the condescension that Black women are heaped with by the world around them; deal with people surprised that you are articulate and will speak FIRST.

You're too much to handle; you're too groundbreaking for history; too hard to pin down for society's needs.

Your grandmother and mothers; they were going through so much difficulty under a system of extreme brutal white fascism where they were lowest of the entire class and race caste. It may have been perfectly better that they didn't end up with those men because that would have been WORSE!

Life doesn't give us any easy options; especially if you intend to have control over your brain and body AGAINST the grain of what people want you to do.

I've come to the conclusion - to be a free woman, you are almost bound to get hurt because you have to fight.

So I think hmm... I don't hold up my being married as being a step up or down; it was just a step on with my life that I took with my partner.

Other people will take other steps on; in different directions. It's never easy coz I didn't have to get married; but we just wanted to be. And that decision had its own social consequences.

It depends who you marry, and what your social context is.

Also I learnt something else, or maybe I am still learning - no committed relationship is ever perfect.

If there is equality, respect, reciprocity and a deep sexual connection... that's cool... but damn, the fighting over the dishes and the socks and the laundry and the cooking... you deal with it one at a time.

But what I certainly cannot encourage women to accept is a system that sees them as juniors or as 'helpers' or 'backbone'.
And it shocks me how many bujwa black men want someone to be that for them! Educated brothers who still believe they are the head of the family as though women are dimwits.

Of course most women are brought up love being domestic and bake scones and queens cakes, so was I; but damn, the sense of entitlement with our 21st century brothers is absurd.

Maybe there's no need to worry about having a game plan (there's not much game in Gtown anyway!). But just be open to what comes; and be open to letting it go.

Oh - lastly - nothing like a group of strong women around you to help be your compass...

Why do you have a fear of heartbreak; it means you want one person to affirm you... to endorse you... Painful ya... but eish... besides... look how broken hearts spawn creativity! The whole music industry is built on nursing broken hearts!

Oh by the way - there's a reason why people in suburbia have kids who cut themselves and are on anti-depressants - because that whole life is a sham... especially in this country where people pretend they are pious, and hardworking, meanwhile they are steeped in crazy exploitative privilege and boring marriages.

Maybe one day when I see you, I'll tell you what I really think marriage is, now that I am married; but don't buy into the myth just because our religious beliefs and upbringing made us think it's the best thing.
But a good marriage is a very beneficial thing, let me not knock the whole institution.
Anonymous said…
POSTSCRIPT - With all this, I don't mean to that we shouldn't be romantic idealists look for love and wanting to be swept off our feet. I am not saying that at all; just commenting on what complex things happen around us as we're busy trying to get swept off our feet. There's other things I could say here - about the annoying internal contradictions about being both insecure and confident at the same time as an educated, but not-so-risque heterosexual black woman; how that affects your view of what you think you are entitled to go for, and what you think you should get out of men, and how you should do it.
Half the reason we 'don't find love' is because of the imaginary 'cloud of witnesses' in our heads telling us 'close your legs, sit up straight, be a good girl otherwise something bad will happen to you; you'll wind up with the wrong guy, get AIDS, a baby and you will be a failure.' Worse ke if you are the high achieving type.

So I am not saying we're always strong and don't need love or want marriage - coz I know some conservative people could misconstrue what I wrote above. Especially proponents of that Steve Harvey paradigm 'Act like a lady, think like a man' - That is the most anti-black woman book in the whole world. As if black women run around trying to look down on men or trying to be difficult. When usually we're trying to act equal, and trying to find someone who can bring enough to the table so we can enjoy some damn romance and be vulnerable for just two seconds. Steve Harvey should have written a book for men called 'Think like her equal, treat her like she has a heart AND a brain'

But of course, patriarch's like Harvey reverse the accusations to blame women, in the same way racists reverse the tables to blame black people, or straights blame gays for moral decay when its the heterosexual institution of marriage that has broken women and children.
Anonymous said…
Actually I take back that comment about there being no game in Gtown!
There is plenty of game in Gtown; but the smallness of the place breeds familiarity with people that kills attraction.

And there's also game OUTSIDE of Rhodes. Also, something humanities students don't know...

there are SO MANY PhD science nerds holed up in their labs kwaa kwaa kwaa....

When I discovered a Nigerian brother doing his Phd IN Chemistry - I was like 'Damn, where have I been.'

Make friends with the science postgrads. A whole whole world of new friends opens up...
Arya samaj said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
We've become too descriptive about something we cannot explain, we all in the same boat. The superficial and carefree guy is out there and living his life. Intellectuals are busy analyzing what other people are or should be doing, all cause of fear and the idea of the perfect (constructable) being or world. Too much rom-coms of which I'm guilty of, exacerbate this analytic syndrome as we live through the scenes predictable outcomes. As for the so called modern independent women, you scare us although you might console yourselves as some form of intimidation towards us. All I can say YEAH RIGHT!!!!!!

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