The common story of finding a spouse and starting a family goes like this; you meet someone you are very attracted to (if it’s not an arranged marriage), you pursue them, date for a while, get married, start a family and then have kids. Usually that’s how it’s supposed to be, but things don’t always follow the right sequence, as most couples have kids before getting married.
There are lots of factors that affect a potential marriage in most African cultures. This is because of the slow shift from philistine cultural and social norms, which are still very commonly practiced in many parts of Africa.
The Issue of Age
In most African subcultures, marrying a woman who is older than you is unheard of. It is a taboo whose growth, for some reason, the past generations have encouraged and nurtured. And this is a factor that is affecting a lot of potentially good relationships. The reason given is that women psychologically grow faster than men (which could be true), and this has caused men to cower from pushing on with similarly aged women to a staggering extent. It is reasonable that most men, here in Africa, wouldn’t want a wife who will out-reason them.
On the other side of the coin is the fact that men physically and emotionally develop slower than women. For a couple of forty-year old individuals, the man, under most circumstances, will appear younger. This is all part of the evolutionary process, where in women’s perspective, a younger male or of the same age is less likely to protect and provide for her and the children. On the other hand, an older male is likely to be stronger and more socially established. Now that we are in the modern society, however, this is no longer the case.
The issue of age has become so adverse that society, especially in Uganda, has curved out a particular age bracket when, on average, a young adult male should be ready to settle down. In this part of the world, society has concluded that most men below the age of thirty years are still playing love games and not ready to settle. As a result, most young women don’t feel safe dating guys in their twenties. And for that reason alone many relationships have become short lived. Such biases are not good for relationships. A new relationship that begins with strong biases, such as one where one party thinks the other is not taking the relationship serious (or is playing games), stands a small chance of surviving.
The older generations have always encouraged young men to father children while still in their early youth. My own father has on quite a few occasions talked to me about the benefits of starting a family as early as possible. Most of these old folk, our mentors, don’t even emphasize starting a family, they encourage ‘fathering’ children. The societal dangers of fathering children outside a proper family setting are obvious.
Fear and Failure to Commit
This is broad. The rate of divorce in the 21st century compared to earlier periods is staggeringly high. Because of such statistics, respect for the institution of marriage is rapidly waning. In fact, in our society, some girls will prefer to date a married man for fear of commitment, besides the obvious financial gains (although some married men are broke).
The worse problem is our married counterparts that are setting all the wrong examples. Some people use marriage as a disguise for their promiscuity. The word ‘married’ doesn’t hold the respect it used to have anymore. May be our society as a whole has become irreversibly corrupt. Or maybe not.
The other day I was looking at memes on the internet and one said “If you’ve not had sex by eighteen you are no longer a virgin, you’re just stingy.” There is now social pressure regarding sexual orientation among young adults, but so much is to blame on the families in which these young people were brought up, not to say the examples they have seen before them, mostly their parents.
Money (or Wealth)
Clearly love is not enough in a relationship, but our societies, and this is not limited to Africa, have imbued into the minds of young people the notion that a gentleman who is not rich is not ready to and should not marry. This reminds me of those jobs that advertise for employees with work experience of over 5 years (how is a fresh graduate supposed to get a job?).
Research shows that as one grows older, the richer they are more likely to be. Now unless one comes from a well to do family or has been lucky to have amassed a fortune at a relatively young age, how is one supposed to be realistically rich? So our society wants us to start families while we are reasonably young, but at the same time we are supposed to be reasonably wealthy? How does that work?
When older members of our society, or anyone we respect, are giving us advice, it is important to listen. However, given that our society is currently presenting us with more bad examples than good ones, it is important to consider Bruce Lee’s advice of “Absorb what is useful, Discard what is not, add what is uniquely your own.”
We are in the information age, a time where most values have already been tasted. Most importantly, this is a period where independent thinking is now an important and major skill. Luckily, we have good examples of those who have stood aloof the societal pressures associated with marriage (and similar major life decisions) and followed their individual mind to define their own marriage values and pursue them.
Despite the fact that in Africa, and indeed globally, marriage is still mostly celebrated as a community event, it is important that people are now, more than ever, approaching it as the union between two people that it is. It will always come down to the two people centrally involved in the relationship and how committed they are to sticking it out. It is models such as these that the world needs.