The thing I have realised about being a writer is that there will be times that you expose the deepest parts of yourself and make yourself vulnerable. Writing is a risky activity because you tend to expose yourself in a way that positions you for criticism from others. Some of that exposure and criticism may lead to others rejecting you as I have encountered previously. Nonetheless, I don’t let that put me off, there will come a time when I will write fiction and those bothered will not have to worry so much. But for now, it is what it is…
As I may have mentioned before in other pieces of work, writing is my sanctuary. Today I will write about something quite personal because its Domestic Violence Awareness month; and also because there is a lesson that I would like you to take from it.
It’s about marriage. For if I can remember, marriage was always a big deal. To be married was wonderful and considered something every young lady should experience because being a wife is what defined a woman. From an African context, marriage is expected and regarded as an achievement much in the same way as graduating from university is an achievement. Even from my own observations within life, be it in physical communities such as church or social media communities, some people give off the impression that that if they are married it means that they are somehow superior over others. I have witnessed women (be it amongst family or friends in arguments or strangers in a street brawl) get abuse for not having a husband or not being able to get one.
I never really put much thought into issues of marriage and marital status until many years later as an adult and working in a church. Some of you might be familiar with the fact that marriage is a big deal in the church, in fact most of what you can do whilst working for the church is depended on your marital status because married people are highly respected, especially in the African churches.
Anyway, the point that I need to make is that being married should not be viewed as an accomplishment. Marriage is not one of those things that you tick a box to, have a ceremony and live happily ever after. There is more to marriage than the praiseworthy aspect of it. Marriage requires a lot more than that. Having a marital status is not an achievement and if any of my black African sisters are reading this, please understand that there is more to marriage life than just being Mrs so and so… it is not enough to walk around with a ring on your finger presenting as married.
I know a couple that were married for twenty-two years, and they knew how to dramatize their life in such a way that people admired them and wished that their marriages were like theirs. On several occasions, I approached this couple myself with problems of my own within my marriage, hoping to get some advice on how I could save my marriage. I was not the only one. Unbeknown to everyone, there was so much abuse within this marriage it was unbelievable….and of course shocking and disappointing when we found out the truth. I can’t imagine why this couple chose to deceive us all by putting up a front of unity and happiness.
The milestone of being married for twenty years or even fifty years is of no significance if there is no happiness in the life that you share together (especially when you try and raise kids in that fucked-upness) just because of trying to maintain married woman status.
The thing about my marriage breakdown is that some of it was a result of emotional abuse. My husband thought that marriage was an accomplishment based on me being the perfect wife, he resented me for all the things that I could not do and tried to make me feel like I failed to be “a good wife”. He saw me as a failure and I didn’t quite fit into his template of what a wife should be. I will not bother boring you with the list of things that I did do correctly as a wife but maybe if I mentioned that he developed a habit and abused alcohol over the years and couldn’t provide for me and the children; that might give you an idea of what my position was in that situation. In any case, I stood by him in the best way that I could.
The way I see it, you fall in love, you take a chance and get married with the hope that both of you will put in the same amount of effort to make the marriage enjoyable for the sake of everything good that life must offer. It’s a risk because neither of you are responsible for the other person’s actions, and as much as you ought to be united in marriage, there is not much that you can do about other person’s behaviour. They stand alone in that respect to take responsibility of their behaviour (if there are consequences to face then you stand by them and support them). In my case, clearly, we didn’t put in the same amount of effort to make the marriage work. There were people that had genuine interests around trying to help us overcome. Then there were also people that pretended to sympathise with us but really were around only for the gossip. Some of the women, especially from church, had the nerve to offer advice and give tips on where they had succeeded in marriage but I was failing…oddly enough they were either divorced and looking for the next husband or living through their second or third marriages themselves. Some of them were married and “acting accomplished” but obviously doing a very bad job at being mothers and lacking in every other aspect of what it entails to be a woman. Their children were neglected and some of those children had already fallen into the hands of social services or police.
Even within my own despair I pitied these women, blinded by their arrogances whilst taking me under their wings to help me save my marriage. I envied none of them because they felt so complete being wives yet they were rubbish mothers and rubbish leaders.
In my opinion, having a husband is not the measure of success. It is not an achievement to make noise about. The real achievement that comes with marriage is about being able to withstand the challenges of daily life, financial situations, illnesses, managing your children and giving good guidance regardless of circumstances. Those are the achievements within marriage worth making noise about. I overcame so much DURING the breakdown of my marriage. I inspired my children to be better people, as I write this today, my daughter graduates from University in a few weeks. My son began his university journey last September; he is almost completing his first year of a four-year programme. My eight-year-old is about to publish her first children’s book, and of course, I am a work in progress. These things have happened whilst we were in a dysfunctional family situation. Thankfully we are onto better days, minus a dad and a husband, but so what?
Just being proud about being called Mrs …. does not count. There are many people in dysfunctional marriages as the couple I mentioned earlier, who have held onto marital status and ended up spreading their dysfunction to their children. The result of that has been bitter or suicidal children, and of course thousands of pounds of money spent going to therapy to try and cope.
What is it really worth?