guest post: when will you marry? / tolani shoneye

“My mum always cornrowed my hair, I would sit on the floor between her legs and she would braid my hair into the desired style. It was our bonding time, we would watch a Nollywood movie and we would talk. She would mock my edges, ask me about school and we would have a gossip about my aunts and cousins. But as my desired style changed, so did our conversations — it moved on from my grades and friends to my dating life.

“So tell me about your boyfriend.”

“At your age, I already had 2 kids.”

“Your little cousin Tobi is getting married next year.”

“You know you are not getting any younger, when will you marry?”

I don’t know how it happened, but it did, I went from a teen who wanted criss cross cornrows, to a woman. And with womanhood, came the mounting pressure of marriage. A pressure I did not ask for, nor did I need. The pressure brought with it phone calls from aunties I had not spoken to in years. Indirects during prayers and promises of a match with someone’s son who “worked in oil and lived in the states”. It seemed like my aunties, who were mostly unhappily married, had made a pact to get me a husband. They were unbothered about my job, my general wellbeing or any of my life goals. All they were interested in was changing my relationship status.

I had always wanted to get married, I was brought up to believe that the ultimate goal in life was marriage and a family of my own. You go to school, you get a degree, you get a good job and you got married. And I was going to adhere to the plan. I always believed marriage was both beautiful and meaningful, it sounded good to me, in fact, it filled me with excitement. Excitement about my future soulmate, a man who loved me enough to want to spend the rest of his life with me. I got giddy thinking about my wedding day, the style of my dress, the colour of my lace and gele. And the afrobeat song that would be the soundtrack for me and my husband’s entrance. However, this excitement for marriage slowly turned into fear, every time my mother or aunt asked me about my relationship status.

There is something about being told that “you will pass your sell-by date” that fills you with fear.  A fear that keeps you up at night because you start to wonder why love has not picked you. A fear that makes avoid your once favourite aunty because you really can’t stand to have another conversation about how your independence is off-putting for men.

When the questions and comments initially started it was bearable. I would jokingly reply, “he is coming” every time I was asked about my boyfriend. I would say “Amen” to the prayers of aunties asking God to send me a man. But with every birthday, the questions became less light-hearted and they turned into worry. My mum would come into my room and ask for a chat, and I always knew how it would go. She would ask me mundane questions, she will ask for an update on my love life and would get frustrated when I didn’t have one. We would argue, and I would be left upset. Upset because I felt I was letting her down, I knew, my not being married made her feel like she had failed. She had taken my singleness has her failure, it meant her job wasn’t done yet. And as much as I wanted to tell her I had met someone, it wasn’t the case and I didn’t know how to change that.

It’s the not knowing that makes the pressure feel so heavy. With all other pressures, there is a solution — a solution that I had control over. But unlike work or school, love doesn’t come with a rulebook. Working harder doesn’t guarantee love will pick you. There is no fine-tuned plan that allows you to create the perfect environment to lure men with feminine wiles and get him to propose to you. Love and marriage is just something you have to wait on, and I wish my mum and aunties understood that. I wish they understood the weight of the pressure. How every negative comment made about my singleness undoes all the work I have put into loving myself irrespective of how a man feels about me. I wish they knew that every time they ask “when will you marry” I hear “when will you make us proud.”

I wish they understood that my singleness is not a problem. My singleness is not a source of pity, it’s in fact, my time to fully focus on me. My time to make myself the best version of me. So when love and marriage come along, I am ready. And this is the message I will pass on to my nieces and nephew. Not only will I be the rich, cool aunty who turns up to Christmas dinner with faux fur and a new wig, I will also be the aunty that asks different questions. The one that reminds them to never measure their lives according to society’s expectations, and that a relationship should complement their identities, but it should never define them.

Ridicule aside, the worst part of this pressure is that my mum doesn’t cornrow my hair anymore.”

Tolani Shoneye is a writer, digital content creator and podcaster, which basically means she talks well and writes well. You can find her hosting The Receipts Podcast weekly, alongside Audrey and Milena.  

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