“Hi! My name is Antoinette. I’m forty. I’m independent, single and happy.”
“Hi Antoinette! Welcome.” A chorus of women’s voices responds.
“Em…hello? My name is Kuukua…this is my first meeting. Oh…and I’m thirty-four.”
“Hi Kuukua! Welcome.” A chorus of women’s voices responds yet again.
“Welcome to WWISH, Kuukua, a place for women who are independent, single, and happy,” the facilitator of the group adds.
I am thirty-four. I am independent. I am single. Given the right combination of factors, I am happy most of the time. When I’m unhappy it’s usually because I have not paid attention to my gut. Some days I wish there was an AA-type group for women like me. Sometimes it is the sheer lack of our visibility that throws me into depression. I know we are out there, but because we don’t see each other, perhaps we cave and join the married forces only to launch ourselves into a life of permanent depression. It was difficult to see everyone pairing off in their twenties and wonder if all was well with me. It became more concerning to outsiders when I hit thirty and kept going and still showed no signs of pairing off. Now, a few months from thirty-five, and with every other word out of my aunt’s mouth having to do with marriage, I can’t help thinking about it all over again. It’s not the quintessential 34-year crisis, although I won’t deny that this is probably riding on its heels, but it’s the crisis that’s not often talked about. Even when it is talked about, it’s often done in an attempt to fix it—getting the culprit a therapist, setting her up with numerous blind-dates, quizzing her so often that she begins to make-up ‘boyfriends’—trying to know the root cause of her spinsterhood so they can fix it. Speaking of the latter, at what age does one cross over from being just single into being a spinster? Does anyone know?
When I was growing up my grandmother did her best to ensure that my sister and I steered clear of boys, or rather that boys steered clear of us. She was so concerned with boys and grades that everything else played second fiddle. If actions really do speak louder than words, then she needn’t have tried so hard. All around us, every woman in our family, including her, had been married, once, some even twice, and yet were all raising children single-handedly with little or no male support. So is it a wonder that at thirty-four and thirty-one, my sister and I are still unmarried and have no plans to do so anytime soon? So why do I get flack from all these single mothers, about getting married? Why do I have to spend time creating and keeping track of Jamaican boyfriends that no one will be able to trace? (I discovered a few years back that my extended family had a knack for tracing last names from some of the neighboring West African countries.) Jamaica is safe. They are Africa uprooted. Some of “them” are Rasta people but so long as their skin is like mine and they believe in God, we have a match! Plus to them, Jamaica covers all of the Caribbean so that gives me quite a range.
There are lots of theories why women like me exist. Smart, highly-educated, beautiful, sexy, great cook. Also, Type A, neat-freak, no-nonsense, impatient, brutally honest. Unmarried and childless. By choice! They say we had strong female figures in our lives who over shadowed the male figures (if they were around). They say we are jaded because some guy in our past duped us. They say we are ‘apuskeleke.’ They say we hate men. They say we are lesbians. The list goes on. It never occurs to anyone that perhaps marriage is not meant for everyone, nor does it have to have a timeline, nor does the same timeline have to apply to everyone.
Last Saturday, riding with two of my aunts around town, we passed three dressed-up wedding vehicles. They both chorused each time they saw each one that this was a sign I was getting married soon. Why not spend the time asking after my health and wellbeing? Why not find out how my new job is going? Am I happy? What do I want to do with my life? I’ve been gone from their lives for sixteen years, and when I return all they want to talk about is that boyfriend I’m hiding abroad. At least my one aunt is open-minded enough to use the term, ‘partner.’ Talk of marriage and children seem to consume people’s interactions with me. Given the fact that I have neither, one has to wonder what about it could possibly hold their interest for so long.
I have been on the continent for a total of four months, the longest I have been here since I was whisked away at eighteen to go and benefit from the Western world’s mastery of education and order. The past four months have been anything but a shock to my system; I feel I have stepped backwards at least five decades. It doesn’t matter that I have two masters and I’m working on a third. “Are you married?” is the first question everyone asks after being introduced. Of course the ring on my ring finger causes some confusion, but that’s another story. It seems over here in my old home, women are still just accompaniments to men. They do not acquire status unless it is spelled with the initials M.R.S. Even my classmates who are now doctors and lawyers and have come into some considerable contact with the Western world, have married and settled down, and are rushing home to fix their husbands’ dinners, or for those well-to-do ones, scurrying home to properly supervise the house-helps. These are the women who surprise me. I expect a barrage of marriage-related commentary from the older generation, not these friends. But it seems as if they, having accepted their lot in life, would now like me to also do the same. They don’t see marriage as a choice. It is something every woman must do; how dare I defy the conventions?
How dare I? This is another of the reasons why being in Ghana has been challenging. I don’t fit the conventions. Here, not fitting the conventions is a lot lonelier than in the U.S. where thinking outside the box is encouraged. Not fitting the box here means there are a lot of awkward silences when people ask certain questions. It means you rehearse a patent answer and deliver it to everyone who is nosey enough to ask (and that’s really everyone). It means rehearsing more answers for the obstinate guy who has come-backs for all my other answers. It is challenging because not only do I get to process the issue of Africa’s brain drain and my participation in it, or missing my family back in my other home, or teaching, or fill in the blank, I also have to think quickly on my feet about what to say to the question: “Are you married?” and its follow-up: “Why not?” or “What are you waiting for?” Of course there are other sneakier versions of the question:
“But Mel, aren’t you lonely?” (My old home friends call me by my Anglo name, Melody-Ann.)
“Of course I’m lonely sometimes, but not lonely enough to rush and fill it with a permanent fixture!”
Ehhh! Wrong answer! This one could lead to hours of defending such ‘flawed’ thinking.
It is exhausting to speak my mind, to say how I really feel about the whole matter, so I shut up and let them lecture me on the benefits of marriage and producing, again.