Majority of society believes that the woman who chooses not to ever get married or have children, will be miserable in her later years.
The gag is, we are all more familiar with miserable married people with children in their later years.
We all know couples who are miserable and distant with each other, who communicate poorly and rather than addressing the demise of their relationship, direct their focus on raising their children under the same roof.
Even in adulthood, their children are beleaguered with the expectation to cater to the desires and timelines of their parents, because what connects mommy and daddy, is the performance of parenting. Their parents now live vicariously through them.
I have aunts who never married and had children, they were treated like cautionary tales growing up,
"If you keep on being so stubborn, no one will marry you like Aunt S!"
Aunt S was in her late 30s, looking twenty something and working as a head chef at a high end hotel restaurant on the Island. I just never saw the problem, the threat it was intended to be, never quite made sense.
My favorite aunts were my single aunts. They were spontaneous, fun, lighthearted and seemed unencumbered with as much stress, expectation and responsibilities as my aunts who were married.
My married aunts who warned me not to be like Aunt S, looked and acted significantly older than she was, even though she was older than them. Their husbands came and went as they pleased, and they walked on eggshells around them, quick to shush their children when Daddy was about.
Their lives were pretty much my nightmare.
To learn to curtail my freedom of expression to be found worthy of marriage, never seemed like a wise trade.
I never wanted it.
I never wished for it.
I did see marriages growing up that seemed “tolerable”. Uncle O was 31, good looking, established and his beautiful wife had been his girlfriend since Law school. They lived in a recently renovated apartment in Ikoyi, with a charming interior. I enjoyed watching them interact, it was different from the relationships I was used to seeing. They teased each other, and laughed a lot together. They had 3 cute kids in a succession, it seemed….doable.
A couple I could relate to.
For once, they were friends and it didn’t read as a master/obedient wife, type of interaction, the only structure of marriage I had witnessed thus far. Their marriage made sense to me.
It made sense until my cousin who went to Law school in Jos, moved in with us to find a job in Lagos. Uncle O met her on one of the occasions he came visiting, and in no time, became obsessed. This man would come bearing all sorts of gifts, imploring my cousin to date him. It was...completely ridiculous, and as a child I couldn’t understand his insistence, it was a strange fit in my head. Everyone treated it like it was normal, they all laughed about how persistent he was and talked about how much he "loved" my cousin. I wondered if I was the only one who thought his devotion to my cousin was twisted, especially combined with how everyone generally regarded him as a “good man”.
My cousin hated him with a passion and would be so upset when anyone would tease her about him. She was much older than I was and so she never shared her frustrations with me. However I could tell how frustrated she was when he would come around. She would throw on her headphones and listen to her walkman, every time he came to visit, ignoring everyone who summoned her to greet him. He had no shame, he would come visiting with his wife and children after church service on Sunday, and ask in a jovial tone, where my cousin was,
"Where is that my friend? wink wink”
It wasn’t hard to shut down my newly-found positive impression of marriage after witnessing his behavior, resetting it back to,
" Am I the only one who sees that Women are too often disrespected and disregarded in marriages? Why are the women who surround me still so eager and hopeful for it?".
Uncle O's wife had 3 more children, and naturally began to look a lot older than him. He stayed fit and spry and by this time, had amassed so much money, he was considerably more "attractive" to women. As we (my siblings and I) got older, he began including us in recounts of his married bachelor lifestyle, like for instance, the sordid tale of how he snagged 22 year old twin girlfriends.
We let him feel young and “hip” so we could enjoy the free cash that came with listening to his "baby boy" tales.
His wife went from being sweet and accepting, to becoming very materialistic and cold. She was more withdrawn. The most random things had to be name brand, nothing less than the absolute best. You see that a lot with women married to adulterous rich men. The defense mechanism is, spending a shit load of his money, ignoring the fuck out of his shenanigans, and focusing on what you can accumulate and how you can give your children the best possible life.
My observations growing up, have led me to question society’s tendency to diminish the image of the single, childless woman. So much work is done to paint her as miserable and broken, when in reality, women who are married, often fit that description.
Being miserable has nothing to do with your relationship status, and everything to do with how you perceive life, how you are able to deal with the blows that life deals and if you can muster up the strength to take ownership of your own life.
A woman is not miserable because she is single and childless, neither is she so, just because she is married, it does not work like that.
A woman who has chosen to be happy in life, and who is able to center herself, no matter what she faces because she is familiar with herself, will very rarely exist in misery, in or outside of a relationship, and with or without children.
Marriage and children is not what makes every woman happy, and it is beyond time everyone learned that.
There is nothing wrong with you, for not feeling the urgency to desire marriage or children yet, or even at all. The same way there is nothing wrong with you, for desiring a long term companion or children of your own. These are just choices desired by different woman, and it is so harmful that society makes one a mandatory expectation and any deviation from fulfilling it, a reason to ridicule and lambaste women.
We question ourselves even when we know what we don’t want, because society teaches that we would be miserable at some later point in our lives for regretting not wanting it.
It is not a race, if you change your mind at a later time, you have the option of searching for someone. There is no need to rush, if you are not ready. The men you don't want right now, are not going to be men you will regret not giving a chance to. Everyone loves threatening women with that,
"You are too picky
..when you are old and you can't find a husband, you will wish you married this nice man who comes around pestering you".
No I won't.
I don't regret any of the men I never wanted, they were rejected for valid reasons. And if at any point that I look back on them because I am lonely, then I will know that I am being desperate and idealistic, and not realistic. I would know that it is up to me to do something, to get myself back to being happy, because it is my responsibility to be kind and loving to myself.
It means I will not fool myself, by pretending that my happiness is based on the presence of another person, because I am too lazy to do the work of knowing myself and finding out what makes me happy outside of a romantic relationship.
It tells me that I am too busy following societal rules, which tell women that we cannot be happy unless we are paired with someone. So this man that my mind, body & soul does not want, is not the key to my future happiness, just because I may be lonely.
Everyone has regrets, however I stand firm in eschewing romantic regrets. Loneliness makes us idealize, it makes what we rejected in the past, seem not as bad. Everytime I slip up and think fondly of a romance that rightfully ended, I make sure to remember why it did.There are several married people, who are currently idealizing the exes they rejected. Romantic regrets are painful, unnecessary & often unrealistic in what we remember.
To conclude, no one can predict misery based on relationship status. To assign it to single women, is one of the most aggressive actions of patriarchy. It has resulted in so many women rushing into relationships that rendered them actually miserable.
Women are miserable and telling themselves that they are at least not as miserable as their single friends, who appear to be happier, freer and in more control of their lives than they are.
It is the oddest thing.
If you read through this article I hope you lose that outdated belief today.
Words by Doreen Caven