Most of my American friends do not think about marriage until around 33. Particularly those who I went to graduate school with in DC, they would laugh at the crazy stories that I would share about my mother. Her trying to set me up with the white guy she met on her flight to Abidjan, her calling my aunt in Paris to see if the latter knew any available engineers for her single daughter. My mother believes that 30 is the new 60. She sees it as the end, at 30 there is no more hope and now your 20s are gone along with any prospective husbands. Between working abroad, exploring parts of the world my mother never even knew existed, and finishing up a very expensive graduate degree, she is STILL wondering why I couldn’t pick up a husband along the way. She’s forever wondering why I am still single.
According to my mother many women in the diaspora are suffering from the disease called single. She claims that you can catch it from hanging around too many of “your single American friends who take sinful trips to Vegas and go to nude beaches in Jamaica”. You can also catch it from spending too many years abroad trying to “find yourself” through travel like those crazy tree huggers who blog about their spiritual quests to India. Single is a very serious situation when you are the daughter of a traditional African woman who worked for most of your life to shield you from American or European ideals of success.
Many advanced degrees, careers with 60 hour work weeks and big paychecks, adventures around the world; sure, those are all beautiful, and our mothers are truly proud, but if any of those aforementioned activities get in the way of finding an “Ozzband” than those activities do not represent true success. Success in many African mothers’ minds is a husband from a good family, particularly from your tribe, who is a lawyer or doctor, who has a family home in Africa and is ready to impregnate you the minute you two say I do. So when you find yourself 30 and unsuccessful according to those guidelines, you begin to look at your life in a tainted light.
No matter how many declarations of revolutionary feminist ideals you throw your mother’s direction (“I do not need a husband to feel complete!” “I did not go to college to pound foo foo all day!” “Maybe I’ll adopt!”), secretly you begin to calculate how much longer you have until all hope is lost for finding that dream partner, having those beautiful children, throwing a wedding your family could be proud of. You even begin paying closer attention to photo albums on Facebook from your friends’ traditional wedding ceremonies in Lagos, Accra, or Free Town, clicking through in shameful envy at the presumed happiness of the bride and her new “Ozzband”.
Then you may begin to panic; anxiety can grip you as you see your “prime” slipping away, you begin to wonder if that internship in South Africa was the right choice, or if beginning that Masters program in London is that important right now? Maybe you should settle down, find a mate (because it’s that simple), and become the woman your mother has always envisioned. I wonder, through the years of conditioning by my mother, have I merely began to want for my life what she wants? Where do your dreams end and your family’s expectations begin? Why is your mother not praying for you to change the world instead of finding a good provider? Why has 30 become the new 60?
Words by : Stephanie Kimou