Last weekend was the reunion programme of the fellowship I attended in the University of Ibadan. Contrary to what Hollywood will have you believe, reunions can be sane and drama free. And this was even more than just that—it was refreshing. I think it is my silent desire for trouble—a strange longing since I’m usually easy-going—that made me wish M followed through when A told me she was going to attend the reunion in trousers. We had invited her for the programme to turn a friendship that was strictly electronic into one that has faces to match avatars and profile pictures. There is nothing strange in her wearing trousers, but I know I would have responded to questions and engaged in arguments with friends who would have tried to gauge the extent of my apparent apostasy. Ours was and is still a deeply conservative fellowship of Christians.
I was disappointed when M arrived, perched on a commercial motorcycle, dressed in a little black dress that had red detailing with her freshly done hair let down to soften the appearance that would have been too formal for such a social gathering. Hugs were exchanged, fantasies were tempered by reality and fresh data was added to personalities erstwhile measured by lines of text. As we entered the auditorium, A said his pew was crowded so he advised that M go with me to my seat. I should have spotted the potential mine beneath that innocuous decision. A few minutes after we were seated, a friend sent me a message on Whatsapp: “Who is the damsel with you?”
My singleness is a topic I’ve talked about time and again. I’m at a place where I have to explain every female acquaintance in my company. I think it is funny that one of the situations where we take judging by sight to be a valid way of making decisions is in marital relationships; both when we want to make the choices ourselves and when we make them on behalf of other people. My task of explanation is usually made easier when the said acquaintance is already in an exclusive relationship (I use exclusive because my other options—marital and sexual—are open to gross misinterpretations) but sometimes I do not even get a chance to make the explanation.
There’s a chance my friends see me as being in danger of ending up a perpetual bachelor so, they view any contact I have with a member of the opposite sex as beacon of hope in the bleakness of my singleness that one day might become the subject of uncomfortable conversations with their kids.
“Mommy where is Uncle Ife’s wife.”
“Uncle Ife does not have a wife.”
“What of his children?”
“He has no children too.”
“Why doesn’t he have a wife or children?”
“Because Uncle Ife decided not to marry when his mates were marrying.”
“Does that mean that I can decide not to marry too?”
“God forbid. Don’t say something like that. You will marry and give me wonderful grandchildren, in Jesus Name.”
Then they would have to sit down with their spouses to decide if they will continue to have me in their houses during public holidays and Saturday evenings. Do not fear. On current evidence I don’t look the kind of guy who will end up like that.
However, I do not view singleness as a problem. I grew up knowing many single women–most of them were missionaries–who had made the choice not to be called a Mrs. Now that I think about it, it was only the women missionaries who were not married, the men usually came for missions with their wives beside them. I don’t know the reason for that difference but I guess it must have something to do with the different perception of single men and women.
The idea of putting bachelors and spinsters together is self-defeating.
The reaction to singles of both sexes is usually an interesting one in Nigeria. The young men are encouraged to act, while the young women are made the subject of prayer points. The single woman becomes the subject of ridicule in her 30s, while at that age, the single man becomes the object of envy, especially when he is rich, good looking and has an abundance of female admirers.
I would have asked single men and women to come together in solidarity groups against the pressures of the world. But the idea of putting, sometimes desperate, bachelors and spinsters together is self-defeating. One will always end up with fewer singles than one started with. Or why do you think most marriages start in the university?
As the reunion ended I watched older couples herd their children into cars, young couples depart holding hands and engaged young men and women whisper words in each other’s ears as they left the church premises. I admit that there’s a beauty to the coupled life, but that beauty should not be enough reason to harangue single folks into marital relationships.
Whether we like it or not, there’s also beauty and freedom in the single life when it is lived properly. And it takes someone who has enjoyed this to fully appreciate the goodness in being yoked to another human being for life.
I explained who M is to my friend on Whatsapp, and will continue to explain to folks who want to rescue me from the misery of singleness but I wish I do not always have to explain.