Disclaimer/Confession: I actually thought of this post a few days ago, while I was typing out my last post. However, as I write it now, I have been suffering from a severe case of “Facebookitis” for a few days. That is, that (almost desperate) urge to draw attention to myself, usually on Facebook, by writing all manner of “witty” status updates, or sharing posts, usually with lashings of my own personal opinion to show how deeply I think etc, or to share details of my life. Perhaps mostly for the benefit of a certain person! (Oh very well – a certain someone!) I have largely resisted the urge to give in to that Facebookitis, but writing this post is my little capitulation to it. So erm, I can’t help using this post to share details of my life which might possibly not be strictly necessary…!
I was recently reading a post on another blog written by someone from a similar cultural background to mine. It was about being single as a Nigerian. I could identify so strongly with so much of what she said. One particular line made me laugh out so loud:
“These are the same people who all but glued a note to my forehead saying “no boys allowed” all through my 16 years of school.” Oh my goodness, yes, yes and yes!
That was exactly what happened in my own childhood. Reading over that article made me remember a few things…
For instance, on one hand we were not “allowed” to date. On the other hand, there was actually no-one to date, even if my parents had been more lenient! My Dad, like any typical educationally ambitious Nigerian father was well versed in educational matters, and was very aware of the fact that girls apparently do better in girls’ schools. So I and my sisters were duly packed off to single-sex schools. (Conversely, boys apparently do better in mixed institutions….) Additionally, the church we grew up in throughout my teenage years, pastored by the one and same father, was tiny and there were literally no boys to get to know. Ironically, in the run-up to my teens, we had been in another church which was a lot bigger, and we had had plenty of friends of both genders. We had had the most amazing social life, which I happily took for granted. But then, just when things were just starting to get interesting, off we left, as if someone had planned it…. (slowly looks suspiciously at Dad, who, unusually, happens to be present as I am writing this, and is innocently chatting away to my Aunty, his sister! Perhaps I should make it clear that this father is himself very educationally accomplished…)
And now let’s talk about the “Not allowed to date” thing. I remember at the age of 14 or so, asking my parents whether we could have boyfriends. Looking back, I think that there must have been a trigger to this request which I can not now remember; perhaps we watched a particular TV program. What I do know is that I did not have anyone in mind, it was definitely a theoretical exercise! Which was just as well, because my parents said “When you get to sixteen”. Oh well, I thought, that was fair enough, and knowing my parents I would actually have been somewhat disappointed if they had said anything different. Lo and behold, “sixteen” came around and I at some point I eagerly remembered to ask (once again purely theoretical, as there were still no boys to be found!) But then, guess what, they increased it to “eighteen”! And then it was off to uni, of course. But in those intervening years I had inexplicably grown super-shy around boys. And then, just like in the post linked above, my parents suddenly started asking me to produce a boyfriend seemingly from thin air!
So anyway, that has been a somewhat long preamble to this idea: one of my sisters sometimes says that our parents and upbringing are to blame for certain issues like the relationship issues I have encountered. I know that she is just as grateful for our incredible upbringing as I am. And yet in this she is only half joking. And that has caused me to reflect on the following idea, countless times: that as parents, you do the best you can for your children, you plan for them the same way my father wisely steered us towards high-achieving girls’ schools. And yet, invariably, things will happen that you just could never have anticipated. These are the things that then you have to “play by ear” – or, in my Dad’s case, “pray by ear”. (You know I could never resist such an easy pun!) So these are the things that would possibly have made a difference in my upbringing, regarding friendships with men that could potentially have become romantic.
Firstly, I have to emphasise that as a person I am extremely careful, romantically speaking. I’ve taken all this time to work out just what I want in a relationship because I do not want to rush into anything, and I am so aware of the potential of a bad relationship to so drastically affect my life. So even if I did grow up with male friends, the question is whom I would have been able to marry. How would I possibly have known all these things then that I know now, about the fact that people can change, and the need to sit back and weigh out character? God could still have been extremely gracious in allowing me to marry someone who just happened to be excellent. I am grateful however for the chance now to appreciate just how big an undertaking marriage is, and how easy it is to get it wrong in the choice of partner. I am also grateful for being able to understand just what level of seriousness is necessary in prayer for marriage.
ALSO the tenor of faith has changed noticeably since I was a child. Back then, Nigerian christianity was a lot more about integrity and character, things that would readily contribute towards excellent spouses. However now, it is largely about being blessed, success, and prosperity, and so many of the people I grew up with in the faith seem to have simply gone along with that, so that now their focus seems to be on all these things rather on than the character that would make them excellent spouses for someone like me!
So then, even if those men had been there, there is no guarantee that any of them would have been good matches for me, at least. I sometimes ask myself whom I could have married from my childhood, and I can never think of anyone! And yet….I guess knowing those extra people would have exposed me to a much larger circle of friends, and as well as those people themselves who regularly surrounded me I would also have had access to their friends, and could potentially have met other people that way…
So anyway these are the things that could potentially have made a difference in our upbringing regarding our interaction with guys:
1. Growing up in our own country
I think our parents just took it for granted that we would have no problem finding male friends and getting to know them because that is how life happened for them. When they went off to university in their own country, they were surrounded by people just like them, from similar backgrounds. They shared the same culture, they literally spoke the same language. Because I have not grown up in my own country, surrounded by people like me, I have found it so hard to understand just how I could fit into the culture around me while keeping my own cultural values of which I am so proud! Apparently, Nigerians are notorious for managing to not assimilate into surrounding cultures. Perhaps this is because we have such a big and full cultural tradition that we cannot just release just like that!
Furthermore one of the big difficulties I have had has been to find people whose approach to faith is like mine. I don’t think my parents could ever have anticipated how much of a problem this would be for me. Even when we were growing up we were surrounded by so many other Christians. Who could ever have imagined that faith could change so drastically that even among Nigerians it would be so hard to find people who have not been swept up in the lies of the Prosperity Gospel?!
2. Male friendships
I think that it was wise of my parents to stop us from dating when we were teenagers. However, looking back I think that it would have been useful for us to have had a wider social circle where we could have mingled with more male friends. This is a huge balancing act for parents, as teenage hormones mean that friendships between the genders can always get more serious than is useful. I think I can trust that my parents would have been extremely watchful. Assuming that we could have navigated those years without having any serious romantic crises, on reaching adulthood we could have had a selection of friends whom we had known for years, that we had literally grown up with. All this business of getting to know someone for two years, sitting down, evaluating their character, would have been completely unnecessary. All those years would also have contributed towards forming some strong, solid friendships so that we could then have gone on to easily and naturally build romantic relationships on those foundations of friendship. Now it feels so artificial to be looking to get married, and then to be trying to build friendships with people for the sake of eventually, possibly marrying them. In teenage years those relationships could have formed spontaneously and easily without needing to be forced by the hope of marriage.
3. Brought up to get married?
I always used to watch in a kind of amusement as throughout my twenties, and even starting from teenage years, some of my female peers and age-mates seemed to do anything necessary to get into relationships with men, and to eventually get engaged, then married. I always used to think that for these girls, getting married seemed to be the the be all and the end all of their lives, that that was the single biggest and most significant aspiration of their lives. I on the other hand was brought up first and foremost to excel in my own right as a woman, to strive after my own dreams. I can only be grateful for that. However, I now appreciate that there is actually quite a narrow window of opportunity for finding a mate even while you are getting established in your own dreams. If I knew then what I know now, I would have been a lot more deliberate about seeking out fantastic Christian community from my teenage years, looking consciously for places where I could realistically expect to find a spouse. Ironically, I fervently threw myself into Christian environments throughout university and beyond, but finding a spouse there was never in my mind at all (perhaps because I was too busy looking at the non-Christian guys outside!)
Well these are a few thoughts that occur to me now, there are possibly other things that are relevant. On balance though, I am extremely grateful for how things worked out regarding our upbringing. I think about these people who managed to secure spouses at a younger age. I can’t help thinking that there are a few trade-offs necessary in this issue, which I would not have been aware of at that time. Back then I would only have been conscious of being “crazily in love”. It is only now looking back that I am aware of issues of character and building a great foundation for my marriage. Getting married earlier, or back then, would have unknowingly involved a tradeoff between securing a mate early, and being more knowledgable to make sure that your marriage is built on a great foundation.
Photo of loving family from Pixabay