Why are we ensnared and gasping under societal expectations?

He was agreeable on most occasions, a dependable man even. On the offside, he simply failed to understand the concept of being considerate of others’ preferences and feelings 

BY BRENDA VIOLA

There he was, one knee on the ground, hope emanating from his eyes as his lips moved, spilling sweet nothings for me, and perhaps the crowd. 

At the moment, I knew not how to smile, for I was too disconcerted. The man who knelt before me would be my happily ever after, a new beginning to the other chapter of my life. Was I supposed to be excited? Naturally, yes! I mean, how many times does a woman get proposed to? Several times for the lucky ones and only ones for some. Another batch of women don’t even get the bended-knee performance, they simply ‘find themselves’ living with the man. 

Growing up, I never saw pictures of my parents on their wedding day, my mother in a white wedding gown holding a bouquet of roses, traditionally branding it the happiest day of her life. Father, in a well-pressed black suit, his famous grin bringing life to his eyes. The thought of them marrying the traditional way crossed my mind, but the curiosity had been sated ages ago. 

Mother simply explained to me that she and father, in her own words, decided to stay together! It was really that simple! Then they had my siblings and me years later. 

In my early years, whenever we’d play an ordinary game, ‘kalongolongo’, there was always a mother, father, and children. It was a convenient family set up! That was what we knew as children, that a family was made up of a father as the head of the household, mother as the assisting figure and the children, individuals who came about as a product of their love. For so long mother had dreamt of the day she’d put on a nice kitenge and attend my wedding. Father openly spoke of how he would be beside himself the day he would get to walk me down the aisle, the day that he would give me off to my new family, for me to create a life of my own.

However, in this instance, I wondered if my parents’ dreams for me were justified. Was I simply an object to the society, to be passed from one man to another? Was my life only to begin under another man’s house? Was a family only made up of a father, mother, and their children? The social expectations suffocated me at the moment. I could only imagine mother’s chirpy voice, as she tells the rest of the women in her chama that her daughter was marrying, the pride in my father’s face, as he would argue out my bride price.  

I watched as his lips moved, saying some unfathomable words. My mind drifted once more. At the moment, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to commit to him. Are we really naïve to believe that we were all destined for a happily ever after? That our happily ever afters are tied to another human being, and without them, we’d be in despair? Are we really meant to grow old with our ‘significant other’, waiting and yearning for the days that our grandchildren would pay homage to us? If so, then where would that leave the vocational priests, sisters, pastors, missionaries, non-marrying members of the Opus Dei, and so many who fully committed their lives to their religion? Even more perplexing, where does that leave my unmarried aunt who never showed any interest in being in a relationship that eventually led to marriage?

As I listened to the silent gasps from the crowd that had gathered around us and the few catcalls praising him and urging him to continue with his heartfelt speech, I had made peace with two facts; life is not a rehearsal so we might as well as fully live it, and that life is indeed too short to be a crowd- pleaser

Looking into his eyes, all our past memories seemed to replay in my head, both the good and the bad. He was agreeable on most occasions. Some would even call him a dependable man. On the offside, he simply failed to understand the concept of being considerate of others’ preferences and feelings. As I listened to the silent gasps from the crowd that had gathered around us and the few catcalls praising him and urging him to continue with his heartfelt speech, I had made peace with two facts. Number one, the life we are living is not a rehearsal, so we might as well as fully live it. Therefore, why would I commit to that which didn’t entirely sit well with me? Fact number two was life is indeed too short to be a crowd-pleaser! A smile formed on my face at the second thought. A sign that he interpreted that things were going well for him. The crowd awed at the completely coincident moment. So what exactly did I want? 

I wouldn’t lie, the thought of having a wedding was utterly thrilling. I’d walk down the aisle in my beautiful gown. Then, at the alter, we would recite our vows; To love and cherish, in sickness and in health, for richer, for poorer, forsaking all others and keeping myself only for my partner, till death do us part. Such beautiful words, laden with promises. Vows made before friends, family, and God. Vows intended to be kept throughout the years. A strong feet if you ask me, a path to be explored only by the strong. I could no longer hear the silent whispers, cooing, or catcalls from the audience.

“Will you make me the happiest man in the world and be my wife?” he asked.

An unsettling silence filled the air. Perhaps this was the time I was supposed to give my answer.   

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