After articles like “Is marriage bad for women” and Iyawo Wa, along with a bunch of others, honestly, it’s a little frustrating hearing people still say that “sha they still won marry”. It says something about how humans follow the most familiar and most persistent messaging (especially when it lines up with their upbringing), and tend to ignore the rational alternatives, despite overwhelming evidence. Married women typically have less money to their names, and have shorter life expectancy. Studies have shown that the unmarried, childless women are the happiest subgroup, and the second happiest are divorced women. The gap after that is gigantic. Hence I am strongly of the opinion that women should not get married (at least not in the orthodox sense) because it’s a trap/prison. For women beyond a certain socio-economic threshold in particular, the costs outweigh any perceived benefits. But alas….
Every time I ask people why they want to get married, the reasons they give like – partnership, children, etc. – can ALL be gotten outside of marriage. Also, If you love someone and they love you, why do you need a contract to make it harder for them to leave you? Is that really the relationship you want? You want to hold on to someone that doesn’t want to be there? Some might say that marriage is the highest declaration of love. It’s not. It is actually the highest legal declaration of ownership (since slavery was outlawed). I know that in some societies, there is an argument to be made for marriage to get societal benefits (e.g. status for upward mobility) or economic benefits (like health insurance or tax benefits). However, the question there should be why your well being as a human being should be hinged on the existence of a marriage certificate. If you need a spouse to get healthcare I do not blame you for doing what is necessary. We still have to look critically at a society that makes a human right available only conditionally.
Watching people who clearly see the fallacies of marriage (as we know it in the patriarchal societies) still want to get married, or go ahead and get married, and then turn around and say “Teni you were right”, just breaks my heart. The reason getting a divorce is so much harder than getting married is by design. Which is why the claims that getting married is “just a piece of paper” is a trick to get your guard down and get you hitched. Outside of marriage, there are legal protections you can put in place such as power of attorney, and deliberately putting your children in your will to safeguard for what happens to your babes if something happens to one of you etcetera. So the argument for marriage to get such protections is moot.
However, since a lot of this advice is falling on deaf ears, I decided to write on what to do before and after “I do”. If you feel you still want to get married, here are a few pieces of advice (in no particular order) on what to do before walking down the aisle. These are polled from married women who shared what they would do differently if they had a do-over.
- Wait till you’re older: This one’s for multiple reasons. A. People change as they grow older. Your brain is not even fully developed until you’re about 25. By 35, you’ve only just finished being an early (read baby) adult. There is still so much change to come. You don’t want to be stuck in an almost irrevocable contract with someone who has completely changed (and vice versa). B. The older you are, the more life lessons you have. You know yourself better, you have confidence that comes only with age (or trauma), you know your non-negotiables, and your boundaries. This is critical for choosing a life partner because once they or their families trigger a red flag, you’re more likely to listen to your gut, and are confident enough in yourself to walk away. Waiting till you’re older might seem daunting because everyone claims you are desperate. They are wrong. The ‘desperation’ comes from the external pressure, not from within. If you’re doing the work to know yourself, you’ll know that long term peace trumps a bad marriage to an abusive stranger just to conform. And for those who are worried about their biological clocks, you can have a child before getting married, freeze your eggs, or even adopt. Come on now! You have options!
- Try to be established in your career first: The job market is not fair to anyone, doubly so for women, and yet worse for pregnant or working mothers. Job searching or working is harder when married, especially because it is possible you are now also the primary caretaker in your new home (thanks patriarchy) – while also managing the emotional needs of your partner. You will also live in shared space and there is no guarantee that it will be conducive for cranking out job applications. Your partner may have friends over, or want to watch the latest match on blast. All this is confounded by pregnancy or existing children. Employers discriminate wildly against newly married or pregnant women and mothers with claims that they are not serious about working since they will be having or caring for children soon. You will have to pause searching all together when the baby arrives. Furthermore, if your husband is unsupportive, that man will frustrate every ambition and healthy cell out of you. It is not enough that they say “baby I support you” but do not carry equal burdens around the home, and do not take things off your plate. Single, you’re more likely to have the time to commit to your business and/or take calculated risks to help you rise through the ranks of a company. Also, as a bonus feature, if you’re already established, the men with insecurities will take themselves out of the running on your behalf.
- Standard of living: This kind of relates with the one above. Make sure you can give yourself your bare minimum standard of living without him. But also, be explicit about your expectations so that if he cannot match or exceed them, you can free yourselves. It does not make sense to marry and be living below the standard you are used to. Plus, if you’re going to marry and become a second class citizen, it better be a luxury second class! Make sure he has the finances to accommodate you and the number of children you both want. Leave the “we will grow together” men to the people who do not read.
- Make your expectations clear: Closely related to standard of living, this one is a reminder to be clear to yourself and to him, what your limits are; and that your non-negotiables are non-negotiable. Including whether you draw the line at bald spots or pot bellies down the line. I mean, the men tell us such things, why can’t we do the same? It’s good we say all these things so he knows upfront that he needs to keep it together especially since he won’t be getting pregnant.
- Live together beforehand or go on multiple long vacations: You do not know a person until you have lived with them. Don’t say I didn’t tell you. You can move in together, and if you don’t like what you see, it’s easier to leave at that stage, than after marriage. I know this isn’t always feasible for everyone. But maybe you should not be considering marriage until it is feasible for you to determine that you will not be tied ‘till death do you part’ with a night-time devil worshiper. (I’m just saying).
- Discourage weaponized incompetence. This is another great reason to live together beforehand. Many men like to feign incompetence to get out of doing their own tasks, hoping you will eventually give up on them, and just do it yourself. Do not encourage this. When you live together, set clear expectations about things like taking out the trash, cooking, laundry, etc. Now lets say a few weeks into being housemates, your boo stops taking out the trash (which was his agreed responsibility). At that point, you should get a separate trash for your own trash, and throw out only your own trash. Do this for everything that he was supposed to do but stopped doing. I know what you’re thinking. “Oh the house will be unlivable if he does not step up”. Correct. You will also then know when to move out at that point. Because trust me, as it is now, so it shall be in the future. (BTW, this one applies both before and after marriage. See me giving previews ;)).
- Go after your non-marriage oriented goals: Take the time to think about non-marriage goals you want to have achieved in 5, 10 years and by the end of your life. Be clear on what your heart wants and document those things which you want to look back after 5/10/x years and know that you did. Then do them. If marriage fits in with those things, then fine. But those things should be your priority. Do not put them on hold because of marriage especially since marriage will put them on ‘Delete’ on your behalf. Start to work towards the life you want while you’re single because once you’re married, it’s a lot harder to just ‘up and do’.
- Choose wisely: The best man is not the man that makes 1m dollars. The best man is the one that makes 500,000 dollars and…after you give birth (if you choose to have kids), will take the child and do all the child rearing for 10 months to make up for you carrying the baby for 10 months. Whether he does it by himself or with hired help is irrelevant as long as he gets it done. Consider what you want from a partner and make such expectations known upfront. This way, you make sure you are getting something significant (other than a ‘significant other’) out of the relationship.
- Keep your ‘vices’. There is a tendency to prescribe morality for women – especially married women. There is a laundry list of things that women who want to get married, or are married ‘should not do’. Don’t go clubbing. Don’t drink. Don’t smoke. Don’t wear shorts. Don’t color your hair. Don’t have male friends. Don’t have strong opinions. It’s a lot of pressure and we tend to present the sanitized version of ourselves to potential suitors. This is a poisonous recipe as maintaining this false version of you becomes a straitjacket that can actually drive you crazy. So do you. Don’t hide your vices. If he can’t deal, let him go. Especially if he gets all preachy/judgemental. Some of these men will try to hurt you by suggesting that nobody will marry you because of your vices. Tell him not to let the door hit him on his way out because you will not tolerate his nastiness in your life.
- Decide how many children you want ahead of the marriage. Both of you must agree and both of you have every right to change your minds. Especially after having tried to get pregnant, or having had one or more children, or having seen others have children, or having seen what kind of person your partner is. It is also not the man’s/family’s place to change your mind. If anyone coerces you, then it is wrong and you do not want to have a child under those circumstances. If you don’t agree on the number, then do not have any with them, and seriously consider ending your relationship because you cannot compromise with other people’s lives (including the lives of unborn children).
- Go on birth control: Why? A. You will get a chance to test out different ones and figure out which one works for you on your own time. and B. You will not be caught pregnant by surprise. 😛
All right. I’m not saying that if you do these things, your marriage will work out. The institution is working as designed. You’re the one that wants to get into it. Optical Algorithms reminds us that things like abstinence before marriage (and all sorts of hijinks we do to make sure ‘our own will work’) does not guarantee a good, and long haul marriage.
I AM saying that if you do these things above, you might stand a better chance of dodging some deadly bullets, choosing the right partner/staying in a marriage without as much cost to yourself, and making it out relatively unscathed if you decide to leave. Still though, you’re better off partnered and not married. But clearly you’re going to just do whatever you want. So go ahead and read what to do After “I do”.