By Muyiwa Adetiba
One of my oldest friends was born on February 14. (Why we didn’t nickname him Val given his amorous tendencies I’ll never know. I suppose it is now too late in the day to give a sixty-something year old a new appellation).
For as long as I can remember, every Valentine’s Day meets me at his house for drinks, a generous dose of ikokore – his native Ijebu delicacy which he happens to prepare very well— and fellowship. But not this year. His darling wife had sent a text message inviting us to join him at his church instead for Ash Wednesday Communion service.
She rounded the message up with a poignant ‘no open house at home please.’ Now, I do not know whether this is the first time Valentine’s Day would coincide with Ash Wednesday, but it would not have mattered 15, 20 years ago.
We would still have met at his house with or without ashes on our fore heads. But it is the sign of the times and his advancing years, that he chose a sober Ash Wednesday in church over a lively Valentine’s Day with friends.
In a normal year, the calendar usually allows us to have our hedonistic adventures on Val’s Day before the purifying rites of passage which the Lenten season represents. Nowhere is this more obvious than in Brazil and Trinidad, the two countries that host the world’s most famous carnivals. They both end their fleshy, hedonistic and sometimes erotic carnivals a few days to Lent.
The change that follows in atmosphere and attitude on Ash Wednesday is palpable and almost funereal. Usually, the calendar allows us ‘this indulgence before denial.’ This ‘dirtying before cleansing.’
But this year, the church and the calendar had forced us—like my friend—to make a choice. The young, being young, will follow their hearts and go for Val while the old will likely go spiritual like my friend, and opt for the other.
On the surface, the two seem like polar opposites. One is youthful and vibrant while the other seems archaic and dull. One looks to the present while one looks to eternity. One represents life in its technicolour while the other represents death in its ash greyness. But they both, beyond the surface, represent love. Love of God; love of fellow human beings. So, whichever way one looks at it, this February is still a season of love.
It is so easy when we think of love to think only of the young ones. People, especially women in their 60s, are supposed to have ‘outgrown’ love. Yet, how wrong we are. We all need love in our lives. We all need people who care for us. But more germane to our well-being, we all need people we want to genuinely care for. It’s who we are. It’s how we are wired.
We can transfer this care, this love to our children, siblings or even parents. But it doesn’t half satisfy the love for a spouse or a partner. Man, woman, old and young, the glow we have when we are truly in love cannot be replicated. A woman in love almost advertises it by the healthy glow she radiates and it is irrespective of age.
Yet, we have allowed ourselves to be boxed into thinking that a woman of a certain age ‘is passed it’ when it comes to love and love making. In the villages, a man is encouraged to have a younger wife once his wife becomes menopausal. Or when she becomes a grandmother. It is as if we confuse intimacy with reproduction.
This cultural mind set has now been allowed to seep into the cities and into the thinking of some of our so called educated men. They might not marry a younger wife like their fathers do in the village, but they actively court a younger mistress. And once they succeed, all activities in the ‘other room’ with the wife stop. Some even boast that the ‘other room’ has been divided into his and hers since everybody needs their space.
Each time I hear narratives around this line, I remember the old Ray Parker Jnr. Song: ‘A woman needs love just like you do. Don’t kid yourself into thinking that she don’t. She can fool around just like you do unless you give her all the loving she wants.’
Is it a coincidence that wedding parties and most social events are populated at a ratio of two to one by women? The same thing with churches, vigils and crusades? Why do women look forward to such outings? Are they opportunities for them to let their hairs down, escape the monotony of house chores which womanhood has placed on them? Or are they looking for the happiness that has eluded them at home however they define it?
Are they looking for something more? Like a fortuitous meeting with Mr Adonis? A last chance at love and possession? Yet our men who must know that possibilities at such outings are endless seem too complacent to think their deprived wives could be prey.
They reason in their smugness that their wives are too sophisticated, too financially comfortable, too responsible to fall for just any man. They forget that if they can fall for a woman then their wives can also fall for a man. They forget that ‘a woman needs love just like you do.’ They don’t even believe that their wives have needs.
Yet anybody who interacts with this class of women knows that they are not taking their spousal rejection lying down and are itching for action. They will flirt with men they consider attractive at every opportunity. Especially if the setting is cosy and discrete.
Last month, a friend who is a medical doctor but retired as a police commissioner told me startling stories of extra marital activities going on among highly professional, middle aged women. He urged me to write about it in the hope that men in our age bracket would snap out of their complacency and try to reignite the fire of love and intimacy in their homes. His attempt to alert a friend of his whose wife, a medical doctor, was actively involved in extra marital sex and whom he knew to have young female friends himself was met with a smug rebuff.
He wondered why we should flaunt our relationships so openly and not expect a reaction simply because our wives have become grandmothers.
While it is true that sexual drive could reduce with menopause for women and with age across the gender, it is presumptuous of anybody—male or female—to decide the time for their partner to stop having sex. As Millie Jackson quaintly put it in a song: ‘Don’t be surprised to have a different kind of log in the fire place.’