By Francis Ewherido
Sometime ago, in company of my wife, I visited a family. I met a very beautiful lady in her mid 30s, a relative of the madam of the house. Out of curiosity I asked my friend when he was escorting me to my vehicle about her marital status because I did not see a wedding ring.
He said she was married, but her husband was abroad. She had been trying to join him to no avail, he explained.
Why did they not sort that out before tying the nuptial knot, I pressed further. “Well they are not actually married yet, they are just engaged,” he responded. “It still does not matter, they should have sorted out her visa or resident permit issues before the engagement and the fiancé’s relocation abroad. Horse before the cart and not vice versa,” I insisted.
Then, he threw the bombshell: they have not met physically; they met on Facebook. The guy actually left Nigeria over 10 years ago and has not set his foot on Nigerian soil since then. “So how was the introduction done,” I asked. “His family did it on his behalf,” he responded. As we drove out, I could not get it off my mind.
I wanted to write about it then, but decided not to because I felt the cases of internet and social media marriages in Nigeria were isolated; no need crying wolf where none existed. I have heard a lot about internet dating via social media, but not marriages.
But when a highly respected and influential personality as Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, warns against getting spouses on social media, you know there is fire on the mountain.
He admonished members and all who cared to listen at the monthly Holy Ghost Service and Vigil of the church last weekend —which makes the matter even more serious—against social media marriages. As he rightly observed, it is wrong to get married to someone whose background you do not know.
This is not just about Christianity; as Pastor said, in those days, parents investigated the families their children were to marry from or marry into before sanctioning the union. This tradition has endured to this day even with globalization and interracial and interethnic marriages.
Sometimes you wonder whether the marital institution that some of these youngsters are preparing to get into is the same one you know. Long before Christianity berthed in Africa, family units were responsible for the stability of African societies. A family starts with marriage which unites man and woman, so stable families and marriages are the bedrocks of a stable society.
These days, churches, and even the secular world, place much emphasis on courtship, the period both parties get to know each other more and decide whether or not the relationship should transit to a marriage. In making that crucial decision, they ought to answer some fundamental questions.
Am I ready to spend the rest of my life with this person? Can I tolerate his shortcomings for the rest of my life? Do we share common core values? Are there meeting points where our values and views are divergent? Does he/she fall within my latitude of acceptance? Does he/she have any health challenges or dark side or past I ought to be aware of? What is his/her genotype? Some of these questions cannot be answered adequately in relationships conducted via Skype, video calls, emails and whatsapp. You need some level of physical interactions.
Many “arrangee” marriages of old between and among our grandparents worked, so some people now feel that marriage without courtship can also work. Yes, nothing is impossible, but you increase the chances of the success of your marriage when you know your spouse reasonably well before marriage. In the African society of old, the husband was supreme, he was lord and master. There was only one voice in the house, the man’s.
In fact, in some cultures, the wife was no different from her children. The man could tell her to kneel down or even flog her, like her children, as punishment. Sometimes, the husband punished her for the misdemeanor of her children on the ground that she failed in her parenting responsibilities. But these are out of the question in today’s modern African society.
In modern marriages, the voices are two, no longer one. Sometimes the woman’s voice is dominant, especially where she is the breadwinner. The traditional African setting was tilted against women. Now, in trying to redress it, some feminists have pushed their agitations beyond boundaries.
The relationship between husband and wife is no longer universal, firm and uniform as in time past. Now, each couple adopts what works for the union.
If you copy couple A’s arrangement hook line and sinker, your marriage would go up in smoke. Mr. A runs his family strictly like a typical African man; but he is also the breadwinner. The same might not work for Mr. B, who is unemployed.
But while couples must come up with a formula that works for them, the foundation of the formula should be laid during courtship, then ensure the goal post is not unilaterally shifted by either party after the match (marriage) has started.
That is partly why courtship is very important. But the foundation must be laid on mutual love and respect. It is very unAfrican for an African woman to disrespect her husband, while the husband should reciprocate with showers of love. My firm belief in the indissolubility of marriage, notwithstanding, I do not understand marriage without love and respect. What is salt without its saltiness?
Families of youngsters dating should differentiate between courtship and marriage. Once people get married, families should leave them alone to sort out themselves, except there is threat to life. But families should be involved in their children’s courtships, but totally for the children’s benefit not for selfish motives, so that they can be saved from themselves when they do dumb things like social media-only dating.
Many youngsters in courtships need assistance; they are not fully in charge of their faculties. If nothing else, family members with good intentions should ensure that their wards know what they are doing. If you refrain from getting involved during courtships, you may be dragged into marital issues that you ought not to be involved in after the marriage.