This will not be a post about how there are no good, available men, or me being a bitter single woman, but simply a question about the fact that marriage is not simply a relationship status in Haitian culture and cultures beyond, but that marriage is always the next step for a single person and never a possible step. I am the first person to tell you, I would love to be married. I would love to meet the man of my dreams. And I am finally happy to report that I will not settle for anything less than that man who will appreciate me for all my eccentricities, partner with me in this game called life and hopefully have fun with me while doing it. However, my birthday is soon approaching and my lovely cousin told me very recently, “Melinda, you’re too old just to be having fun in dating. You have to be building something at your age.” … At my age? Those words have resonated in my mind for a while now. As well intentioned as they were, they put new conditions on my dating experiences. These conditions did not throw me for a loop as the first part consists of ideas that I already knew like how old I am (even though I like to forget sometimes). But the condition holds these two ideas in tension: what dating could be ; fun, light, airy and free and what it should be; heavy, weighted, a construction project that lays the foundations for one’s life. that first of all I already knew but also that dating has to be either one or the other.
What’s funny about this condition is that it assumes that I was never trying to build something. And just to set the record straight, when I did start dating men and being in relationship with them at the ripe old age of 20 (yes I waited a long time), my goal was always to build something. I was always thinking about marriage and considering whether or not this guy was going to be the possible “one” who I will commit my life to and forge a new path with in this life. However, what was unfortunate about this stance was that somehow I was always putting “current guy” against “future husband guy” and never really seeing “current guy” for who he was and what he had to offer. I never really got to enjoy “current guy” because somehow he never measured up to “future husband guy” and if he didn’t I would always work him up in my head to somehow arrive to “future husband guy” with a tweak here or there. And since I am still single, I can tell you from experience that this does not work! Measuring current guy against the future guy will never give you an accurate picture of what you’re working with in the present.
I think I became so quick to work with people that I totally forgot or even ignored what it was that I wanted. If I am to get to this “future husband guy” this “current guy” always became a project in my mind where I would look at him and see what he brought to the table that I could work with in my life. What potential does he have would be the undeniable question. I hate that question now by the way. I would always make excuses for the crap that I saw because in some warped world I thought that I had to be extremely flexible with my standards and give everyone a chance to arrive at the highly desirable marriage goal. I don’t think I ever took a moment to judge whether or not this guy that was staring me in the face was a guy that I even desired because I was always busy wondering whether or not he wanted me and would be willing to deal with my difficult personality, as my dad says. And yes, as I’ve gotten older the pressure to find the guy has increased exponentially by my family more specifically and they are constantly asking me what am Iam I waiting for.? As if the ball is always in my court and I am solely responsible for making this happen. So that in turn increases my likelihood to work with whatever “potential” I can get in whatever man comes along as opposed to looking forward to meeting someone that I would can truly say excites me and makes me giddy about the idea of spending the rest of my life with him.
They continually tell me, I need to find him as if the current Melinda is somehow incomplete. And the message that I understand from this is that I haven’t become a full blown something until I find this guy. That truly sucks! Marriage somehow turns young ladies into full blown women and young boys into full blown men. I am not negating that there are more responsibilities with marriage and that you may mature as a result. But why can’t we just be full blown women and men prior to getting married and then create something even more explosive when two adults join together to become one?
I have decided to stop looking for the boy who will turn into the full blown man and just try to see the man who is standing in front of me. It’s made my life a whole lot easier because instead of looking for potential, I’ve decided to make the conscious choice to tell myself—If absolutely nothing about this man changed, would I be happy? Is this the man I’m hoping for? I know this stance may seem gutsy and a bit more fearless but I think there is no guarantee that anyone will evolve. They may evolve up (yay!) or down (boo!) and I think that if who this person is at their core is what you got, I think every woman has to decide if that is who they want. And yes as a woman you are allowed to have wants! Why do men get to have this amazing woman who has worked hard to accomplish things and you have to work with someone who didn’t care what happened to their life? They don’t have to just deal with you but you have to deal with them. And maybe you decide what those core things are before you meet him because then you can have an internal gauge (what I want) as opposed to a situational gauge (this man is I see right now) when you meet Mr. X or Mr. Y.
In Haiti, I know that if I lived therein Haiti, the expectation would be that I, as a single woman, would most likely live with my parents. Whenever I tell this to my friends that here in the US, they almost always ask me, “You can’t move out in Haiti at 18?” And my answer is categorically, “NO, you don’t move out until you get married.” This is especially true for young women. Our femininity may make us frail to destruction and poor decisions and thus we need our families to be our guide as we navigate this sea of life. Of course I’m being facetious but it always felt like I ,as a young single woman, had not grown up yet and thus would be home until I grew up to marriage. I remember when I was growing up as a young girl, the only examples single women who I ever saw living on their own were my American teachers who came to Haiti to live as they taught in my school. I have no memory of a single Haitian woman living alone. Maybe they would share a space with their family and even be the bread winner, but of course they would always be with their family.
I love that my family is important to me and that I was raised in a culture that celebrates the strength of the family unit. But in situations where a person is being pressured to make a lifelong commitment in an effort to somehow attain a societal ideal of what it means to be “grown up”, I challenge the motivations of that same family unit. I have seen women married off to men who treated them horrifically just because their family set it up, wanted them to get married and was of course worried about them. But honestly, who are they really worried about? I think in circumstances where the family is such a huge part of a person’s identity it leads me to ask how capable is a family unit to deal with a “child” who hasn’t “grown up” as per the standards of that individual’s society? I think they are equally worried about themselves as much as they are for that “child” who hasn’t made the step to marital bliss.
Marriage for me is not a next step. It’s a possible step. But I would welcome other steps and I think that for me deciding to separate my identity from my marital status is a step towards freedom. I would love to become the woman God intends for me to be and I think Hhe, not society, will alert me of the next steps that I need to make in order to become who I am meant to be and not society.