At 26, I was ready for marriage – mentally, psychologically, spiritually, physiologically – but my pocket was not! As the Academic Staff Union of Universities is wont to say: My take-home was not taking me home. In spite of that, I was counted among the lucky few who got a job shortly after graduation. Many saw me as privileged because I went to work in suit and sometimes the office car took me to meetings and events.
However, since my salary was not enough to sustain me, I felt it would be selfish of me to bring in a girl to join me at that time. Having a child then would have worsened a bad situation.
I was not looking for a billion naira. I just wanted to have enough funds to take care of the basic needs of a family. And I didn’t want my family to take care of my wedding or to feed my children and clothe my wife for me.
So, I waited.
I eventually got ready at 32 and married at 33. That was late by my expectation, but that was the earliest I could marry. I wish I was ready earlier. I would have married at about 28.
I have noticed a gradual rise in the marriage age of men and women. My father married at 24 in the 1950s. His brothers and friends married at about that same age. My elder brother married at 29 in the 1980s – our father disturbed him for a while before he got married. He bought a brand new Peugeot 504 Serie 2 car and built his own house close to our father’s before he got married. I married at 33 in the 2000s. Many of my friends and relatives married at about that same age. Today, I have noticed that many of the young men around me are getting married at between 35 and 40 years.
And the more men delay marriage, the more the marriage age of women moves up, because in our clime, men still marry women, not the other way round. Thirty years is therefore looking like 20 years among ladies now because many men who are 35 still think that it is too early for them to get married.
Among the Igbo, this is more prevalent. Igbo people have this tradition that the man has to be wholly responsible for the cost of all the customary marriage rites as well as the church wedding expenses. And these events need to be impressive. There is also this attitude that a man needs to have a very good apartment or house, a good car, a good amount of money in the bank, before he could get married. So, the young men wait and wait to get ready financially. They soon realise that they are over 35 years old but still not ready.
I used to admire the Yoruba attitude towards early marriage. At 30, a Yoruba man would not only be married but would also have one or two children, while his Igbo counterpart at the same level in the same office would not even be thinking about marriage. But in recent times, I have noticed that the late marriage bug has bitten some Yoruba guys, as I have seen many Yoruba guys in their 30s, who have good jobs, but are not even talking about marriage. They either think they are not old enough or are not financially ready.
There is no doubt that the single most crucial reason for late marriage is finance. A young man graduates from the university at 24 years, after losing two years to strikes and demonstrations. Then, at 25, he completes one-year compulsory national service. He spends two or three years searching for a job. Maybe, at 28, he eventually gets a job, but it is not his dream job. He hangs in there for two or three years before getting another job. By now, he is about 31 years old. He gives the job another four years before he feels that he is ripe for marriage. By then, he is 35 years old. Even at that, many people would see him as having moved fast, for some don’t get a job three years after graduation. Many have to start one form of business or the other: either buying and selling cloths and shoes or driving a cab. No wonder, the Nigeria Police Force advertised to fill 10,000 positions but got about 800,000 applications.
Therefore, many people have a very good reason not to marry early. It is not good for someone who cannot take care of his basic needs to bring in a woman and children to compound that problem and make the woman and children eternally in want.
But sometimes, money is not the reason. It is a desire to have enough money to have a marriage ceremony that will be the talk of town for a long time; to have enough money to buy a big car and even car for the bride; to have enough money to send the wife to the United States of America to have her babies, so that the children can become American citizens. These are not basic needs.
When a man marries in his late 20s and is lucky to have a child soon after, he will be about 50 years by the time his first child is graduating from the university. He may still be working when his last child graduates.
But if he marries at 38 or 40, by 70 years, he may still be paying school fees. If he is not financially buoyant then, it becomes a big problem taking care of his children. Even though the World Health Organisation’s figures show that life expectancy in Nigeria has increased to 53.4 years for men and 55.4 years for women, it is still not high enough, neither does it determine how long a person will live. So, if the man passes on even at 60, the children will still be in school. It becomes a financial struggle for the woman.
Even medically, men and women in their 20s and early 30s are said to be best suited for conception and delivery. The older the couple, the higher the risks associated with reproduction.
It is very important that people are psychologically ready for marriage. But those who truly want to marry early tune themselves up psychologically. They start reading about marriage and learning about marriage. They start dropping some baggage that cannot be brought into a marriage that is expected to be a happy one.
Financial stability is good for marriage, but abundant wealth is not a necessity to start a family.
Besides, there is strength in the power of two. Somehow money flows in when a woman enters. What looked difficult becomes easier.
If a man is financially stable at 28, let him start planning to marry before 30, for the saying is true that he who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favour from the Lord.