Many single women in their 30s or older are suffering constant pressure to settle down – and some do, often to the wrong men. Simon Mburu speaks to a few to see how they are handling it all.
“When will you settle down and find a husband and have children?”
This is a question that many single women regularly face. Two of Kenya’s prominent female musicians have found themselves in the society’s wrong books because of their marriage choices.
Singer Kambua said ‘I do' to pastor and businessman Jackson Mathu six years ago. Since then, the gospel singer has been socially criticised for marrying a man considered ‘too old’ for her. Never mind, this allusion is made purely because her husband has white hair. But that is not where it ends. Kambua has also been victimised for taking too long to have kids after getting married.
While speaking on NTV’s The Trend Show earlier this year, Kambua highlighted how a male follower on her Instagram page had asked her when she was planning to get pregnant. “He commented on my page and said, ‘When are you going to get pregnant, you’re getting old,’” she told The Trend’s Amina Abdi.
Emmy Kosgei has also been targeted, especially after she decided to get married to a Nigerian man four years ago. Her decision to marry Anselm Madubuko was controversial. For a start, he was a widower with grown up kids, and Emmy had already interacted with his late wife. Also, not only had Emmy married late, but married Madubuko, with whom she had a considerably big age gap. Many people assumed that she had married for the money, and followed this theory with rumours about her filing for divorce and demanding half of her husband’s wealth. To many people, Emmy – who was at the peak of her music career when she got married – was supposed to marry a Kenyan, because after all, it is Kenyans who had built her musically.
But Kambua and Emmy are not the only women who have faced social pressure and condemnation over their marriage choices.
Take Caroline Mwaniki. During a family gathering that was held at her aunt’s home in Gichugu, Kirinyaga County on June 1 this year, Caroline was forced to persevere jabs and jokes from her female relatives on how likely she was to end up a spinster. “It started as a joke then the question came: ‘You have gone to school, have a good job and big money, but when will you get married?’” says the 34-year-old marketing executive.
“Within the day, this question escalated into jokes on how she might end up a spinster, and lectures on how irreversible the biological clock is.” At some point, Caroline says one of her aunts even offered to hook her up with a man she thought was very suitable for her. “The general consensus was that I needed help. My single status was a case of emergency. If help didn’t come soon, I would never find a man to marry and have kids with once I hit age 40,” she says.
One of the ripple effects of succumbing to pressure to get hitched is that you might end up with the wrong partner, says Nairobi-based psychologist Boaz Omondi. “The reason for such marriages is not really love and marital commitment but conformity to what the society thinks is acceptable,” he says.
This is the mistake that 41-year-old Stella Kibet, a secretary at a county government in the Rift Valley region, made.
“I got married two years ago out of pressure from friends, family, and myself. Everyone around me was already married and with kids, and here I was, single, childless, closer to 40 than 30!” she says. In order to conform, Kibet moved a man into her house and launched a come-we-stay marriage.
Unlike the man she would have wished to have for a husband, he was miles away from her dream partner. He was uncouth and alcoholic, but she accepted him as he was just to experience the fulfilment of a marriage.
“I had been fed so much fear that I was running out of time to get married and have kids that I end up believing it,” she says. Inevitably, her experience was far from fulfilling. “Within a year, he drained me emotionally and psychologically, got abusive because I earned more than him, and embarrassed me severally at work as he attempted to assert his authority over me. I couldn’t take it anymore. I kicked him out of my house in December last year. I am just lucky that I did not have kids with him,” she says.
Ironically, instead of getting the praise that she had finally gotten married, those who had prodded her to look for a man turned against her decision. “Many spoke behind my back that I was desperate and could take any man who threw himself at me. Perhaps they were right. After all, I had succumbed to their pressure,” she says. Nonetheless, Kibet has not ruled out ever getting married or having a baby. “I don’t rule it out. But I will not bend over to make it happen. I will marry when I want!” she says.
Evidently, this fear mongering spurs self-doubt in women who would want to get married at some point. They question their eligibility. This is a road that Grace Kariuki, a family therapist based in Nairobi, has walked. The married mother of two who married in her late 30s says that she began to feel desperate and wonder if she would ever get married. “I wondered if I was really a ‘wife-material’, something that I still do! However, I was not afraid that my biological clock was ticking. I was never really the kind of woman who yearned for children,” she says. By the time she reached age 38, the possibility that she might age alone began to set in. “I prayed to God and said ‘Please don’t let me be 50 and alone!’ But I also convinced myself that if I reached a point where I felt marriage was beyond me, I would still be okay; and that I wouldn’t be any less of a woman,” she says.
The pressure to get married is also prominent during weddings. 29-year-old Kirsty Achieng’ says that this year alone, she has been prodded to get married six times during her friends’ weddings. "Someone will casually walk up to you and tell you that you are next. They mostly think it is a kind of compliment but it is not. It is actually annoying," she says.
NOT JUST SINGLE WOMEN
This pressure is not meted out on single women alone. From what we found out, widowed women will also face the pressure to remarry. Take Elizabeth Mutuku. It is now six months since the 27-year-old lost her husband in a road accident. But the pressure to remarry has already started.
“Many of those suggesting that I move on and remarry say I am too young to remain a widow,” she says. A month ago, she was summoned by her parents who wanted to find out if she would want to get married again.
“My parents are worried that I am too young not to have a family of my own. They would want me to get married and have kids,” she says.
It usually gets worse for women who have lost their husbands through death by suicide. Unlike the pressure to get married, they are pressured not to remarry. “I keep hearing snide remarks that I contributed to my husband’s depression and suicide,” says 32-year-old Emily Wanjau who runs a smartphone accessories shop in downtown Nairobi. She lost her husband two years ago. “He died by suicide on May 27, 2016. He had left home in the morning and travelled to Molo, Nakuru County, to see his parents. I tried to call him later in the day to find out if he had arrived in vain.
On Saturday, at around noon, I got a phone call that he had been found dangling from a tree near a cattle dip that was about 500 metres from his parents’ home,” says the mother of one. Since then, Emily has been condemned as a ‘husband-killer’ who should never get married again. “I have also been bluntly told that I am a typical husband-battering woman who can’t live in peace with a man simply because I hail from Nyeri County,” she says.
Dr Chris Hart, a psychologist based in Nairobi and the author of Single & Searching says that pressure from families and society, and the fear that time is flying by too fast are some of the leading causes of why people marry wrong partners or marry when they’re not ready. This pressure is a booby trap you should never fall into.
“Getting married because you feel lonely or want someone to complete you is a mistake. You must understand that it is alright to relish your independence” he says.
Nonetheless, there are ways through which you can determine if you are ready to get married. Relationship coach Lori Fradkin says that if you are doing well in many spheres of your life, then you might as well be ready for a marital commitment. “It will be an indication that you are aware you would be alright on your own, but still know that you need a partner in your life. You don’t feel desperate or left out just because you’re not married and your close friends are or just because everyone else is saying that you should get married.”