Like many others, I’ve always had my reservations about marriage. Initially, my fears were mostly based on the forever-and-ever part of it; but as you may have noticed, that seems to matter less and less these days. Then as I grew older, it evolved into a what if after five years I don’t even recognise the person I married anymore type of fear. But my fears didn’t stop there; they blossomed into is giving up your life alone for someone really a smart thing to do?. I wasn’t convinced it was for a long time but after quietly pondering for a while and a few Feel-Good films about love breaking barriers, I thought… Maybe the right person can make all this stress worth it. However, being the over-thinker that I am, naturally that wasn’t the end of the story. Just as I was getting comfortable with the idea of total devotion to one human being for – with a bit of luck – the rest of my life, I stumbled upon something which threw me a huge curveball and brought me all the way back to square one: Marriage is not an institution designed to benefit women. Marriage, a socially recognised union between two people, was not designed to benefit me. Who woulda’ thunk it?
The Marriage Benefit Imbalance theory argues that marriage as an institution greatly benefits men physically and psychologically over women. I look around me and I can see how one would come to that conclusion. Let’s look at this carefully, starting from the most basic level:
a) In certain cases, I give up my last name and adopt my partner’s. Minor, yes. Inconvenient? Probably.
b) My body may very well become an incubator – to my own detriment. It may even cost me my own life. Just something to think about.
c) Realistically speaking, I am more susceptible to physical and/or sexual abuse than my male partner.
d) Chances are, especially in certain societies and cultures like this one (Nigeria), that being a wife and potentially a mother may require me to place my aspirations and ambitions on the back burner, while my partner’s may not necessarily suffer as greatly. e) Bring in the religious angle, and we could be here for hours. To submit or not to submit to His Majesty? Am I a slave or at the end of the day, really the master? Is inequality between spouses more of a 200 BC concept than a 2014 one?
It’s an endless stream of concerns. This isn’t a case of being on the lookout for only you, yourself and her; it’s more. Because realistically, there are times when you have to ask but really, what’s in it for me? Because as much as ‘two become one’, I don’t magically stop existing as an individual, and my interests still need to be protected, or at the very least taken into consideration, to a certain extent.
My friend, J thinks this Men-Benefit-More theory is absolute nonsense. After all, he argues, if we’re talking majorities, women are far more fascinated with settling down (actually, the precise word he used was ‘nesting’). They actively pressurise men into getting married, and when they finally get what they want, the bulk of the responsibility – protecting, providing, being the head, etc. – falls on the man. He also believes that in most developed societies, men are the ones at an actual disadvantage, particularly in cases of divorce settlements where the women usually have the upper hand. That’s one opinion. But I was not convinced. Because in the same conversation with J, I raise the issue of rape within marriage and as I proceeded to rant about how this is an issue that fails to be addressed properly, he interrupts me, saying, “Seriously? Rape? In marriage?” – as though it was something completely implausible. He just couldn’t understand how this was an actual ‘thing’. How could sex with your husband be considered non-consensual? He couldn’t wrap his head around it. Now, that in itself was really scary. For me. Because, if anything, it supported my argument; my argument that…
Marriage was not designed to benefit me. The worst part is that it was not even constructed in a deceptive, you-have-no-idea-what-you’re-getting-into kind of way. No one even tried to hide the fact that it was a life contract created without me in mind. It wasn’t a secret left to be discovered after I offered my loyalty and faithfulness and love on a platter. No, it was made clear; I’m just the one who has failed to catch on. It wasn’t a façade anyone bothered to create; it wasn’t even important to create one in the first place.
So my fears turned into anger. It became less a question of how do WE do with marriage thing, and more of how do I ensure that I don’t lose out completely in this marriage thing. My guard went up. I began to see it as a game of survival in the wilderness. Until I realised something; that, for me, it would completely defeat the purpose of marriage. My intention was never to go into it with my swords sharpened and ever ready to attack. I didn’t want it to be a game of Whose Benefit Is It Anyway?. I didn’t want to put my interests before that of my partner’s. I didn’t want to automatically see my potential partner as the enemy, without him actively proving that he was.
But what options do I have? Marriage was not designed to benefit ME. Now that I know this and believe it to be true, I find it quite difficult to move on as though I never found out. So at this point, I’m desperately scraping and scratching for hope in marriage; that although I believe, by design, I’m at a disadvantage by simply choosing to ‘nest’, maybe that is not the actual reality. That I lie at the mercy of my prospective partner – who may or may not be gracious enough to create a life with me where I can cut my losses and come out okay on the other side. That just maybe I’ll find someone who will actively seek my benefit – and me, his – even though the institution itself was not designed that way.
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Bryan Creely