‘What have we done to love?’

June 30, 2018

One of the strangest expressions heard regularly at traditional marriage ceremonies is that the groom ‘thought it was time he found someone to wash his clothes and cook his food’. On the flip side, the direction is often given to the bride to give any debts she creates to her husband to pay, and bring any assets she obtains to her family. No wonder too many young couples seem unhappy and many older married women seem happy to lead single married lives. I remember the bakers and cooked food sellers who lived around the police station next to the school I grew up in as a teacher’s child. Most of them had husbands who had been transferred to other towns. They refused to ‘go on transfer’ with their husbands. Family life was conducted through the distances, leading to truancy in children and young adults making wrong choices without the guidance of one or both parents. Romance, partnerships and friendships were not much of a consideration in this necessary community of marriage.

And there is this conversation that was branded in my memory for the longest time. Close friends who were quarrelling were on the brink of divorce when the gentleman made the memorable statement. He said he needed his clothes to be washed the very day he took them off because he didn’t like dirty clothes lying around. And she wouldn’t wash them fast them enough. Needless to say, her lack of repentance for this abominable lapse led to his seeing the need to divorce her while pregnant.

He and his wife had been in the same secondary school and university (they had the same profession). They had planned loving and working together during the marriage. But it didn’t last because he was upset with her attitude to ‘domestic duties’. I was so thunderstruck by the events that led to the divorce that I couldn’t go near this male friend of my family for many years. When I eventually forgave him, it was after considering that many other men would simply have added another wife and perhaps they did each other a favor by just getting divorced when they agreed that their demands from marriage were too apposite.

I am reminded of something a character called Florentino said to his wife Fermina in the movie ‘Love in the time of Cholera’. He said, ‘the important thing in marriage is not love but stability’. ‘Nothing is more difficult than love’ was her response to this observation. My curious question to the people on the screen was ‘what have we done to love? Is love not necessary anymore?’

Many women are so exhausted; they are simply unable to be productive in their careers or other pursuits that their hearts hanker for. Many men are so preyed on to provide for every need of the family and look affluent that, their participation in corrupt practices is pushed by the demands of the very people who should have been guarding their peace of mind. In this sense, entrenched traditions affect equity in human development and so, are unjust. They perpetrate into a cycle of incapacity, ruthlessness, intimidation, timidity and fear. They also promote aggression, violence, perversion and power seeking.

And certainly, I do not do justice to this subject by discussing only domestic arrangements. Outside of the home, inequity seems woven into every step of life. Many people are met with a consistent lack of provision leading to their invisibility in every flow of life. Futures are hijacked in the interest of establishing power for those who must make the decisions …whether it is for education, health, housing, or resource sharing.

The injustice reflects in oppression (unavailability of forum within which to speak one’s pain – except in shouting and other forms of violence), exploitation (being used to satisfy the needs of others) and the barrenness that meets the powerless everywhere on their own ground. And the response is consistently, implosion or explosion. Our societies lag behind when we could all have been going forward.

What is the antidote? I believe the answer lies in plain sight of anyone who cares to see. Look carefully at societies which choose fairness, justice and the rule of law, and you will see the blossoming of human capital and wealth creation by and for all. This should show us that we should be making a very conscious effort to evaluate every societal arrangement to determine its fairness, and support to human development.

And on a personal level, let me remind you to keep this question lurking in every decision you make. Is your demand on the next person fair? Will it oppress them or will it release their creative energies to be the best they can be? Is your treatment of common resources right? Will it give the next person a safer, better tomorrow? Or will it increase just you and decrease all others? Your own safety is not guaranteed, unless you guarantee that of others. How we long for fairness!

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