When I was younger, I had this vision- of being a successful, educated African woman. I had my entire life figured out. Finish school, get the job, and the husband. I talk about marriage a lot on here because my life is no longer the sunshine and rainbows after each rain storm. It is now centered around marriage. It is impossible for me to run away from. At the age of 19, I had the option of not making marriage the center of my life, because I was in school. I was able to close the door, but not all the way. When I finished undergrad, I opened the door once again, and I opened it by force. Even when I knew, I was not emotionally or mentally ready. I was 22, ready to find him without any self-prep and understanding of what I was looking for. Throughout the journey of looking, people told me to just stop and wait, he will find me instead. Yet, that’s easier said than done, especially when you’re shunned for not having a husband at your age.
After understanding the Soninke caste system and knowing my parents would decide my fate, I became depressed. I talked to one person about it because she is also dealing with the same issue. The thought of satisfying your parents in every part of your life, even if it means sacrificing your passions, goals, and love interests, is terrifying. It’s complex, when you think about it. You have this idea that if you do everything your parents want from you, success will be at the end of the tunnel. You’re doing everything right. Yet, at the end of that same tunnel, guess who is smiling? Your parents.
I remember having my first discussion on marriage with my father. It was light. I approached him, knowing as his first and only daughter, he would want the best for me. When I asked my father about marriage, the man said to me, “As long as the guy you want is Muslim and African.” But, that was 19. As I was leaving 23, to embrace 24, the conversation no longer felt light. The conversation shifted to what my parents wanted, specifically my father. I kept begging for them to see me, as their child, their daughter. What of my happiness? What of my future? I was silenced, and told what was best for me. I struggled to understand why my father lied to me in the first place. I struggled to understand how I could win this battle.
September came and went, as I embraced the coldness. The coldness of my parents. Months went by, and I joked and laughed with my friends about finding me a husband. Yet, inside, I felt lost. Alone. Confused. Angry, and despondent. I was so defeated, I decided to talk to my parents once more. This time, I let them win the battle they started. I told them to find someone for me, and my father smiled. I did not realize the second door that I had just opened.
Arranged marriage, as my parents believe, is okay. It’s the, “I choose what is best for you.” I learned a lot about arranged marriage when I was younger. And, as I got older, I realized how much arranged marriage is embedded in my culture. Yet, it looks so different. Masked as if the girl has a choice, but she doesn’t. It’s never her choice, it’s her parents and relatives choice, because it’s the, “I choose what is best for you.” I choose your cousin for you, I choose this other relative for you, I choose this man because he comes from a wealthy family, I choose.
But when will I ever get to choose? In my dreams?
My father brought a man, and my mother brought a man. I am pulled and tugged at either direction to “choose” whom I “want.” Now, it has shifted to which parent are you willing to make proud. It was never about my happiness. It was never about what was actually best for me. It was never about me. It was about my parents, and their need to control. It was about my parents, wanting to live through me.
The energy I once had to fight for what I believe in, to fight for what is right, to fight for what I want, is long gone. Everyday I hear the same words, “You need to talk to them [your parents].” Or, usually, I will hear, “You need to fight, and marry who you want.” That is easier said than done. I’ve even thought about moving to Colorado and marrying someone without my parents knowledge (obviously it’s not going to happen).
It is my choice. For now, that’s what I continue to tell myself. I can fight, and maybe one day win the battle. But, for now, I will close the two doors, and focus on what I want for myself. Focus on what is best for me.
Author’s Note: Thank you so much for taking the time to read this post. You are awesome and I hope you are doing well. Thank you for your support.
Written by Diaka Thiam 🙂