How I turned down two arranged marriages
Have I ever told you how I turned down two arranged marriages? I had just finished high school when I first caught the eye of mother as a potential match for her son. We were in church for a cousin’s wedding, and a short, squat Aunt came bustling over to where I was standing in front of the house, waiting for a lift to the wedding venue, with her reluctant son in tow.
‘Here Jackie,’ she said, ‘My son can take you in his car.’
Next thing I knew, I was sitting in the passenger seat of a beat-up sedan next to a nervous and silent twenty-something-year-old guy, with two of my cousins in the backseat (because to go alone would have been improper).
At the time I was nonplussed by her pushiness, but after the same Aunt cornered me at the end of the wedding celebrations to make sure her son said goodbye. I realised that it was finally happening my stocks had hit the marriage market for our community. And the bidding was getting underway since I just turned down another young man a few days ago who came with his mother to ask for my hand in marriage. Aunt was hoping her son would catch the eye of a good girl who happened to also live in Nairobi (a big factor that increased my appeal considerably).
If all had gone well, the next step may have been her connecting with my parents through a mutual acquaintance to make it known she had an eligible son, and discussions would have continued from there. My fellow Luo women will be familiar with this process of matchmaking, that has its roots in the tradition of arranged marriages.
For most of my adolescence, my decisions in life were judged around the impact they would have on my future suitability for a good Luo husband. When I declared my feminist status, I was told ‘But a good wife has to take care of the home, who will marry you if you’re like this?’
When I considered my intentions to further my studies, a chorus of aunties in my head clucked ‘What Luo husband wants a woman so educated, especially if she won’t give up her career for children?’
For many Luo women, the burden of making a good match is having to curate your lifestyle and appearance to appeal not to your potential spouse, but to their entire community. I was told I should use lightening cream on my dark skin, laser hair removal on my excess facial hair, and most importantly, to put weight on because I was looking too bony. I never managed to get that balance right.
It’s important to note that this mentality didn’t come from my dad since he didn’t even know what was going on. He was never a supporter of arranged marriages, but never forced the issue, which is why I can confirm I am still happily unmarried now.
My experience was also that my female relatives were regularly told to be less picky, more compromising, and more compliant when it came to finding a husband, while my male relatives were given free rein to reject women based on looks alone.
As for me, the older I’ve gotten the more favourable my outlook in arranged marriage stakes has become. Now in my 20s with no children, in the pick of my career and probably still considered far too ambitious, the proposals have been rolling in and it’s probably not for the best. I’m still not prepared to make a Good Luo wife anyway!
But as I got older, my soul battled with that yes. I started to listen and say no. No rewarded me with some of the best things in my life: my graduation, my job, friends who are like family and my independent life miles away from home.
My story changed completely the day I said no to the environment I grew up in; the day I said no to all my worst fears; the day I said no to an arranged marriage and yes to my life. If every single girl learns to stand up for herself and say no to what she doesn’t feel is right for her future the whole dynamics of her future can change.