Social science and practice has established that men must one day forego singlehood and get marriage. In this science and practice, the tragedy, dilemma and contradictions that marriage occasions on men are often overlooked.
No wonder, comparatively speaking, and sometimes unfairly, we have more commentary on women and marriage than on men.
Tragically, this happened at home recently the family was preparing for a weeding of cousin brother whilst pondering divorce of another. Unfortunately the euphoria of the new family overwhelmed us all to the point of ignoring pain visited upon the divorcing brother.
Given my own tragedy, dilemma and contradictions of matrimony, and sticking to my family reputation of someone with a penchant to complicate things, I hijacked this opportunity by referring and reflecting a controversial 2005 blog by one Lerato Ngoma arguing “shifts: young black male professionals are failing to commit in relationships”.
This blog drew commendation from some young female professionals whose personal experiences might have given credence to Ms Ngoma hypothesis that: “the cut-throat pursuit of professional advancement and prosperity has relegated matters of relationships and marriage from the apex of priorities of young professional black men”.
For many reasons , young professionals like myself found this hypothesis an objectionable indictment of our ability to fall in love and commit to a relationship.
Despite seeming overcrowding in the relationships casualty ward, evidence tells us that, contrary to Ms Ngoma’s assertions, young black male professionals are capable of balancing the pursuit of affirmative action and black economic advancement with matters of the heart.
Just to use my acquaintances as a barometer; most are successful young bureaucrats, accountants, politicians, entrepreneurs and academics. Most are striving for commitment and many are already involved in lifelong partnerships.
Ms Ngoma should remember that professional black men, like everybody else, have their universal and specific needs which must be fulfilled to sustain relationships.
Necessarily, potential suitors need not be complacent. They too must commit to the relationship, be competitive and, importantly, be responsive to the evolving needs of men if they are to stay out of the relationships casualty ward.
Biological disposition, on its own, no longer gives women a competitive edge and neither do “traditional” female chores because most young professional men can maintain their own abode.
Thanks to the advancement in technology and the oversupply of housekeeping labour, these young middle class men are doing just fine on their own.
The other important aspect of the blog in question that triggers perspiration is the viability of the institution of marriage and its prerequisite, lobola. Varying views, unfortunately not necessarily contextualised in prevailing South African political and economic realities, are advanced in favour of or against the institution of marriage and why practices like lobola remain relevant in the 21st century.
Some who affirm Ms Ngoma’s views argue that the institution remains valid and that in fact their social standing should determine a larger lobola – but one must immediately rebut this archaic perspective in favour of a more pragmatic and avant-garde scenario.
Therefore, just as our ability to fall in love and sustain that “nervous condition” is being challenged, so too should society begin to reflect on what I call the return on investment (ROI) phenomenon.
By this I mean, no pun intended, that if we commit and pay lobola of whatever value, what should we expect in return from this investment? It could be that some of the professionals Ms Ngoma refers to are not committing because they are not convinced such an investment (commitment) would yield reasonable returns.
Given enabling material conditions that diminish women’s competitive advantage in relationships, why then do young professional men retain faith in marriage and readily submit to unscientific lobola demands regardless of weak guarantees of return on investment? In short, why do men marry? Ms Ngoma asks.
My short answer to her is: men marry to overcome their fears and inadequacies. Let’s elaborate.
Men marry because they feel incomplete on their own. They feel inadequate in terms of their ability to survive and navigate life on their own. Their attention span is generally brief. They are moreover afraid of having to fulfil duties they are neither capable of doing nor prepared to do.
More specifically: What terrorises most men is the fear of being a mere mortal. In response, they marry and procreate. Through procreation, they perceive a greater degree of leaving a lasting legacy – children – who will carry on the family name. If your kids are boys, even better – although modern men pretend to have buried the traditional preference for boy-children.
A young neurologist recently said “what hurt me most after my uncle’s funeral in the Free State is that he had no children, which means he will easily be forgotten and no one will carry on his legacy. His estate was split among distant relatives”, as he had no apparent legatee from his own pedigree.
Secondly, men marry because they suspect their ability to raise children on their own. The comfort of our homes notwithstanding, we feel we need women to help us raise children. That is why most widowers are quick to take another woman who will become a “mother” to their children. How many young single fathers are in your phonebook? Why do most men quickly secure a partner after a divorce, when they have secured custody of the children?
For me only fear explains this behaviour. This fear thrives on two factors, ie experience (capitalist history shows few men have taken the important responsibility of raising children on their own) and this has become innate among males – largely due to socialisation. We are born into this approach. We lack the confidence of raising children alone.
The third fear is that of managing the household. We fear that unless we get married and have people to help us administer our homes, they may become “taverns”.
There are plenty who have demonstrated an extraordinary ability to establish habitable houses without any help, but they remain houses, not homes.
“Once I get married,” you hear them say, “this will become a home and I will have someone to help me manage it, someone who will advise me not to paint the bedroom black and the lounge red.”
Feminists raise the issue of unpaid labour when men express their need to have someone to assist with such responsibilities.
Unfortunately, these are the realities of many young men.
Are men comfortable about ageing alone? The answer is far from in the affirmative.
What, then, is the answer to this trepidation?
Get a companion who gives you the psychological comfort that you’re a worthy social entity.
Some people believe men are like babies – like babies, men are vulnerable and when they are alone they feel insecure and shunned.
Some who are Christian marry out of fear of having children out of wedlock. They dread fornication.
They believe those violate the Christian code, when in fact they are just archaic Judeo-Christian influences.
According to some African cultures, married men, irrespective of age, enjoy certain social benefits.
For example, you don’t cut meat for “men” during rituals because you are also a man.
When a married man dies, a bull must be slaughtered. Now imagine you are 50 and unmarried.
You may be expected to cut meat for “men” (although out of respect for your age and social standing you are safe) and when you die only a goat is slaughtered (although a cow may be sacrificed for no symbolic value other than food).
Therefore, marriage confers social status and benefits such as respect and preferential treatment with regards to division of labour in certain cultures. A prominent political commentator, Dumisani Hlophe, believes men marry “to curb disorder in their lives”.
Unmarried men tend to be all over the place, doing many things which are largely destructive to their lives. They spend time at bars, outdoors and have multiple sexual partners. Having a steady woman in a long-term relationship brings order. Hence many would say: “I am tired now, I need to settle down.”
Marriage is therefore a quest for order in a man’s life.
Lastly, some believe men marry because they can. Others do so because society says so.
Nothing more, nothing less.
I’m sure by now you’re wondering whether love matters. It does but purely coincidentally. Love becomes a bonus, albeit temporal, in a sense that it is as fluid as the marriage institution itself. Therefore, most young black professionals are capable of sustaining relationships and most likely choose women perceived to represent a greater potential of fulfilling his inadequacies.
Unfortunately for Ms Ngoma, these women may fall outside the social class she represents.
And the same goes for men!
n Ngcaweni is a public servant. He writes in his personal capacity.