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Considering my views and thoughts about marriage, it’s easy to understand why I haven’t shared this yet. A few weeks ago I dreamed that Hennie asked me to marry him. Of all the dreams to remember it was a little scary to wake up with this one. I practised my favourite method of problem solving, the pretend-that-nothing-happened-technique, developed and perfected by the Ostrich. But I still couldn’t stop thinking about this dream. So I researched. Not to find out what it means (I don’t really buy into the whole dreams are symbols thing), but to find out what some great thinkers of our time think about dreams.
At some point in our lives we’ve all believed that desires, fears and problems are what our dreams focus around. Many people may be thinking that this dream is some way of expressing my want for a marriage proposal. That line of thought comes from the same thinker responsible for the Oedipus Complex. Yup Freud is the guy behind this widely accepted belief. While we all like to think that our dreams of shagging Brad Pitt are desires we’re too scared to talk about, some dreams are in fact expressions of fear or conflict. But was my dream an expression of fear, want or a realisation that I’ve talked myself onto the idiomatic shelf? Not enough answers here.
Another great thinker, Alfred Adler doesn’t agree with Freud (phew! my dream isn’t a repressed desire). He recons that dreams are our mind’s way of making sense of goals. When we dream it is in fact to help us move towards what it is that we strive for. (Er, I didn’t see that one coming!)
From an African perpective, (since I consider myself African this could have bearing) dreams are about what is going on in one’s concrete reality. I understand this to mean that we make sense of what is going on around us while we sleep. This perspective also considers dreams to be a message or warning from the ancestors. This could be why I dreamt this in particular. Hennie had been behaving strangely and since I’ve had a question popped previously I was probably worried that it was going to happen again.
More than worrying whether it would happen again, I worried about the related bits and pieces of a marriage proposal. If he did ask me what would I say? How would I react? Would he be smart enough to ask on one of my pro-marriage days? Or would he make the fatal error of asking on an anti- day?
Unfortunately my dream gave no clues to any of these questions. I woke up before I gave my answer!
Kenny* and I have been dating for three years. It was not meant to last this long but it did and I am glad. So is Kenny even though he was quite afraid of our approaching anniversary which was yesterday. I am not sure why he would be afraid but he was and he saw that it was quite a silly thing to be afraid of. See? I am not afraid of commitment! When this happens, a three year long relationship that is, combined with being 26 years old it is incredibly difficult to avoid questions like when will we be getting engaged.
Our friends, not the close ones who we spend every weekend with, tend to ask us this question a lot. The last time was one of Kenny’s mates, I forget his name, which is unusual because I am usually quite good with names, but that’s beside the point, at a braai we were at. (For my non-South African readers: a braai is a barbecue and it usually includes a lot of drinking and partying and often not so much barbecuing.) He was there with his girlfriend who he lives with and we were talking about some mates of ours who had recently tied the knot. He then posed the dreaded question, “So, when are you two getting married?”
I shook my head in mild panic, “Um, no we’re not getting married.”
He almost choked on his drink, “Why?”
“Because I don’t want to,” I shrugged.
To which he replied by slapping Kenny on the back “Well this one’s a keeper, put a ring on that before she gets taken up by someone else.”
As though I am a member of the livestock family and totally claimable. I told him that I will live with Kenny one day but we’re not getting married. He then went into a long story about how he gets lunch made for him everyday and his washing is always done and ironed.
“I thought you were living with your girlfriend, not your mom?”
“Um, yes well I – ” he didn’t talk to me much the rest of the evening.
So when mates ask this fairly uncomfortable question, it’s ok. It’s quite easy to answer them honestly and in a way which will be least offensive. I mean really now, what mate wouldn’t be happy for his friend if his friend’s girlfriend was happy to forego the whole formality of ownership right? But what happens when it’s parents and other family members who bring up this touchy topic?
My parents are quite ok with my decision not to get married. I can’t say that they agree completely with it but they don’t disapprove. I am sure that they would prefer it if I did marry one day but all that they worry abut is whether or not I’ll be happy. Kenny’s parents are a little more old school than that though.
A few weekends ago Kenny’s dad’s friend from high school came around from Jefferey’s Bay, Oom F*. They were coming up for, believe it or not, his nephew’s wedding and decided to turn it into a catch up session of note. Oom F’s eldest son who is only a year younger than Kenny recently got engaged and they were up here too for the cousin’s wedding. To celebrate that Oom F had come to visit, Kenny’s dad decided to host a massive breakfast. He invited the entire family on his side which included his parents, his brother and sister-in-law, Oom F was there with his whole family and obviously Kenny’s whole family was there. Kenny’s Ouma was expecting some huge announcement and I think most of the people there were too, being the eldest I think they thought the announcement was coming from Kenny and I. Kenny politely nipped that in the bud though because this expectation was only told to me after we had left.
We finished eating our breakfast and we were getting ready to go, which with so many people, is quite an episode in itself. Oom F, who insists on speaking Afrikaans to me, asks “So when will we see you again? At your wedding?” Being thoroughly placed on the spot here I respond with the first thing that comes to mind, “No.”
Kenny’s dad turned several shades of white and I felt the disapproval emanating from Kenny’s mom from across the room.
“It’s not Kenny, I just don’t believe in it.” I’m not improving the situation am I?
Kenny’s Ouma pipes up and says, “Yes that’s the best idea because then if you aren’t happy you can just get rid of him, just living with him is much better.”
Thanks Ouma I thought and while changing colour several times between myself and Kenny’s dad I managed to say “Yes that’s my plan really.”
Kenny hurriedly escorted me out of his parent’s house amongst rushed good byes.
I may never be entirely comfortable in that house again but at least they don’t have unrealistic expectations of me. It’s not even like Kenny and I can get married yet. We are both still studying and weddings are pretty expensive not to mention university fees. That’s of course assuming I do want to get married at all.
* Names have been changed
Oom – Uncle
Ouma – Grandmother
When I was 12, I decided that I would not get married. I planned to have a boyfriend, live with him and perhaps have kids with him. It would all depend on how I felt in the future. When I was 12, I also had a very religious Bible ed. teacher (which is understandable I guess) and a very religious Sex ed. teacher (which is not so understandable). They both maintained that if one decided to have pre-marital sex one would find oneself dwelling in Hell for an eternity. For a fearful 12 year old, reliant on people not being angry with her this was a terrifying thought. I did not want to spend the rest of my (after) life in Hell. However, I also did not want to die a virgin. New plan; I would wait until I got married before allowing someone to pop my cherry.
My new decision to wait until marriage was going well. In other words, I was so terrified of all that fiery brimstone and the devil himself, that I did nothing with any boys. My first kiss came at the ripe old age of 14 and nothing else followed that. Until I met Gavin *. Gavin was a little older than I was, 18 was not that old, just a little over a year, but it wasn’t so much him that affected my new resolve as myself. I already had developed sexual needs and wants and Gavin, while still a virgin, was somewhat more experienced in these areas than I was. He accepted my rules and told me that he’ll wait for me. Less than a year later, I had broken my promise to God and myself to wait until I got married. I do not blame Gavin in any way, this was my decision to take and if there had been any forcing, it was probably me forcing him. Now I would be damned, forever, according to my helpful teachers. I felt guilty, not for having sex but for breaking my promise, for going back on my (relatively new)resolve, for actually enjoying the experience, for relishing in the feeling that I was a rebel. But I couldn’t escape that nagging memory that I would be relocated to Hell when I died and not Heaven. New plan; I would marry Gavin, that would be sure to set things right.
A month after having my cherry popped, I began falling out of love with Gavin faster than Kryptonite kills Superman. Gavin became stifling and unbearable. I felt unable to breathe when I was near to him (it wasn’t his aftershave) and I dreaded visiting him or seeing him. This was a major problem especially if you consider my new plan. But this plan was the only way I could redeem myself, and keep having sex. Five years later, Gavin popped the question. I knew it was coming. I couldn’t run. The smallest and most expensive handcuff I had ever seen (my engagement ring) was housed in a camel coloured box punctuating the question scrawled across a beach near Durban. To say I was disappointed would shatter his fantasy. To say I was disappointed would mean confronting a fear I had locked away in a box with plans for the key. I said yes, reluctantly.
A week later, we were in the car heading back to Jo’burg. I felt like being ill the whole way back. It wasn’t car sickness and it wasn’t morning sickness. I was ill from nerves and a clear non-desire to go ahead with this. I denied this non-desire and called it excitement. Gavin and I got down to the rather expensive and stressful business of planning a wedding. We set a date and booked a venue. To those of you who are married you’ll realise that booking a venue means paying half of the cost as a deposit. Onto the next task which, according to the wedding magazines I felt more embarrassed to buy than tampons, was to choose and book a photographer. Also, the next expensive item on the list. Luckily we were still in discussions and hadn’t made any payments or definite decisions.
A week after our 6 year anniversary, 5 months after our engagement and 7 months before our wedding I broke up with Gavin. He didn’t see it coming. Nor did anyone else. Who would after recently getting engaged? It shows how well I had hidden my feelings from him, myself and everyone else we knew. I’m not proud of it. I had denied how I truly felt about this guy because of some prescription about sexual relations preached at me by 2 teachers who used their experience and my age against me. I had lied to myself for 11 years about what I wanted, about what would make me comfortable and happy. Just because of some prescription designed to protect (I hope) people hundreds and thousands of years ago. How could I let this happen? How could I be so out of touch with myself and so needy for acceptance from a being I couldn’t see and those I shared the Earth with? I hurt Gavin really badly. I wasted 6 years of his life because some old hags told me that I would go to Hell if I had sex before I got married. I took his love, returned it half-heartedly and then threw it to the ground so that I could stomp all over it. All because of a sense of obligation and a selfish need not to be judged too harshly. New plan; no more obligations.
When I was 23 I made a new decision. If I ever find myself being with anything or anyone for any reason other than the fact that I love it and can’t bear to be without it, I need to get out. I need to pack my stuff and move along, before things get as out of hand as I allowed them to with Gavin. I need to give them or it the opportunity to find someone else to take my place. I’ve decided to trust my gut and my inner feelings regardless of what society says, thinks and approves of. This might mean that I never get married. It might mean that I do get married. Whatever it means I know that I need to be honest with myself about what I want and what I need in order to be happy and to keep those around me as happy as possible. My ideas, thoughts and feelings change as often (as the saying goes) as I change my panties, especially when it comes to the fairly contentious topic of marriage.
*Names have been changed.