Apologies- this is long…with usual digressions…am just exuberant to be back!
Recently my friends and I were discussing a gossipy story out of Nairobi regarding a certain man’s (alleged) infidelity. A story that came complete with the usual villains: a pregnant mistress (alleged) aka ‘the Homewrecker’ and angels: an (allegedly) estranged wife. Firstly, we were all highly amused by the amount of detail contained in what we can only call third party hearsay- I mean, word out of Nairobi had the gestational progress of ‘the Homewrecker’ well charted and am sure that out there in the ether, exists a story detailing the Whens and Wheres of this affaire. Secondly, we found that most of the vitriol was (not surprisingly) being poured over the alleged mistress- I wondered aloud to one of my friends, “who- under the age of 40 calls such a woman a ‘Homewrecker’?” Thirdly, the gleeful-yet-tempered-with-holier-than-thou attitude which had otherwise decent people spreading this story in their social circles left us feeling uncomfortable- after all, wasn’t this a private matter for the principals to sort out amongst themselves rather than cannon fodder for the gossip militia?
Am not one to sit and pontificate over what is right and wrong about people’s relationships- as a human being prone to error myself and all, I think that I am barred from writing the ‘New 10 commandments’ of relationships, so hearing about another man with another woman not his wife didn’t shatter my world or leave me urging vengeance on ‘the Homewrecker’ or ‘the Philanderer’ or feeling excessive pity for ‘the Devoted Wife’. Rather, I was left thinking, “and how does this affects me?”
Here are some observations made which have brought me to this conclusion:
In Kenya there is a beast of a myth that a woman can ‘steal’ another’s man. Is he a baby to be abducted? A trinket to be snatched away from an undeserving mate as a hawk swoops down on unsuspecting picnickers? Or a set of keys to be casually misplaced and lost? We’ve heard all the expressions: “she stole her cousin’s boyfriend,” when it is considered a shame that a deserving woman has ‘lost’ out to a lesser opponent, “she ‘sliced’ her friend,” usually when the predatory woman is considered to have won a trophy of a guy from a less worthy opponent. “That woman is a Homewrecker,” usually when ‘the Devoted Wife’ launches a blitz attack on ‘the Homewrecker’ or when the local televangelist is denouncing the decline of marriage today. “If you do not ‘behave’/make him happy/watch out you will lose your man!” usually an admonishment from ‘the Devoted Wives’ to women deemed not to be fulfilling the legal requirements of being ‘the Devoted Wife’ or the stuff spouted from most of the local newspapers’ women’s magazines. The women of Kenya it seems are a powerful breed of human that renders the male of the species totally helpless and fair game to their feminine wiles/charm/viciousness/slutiness/virtue.
“Aibu ya kaburi aijuae ni maiti” or in another language, “Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches.” How do we know that the relationship/marriage being ‘wrecked’ is not good for anything better than being wrecked and cast onto the rubbish heap? Why assume that all is tickety-boo with a couple when out of the blue like a bolt of lightning(!) Gasp! the Harlot/ Daughter-of-Satan/a Jinni descends into paradise and wreaks havoc? How is it that the cheater, never, until the minute they take off, hopping the fence and making a dash for freedom to the greener verdant slopes espied from the prison of a relationship, showed symptoms of wandering-eye or lust? Seriously? Am doubting this is the case. In my humble opinion, when I am happy in my relationship, I can acknowledge beautiful male creatures without feeling an urge to romp in the meadows with them while the birds chirp and I feel as one with nature. On the other hand, when I am feeling unloved, unhappy with and stuck in the relationship, I am more likely to magnify and dwell on my partner’s shortcomings and become amenable to having a fling because I am feeling wronged/sad/unloved or whatever. Even then, my closest friends or family probably do not know that I am not happy so when I do go out and philander, they will all accuse me of ‘breaking up a happy home’ and all those other clichés. Could it be that often we refuse to believe that others are unhappy because that would force us to question our own relationships’ versions of happiness, light and tickety-boo? Possibly. Maybe it is easier to ascribe happiness to our own and our Peers’ relationships than probe and poke under their gleaming well polished surfaces for fear of discovering rot and decay lying beneath it all?
WARNING: This is a very long digression. You can skip this without missing much flavour.
Appearances are the be all and end all of Kenyan society. We want our friends to think we are as rich or richer, as smart or smarter, as happy or happier, as successful or more successful and as perfect or more perfect than they are. How often do you think do Kenyans go on Facebook to pore over albums and albums of pictures depicting the pinnacle of relationship success far as the Kenyan 30something is concerned: the Wedding. After seeing a bunch of them for a season however, you start to realize something- the weddings all start to look the same. It’s the same tent (swathing it in red doesn’t make yours any more unique than Jane Njoroge’s pink with tinges of mauve), the same cake (oh, by the way, those over-the-top fondant 10 cake/little hut creations are so last year…apparently it’s all about the cupcake in 2010…I see them starting to creep into albums so am sure by August there will be a run on commercial cupcake baking tins in Nairobi), the same people-playing-dress-up quality to all the pictures…a man who never wore a suit before posed in an ill-fitting garment masquerading as a suit (if you check the label it says Suite but nobody notices in their mad dash to the altar. Sigh), the photos are the same- from the bridesmaids showing off their shoes, to the bride, voluminous dress billowing out around her with her maids’ bouquets laid at equal intervals around its circumference, to the groomsmen clutching an awkward looking (sometimes quite heavy) bride (cheerleader style) in their outstretched arms “girlfriend am sure you are so regretting that strapless dress sans good foundation garments now,” I think mercilessly as I click through another tedious album…it all looks the same. How can everyone’s ‘dream wedding’ manifest itself in such a similar manner? Could it be that there, lurking among the ‘happily married’ crowd are fakes? Could it be that some of these photos of couples’ happiness doth protest too much? Could it be that if you listen closely, ignoring the white noise of the Kayamba/Mukurino/Sikuti/Nyatiti troupe you will hear whispers of a true-r state of affairs? That the groom aka soon to be ‘the Philanderer’ is actually in love with ‘the Devoted Wife’s father’s money and status or worse, her cousin and of course there can be no mention of the soon to be ‘Philanderer’s child borne when he was but a young stripling overseas and conned(!) into having a child by a wily ‘Homewrecker/Harlot/Daughter-of-Satan’. That soon to be wronged, ‘the Devoted Wife’ has, by marrying ‘the Philanderer’, achieved her dreams of world (oh, I mean Nairobi) domination by hyphenating her name with one as or more powerful as her own family’s. She is dying to raise her fist jubilantly in the faces of her former spinster sisters (soon to be heaved en masse into the ‘Potential Homewrecker/Harlot/ Daughter-of-Satan’ category of friends) and cry triumphantly, “I am Mrs ‘the Devoted Wife-Philanderer’ hear me roar!” instead, as ‘the Devoted Wife’ she turns on the megawatt smiles she is best known for and beams at the camera.
Later, back from her honeymoon (preferred destination: anywhere that involves planes and or passports) ‘the Devoted Wife’ is on Facebook where she will satisfy her acolytes’ longing for a glimpse of her ‘good fortune and large budget’ dropping crumbs of goodies Gretel-like and sitting back to lap up their fawning comments, deflecting the envy-veiled-as-praise ones with self effacing responses like, ‘it will be your turn soon’ etc etc…until her relationship is given the Facebook seal of approval.
Here ‘the Devoted Wife’ sits, queen of ‘Perfect Marriage’ castle (or sadly, in some cases gilded cage), fiercely proud, dispensing sage advice to her acolytes on ‘Devoted Wifedom’ (what is it about marriage that renders you wise? I ask!), her King and ‘Master’ joins her in checking off the boxes of life (baby, right car, right house, right friends, right clothes, right holidays)…until death tears them asunder.
Or until ‘the Homewrecker’ rears her pretty coiffed head.
Many of us care more about public opinion when it comes to their relationships than is healthy for them. I know that public opinion can be used to keep everyone in line and society ticking along nicely. In Kenya ‘People’ do not look kindly upon those that break the rules of what is ‘proper’. ‘People’ also feel that they have a right to pass judgment on their Peers’ lives and quite often tell them so to their faces.
WARNING: DIGRESSION AHEAD
I have had this happen to me. A relative said some very negative things to me about my relationship. This person had not seen me in a few years and they were not ever a confidant of mine so I was left feeling rather violated and hurt. I remember thinking at the time that the worst thing someone can do to you is a.) say something negative about a major life choice you have made without any basis and walk away from the fallout with the justifications that b.) they ‘know you’ (clearly better than you know yourself) therefore they can invoke this ‘special right’ to judge and c.) they ‘need to tell you the truth because they care about you’…(a lie people tell themselves to soothe their conscience)…if you care about someone, you take a step back from your judgmental place and consider how your words or actions will affect them, not how they will make you feel about yourself.
This person was, in their hubris so far gone along the “I am right. You are wrong,” path that even the apology was conditional, “I am sorry IF you felt hurt BUT…”Needless to say this person is not in my life anymore and before anyone says anything about forgiveness- I can forgive, I just don’t need to have you in my life. The thing is that this person still thinks that they had a right to say whatever they wanted about my life to me and that I was just overreacting.
What ends up happening is that without realizing it, everyone starts living their lives in a way that rocks the boat as little as possible. Relationships get squeezed and stretched to fit into cookie cutter moulds with ‘different’ being like a dirty word. The raised eyebrows, the “what will people think?”, “people will say…”, ‘people’, ‘people’ ‘people’…start defining your life. But as my friend K____ says, “Who are these people? Name one!” The incident with my relative was a lesson learned. It has strengthened my view that you have to protect yourself, choose who your ‘family’ is and choose your ‘People’, find your own ‘truth-sayers’- people that you trust who can be objective when you need them to be…then stop listening to the other 99% of noisemakers.
Stop ‘judging’ and instead focus on learning to make choices that are right for you. Take the time to know yourself…find time for introspection away from all outside influences (friends, family, church, alcohol :), ‘people’) so that you can really get to know what your heart desires most…then when you go for it, you are doing so with conviction.
So say we’re talking about marriage, if you marry a person who makes you happy, then you stand a better chance of making a go of it, so yeah, marry for money- if it makes you happy, marry for love- if it makes you happy, marry for funny- if it makes you happy, marry for looks- if it makes you happy, marry for religion- if it makes you happy. (Divorce too if it makes you happy). I use marriage as the example because it’s where many of my peers are at, but it also applies to jobs, moving to a new place, following your dreams. When you pursue a road that has happiness as it’s goal, life is that much sweeter.
Learn to just ‘do you’. Even the Bible (yeah yeah, this woman whose relationship with Hesus is arms length at best quotes the Bible) says that each of us is uniquely and wondrously made…so why are you living your life as everyone else or according to someone else’s rulebook? How can all of us have the same goals, dreams, aspirations, desires, taste in wedding dresses, love of cars, addictions, etc? We can’t. So when you find yourself uttering the words “What will people say,”…just try replacing it with a real person’s name. Then ask yourself why this person’s approval is important to you…because really, if you are not doing anything illegal or hurtful, anyone who loves you will want you to make a choice that makes you happy.
Learning to let people do their thing isn’t always easy since armchair jockeying is a favourite pastime for humans. But sometimes I have to ask, “If Mr A cheats on Mrs A, does it affect my life? I would rather focus on working on my relationships, scouring away to prevent any tarnish, beefing up foundations, planting flowers around it, spiffing it up…for us. I won’t waste my life looking to the side to see what you are doing, neither will I care too much if the whole field is sitting and pointing at me and tsk-ing because I refuse to toe the line.
Life is too short.
Here is to Living, Letting Live and most importantly, Happiness!!!
‘ Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways – Chardonnay in one hand – chocolate in the other – body thoroughly used up – totally worn out and screaming “whoo hoo what a ride’ ~Bill McKenna~