The growing numbers of singles is not just a U.S. trend. Many countries around the world are also experiencing a decline in marriage. I love that readers of The Spinsterlicious Life are from “everywhere”…places like Australia, Brazil, Canada, Ecuador, Egypt, Germany, New Zealand, Peru, Romania, Slovakia, South Africa, and the U.K….in addition to the good old U.S. of A.
Today’s guest post is by two women –Lisa Brignoni and Thembi Mngadi– who write about their experience of being single in Ecuador and South Africa…one who grapples with the ongoing inquisition of “why aren’t you married” in a culture different from her own , and the other who is confronted by her own culture that has not advanced as far as she has.
In their own words:
Lisa Brignoni, an American in Ecuador
Starting off on my eight-month trip to South America as a single American woman, I was well prepared for the extremely forward behavior of Latin men towards the fairer sex. My plan was to simply disregard these gestures with little more than a shrug and carry on with my day. What I wasn’t exactly prepared for was the intense curiosity displayed by the locals regarding my relationship status, and how the fact that I was single, completely eclipsed every other facet of my personality, such as how I quit my corporate job to travel the world. Though I traveled extensively through South America, my post here references my experiences specifically in Ecuador and how they shaped my views on dating.
Without a doubt, if you’re a woman traveling around on your own, you’re bound to be asked a series of personal questions by curious but well-intentioned locals. “Are you married or single” is usually the first, and it’s important to note that “in a relationship” is generally not an option because the next question will most likely be: “when are you getting married/why aren’t you married?”. This is an “All or Nothing” type of operation they run in Ecuador with respect to relationships. If you answer “married”, you would next be asked to showcase your baby-making abilities by stating how many children you’ve managed to produce.
Assuming you’ve answered “correctly” to all questions, you would be met with approval and probably more pleasant conversation. However, should you answer in the negative for the marriage and kids questions, there would be two outcomes. (1) The the men would undoubtedly pursue you and (2) you would be asked an overwhelming amount of intrusive personal questions about your dating history as if the intruder were a doctor trying to diagnose what exactly is wrong with you.
My most memorable interrogation was with Roberto, a biologist from Ecuador who while grilling me pretty hard about my singleton status asked, “What’s so difficult about finding someone?” I was rather patient with him throughout the conversation reminding myself he’s coming from a different culture and he’s merely expressing a genuine curiosity, as opposed to making a passive-aggressive insult about my life. With this final question though, I decided it was time to turn the tables and shine a light on his life asking him if he was happy with his marriage. I never got a direct answer, but the interrogation into my life halted in its tracks and we changed the subject.
Even with the increased frustration from an onslaught of questions prying into my personal life to determine why I was without a husband, I still ventured into the world of dating an Ecuadorian man. I told myself at the time that I should be open-minded and not stereotype the man based on my experiences with other men of his culture. I unfortunately came to learn that although my new friend, Romeo, seemed different from the rest, he was after the same things marriage and kids, which by themselves are not bad things, but given the speed with which these things were sought and the complete disregard for all other aspects of a relationship, I had to end the relationship as soon and as painlessly as possible. I did in what I believed to be an honest and respectable way, but this was not met with a positive response.
One of the main reasons I felt guilty about breaking up with Romeo is that he didn’t do anything “wrong”. He was just being himself and who could fault anybody for that? However, at the end of the day, I really did need someone with whom I could freely talk about topics that interested me and with whom I had a deeper connection than just how many kids we wanted.
My ending thought was that being firm about what your values and beliefs are is important to the health of a relationship. One may have priorities that can’t be understood by others, but if you change them, you change the person you are and all that comes along with that. This can’t be the honorable way to finding love. With a litle bit of patience we can all navigate that narrow path of being open to the possibilities of love without sacrificing your core values.
Thembi Mngadi, of South Africa
I was born out of wed-lock. My parents were young when they had me so I was raised by my granny. In my teens I swore I would never follow in my mother’s footsteps by having a child while young and not married. The plan was I will get married and have my kids, but as I grew older, I loved my job so much that I lost track of time of my age.
Being born out of wed-lock I made a conscious choice not to have a child without marriage because I lived that life as a child so I don’t wish it on mine so I refuse to be modernised to fit my so called “ Women of Today.” I want to stick to the values that work. Having both parents somehow minimizes pressure off the child’s life as she/he gets a sense of stability with both parents being there to guide & love them best.
When I turned 30 I realised that my ‘ideal family’ had not materialised so I went back to the drawing board to check my life then realized that I am not missing out on anything being a single woman. People still drop their jaw when they hear that I don’t have kids or a husband and this worries my father and granny very much. They now say “OK, we see that marriage is not possible for you but at least have a child! You not getting any younger you know and you will regret your decision in a long run”. I have told them over and over again that I am not interested. I am not prepared to be a single parent, and I think the child suffers.
On the other hand being a township girl, I often visit Soweto because that is where I grew up. When I get there, every time I just don’t believe what I see or hear. It looks like behaviourally things have not changed much. Most women there seem to resist change because I see the same mistakes being done over and over again, and then I ask myself don’t these ladies dream big for themselves? Don’t they want best things for their children?
Gone are the days when we have wait to be married, fulfill others’ expectations of us, or need a husband to take care of us or justify who we are, and especially being forced to a marriage to someone I’ve never met or heard of. As women today we have a freedom of choice, and we can do what makes us happier beings, doing things that our grannies and mothers only dreamt off or wished for. The world is ours to play but all this does come with consequences and sacrifices.
I have friends who think I am weird because I don’t feel breedy, saying I am
being selfish. They wonder why I work and building a fortune if there is no heir/heiress to pass on. I work really hard, sometimes 16 hrs a day to have the life that I have, going on holidays when I want and going to places that I want to see. If I had a family I wouldn’t have had my life because kids are very expensive. I call them “walking mortgages”. Some sisters are so afraid of being alone that they marry because of desperation, and it doesn’t end good most of the time.
Being single has its perks that I am enjoying this moment and the more I get older the more I love my freedom. Yes there are days when I feel alone and bored. I said “alone” not “ lonely” because dating is not my thing but I keep busy with other things in life (cleaning my house, gardening, going to movies, trying new baking recipes and sleeping alot). I found that I love my space and spending time alone, recollecting my thoughts and being a happier being.
Thank you, Lisa and Thembi for sharing your experiences. I would love to hear from others about being single in countries in which you live or have visited.