When I was 19, I lost one of my best friends in high school to the institution of marriage.
My friend was the oldest of the 5 girls in her family (she had 4 other brothers), and she told me throughout high school that she was very proud of being able to stay in school until as old as she was.
I didn’t quite get it, because we were only 16 when she said this.
..then she explained that in her culture the only task women had in life, was to grow up, get married as young and as fast as possible, and have babies.
She had this “talk” with her parents at the age of 13, and told them rather boldly that she wanted to at least finish high school (which at the time would be the age of 19).
Her father and her fought for weeks on this issue because he wanted to start prospecting for future bridegrooms at 13, have a long engagement between the families, and when it was legally possible to do so in Canada (age of 18 in Ontario), marry her off.
Not only that, these bridegrooms are not teens either. They’re MEN in their late 20s, early 30s, sometimes older, depending on what’s available on the marriage market, and who catches their eye.
Her father told her he was being generous in letting her CHOOSE the bridegroom because normally, he’d make the decision based on how this man would be able to provide for her in her future, without her input at all.
I admit, I felt bit sick hearing this.
Can you imagine being a girl at 13, being told you have to get married to a much older bridegroom?
I knew she came from a strict family when I met her, because she only wore long skirts and shirts that covered her shoulders, and she wasn’t allowed to go ANYWHERE with ANYONE without a male chaperone from the family, like a brother.
School was okay however, because we all attended the same school, but on school trips, she just missed them because her brother couldn’t go with her.
Since they lived in Canada, their father relaxed a little under the rule of the country, but he was still not sold on the fact that she had to even finish school.
She told me he said:
“Why do you even need to get an education?
You’re a girl and you’re only going to get older.
Nobody cares about how much you know.
You won’t be able to use that education anyway, it’s useless for your life because you’re just going to get married and have babies.”
She was rather headstrong for even demanding to stay in school (kind of taboo in her culture), but if she had her way, she told me that she would secretly love to have become a teacher rather than get married and have kids right away.
I asked her why she did it, and why she continued and she told me:
“Because I have no choice.”
Stupidly, I told her she always had a choice.
She shook her head and said:
“No, I know I have a choice, but it is the choice between my family whom I love dearly, or what I want to do with my life.
If I don’t get married, as I am the oldest girl in the family, my younger sisters also cannot get married because it has to go in birth order.
I would ruin their futures by following what I want to do.”
..and that was that.
That ended the discussion for her.
Nothing else I said afterwards, mattered. She just told me I didn’t understand their culture.
No matter what she wanted to do, she couldn’t do it because it was either her family whom she couldn’t give up, or her own dreams.
So, when she graduated from high school, after having turned down 6 years of marriage proposals from others in her community from her “tribe” as she called it, she got married a week later.
I attended the wedding.
I tried to feel happy for her, but when I look back on the photos of me posing with her, there’s an unmistakable sadness in her eyes.
She whispered that it wasn’t so bad because he wasn’t TOO old, he was only 13 years older, not 30.
She was almost crying on her wedding day but trying not to do it in front of everyone, faking as though she was happy, not devastated.
After the wedding, I tried to keep in touch, and I was told gently by a mutual friend of a similar culture that I was not allowed to contact her any more and to please not to try, because now that she was married, her husband did not want her to socialize with anyone not from their culture or tribe any longer.
She was even cut off from her own family, unable to go back and visit or see them for a year.
I heard later that he relented a bit, and let her see her sisters once in a while, and I was told, even very kindly let her have a part-time job at a local store so she wouldn’t go crazy at home.
Oh, and she already had a baby, conceived almost immediately after she was married.
I am not going to say I understand, it’s her culture and I accept it. I do on some level, get that she made the choice, but I am also sad that her choice was basically to cut off her life (her family and culture) or to be able to have a future.
I don’t know what has happened to her since, but once in a while, a post like this reminds me of her and the best friend I lost.