I remember little from that night. I know my siblings, my mom, and I were watching a Nollywood (Yoruba) movie that featured a young lady in 300 level who either had issues with her boyfriend or was celebrating that she got a boyfriend. The entire night is mostly blurry now but the part of the night that remained as clear as day in my memory is the moment my mom said “if there’s a 300-level girl that has never dated, she should think about seeing someone for prayers because there must be evil forces behind it”. At that time, I was young and naive with internalized misogyny. So, when she said it, I agreed with her and also mocked the metaphoric girl that has never dated by 300l. My young, naive, and foolish mind saw her as unusual and undeserving and I resolved to myself to never be like her.
Time did its duty of passing and I found myself at 300 level with no partner and no dating experience. It dawned on me that I have become the girl I mocked as a child and because of the experience I mentioned earlier, I subconsciously made 300 level a sort of landmark for dating. The moment I crossed it without the expected bearings, shame began to trickle like drops of water from a leaking roof into my existence.
I am a Nigerian that lives at home and I have seen, firsthand, the foolish expectations that are expected of women. When these expectations aren’t met, we women are treated with contempt. By age 25, an average Nigerian woman is expected to be getting ready to settle down in marriage. She is expected to be getting ready to dedicate her life to the thankless service of raising children and often an adult man. Marriage is regarded as the peak for women, the most important thing we’ll ever do, and the age we do it is as important as the institution itself. An average Nigerian lady in 300 level is in her mid-twenties or very close to it, which means her time to get married is getting closer. So, if by 300 level she’s yet to date a man, there must be something wrong.
I truly felt like there was something wrong. My friends were all in it except me. I remember talking to an acquaintance and she unsolicitedly told me about the dangers of fibroids and that I have a high chance of getting the disease after I confided in her that I was yet to make my sexual debut. I was told by another person, after confiding in her too, that the reason I am still without a boyfriend is that she thinks my ways are repulsive to men.
Along with the burden of shame is the pressure to ‘quickly do and get married. “O mọ pé ilẹ obìrin kí n pe su. You can apply for a Master’s degree as a married woman. There are a lot of women doing it that way”. I want to tell them that I don’t even have a boyfriend yet but I didn’t and most likely will not. I know telling them means I will get praised in a way I despise. Yes, they think there’s something wrong with an adult woman who has never dated but they also have an uncanny ability to switch it up to see the woman as ‘pure’ because of her virginity (a word I thoroughly despise) and due to her ‘purity’, she will be perceived to be more valuable than the ‘other girls of nowadays’ that ‘spoilt their future by sleeping around’.
‘Your husband will respect you more because he will be the first to have you’
I despise these words like the devil despises virtue but what I think is not as important as how I am and what I represent to them.
Under the weight of pressure and shame, I almost followed a stranger to his house when I was about to graduate from university. I can’t put a name to what made me stop to ask myself why I decided to stoop so low just because I wanted to feel like I was in the know. I backed out and I talked to a friend afterward. She told me I don’t have to do these things just because I see others doing them. It’s okay if I have never dated, it’s okay if I don’t have ‘make-out’ stories like her and our other friends, it’s not proof that they are better. She said if I try to force myself to do all these things, I will end up hurt and regretful. Her words helped me.
I am 22 years old now, 3 years past 300 level and I have still not dated but I am indifferent to it now. It’s not proof of anything in my life. It’s just there. Like the fact that I have never traveled by air. It adds or removes nothing from my existence. I see it as a life event that will eventually happen and because of how far I have come, I don’t want to date just anyone. Trying moments shaped me and they made me better; better enough to know whomever I decide to be with must not remind me, amongst other essential factors like kindness, how harder it is to break through as a Nigerian woman.
I’m doing quite well for myself too. My blog is thriving. I’m writing more songs and singing them. I have something akin to reliable support from friends, and I’m learning to be intentional.
As Black women, society judges us differently. As Nigerian women, we are judged a bit more harshly but despite all the judgments and harsh criticisms, we are still women with asses that won’t quit. Yes, I am anxious about dating for the first time because it feels like arriving at the bus stop after the bus leaves. Yes, I didn’t get to enjoy the thrills of teenage love but I also didn’t go through the mess of teenage love. I went through those years alone and since I did, I wouldn’t settle for less than I deserve now.
In retrospect, my growth would have been stunted if I had been in a relationship at an early stage of my life. As a teenager, I was more naive and sensitive than I was smart, I admit. I am glad I chose friendships, even if it was not intentional. I was confiding in one of them, Shalom, a short while ago and she wisely advised ‘you shouldn’t date just because you are tired of being by yourself’. I hold on to these words like I would hold on to water in a desert. I repeat them on days when I need to be strong for myself.
It is said that everything good will come and I strongly believe it. Everything good will always come and I’m awaiting them in all of my glory.
Idayat Jinadu is an avid storyteller with works published in The Girls Like Me , Àyànfé, and Black Ballad.