Happy Valentine’s Day! I’ve been writing this entry for ages; how nice that it’s finally ready to go on February 14!
If you’re a Nigerian who doesn’t come from a moneyed background, and if you’re having difficulty finding a decent job that allows you to buy more than essentials, the connection between having money and finding love may come up. One of my Nigeria-based male friends told me how some women don’t consider him dateable him because he doesn’t have a car or an extra income for anything other than the occasional meal at a restaurant or more regular casual outings at a local eatery. His father passed away almost two years ago and he’s the oldest of five children. He’s hustling, you see, and the title of Girlfriend of a Hustler isn’t one that women are clamouring for according to him. But he’s hardworking, educated and ready to marry…what’s a guy like him to do? (The answer for the past years has been to Stay Single and Keep Hustling).
My example when it comes to the importance of money in a relationship is my parents’ story: They met in Nigeria, both of them from very humble backgrounds (both grandfathers were farmers, I’m not sure if my paternal grandmother had a career outside of the home and I’ve said a few things about my maternal grandmother before, mother of eight children, former buka owner). Both of my parents had their secondary school diplomas, and my dad had worked for six years after graduating because he could not afford to go to university.
After my dad told my mom he would marry her (and she eventually realized he was a good man), they had a registry wedding and my dad’s dream getting further education came true: he earned a full scholarship to study in the USA, and my mom joined him soon after. He worked as a dishwasher at the cafeteria of the school he was attending, and my mom worked in the kitchen at the same school while she earned her college diploma. I’ve heard my parents reminisce about those days and their hectic schedules of work and school and not seeing each other and the pittance they earned but you can tell those early years cemented their relationship in some ways.
They had two cute babies (first me, then my sister), were able to go back to Nigeria and have a more fun wedding celebration, and approximately 10 years later my family moved to Canada so my dad could further his education, again with a full scholarship (proud daughter alert). My dad finished his PhD and was looking for work, the father of four children ranging in age from a year old to 10 years of age. Nothing was coming up so he worked in a warehouse moving heavy stock around for an hourly wage and he sold vacuums door to door for some months while my mom was a stay at home mom who also worked in the fast food industry. My dad was able to get a job that was in his field, but it was a six-month contract that kept getting renewed; he didn’t have job security for many years but God was faithful: we never went hungry, we never wore ragged clothing and we always had a (rented) roof over our heads. My mom always found time to braid my sister’s and my hair and to cut my brothers’ hair, so we always looked good. We had one car for six people, and for the first 10 years that we lived in Canada, it was a used car. I remember one car in particular had such a bad looking body due to rusting that I refused to be picked up from school lest my friends see the car. When they were able to buy a new car they drove it for 13 or 14 years until it died and they replaced it with a slightly used one.
We knew not to ask our parents for brand-name items if there was a lower-priced, high-quality, non-brand-name version because my dad would tell us very frankly that we could not afford it. Because we were older, my sister and I were more aware of the family’s tight budget. Nine years after my dad graduated, my parents bought a 22-year-old house which they are now halfway through paying for.
My parents did not pay for my university education, nor that of my sister: we worked during the summer months to earn the bulk of the tuition, and worked part time during the school year to earn the remainder. When we needed help, they’d help us, but we knew it wasn’t money that they had lying around because like many Nigerians they are supporting extended family members, so we always paid them back (eventually).
My parents’ relationship and my family history taught me that not having much money is not a legitimate reason to put off choosing a life partner (or having children as the case may be). I’m sure every man in love wants to be able to buy his wife a lovely ring to propose with, and wants to buy a beautiful house in which to live, but sometimes the budget demands that he buy a plain ring (or none at all) and live in a rented apartment (or single room) for some years before upgrading. My siblings and I did not suffer being raised the way we were. There are some people I know who think if they can’t afford to buy their kids new toys regularly or if their kid can’t wear designer clothing, then they cannot afford to have children. If they can’t afford a tropical vacation every year (or two) or if they can’t buy a house, or if they can’t drive a Nissan, Lexus, BMW, or Benz, they can’t move to the next stage of their relationship.
My own family situation has taught me is it’s having people to play with (as kids) or relate to (as adults) that makes one’s life rich. Despite my parents’ humble home and life, they have so many people who love being invited to their place to eat homemade Nigerian fare. The friends don’t care that my parents have 12-year old furniture and a second hand bookcase in their house. They don’t care that the floors of their house creak sometimes when you walk in certain areas, that the carpet isn’t as fresh as it used to be, or that the place could use a fresh coat of paint.
Also, you can find joy and make good memories with simple things. My parents always encouraged a love of reading in us and we would take family trips to the library when we were younger. Because of that my sister and I know our local library inside out, and there are librarians there who remember us from over 15 years ago. We may have never flown out of the country except to visit family in Nigeria, but we took many road trips and even had fun sharing hotel rooms together. This is not the picture of a family who suffered but a family who had (and has been blessed with) enough.
I’m still a big fan of the library!
Both here and in Nigeria, it’s easy to get caught up in the whole “keeping up with the Joneses” mentality that is so common in this world. In our Yoruba association, for example, there are members with vanity license plates (their last name usually) who change their (luxury) cars regularly. Others make sure you know where they work (and they want you to make the connection to the salary they’re pulling in). Some will correct you if you address them as Mr. or Mrs. when they have a PhD, because for them this is part of the prestige (while my dad on the other hand never calls himself Dr. So-and-so). On blogs you’ll see people dropping names of car brands and designers in a way that implies they hold a lot of stock in the brand (though I have to admit I’ve always been sensitive to name dropping. Maybe some are sharing brand names just to provide more information). A lot of people are in a lot of debt, all for the sake of appearances.
But I’ve digressed a bit. My main point is what my friend from the beginning of this post told me after sharing his woes about dating: just because he doesn’t have money now, doesn’t mean he won’t have money in the future, and for him, money is a means to an end and in his case his “end” is having enough to care for his family and impact others. No grand plans for having a stable of more cars than he can drive or wearing designer clothing just for the sake of wearing a designer. People and the relationships you create with them are what really enrich your life; if all you have is your money, chances are you won’t be happy for long. It’s an attitude that suits me just fine…in fact I should give him a call and see if he’s still single, or if a smart woman has snapped him up!
Do any of your parents or relatives have a similar story? Do you have a story of marrying someone that others may have looked down on due to their financial prospects?