Every area of women’s lives has been affected by the upending of traditional conventions, and the institution of marriage has not been exempt. Unlike the past when marriages were more enduring, today, divorce rates are high and steadily growing. In 2020, the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics recorded that 17 per cent of marriages had ended in divorce.
Women, especially single mothers, face greater scrutiny and judgment than their counterparts when they decide to remarry. This conversation was ignited when businesswoman, singer and self-proclaimed president of single mothers Akothee tied the knot with her fiancé Dennis Schweizer in one of the most opulent weddings we have seen this year. Akothee, a mother of five, started over again. While a section of Kenyans applauded, others were appalled arguing it was a little too late.
But is marriage really a secret society with a limited membership and time slot?
According to Dr Amos Alumada, a marriage and family therapist, single mothers like anybody else are free to remarry, divorce and remarry again if they so wish and their partners are willing.
“At the end of the day, people are going to talk. ‘So, do you get married to fulfil other people’s curiosity and satisfaction or your own?’ Is the question you should ask yourself,” says Dr Alumada.
He explains that our natural inclination as human beings is to have that sense of belonging, to love and to be loved and have a sense of connection with a significant other.
“These are universal needs. The sense of belonging is inbuilt in each of us; to feel validated and accepted, that is a natural yearning in each of us even for single mothers,” he says.
Speaking to various single mothers in their 40s, this is what they had to say about the challenges they face in the quest to find love again.
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Annabelle Njeri, 44, is a banker and mother of three. She has been co-parenting with her ex-husband for the past seven years after he impregnated another woman and settled with her.
Annabelle still hopes to find love and remarry someday, but it has not been easy as she admits.
“I met my husband when we were very young. I do not know how to start over and it has not been easy. Also, most men exit the scene when they hear you have three grown children!” says Annabelle.
Like Akothee, Annabelle believes her prince might be in another country and has since stopped going on dates with local men.
“Two of my friends remarried and are currently living with their wazungu husbands overseas. I told them to hook me up with their friends,” she says.
According to Annabelle and testimonials from her friends, white men do not judge their past lives, they just love the person and whatever comes with it. And they are more open to the prospects of marriage and taking responsibility than Kenyan men.
Echoing Annabelle’s sentiments is Winnie Atieno, 41, a primary school teacher, who jokingly says the only way she can remarry again is if she finds a white guy like Akothee.
Winnie is a widow and has been raising her two children alone for the past 10 years. Even though she believes in the institution of marriage, she is hesitant to let a man in her space.
“I am a Luo woman and our culture is way too complicated when it comes to remarrying. Most men think they are doing you a favour by just being in your life,” says Winnie.
Winnie admits dating for her has been hell. She also fears her children may not be welcoming to the idea of having a man around so for now she would rather have friends with benefits.
“Dating with no strings attached is easier for me, I do not have to explain my life situation to any man or introduce my children to men that are not willing to stick around. We can have fun and move on amicably,” she says.
However, she admits it would be nice to have a companion, someone she can grow old with someday.
Dorine Musumba, 47, a hairdresser, on the other hand, is content with her current situation. Dorine married at the age of 19 when she got pregnant and her parents forced her to marry her then-lover.
They stayed together in a tumultuous marriage for 12 years and had two more children before Dorine decided to walk out.
“We were both young, we did not know what we were doing. He started drinking early on in our marriage and coupled with poverty, the abuse began. I tried to hold on to whatever shreds of happiness I could find but things got too violent,” says Dorine.
Dorine did not need a higher education to understand she deserved better than what her husband was offering, and so she left her home town and fled to the big city to start over with her three children.
“It has not been easy, raising three children alone in this expensive town. But I manage. I have met many suitors who have asked for my hand in marriage but I do not think I want that kind of commitment anymore,” she says.
Dorine, like many other women fears remarrying from the trauma they experienced from their past marriages, while some believe they are just too old to start over.
“Where will I start? I am so used to doing things my way; my life, my money, my rules. A man will complicate things for me and I do not think I am ready to let go of that freedom. The occasional sex works for me though,” says Dorine.
Dr Amulada explains that insecurity in relationships can be contextualised in two dynamics; people who have been hurt can either be anxiously attached or avoidantly attached.
“This is what is happening with Dorine. She is choosing to be avoidantly attached, meaning she wants people in her life with no strings attached or commitment,” he says.
Weighing in on the matter is Dr Eve Waruingi, a psychologist, who explains the desire for marriage is encrypted in the heart of every woman. However, the decision not to get married is learnt.
“Women innately crave for a man; his love, affection and the security he offers. But from an early age, women from different backgrounds and social classes are moulded by their experiences and their views of men change gradually,” says Dr Waruingi.
She says that different factors can make it hard for a woman to want to marry or even remarry.
Those who do not want to marry completely could probably be coming from homes where there was domestic abuse. After witnessing the suffering of their mothers for years, some choose not to marry completely. In psychology, this is called vicarious conditioning.
“Others were probably molested at an early age and developed a repulsiveness towards men. Some were probably raised by single mothers who taught them that marriage is bad, men are dangerous and will hurt them,” says Dr Waruingi.
Susan Wangari, 40, says being a single mother can be depressing and that even if she sometimes believes that being an independent woman is a good idea, it can get uncomfortable thinking she will live her entire life without a husband.
“My friends got married in their 20s and got children back then, something I wanted to achieve in my early 30s. I got a baby with a friend at 30 and never moved in with him as we did not feel compatible for life partners. However, every time I am around friends and they start chatting about marriage, I get a bit uncomfortable since I feel like they are judging me. Honestly, I would now want to get a man and I have been praying about it,” she says.
As for remarrying, many things are at play. Women worry about getting their hearts broken again, probably being abused again, finding the right father figure, a financially stable man, and demanding careers - all the while battling low self-esteem and competing with younger women who have no baggage.
“For a single mum in her 40s, the stakes are much higher and they obviously do not have time to play games. And sadly, not all men can handle the pressure or live up to these standards. Most women would want to try again, find love and remarry but not all men are willing to break these barriers and take up the challenge,” says Dr Waruingi.
It is also important to note that men are increasingly choosing to put off marriage until they are much older, which makes it much more difficult for single mothers to find love.
According to a survey by the Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS), approximately half of the men in Kenya are reaching old age without ever getting married.
Giving context to the 2019 Census, the report states that the number of men growing old without marrying is higher compared to that of women in the country.
“I still believe that many woman marry because of validation. We grew up being told that we should at least get married between the ages of 25 and 30. Personally, I thought if I did not get married by the age of 27, I would end up lonely. I am still single at 42 and I am happy bringing up my son who is now 14. I have been able to support my life with my career and also date as I learn what life has to offer. If I do not meet the right man, why should I settle down,” says Mary Mulei, an engineer.
She would rather not get married than get into a marriage that will end up in divorce. She believes life has many facets, which she has managed to fulfill, other than just getting a man for a husband.