Esther Njambi is a 33-year-old woman who runs a wedding and events planning business. She is single and has no children. As is the case with many other Kenyan women above 30, she often finds herself the recipient of the popular question and jeer: “Why are you still single at your age? You must have been too choosy when you were young…”
This question is always either accompanied by a pitiful look, or one that suggests that being over thirty and still unmarried is akin to failure.
Esther wants such people to know that though she hopes to get married and have children one day, the fact that she is single and not dating does not give her sleepless nights. In other words, as she put it, she is not desperate, and her life is just fine as it is.
Here is her story.
“I grew up in Mau Narok in the Rift Valley before my family moved to Nairobi in 1993. My dad had three wives, and 28 children. I am the last born of my mother’s 10 children. Despite the numerous demands and challenges of looking after and providing for a large family, my dad offered us the best he could, therefore I cannot say that I was deprived. My mother died when I was in Form Two in a road accident, and my father thereafter from cancer.
As I was growing up, I dreamed of meeting a nice man, settling down with him and starting a family of our own. I was certain that by the time I was 25 years old, I would be married, with at least one child. However, 25 came and went with nothing to show for it. Today, I am 33 years old with no husband or children, but I am not worried one bit, unlike many, who seem to think I should be. I still believe that my dream will come to pass one day, though.
There are many people who wonder what I do with my time, now that I have no husband and children to keep me “busy.”
Well, I am very outgoing. To begin with, I am in my church worship team, and most of my evenings and weekends are taken up by choir practice.
I also enjoy spending time with my girlfriends – we enjoy sampling various coffee joints and restaurants around town.
We also take frequent trips out of town since we all enjoy travelling. However, the trips are not so many now since some of my girlfriends are now married and have their own families to think about.
I have always had a very active social life, since I am friendly. I make friends very easily, even with men, in case you’re wondering.
I have always had men around me, but most of them only as friends. I have never really been in a committed relationship, apart from that one time when I dated someone for six months before we mutually called it quits.
Dating is not easy at my age. One of the most interesting observations I have made with regard to Kenyan men is that they are very evasive and never really state openly that they are interested in a relationship with you, or that they are considering a possible future with you. They just string you along, taking you out on dates but never really saying anything.
It is for this reason that many women find themselves heartbroken. They stay in a relationship for years while unsure of the direction of the relationship, only for the man to invite her to his wedding as a guest.
When asked, the man replies that she was ‘just a friend’.
I am a very forthright person, and I prefer to know from the start if the friendship is going somewhere or if it’s better left at that level.
It makes things easier, since I am not one to assume things when it comes to men. I am also the type not to hover around a man, hoping and waiting.
But that does not describe all the men I have met. I have turned down offers from some who openly declared their interest in me. Attractive, respectful men who would make good husbands, but my heart just did not connect with theirs.
I believe in marriage, and I believe in marrying a friend, someone with whom I can connect with at all levels. I would want my marriage to last forever, until death do us part, and for that to happen, I choose not to settle for any man just because he has shown interest in me.
Challenges of a single
For some reason, society always assumes that a single woman of my age is ‘damaged goods’. Men are suspicious about our pasts and think we are hiding something or someone, such as a secret lover or a secret child in the village.
Even though you tell them you are as single as single can be, you can tell that they don’t quite believe you. Despite the two of you having a connection that could lead to something, they will nevertheless relegate you to the ‘friend’ category and choose to pursue a younger woman.
Married men are another group of suitors that many single women have to deal with. To them, we are desperate and ready to give in to any man who expresses interest in us.
These are men who are perhaps bored in their marriages, looking for adventure or an escape from the pressures of marriage, and who assume that single women are always available for ‘fun’.
Nowadays, married men don’t bother to hide the fact that they are married.
They will pursue you with their shiny, polished huge wedding bands in clear view. At least they are honest enough to say they are only interested in having a good time with you, nothing else.
I meet such men who believe that because I am single, I am easy prey because I must be lonely and desperate, and looking for a ‘saviour’.
Yet another group of people whose annoying assumptions I have to deal with are married women.
I don’t understand why they treat single women with lots of suspicion, bordering on contempt. Due to my easy outgoing nature, I have on some occasions been informed by a friend of a friend that a friend is uneasy about my cordial relationship with her husband, and that she is worried I might steal him. I find this ridiculous – how is it possible to “steal” a man? Is he a shoe or a book?
Is it really possible to steal a man, someone with a conscience and a will? I am active on social media, and I see plenty of spiteful remarks by married women towards single women.
We are painted as a miserable and scheming lot, constantly on the lookout for a husband to snatch.
Then there is the question that appears to be permanently on the lips of almost everyone I meet: “So, Esther, when will you get married?”
People don’t mince their words when telling me that I am way past the recommended age of marriage, urging me to ensure that I don’t become “expired goods”.
I am constantly told that I am in this ‘unfortunate situation’ because I was too choosy in my younger years, that I set my standards too high in my quest for Mr Perfect (who does not exist) and I therefore have no one to blame but myself.
Interestingly, these people are always quick to offer a solution: settle for any man who shows even the slightest bit of interest in me.
That even if I don’t love him, I should not let that golden opportunity slip away because it might never come again, that I will learn to love him as time goes by. But I am not like that. I will not marry someone out of desperation.
Then there are those relatives who add onto this unnecessary pressure. These are the ones who demand to know when I will take “someone” home whenever we meet. Nowadays, some even pull me aside and tell me that if getting a man is proving to be too difficult, then I should just get a child. They tell me that it is very embarrassing for a woman to grow old with neither a husband nor child. Imagine that.
Believe it or not, some churches actually discriminate against single people. I recall an incident where one of my good childhood friends asked me to be her best maid.
I was honoured to play that significant role, and committed myself to ensuring that her wedding day would be a wonder to behold.
A few days to the wedding however, the pastor who was to oversee the occasion discovered I was not married, and demanded that I step down.
His explanation was that the role of best maid should go to a married woman. He was adamant about it, and my friend had no option but to drop me from her lineup. Need I say that I was hurt by this incident?
As a Christian, I must say that the temptations of the flesh are real. I will not try to pass myself off as a saint, but I will say that I am very conscious about my faith, and I try to do right by my beliefs. I do not judge fellow Christians who fall into temptation because we are only human after all.
My message to society is that they should not put pressure on women who are not married. It is better to be alone, than be in a marriage where you are unhappy, for this can send you to an early grave.
Many single women have chosen not to settle for just any man, and remain hopeful that they will meet the man meant for them.
I would also like to encourage couples who are in happy unions to speak out openly about their experiences. Most of the time, we only read or hear about (thanks to our radio stations) about women who are in abusive marriages, or men who feel trapped in their marriages.
Lurid stories about mpango wa kando are the order of the day, but I believe there are people who are happy in their marriages and I think they should speak up, if only to encourage single people as well as other married couples facing great challenges in their unions.
I am optimistic about finding love, and I hope that maybe in the next five years, I will be married with a child or two. I believe in marriage and the joy it brings, and I desire to experience that someday.
However, should it not happen, I will not be devastated.
These are the qualities I am looking for in a man
You might be wondering what kind of man I am looking for. Here goes.
•A God-fearing man. I don’t mean a religious man, but one who has a strong personal relationship with God.
• A man who has a vision for his future and is working towards it. He doesn’t have to be rich, but he should at least be able to provide for his family.
• A man with whom I can have interesting conversations with, like you would with a knowledgeable friend.
• A man who will not feel threatened by my success. My personality is quite headstrong, or so I’m told, so he should not feel intimidated or want to change me, but one who will appreciate me the way I am.
• A man who believes in marriage, respects the institution and is ready for the commitment involved, just like I am.