Dear Devil’s Advocate: My Boyfriend’s Parents Won’t Let Him Marry Me

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A Devil’s Advocate takes the opposing side of any argument, just for the sake of debate, so that all sides of a question are discussed.

I am Launching a series Dear Devil’s Advocate to promote understanding and peaceful co-existent between people. From my experience–professional and personal–the strife and bad blood between friends, relatives, co-workers etc. stem from a lack of understanding of the other person’s perspective; if roles were reversed, people will do exactly the same thing as the other person whose actions they find intolerable.

In this series, I will take common situations and argue the unpopular position such that if you are in the position, you may begin to understand where the other person is coming from, and I hope, feel less animosity towards the person you believe have hurt you. For now, I make up the scenarios drawing inspiration from experiences of real-life people I know. With time, I hope you will send me entries about situations and people in your life that drive you crazy. Remember, the goal is not to justify the other person’s actions but to help you deal more objectively with the situation. This will help you keep your sanity and hold less grudge towards others.

The first in the series is from Tolu.

Dear Devil’s Advocate:

My name is Tolu. I have been with my boyfriend Uche for three years. He’s 30, I am 25. I met him during my National Youth Service in Anambra. He is the first man I have truly loved. He’s kind and funny and everything I want in a man.

Problem is, he’s Igbo and I’m Yoruba. His parents who are typical Igbo traders, have never met me but have stood their ground that he won’t marry me because I’m not Igbo. In fact, they insist he must marry someone not just from his State in Anambra but from his town in Ozubulu. How can people who have never met me judge me so harshly? I’m hurt that they have declined to meet me to even assess if I’m ‘worthy’ of their son. How they can be so close-minded at this age and time when people marry people from other race is beyond me.

Anyway, my boyfriend and I have decided to go on with the wedding plans and I have resolved that after the wedding, I’m going to pay his parents back for all the hurt they have caused me. They will never be welcomed in my house nor will the receive any financial help from us.

My Response:Dear Tolu,

Parents disapprove of marriages for reasons ranging from the ludicrous to the reasonable. While I am not going to tell you if going on with the wedding plans is proper in the circumstance–even I don’t know if it is–I can tell you that being mean to your future in-laws is unreasonable for at least four reasons.

First, like you said, your future in-laws have never met you so their disapproval of you is ‘Not Personal’; they would reject any girl that is not from Ozubulu. So why will you make personal something that is not. They don’t hate You as they don’t know you, so please don’t hold any ill-feelings towards them.

Second, you are educated; they are not. Probably you have had Igbo friends in the past and from your relationships with them you learned that certain stereotypes we associate with people whose cultures are different from ours aren’t true. If your future in-laws are like many Igbo parents, they have never left the Southeast and don’t know what Yoruba people are like except that Yorubas use a lot of palm oil to cook soup (Now, I don’t mean this to be derogatory). Will it be fair then to judge these people who may have never talked to a Yourba person by the same standard as you who probably have a mix of Igbos, Yoruba, and Hausas as Facebook friends. Your experience has taught you that irrespective of cultural background, we all share our humanity and cherish such values as honesty, integrity, fairness etc. Yes, your future in-laws are close-minded like you said but they have not been privileged to be otherwise.

Third, have you considered that their reluctance to accept you may stem from fear and worry and not hate; fear that their relationship with you will be awkward; worry that they cannot have conversations with you if you can’t speak Igbo and they cannot speak English. Can you make oha soup, jiakwu, ji agworogwo etc? ‘What the heck are those?’ You ask. Same question your future in-laws will ask when you marry their son and during your visit to them at Christmas you prepare ewedu and amala. The point is, no culture is better than the other but your future in-laws may be worried that you may not be open to learning how they do things. Their reluctance to accept you could be because they believe you will not fit in. Their concern is real–even if not valid. While these days, as extended family relationships weaken, you feel that you will be married to their son, not them, and that their opinion and preferences shouldn’t matter, it is hard for your future parents in laws who grew up in close-knit extended family units to understand this fact and how times have changed.

Lastly it may not be proper to cut them off from their son’s financial support. You have known your boyfriend for only three years. Your boyfriend is thirty. So for the first 27 years of his life you weren’t there when his parents provided for him, offered him emotional and financial support such that he has become the wonderful person you said he is. Parenting is the hardest job there is and robbing you future in-laws the pleasure of having their son take care of them now that they are old is morally wrong. Your boyfriend owes his parents his life and whatever your issues with them are, never prevent him from paying them back for all they did for him.

I understand how close-minded (and old-fashioned, if you like) your future in-laws are. However, were I born when they were, where they were, and had the same life experiences as they did, I would be singing their tune, not yours.

I hope my response helps you find it in your heart to forgive whatever hurt you believe they have caused you. And hey, check back with me twenty years from now when your daughter (assuming you have one by then) presents you a tattoo-sleeved, dreadlocks-rocking, motorcycle-riding white dude as her suitor. I hope you will remember then that you cannot judge a book by its cover.

Good luck Tolu as I invite my readers to comment and help you put this issue in proper perspective.

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7 thoughts on “Dear Devil’s Advocate: My Boyfriend’s Parents Won’t Let Him Marry Me

  1. Wow. U did justice to that complaint.
    Glad to have you back on full swing. I was actually waiting to see if you will follow through on your word on the last post that you are back, lol. Forgive me.

    Another piece of advice, in addition, deciding to make them suffer because they are rejecting you now out of fear will only confirm thier fears and might even make your husband question who he married. He may not tell you or his parents cause he’ll be confused on which side to be on but he’ll secretly wish that you, the ‘educated’ one who agreed to the marriage despite his parent’s refusal should act better and handle the situation better and this only causes rife, hidden hatred and unhappiness leading to an unhappy home.
    But when you welcome them, shower, shower o not just show but shower them with love as though they are your parents, thier mindset will automatically change. Probably most of thier encounters with your tribe has not been fun or the stereotyped stories have registered in them, it’s your duty to allay abi dissuade thier fears and not establish it.

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    • Thank you, Vicky, for your contribution. The point you made is quite insightful and I didn’t even think about that-two heads are indeed better than one. Treating the man’s parents poorly will indeed make Uche question his decision to go on with the marriage despite their disapproval. But Tolu showering them with love is a sure way to win them over; there has been several of such cases where in-laws agree their child married well after-all despite their initial reservations. I am indeed back, Vicky. Thank you for your comment.

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  2. Dear Tolu,
    I think the Devil’s Advocate has said it all. In the spirit of playing the devil’s advocate may i suggest you think of an unconventional social behaviour e.g gay, bisexual, bestiality etc any behaviour at all you may find repulsive. How would you feel is you are compelled to share a room permanently with someone with that behaviour? … May I add in my opinion, the safe thing to do is to call it quit i.e if your plan is engaging in a feud with your future (ibo) in laws, i can assure that’s one battle you are sure to lose. But if you are brave you can get your man and with time & tactics the love and acceptance of your future in laws. The issue here is FEAR. Neutralize that FEAR; HOW? Learn (try) the ibo language, food, culture etc. Two wrong =No right. The only way to fight Hate is with LOVE. Show them loads of it. And don’t forget a little bribe here and there e.g. wrapper, perfumes, etc for mama in law there are always the toughest nuts to crack. In summary I think the best revenge is to proof them wrong some day in the future when they call you the best daughter in law you remind (humorously) them of this time.

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    • Tolu (I wish the person that inspired me to write this scenario was reading these instructive comments, lol), the idea that being nice to your in-laws will endear you to them seem to be popular here, so there must be something to it. Actually real-life situations have proven it to be true. There aren’t many people that can refuse a good ‘bribe’. Growing up our favorite uncles and aunts were the ones that gave us gifts during Christmas.
      Chiks, about the bisexual, bestiality etc scenarios, now, those may be hard to comment on. When I conceived this series, one thing that held me back from launching it sooner was my concern that with time, I may get asked to comment on extreme situations and people whose actions I cannot rationalize. However, good we are easing into this gradually. I am sure that with well-versed contributors like you, we will handle and properly advise on whatever scenario may be presented.

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  3. Oh oh! My post omitted some text. I referred to those instances of unconventional behaviour that Tolu may find repulsive so that she may understand her future in law’s discomfort with the union and why there are not enthusiastic towards the idea of having to have a Yoruba as a permanent family, as she too would not be comfortable to share her space with someone of certain social affliations irrespect of the fact that other than that particular ‘oddity’ or in her future in law’s case ‘tribe’ such a person will make an excellent roommate/mate. So don’t judge your future in law too harshly in matters of the heart Reason takes the back seat.

    Anne I can’t wait to hear your stand on those… giving your conservative background. when we get to that bridge we will cross it.

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    • Okay Chiks. Thanks for the clarification. After your previous comment, I decided my next scenario would be based on a guy intolerant of his gay roommate. Yes, given my catholic upbringing you can imagine how conflicted I would be addressing that. It will be coming soon. Meanwhile, when are we launching your blog? Can’t wait.

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  4. Pingback: Dear Devil’s Advocate: My Wife Bought a House and Won’t Put My Name on the Deed | Anne Mmeje's Blog

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