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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