Growing up, I had a vivid image of what my ideal relationships would look like. I’d date a guy who looked like. Someone who definitely wasn’t younger but at most 5 years my senior (yes, I was really that specific. I wasn’t even willing to settle for someone my exact age). I remember seeing a married couple with what I considered an age gap. I didn’t like the way I felt like he could be her father and it automatically just put me off much older guys. Plus, it didn’t help that there were a lot of “uncles” who were just creepy!
I am aware that these set preferences were formed in my mind from what I saw around me and what I perceived as acceptable. But it shocked me when I recently took stock and realised the two guys I had dated in the past were younger than I. Now I know that might not be a big deal for some, but I have always thought that age was a hard set in my preferences. I honestly felt like a cougar, even before I knew what it was! I mean the guys were only a year or two younger, but it felt like such a dramatic gap from what I thought I wanted. I’m pretty sure I took a mothering role in one of those relationships, without even thinking about it. It just sort of happened.
I was speaking to a new friend the other day about a fear I’ve been facing (that’s a story for another time). But that conversation made me think of some things on my “list” and why they were there.
Apart from age, race was another thing I thought was a hard set for me. I mean, growing up in Nigeria, I don’t think I ever saw an interracial relationship (even if I did, I’m pretty sure I didn’t know what it was/meant).
Like I said earlier, my preferences came from what I saw. So when I moved to the UK and my sheltered life was rudely removed, those preferences changed drastically. Especially the race card. When I saw how people of “influence” around me handled things, I thought “Wow! So this is how Nigerians behave, this is how they all think, this is how all Nigerian men are, I don’t want this”.
Plus, it didn’t help when I realised I had little knowledge of the cultural food and etiquette. I’m not saying I can’t cook; but I started to think how do I explain to a Nigerian/African guy that making some African dishes isn’t exactly my forte, but that I love baking and can do that in my sleep? When food is such a big thing in your race, it can be a massive barrier in itself! I even remember praying once “Lord please I can’t marry an African! Any other continent but not someone from Africa”. I wasn’t even joking when I said that quick prayer, I was just so scared that I wouldn’t be up to par for an African and I didn’t like the limited experience I’d had.
I mean yes, I grew up in an African home. Yes, we ate the food. Yes, we greeted our elders with respect. But we were only allowed to speak English in the house, we didn’t visit other people that much; we went to church, school and then back home. We also had maids who did most of the cooking so we weren’t really allowed in the kitchen. Later on, in the UK, I fell in love with desserts! The process of making them, decorating and presenting them. Eating them was also a plus. But my no longer sheltered life allowed me to become interested in the kitchen and the many different things I could whip up in there, it just so happened that baking over took cooking.
My “list” was something I had in my head and I had never really sat down to think about it or write them down. So when I got prompted to do so a few years ago, I was amazed by the cultural differences I’d have with another Nigerian. I realised that my upbringing wasn’t even remotely close to the ones I’d heard of. And of course, being the lady that I am, I leaped to the conclusion that an African guy would probably not understand the things I didn’t know about our culture. That drove me to my little prayer I mentioned earlier.
But in all honesty, the reverse could have been the case. A lady brought up in an environment where the father is not the older parent or where the parents are from difference races with each culture strongly taught to their children, would have very strong and very different preferences to what I mentioned above. To one, loving a guy much younger wouldn’t be drastic. And to the other, loving a guy of a different race might even be almost expected.
Sometimes, we can allow our rigid “preferences” hinder our love. We let them dictate things based on flimsy excuses like “we don’t… where I come from”. Now, I’m not saying we should neglect our upbringing or discard our cultures. But they shouldn’t be the ‘be all or end all’ for who we love.
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