A month into my stay in the US, I finally got to FaceTime with my grandmother back in South Africa, where I’m from. She asked me how everything was going, how I was settling in… and then she had a few things to get off her chest. For background, you should know I’m a student at Columbia J-School, and this is my third academic degree. So my gran was like “Shandu, you went to Rhodes University, you came back empty handed. You went to Wits University – again – you came back empty handed. And so now you’re at Columbia. You’re in a whole new country. You need to catch a wake up. Get a man!”
[MUSIC] – It’s a wedding day_Brenda Fassie https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F3f0dNz43p4
I’m 26 years old and apparently there’s a clock ticking. It’s counting down the time until I become someone’s wife. Because then and only then will I actually have achieved something in my life. You’re probably thinking “no ways she’s got to be exaggerating” but literally every time I speak to someone from home, they want an update on my relationship status. It’s always: “AND? How’s the man?” Followed by me saying “well unfortunately that hasn’t worked out.”
Then they’ll say “Hayi nwana wahashu no baleliwa ngoho”. Which means “you really have failed” – it’s a little more intense a phrase in my mother tongue.
The thing is on the most part I think it’s harmless banter… but on some level they’re serious. My mom says our society teaches us that a woman is not successful until she has a man by her side. I mean, women who don’t get married by 30 are referred to as mutshelukwa. No such word exists for men because nobody cares when THEY get married. I’m kind of glad I have her to back me because she’s more interested in me getting my PhD than anything else.
The thing is, it’s not that I don’t want to get married. I do, I’m just not in any rush to settle down. I still want to be selfish for a while. I want to travel on a whim and think about how my plans affect ME – and ONLY me. I want to start a family when I am ready and not when everyone expects me to. And please, don’t worry about my biological clock, I’m not.
Seriously though, with two months left in this city, I can safely say it’s not like I didn’t try. I’ve been on so many dating sites my thumb has carpal tunnel from all that swiping left and right. I’ve done everything the rom coms told me would help me find MR right. I’ve frequented coffee shops all over the city. I’ve jogged in the parks in my cutest exercise gear hoping someone would deliberately bump into me and look me dead in the eye and want to make babies with me on the spot. I’ve taken walks in Central Park and I’ve read a book on the Subway with the sexiest look of concentration hoping some young man would imprint on me you know like the wolves on Twilight. There’s only one thing I haven’t done yet, and my sister says this is why I’m still single – I haven’t been to the top of the Empire State Building, and stood at the window, gazing wistfully at the city below. And maybe subconsciously I’m too afraid to try that one last thing because then I really will have failed. I guess I will leave an Ivy League University with one of the most coveted degrees in the world, but still no man to take home. Sorry granny.
Back announce: Shandukani’s family will be waiting with baited breath at the airport in June hoping to see her appear with a dashing young man pushing her luggage trolley for her.