A male friend of mine called me weeks back and as we conversed, he let it drop that he was thinking of relocating back to Nigeria but his wife and children didn’t want to.
He is not interested in living out his years abroad as he is tired of the subtle but ever present prejudice at work. It had become increasingly glaring to him that as a black man in a white man’s country, he could only go thus far in his career.
He was in a quagmire because he and madam were not letting up on their positions and to be honest they both have valid points. He is aware of what may likely become of his marriage if he leaves his family to come back home but the pull to come back home is so strong that it transcends his fears and leaves him determined not to live outside the country after a certain age in-spite of the many ugly stories he has heard about other returnees and their experiences.
He mentioned many instances where families were on the verge of splitting up because the partners wanted different things and were not prepared to budge, of men becoming polygamists by default because they and their partners lived in different climes, of wives not certain of how to refer to themselves anymore as they lived like single women though they were married in name.
I had to refer to this conversation recently because in my job as a family lawyer, I am beginning to see many cases where a wife files for a dissolution of her marriage because she has been abandoned by the husband who went looking for greener pastures and never returned. The story is becoming a familiar one- The economy has gotten people to the state that anywhere else but Nigeria is utopia. So we have people devising both legal and illegal means of leaving the country. All the immigrants whether legal or illegal are deluded as to how green the pasture is on the other side.
The legal immigrants often see one partner usually the man, still keeping his job in Nigeria but settling his family abroad and visiting often. The plan usually is that he would shuttle between both countries until he or his wife can get a job that will pay their bills.
The illegal immigrants also leave their spouses but unlike the legal immigrants, they can’t shuttle between the countries nor can their spouses visit until they get their papers.
Both classes of immigrants leave their spouses with promises of how soon they would be together, how their love would remain strong and stand the test of time unlike the others they had seen.
At first, the visits are consistent, the phone calls regular and on a daily basis, the affirmations of love profuse, financial assistance steady but slowly and surely the divide widens, mindsets change, seasons change and because nature abhors a vacuum, the partners find their lives taking different turns.
For the legal, the time between the visits become longer as other genuine events take priority, they meet new people and form new alliances.
For the illegal, although, the man is somewhat financially responsible, there comes a time he does what every illegal immigrant does- marry for papers. For some, it’s basically a business transaction that eventually pays off but for most it’s the beginning of a chain of events that cannot be retracted as the man becomes a polygamist keeping two homes in different countries.
Surveys have suggested that around 10% of adults in Western Europe, the US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia live apart and this arrangement is known as commuter marriage or living apart together (LAT). This new family structure is gradually gaining ground in our clime and some partners are consciously accepting to live apart even though they are in a committed relationship.
We are even seeing it amongst couples who live in the same country but in different states or in the same state but in different parts of the state. It’s an arrangement where people are married but live separately for different reasons- a better quality of life, medical reasons, inability to get affordable housing, a partner gets a good paying job and both spouses feel it will be impractical, unfair and unreasonable to dislocate the family, a child marries and grandma goes off to take care of her grandchildren leaving Grandpa who is in his late 50s or early 60s alone and even a bid to save a distressed marriage prior to legal separation or dissolution of the marriage, but it’s mostly for financial/monetary reasons.
There are three groups of people that live apart, first is mostly young people who are not ready to commit to marriage but are in a committed relationship; second are those I have described above who want to live together but can’t because of the reasons earlier stated and third are those who choose to live separately and they are mostly people who have been married before but are afraid for one reason or the other to co-habit with a partner.
I am beginning to see many women because of their bad experiences in relationships especially marriages where the men have been physically abusive and controlling fall into the third category as they are beginning to desire relationships where they are committed but where they have autonomy -emotional and financial -safety living apart affords them
The common denominator in all the categories is that although the partners live apart, the relationship is subject to the same expectations about commitment and fidelity as marriage. However, for those in the second category though, technology has helped to shorten the distance, though it cannot make up for the lack of emotional intimacy and physical needs of the couple. So with time the partners begin to see other people and finally the relationship dies.
I do not in any way begrudge people for leaving the country, I had no desire to live outside Nigeria for years and I must say I only started thinking about it a couple of years ago. Heck, I am sometimes envious of those that live outside our borders but I am aware of the damage it’s doing to our social and family structure especially when it relates to the women.
I, like many others watched a video where a woman was accosted by her in-laws accusing her of bringing a man to sleep with her in her matrimonial home. The story being told is that the man had relocated to another country (whether legally or otherwise I cannot tell) but he had been gone for about 9 years and had another family there with the knowledge of both his wife and his family. He had told the wife to move out of their home but for some unknown reason she stayed put and started to see someone else culminating in the video we saw where she was strenuously supporting her lover.
I do not support adultery by both sexes and believe that women and men should keep their marital vows but it is hypocritical of us as a people if we support people marrying other people in order to stay in other countries whilst denying the partners they left behind from going on with their lives. We expect that if the man is putting down money for the upkeep of the home and education of the children the woman should remain faithful to her vows but the man can have affairs or even a live in lover or a wife because after all body no be wood and women can stay longer without sex.
I sympathize with women who find themselves living apart from their partners through no fault of theirs and I ask that society should lessen the burden it puts on them.