Everyone’s experience differs but I am going to give an account of my social interaction with others as a young African woman married to an older Irish man. Yes I said as an African woman married to an older Irish man. I would not describe my husband as an older man if he was African because in my culture, most couple age differences is normally within the age range or difference of 6-17years. It is culturally accepted to be married to a man older than you. What matters is that he is there for you and can take care of his family as the head. Infact, I am aware that most women in my age group are married to men in my husband’s age category. However, none of them in any discussion we shared had ever narrated any experiences that I encountered in the Irish society. For example, the unapproval looks or judgemental comments I get every time we went out in his social circle.
There might be several reasons why these couple never shared my experiences; the obvious one is because they are married to African men hence, their social circle differs. While the African social norms approves women who are married to older men, the Irish society would not approve when a man is eight years older than you. I noticed that in the course of ten years of living in Ireland, that there is this subtle reaction when one dare mention that his or her partner is ten years older, suddenly, all the questions start flying out.
The second reason is because the Irish society can not readily understand the motive of a young attractive woman with supposedly, ‘every thing in her beck and call’ being married to an older man. In order to avoid readers wondering if I am making assumptions, I will give examples of a few encounters that I had, mainly when I was in my husband’s social circle. These are the five frequent things you should expect when you are married to an older man in Ireland.
1. People make scary assumptions
This is the common encounter out of the five scary assumptions. It begins as soon as you walk into the gathering. In most of these gathering, I am often the only African woman and or we are the only mixed couple there hence, we tend to stand out. Not less than my husband introduces me as his wife that the questions begins. Within a minuite or two, I begin to feel like I am in Visa Application centre or crossing the Schegan area. Questions such as, ‘When did you come to Ireland?’ ‘How long have you lived here?’ ‘Do you have an Irish passport?’ ‘Why did you come to Ireland?’ ‘Where are you originally from?’ ‘Were you an Irish citizen when you met your husband?’ ‘How and where did you meet?’ ‘So what do you do in Ireland?’
Ofcourse, I answered all their questions just in case you are wondering and politely too. That is the sad part because every question I answered, I knew further positioned me in a box or categories which determines how I will be related with over the night. It determines whether I am legal in Ireland or not and if I married my husband for visa or money. It also determines whether, we are actually married or if I am just an escort. Sure, it is not just in my imagination as you might think as I became aware the reason behind this question after fours years of constantly answering them because a few ‘concerned and honest’ women gave me advice and in the process made their hidden thoughts known. I will be narrating that in number three.
Another scary assumption is the belief that younger women only marry older men for money. In a recent event, I attended during the Chinese Cultural year celebration. I happened to be part of the entourage of a senator invited. He was in my husband’s social circle. During the night, guest were asked to socialise and make connection with others. A man and his wife walked up to us and started chatting with my husband, as soon as he realised that I was his wife, he shifted all focus to me asking me questions. After, what seemed like I just – got – issued- a -Schegan visa – questions, he said, ‘There is something called hard work, you know, work hard and..’ I immediatly interrupted,
‘ I had worked hard through college, paid over 60,000 euro in college fees, never access social welfare or grant in Ireland long before I met my husband.’
Within a space of what seemed like forever, I narrated to him how hard work brought me to the level of education despite, cultural obstacles, immigration challenges, racism and discrimination. I told him, how even after marrying my husband, I still share the bills in the house and work in a busy residential home with people with acquired brain injury. The discussion gradually became heated and he finally excused himself to use the bathroom and moved to the other table. I was so proud of standing up for myself. I have had enough of that assumption that I married my husband for money.
2. Younger men often feel entitled to get a chance with you.
One biggest challenge for my husband is when men my age or even younger (Naturally I look ten years younger because I inherited my mother’s gene) began to act in a way that suggest that they have better chance to woo me and take me from my husband. We went to a wedding event recently, these young man, a few years younger than me tried to catch my attention non stop during the wedding dinner but I purposely ignored him. He carried on through the night, ignoring girls his age and even those younger. Finally, he took a direct approach. He came up to me and said, ‘Hi, I have been trying to get your attention all night, I am an international footballer in London!’ The young girl beside him suddenly eyed me with contempt. So I got interested, not because he was an international footballer but because a girl just eyed me. This has to be some new upgrade from stares and nose up in the air which I usually get. So I asked him, ‘ Good evening, I don’t understand why your girlfriend just eyed me and looked the other way?’
‘Oh she is not my girlfriend! We just met tonight. She is just jealous!!’ He retorted.
Embarrassed for the young girl, I decided to diffuse the situation with a joke. ‘Awhh, both of you look cute together, maybe it is a sign!’ The angry looking girl suddenly turned on her chair and smiled. Then she looked at him.
So I continue giving him clues to walk, ‘I don’t blame her being jealous, my HUSBAND would be too…’
Well, that night, he backed out a little and watched from afar but then the night after the wedding during the after party, he became more direct. He approached me every time my husband went out and the sexy dance, pulling his shirt to show off his six packs etc. I will spare you the details but half into the night, he was getting more drunk and more loose and daring; I began to fear a fight might erupt as my husband countenace was changing so I found out who his parents were, went and spoke to his dad to tell him to back off.
Now this is only one of the many example where a man my age is feeling entitled and bruised at the same time because he doesn’t understand why I couldn’t run straight into his arm and massage his ego because he assume I would desire it. In one occassion, an Irish guy who is also a professional boxer told me that if I walk away with him, he will knock off my husband. ‘You have nothing to worry about!’ he said. I walked but no, I actually walked and stood beside my husband.
3. You get unsolicited advices
From the first year of meeting my husband, I had women, especially, calling me out in private usually under the influence of alcohol advising me not to marry him. They often begin with,’you are an attractive woman with good education, what are you doing with him?’ Please understand that these women are usually nice to me, appears extremely happy for him while he is there. However, as soon as he leaves me in their company, the discussion suddenly turn serious. One of the concerned and honest Irish women who gave me advice expressed their hidden thoughts; she told me how she taught I was with him for the night as an escort. She was shocked it was serious dating and that I was actually considering marrying him. ‘So you really love him?’ She repeated over and over again. Each time I told her yes to her suprise. She advised me to get into dating site and get a man my age. Funny at the time, I had other Irish men in my age group talking to me but I picked my husband over them because he was kind and stood by me when I needed him. Compared to those men, he was older but more reliable
The challenges we had while dating was enough to pull us apart, if we didn’t love each other, I probably would had succumbed to the pressure from his social circle to walk away. It is sad that we had to face layers of prejudices first as a mixed couple, then with the age difference. You would be amazed how some people feel like they had to tell you who to love and how to relate with your partner.
4. You are always a contentious subject of discussion
Again people would try to understand your motivations. You would always be a subject of contentions. In my encounter, my husband called me to meet him at our local pub. I was tired but I went in anyway. He told me on phone he is getting on with this man and he seemed to be having a good time. However, when I walked in, the said man suddenly became unfriendly. He asked me, ‘what are you doing with him? Black and white are not supposed to be married. You should return to your country.’
That night, I tell you, hell was let loose.
5. Other women mistrust and insecurities.
Now there is different reaction between younger man and women. I noticed that while men my age are trying to intimidate my husband, women my age are full of mistrust. Somehow, I get these vibes that the women I meet in these gatherings appear to think that I am not happy or perharps, they are analysing situation that since I am the same age with them and my husband is older than me, that I might want their husbands whom we are about the same age. So you see a cautious look, overly expression of affection and cuddling going on as if to say, listen, we are so in love. I am like girls chill in my head, I am not even interested, so I begin my own cuddling. Like hello, I also have my husband and we are also in love.
Love should not be burdened with issues like these but unfortunately, we live in a prejudiced world. When we direct our ugly experience, prejudices and belief at other people relationships, we increase the challenges those couples had to face. This could explain why some diverse relationship don’t survive as couples in such relationship would not only face internal disturbances but also external pressure. Respect other people’s choice of partner, respect others!