When the time is ripe

NdeyKumbaDembaAt what point is it okay to introduce a boyfriend or girlfriend to your parents? To many people the answer to this question is rather easy.

However, the appropriate time and age is different in every culture.

In The Gambia, like in many African countries, the only time it is deemed necessary to introduce a boyfriend or girlfriend to your parents is when the both of you are ready to tie the knot.

African parents don’t expect their children to date at any point, but expect them to produce potential wives and husbands at what they define as the ideal time: usually age 20 and above.

The age, however, may differ from parent to parent and culture to culture.

At this stage, expect to constantly hear questions like: “Have you found anyone?” “What are you waiting for?”

I have had my fair share of those questions. At 23, it’s more than the right time to get married according to Gambian society.

It amazes me how African parents expect you to produce a potential husband or wife at the “right time” when you are not allowed to date.

This rule is strictly applied to girls who are expected to be virgins at marriage. Being a virgin is greatly rewarded and celebrated by the girl’s family and her husband’s family.

In fact, her husband rewards her with expensive clothes, shoes and jewelries. She earns the respect of her in-laws who treat her accordingly. Failure to pass her virginity test means embarrassment and a stained reputation that could follow her family for a very long time.

The typical African mother tells their daughter from the onset of puberty to “Avoid boys, and don’t stand near them or you’ll get pregnant.”

It can go on and on but never touching on the facts.

Though, I had a better explanation than that because my mother was educated and I would not settle for bad advice. I would like to know the “how.” And so would many people my age.

Perhaps the Population and Family Life Education course, commonly known as PopFLE, introduced in the fourth grade, may have helped in broadening our horizon.

Today, times have changed and girls know it takes more than standing near a boy to get pregnant. People date at a young age without the knowledge of their parents. And the more liberal parents are okay with having their child’s girlfriend and boyfriend around when they feel it’s appropriate.

I think parents have come to the realization that their children will have boyfriends and girlfriends with or without their knowledge. They probably know about sex, too.

Now, mothers have shifted their focus to consequence, with the hope that their children hear  them and that they’ll listen.

Perhaps a sign of changing times.

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