THIS week I eavesdropped on a conversation on Twitter about marriage.

I deliberately chose to distance myself from the voices of young Zimbabwean women who were articulating their thoughts on the subject.

The conversation began with one woman lamenting that Zimbabwe had altered the picture of what marriage ought to be. When most people speak of the institution of marriage, it is supposed to encapsulate three people: God, man and wife.

However, what most people now see is an unholy trinity which comprises man, wife and small house (also known as side chick, mistress, third wheel, makhwapheni, nyatsi, mainini or whatever else you want to call her).

The conversation went on to further detail that there were no role models anymore for happy marriages. Almost everywhere there were bad examples that clearly demonstrated what a marriage should not be.

I think everyone is in agreement that in Zimbabwe you are either married, waiting to get married or unmarried. If you are in the unmarried category as a woman, then you are immediately relegated into that bracketed category above. Single women are viewed either as a threat or a failure.

The pressure for young Zimbabwean women to get married is real. It’s so blatant you can even taste it. I first experienced it during my university days.

By the time I was in fourth year, some students were either engaged or pregnant. It was the thing to do. Finish your degree and get married. Getting a job was almost secondary.

There was no other option outside of that. Now when I look back nothing has changed. Getting a tertiary education is something you do while you work towards being wifed by Mr Right or Mr Alright.

It’s the back-up plan you have when Mr Right or Mr Alright starts misbehaving during that marriage which you hang onto at all costs.

I often joke that maybe finishing schools need to be reintroduced into the Zimbabwean curriculum where women can polish their wifely attributes because being able to cook, clean, sew are more prized skills. A married uneducated woman is more appraised than an educated single one.

Having a ring on one’s finger is a seen as a major achievement. Before I was emancipated I was on that path to marriage with the grand ambition to have three children before I was 30. My so-called knight in shining amour took the sword and pierced it through my heart.

It was actually a blessing in disguise. Moving to South Africa further liberated me because I saw and met single women who had an identity.

They were not defined by being Mrs So and So. They lived on their own terms. Some women had children. Single motherhood was not something frowned upon.

They were not stigmatised or judged. One guy I met joked that a virgin was now considered a mother of one. However, single motherhood is shunned in Zimbabwe.

It’s like you copped out of the race. You stole and got caught. Single mothers can only aspire to be another man’s side chick and whatever other title.

No one stops to interrogate the circumstances or reasons as to why that woman either elected or found herself as a single mother. For many South African women, single motherhood has not been an obstacle and many have gone on to marry and live happily ever after.

Furthermore, there is not the desperate rush to get married before the best before 30 expiry date. Women get married in their late 30s and 40s. I remember watching Siphilisiwe and Nathi Mthethwa’s wedding and being mesmerised.

Both were mature adults in their 40s. I was still mesmerised when Kgalema Motlanthe tied the knot with a beautiful woman in her 40s whose son walked her down the aisle. What I saw there were endless possibilities.

However, for most young women in Zimbabwe when 30 looms on the horizon, I see a manic desperation to get married almost teetering on the verge of suicide. I think we need to start teaching our daughters that marriage is not the end-all or the coveted prize.

Don’t get me wrong, I do not view marriage with disdain. Marriage is a beautiful institution when done for the right reasons with the right person.

However, the reality is not every woman will walk down the aisle. We need to teach those women that there are not worthless by virtue of not having a shiny gold ring on their fingers; that they are still gold and life could still be lived happily ever after even without the elusive Mr Right or Mr Alright by one’s side.

Sukoluhle Nyathi is the author of the novel The Polygamist. You can follow her on Twitter @SueNyathi

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