By Steven Tendo
In Ugandan cultures, when a couple announces that they intend to do the good thing and get married, the whole family—actually, the whole clan gets involved. Countless hopes and expectations are suddenly pinned on this decision, which ultimately depends on the emotional state of two people. So it’s a pretty difficult thing for either member of the betrothed couple to up and say he has changed his mind and will not be getting married anymore.
Sheer fear of the repercussions of such a withdrawal usually means that he simply goes through with it anyway, knowing that he probably doesn’t have it in him to shoulder the disappointment of an entire village. But there are a few who do change their minds. They do an about face in spite of the potential fallout.
Lucas (all names in this story have been changed to protect already damaged reputations) sits in the lounge at Entebbe Airport waiting for the announcement for his economy flight to Nairobi and two more stops after that before reaching his destination, London. Alone with his book, Lucas casts a forlorn figure. He is visibly uneasy and keeps lifting his eyes in broken concentration. If things had been different, he must be thinking, he wouldn’t be here at this ungodly hour, waiting for a flight out. Instead, he would be back in Kampala, his mind thick with logistics and preparations. His wedding would have been just three weeks away. And it was —until just three days ago. Linda, his fiancée, would probably never understand, never forgive him, but the truth was Lucas had been feeling uneasy for some time about taking the plunge.
After the introduction ceremony about a month ago, for which he had traveled to Mbarara to meet his future in-laws, he had been seriously pondering his future, which had seemed more and more dismal in his mind with each passing day. As Linda had gotten excited as their wedding day drew near, Lucas grew increasingly listless. Compounding the problem, he had been hanging out with his unmarried friends more and more, thinking about what he was about to lose. “You are not being serious,” his friend, Moses, had made it a point to chide him with at every meeting of the boys. “You don’t just wake up and decide that you want to settle down with this woman. What do you know about her?”
Lucas knew Linda all right, but it was little foxes like this that were destroying his resolve. So over the past few days, he has been unable to rid his mind of the thought that he might discover, a few years or a few months into the marriage, that he really does not love Linda. That it was all a silly infatuation. He has been dwelling on his own insecurities too; morbidly dreading what might happen should she turn out to be unfaithful. “All these fears were unfounded, I know,” he admits later, in an interview with me.
“I was immature and I was looking for any kind of outlet. Time was running out and I feared I was about to be exposed for what I truly was – a fake.” Lucas catches his plane to the UK after breaking up with Linda. He throws himself into work, trying to convince himself that what he’s done is for the best.
Weddings get cancelled in Uganda, as all over the world and often, just days, or even hours, before the ceremony. The fact that marriage is an institution and an idea that brings not just two people together but whole families makes such a breakup all the stickier.
Usually the male in the relationship, makes the decision to call off the marriage. For Gillian however, She was cast as the devil incarnate overnight when, three weeks to her introduction, she called off her highly billed marriage. Neither set of friends his or hers could understand how she found fault with her fiancée, a man who seemingly had all the attributes of Prince Charming. Nor did the Prince himself accept her pleas for understanding, and they parted on icy terms. As disappointing as cancelled nuptials are to families not, to mention the jilted partner, the fact is that culture and duty have long compelled many brides and grooms to overlook their instincts, close their eyes and take journeys they should not be making. It is still a big taboo to break up just before a wedding.
In the case of Andrew, who was on the verge of ending it with his long time fiancée, he came as close to backing out by writing a letter since he didn’t have the courage to face her. What saved the marriage in the end was his reflection on the expected fallout, family-wise. Weighing this against his fears of the unknown world of matrimony scared him. He and his fiancée are now man and wife.
“I had to talk about it with her,” he says. “We had to go through counseling for a month before we buried those issues.” Maybe they were lucky.
Like Andrew, weigh your situation. The plight brought about by calling off a wedding has the power to stain one’s future even into several generations with stories whispered behind backs in public places but still, in case your certain a wedding is not the way to go, call it off.