Written by Tawakalt Oseni
‘Delay is not Delilah’ is a tweaked version of ‘’Delay is not Denial.” It became a trend on Nigerian Twitter when a famous Nigerian actress, Rita Dominic, got married ceremoniously in her late forties. Not surprising, most of the well-wishers incessantly reiterated the phrase ‘Delay is not denial’, turning it into something of a humorous mantra.
This mantra has evolved and now fits into everyday Twitter conversations, like simply marking the coming true of a long-sought wish, but beneath the humour of the mantra lies a deeper societal issue that must be addressed.
Why is this funny mantra problematic? Many reasons. The first thing that comes to mind is the idea that there is a closing bell for marriage. It insinuates that there is an ideal time for marriage and that any union that occurs after this “closing bell” is somehow delayed or less valuable. This notion is unrealistic and unjust.
Ordinarily, a union of two people and the accompanying celebrations are supposed to be filled with congratulations. Delay is not denial, on the other hand, is a response to the union of two people focusing on the timing of the union. While the intentions might be noble, it is an unnecessary comment. Congratulations, as a primary response, celebrates the fulfilment of a marriage dream coming true, and that is enough.
Furthermore, this mantra is a double standard because it would not apply to men. A man is given a pass by society to marry whenever he wants to. His market value is not depreciated by age, and he is not expected to lower his standards because of it.
A woman, on the other hand, is expected to marry early, pitied when she ‘fails’ to marry within the perceived acceptable timeline, and expected to reduce her standards the older she gets. This double standard leaves women unfairly judged and pressured based on age, while men are given more leeway.
The idea that delay is not denial reinforces the problematic idea that thirty is the benchmark for a woman’s worthiness for marriage. One might argue that the difference between men and women is that the biological clock is always ticking for women. While it is true that the clock is ticking, the male biological clock is ticking too! Research has proven that older men are more likely to increase the risk of miscarriages in women, and this is linked to the decline in the quality of sperm in older men.
Therefore, pushing this as a reason why a woman should get married before she runs out of time is a consequence of patriarchy, where traditional gender roles and expectations still influence societal norms. This argument also disregards women who choose to be child-free. Society’s focus on procreation assumes that all women want the same things in life, which is not the case. In addition, it enforces the idea that procreation and marital union come before self-actualization for a woman. Yet, self-actualization is a valid reason for men to delay marriage. Ideally, self-actualization should be a valid reason for both men and women to delay marriage.
When we encourage a world with closing bells for marriage, we promote the idea that the timing of marriage is more critical than the quality and authenticity of the relationship, when in fact the real fulfilment in marriage as an institution is found in doing it on one’s own terms and values, with the right partner.
The alternative, which is getting married because of a ticking clock, creates a society of desperate women. In this scenario, women make hasty decisions and accept situations that are not in their best interest, to attain that status. On the other hand, people who are trapped in unhealthy marriages will find it difficult to leave because of society’s emphasis on marriage as a status symbol.
The institution of marriage needs a lot of things to function; the most successful ones involve a level of self-happiness, independence, and maturity. The absence of these leads to resentment for a life that could have been, while watching a male partner self-actualize. While this might not be the reality for all women, society must create room for women who seek it.
Another angle is the stigmatisation of divorced women, who are branded as bitter in a world that absolves men of similar experiences. For many, it is just unbelievable that women can be happy and content outside of marriage. In usual Twitter fashion, when women show happy and fulfilling lives while being divorced or unmarried, they are met with criticism and hostility, particularly from those who see them as a threat to traditional expectations.
There are several anonymous safe spaces all over social media filled with ‘had I known’ stories regarding marriage and childbirth. It is important to consider factors such as readiness for marriage, financial stability, and compatibility with a partner before making a decision about marriage. It is also important to note that there is no evidence to suggest that marriage before the age of thirty is inherently better than marriage at a later age.
It is important to call out this double standard, as it enables women and men to unlearn these biases and provoke critical thinking about marriage as an institution. This is how we can promote a more equitable and inclusive society in everyday life and on social media, especially for women, when the issue of marriage arises.