Back in the day up until the third quarter of the twentieth century, dating in my country Nigeria and in the continent Africa was definitely more relaxed than it was prior to that time but more sublime than what it is now. Dating didn’t exist because marriages were pre-arranged by fathers with no input by the young man or girl. Most times, the future partners didn’t know each other before being forced to live together. This led to many unhappy marriages. Later however, though still strict, the parents from the early twentieth century, with exposure to education, started sending their children (especially the sons) to school. Armed with education and a peep into the western culture, it became a bit difficult to impose wives on such sons. They exerted their newfound knowledge in insisting to have a say on the choice of their future partners. The educated girl rebelled if the choice of a life partner found for her weren’t to her liking; but she’d reluctantly succumb to her father’s choice as he still exerted tremendous control over her wellbeing especially where the religious persuasion tenets were virtually absolute. Although there were no unisex high schools, dating between the sexes started rearing up as more boys and girls started acquiring western education from the mid twentieth century.

“….A pitch for a girl’s love may go thus: “Girl, I want to woo you….”

The result of these great changes in education, taught the young girls and boys how to comport themselves culturally and socially; however, they were still hamstrung by a society that insisted on decorum. This ensured that even with their newly acquired expression of freedom, they still could not rush into relationships. To circumvent this obstacle, the young men introduced penning their hearts desire to their love. It was a period when writing became the vogue and sending messages via radio request programs to the love of their lives was the norm. There were lots of romance in the air, and the favorite romance novels for young girls were those by Barbra Cartland and Denise Robins whose virginal novels sent girls soaring to the ninth cloud. For the young boys, novels by James Hardly Chase stole their hearts.

Sometimes the young girls and boys from different schools would come together during events organized by their respective schools or clubs such as Debate or Drama clubs. On such occasions which were strictly supervised by the teachers, the young ones had opportunities to make acquaintances. A pitch for a girl’s love may go thus: “Girl, I want to woo you. My mama Lawyer, papa Doctor, me Senior Prefect of… (names his school), Can I start?” He may follow it up with a lengthy love letter, after returning to his school, which may take this form: “Girl, I love you more than my garri and soup”, (staple Nigerian meal men passionately love). From the two examples, the flattered girl’s probably impressed by the boy’s parentage; the position of responsibility he occupies at school and would think to herself “Wow, he must really love me to forgo his ‘garri and soup.” All the same, the long courtship via lengthy love letters, persistence and patience by the young man sometimes culminate in rewarding marriages. Nowadays the influence of some bizarre movies, internet, print, electronic media and others have encroached to a sordid degree into the continent’s culture-denigrating the wonderful world of dating from the romantic nature it used to be to sexual escapades. Some females are no longer drilled to observe decorum in their dressing- it is often ‘Come on I’m available’ dressing that’s extolled. In addition, the modern day novels from Mills and Boon read by young girls are so explicitly sexual in tone and when most young men look at girls today, they think mostly of sex not courtship.

The high rate of poverty and greed in the continent has made many girls (even from affluent families) become quite mercenary in their dealings with men. They demand to be taken to exotic eateries, and if the young man cannot afford it, then SCRAM! Boring lengthy romantic letters are not for them; those are for the birds. My son, when he was a junior at the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria, told me a story about a young female classmate he was attracted to and had decided to take out on a date. I had just sent him some money for his upkeep so he chose an affordable restaurant to take her to but the girl preferred one of the exotic and expensive restaurants. He rebelled letting her know that he wasn’t going to spend his mum’s hard-earned money to feed her fancy. If she wouldn’t accept to go where he could afford, she could take a hike. Bravo! I do think young men should do same to these modern hi-tech dates. Young men are not left out in the quest to impress the girls. Many choose underhanded means of making money just so girls would be swarming all over them. Some though prefer to be kept by wealthy women, young or old, something unheard of in the continent some years back.

“….great changes in education, taught the young girls and boys how to comport themselves culturally and socially…”

Still, it does gladdens the heart when one does see a young man in this day and age bravely pursue the girl of his dreams and succeed in taking her to the altar through patience, persistence and lengthy SMS even if he does not drive an SUV!!

Ngozi Onyioha .O.