Nigerians wave from the top of a truck during a ceremony by the governor of the country’s most populous northern state of Kano, in which he proclaimed the adoption of Islamic Sharia law. Tens of thousands of jubilant Muslims chanted ‘Allahu Akhbar’ (God is Great) as state Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso made the proclamation at a brief ceremony on a prayer ground ringed by para-military troops and armored vehicles last June.
AMONG THE motorcycling set it has long been understood that marriage and motorcycles don’t mix.
The stereotype is this: Man rides motorcycle. Man meets woman. Woman decides motorcycle is a financial liability at best and a dangerous diversion at worst. Arrival of children seals fate of motorcycle. Man sells motorcycle.
Of course, the stereotype is flawed at man levels. Lots of women ride these days, and the ageing “boomer” generation is returning to the saddle, married or not. The central myth of the scenario, however, is still strong: marriage is a form of confinement; matrimony and freedom, represented by the motorcycle, don’t mix.
On the surface, marriage and motorcycles appear as incompatible as oil and water. Marriage is about doing things together. A couple eats, sleeps, lives, socializes and maybe raises children together. The motorcycle is an intruder. It is about speed, danger and the camaraderie of the road. The names Interceptor, Intruder, Ninja, Nighthawk, Rebel, Valkyrie, Virago Vulcan cater to this image. How can the intimate cosiness of romantic marriage survive such a presence? Someone will have to ride pillion, literally and figuratively, – a role few will accept for long.
But that image of marriage and freedom is flawed. Whatever the romantic needs of a couple, a marriage is still, and must always be, a working relationship. The principle of a marriage is two people together are stronger than apart. Raising children is hard work, physically and emotionally; it is best shared with someone you trust and respect. We don’t have all the skills that make life comfortable in equal measure; far better to share life with a good cook, mechanic, bookkeeper, cleaner, money-earner or gardener.
The pragmatic underpinnings of marriage are de-emphasised these days. The focus is on emotional compatibility, mutual career goals and common interests. Classified ads list the qualities people hope will attract a prospective mate: musical taste, height, sexual peccadilloes, hobbies etc. While these qualities say something, they avoid practical matters. It is like writing the the language of marriage using advertising images. We understand how a marriage looks on television, but no longer understand what makes the real thing work. We think we know how we should feel in a marriage, but can no longer see the practical co-operation that allows those feelings to flower. Relationships that fulfil all those ethereal needs, those quirky commonalties of taste, hobby and sensual outlook are certainly nice, but if the pragmatic engine that drives a marriage fails to start, what’s the point? Don’t misunderstand – the thousand-and-one shared secrets, desires and insights that fill the canvas of a truly happy marriage are not to be sneered at, but the canvas still has to be there to paint on.
Does a marriage curtail freedom? For some it certainly does. A person committed to a course of individual pursuit will certainly be confined by marriage.
For most, however, marriage increases the personal freedom of those who accept its common rules. For those with children, marriage offers a haven of sanity and time to pursue individual tasks while the other parent minds the children. In busy lives, marriage offers someone to share household chores. Economically, two can live cheaper than one.
“Marriage of convenience” is a perjorative term today. But why shouldn’t a marriage be convenient? Does convenience somehow lessen the credibility of a marriage?
There is another area where marriage offers freedom: freedom from the over-rated charms of the dating arena. Certainly a marriage demands fidelity, but it also frees one from the dating game.
It is the bare-bones functionality of motorcycles that appeals to me. No fancy leather upholstery, no roof, no heater, no extra set of wheels for stability. Two wheels and a motor. Open and elemental. Lately, image has gained precedence over function in motorcycle design. Gleaming chrome, multi-layered lacquer, matching helmets, leather and paint. Image has supplanted function and, like a relationship without a solid, pragmatic frame, it has diminished the motorcycle’s ability to provide freedom.
The end result of a healthy marriage is greater freedom. It was not an understanding I had when I married. My wife and I married as young and enthusiastic people – children really. We had no conception of a time when we would need to rely on something more that just our simple need to be together. Those first years were difficult, as we discovered that each year had 365 days, and that the 365th breakfast together was not as exciting as the first. We discovered that, even at our tender age, we could contrive to tell the same boring story twice. We discovered we had slightly different tastes in friends, hobbies and television programs. We began to question our compatibility. But during that time we learned to cook together, to shop and clean, and we raised our children. We relied on each other’s skills, and it seemed as if our friendship – our mutual respect and trust — pulled us through times when our romantic love seemed to falter. We began to recognize those times when the other needed a break, a time to be alone.
In her heart of hearts, my wife probably does not love my motorcycle, but she never asked me to sell it. And I never offered to sell it, probably because I was too young to have outgrown my selfishness and my belief in my own immortality. One day my wife said to me, “Why don’t you go for a ride – you look like you need it. I can look after the kids for a couple of days.” I did go for that ride, and on that ride I had a greater freedom than many single men riding newer and shinier machines. It was a freedom both given and earned, and when I returned it was not to a cage, but to the arms of someone who loves me.
Felix Winkelaar is a freelance writer living in Lindsay, Ont.