4 Lessons My Ghanaian Mother Taught Me About Love

by Nana T. Baffour-Awuah

Growing up in a Ghanaian household usually means growing up with your typical Ghanaian mother.

She's lovingly critical, instinctively nurturing, traditionally Christian (in a very how-can-you-have-a-church-without-hymns way) and opinionated in her ideas on culture, ethics and morality. Her ideas are always crisply illustrated with vivid anecdotes, featuring some colorful character.

This also usually means growing up with certain conceptions of what love and romance look like. It's heteronormative, conventional and traditional.

My mother is all of the things above, with a healthy serving of atypicality, and expectedly, so are her thoughts on love and loving.

I grew up being taught these beliefs, and I understood them within the confines of the lived experiences and wisdom of a child. But as I’ve grown older, I’ve found a new understanding and fascination with her ideas on love and loving.

They continue to inform my emotional growth and define the ways in which I navigate my romantic life. Below are some of my mom’s not-always-typical ideas on giving and receiving love.

1. Find someone who loves you more than you love him.

When I was younger, I remember my mom telling my sister, “Find a man who loves you more than you love him.” Heteronormative and presumptuous? Yes. Unfair? Not necessarily. Shrewd? Definitely.

The reasoning behind this advice was simple, and having lived and loved some, I finally understand what she was saying: To truly love is to be vulnerable.

As Derek Morgan on "Criminal Minds" puts it,

“Love is giving someone the ability to destroy you but trusting them not to.”

Consciously or subconsciously, we are predisposed to selfishness, and we easily fall into taking the people who love us for granted. Hence, being with someone who loves you more than you love him is a fail-safe against being taken for granted.

The idea is certainly not to settle for someone you can manipulate, but rather about being with someone you can feel safe loving, in the knowledge that he loves you, without the fear and danger of being vulnerable.

You could argue that’s an incomplete, perhaps even contrived, way to love. But the truth is that as deeply as two people might love each other, one always loves deeper than the other.

It’s about being conscious and mindful about how you give into the often-fickle bewitchment of love. It's about giving in where you are valued and cherished.

2. If you find a good woman, treat her like an angel.

As you’d imagine, this piece of advice was directed at the men, me and my brothers. My mother would always tell us, “If you find a good woman, treat her like an angel, and she’ll always remain one.”

People are inherently good, or they at least have a disproportionate propensity to be good. My mother taught us the value of preserving and nurturing that goodness.

Too often, you find hearts hardened and broken by betrayal and heartache. Good, kind and loving people are turned sour and vindictive by the inconsiderate and thoughtless actions of others.

The idea of "good people" and "bad people" might be a bit reductive, but it’s an inarguable truth that people are shaped by their experiences. People usually give what they receive.

And so, by treating a good person with kindness, tenderness and respect, you perpetuate a virtuous cycle of healthy lovingness that makes for a lasting relationship.

But, what if she’s not quite an angel? My mother, in her characteristically practical style, made sure all bases were covered by always adding, “And if you find a bad woman, treat her like an angel until she becomes one.”

Now, I’ve never had the misfortune of loving a terrible person, but I’d imagine it’s probably a difficult task. And while my default advice for dealing a disagreeable love mate is, “Honey, let 'em go,” there is something to be said about giving love where it is undeserved.

The way I see it, you have only two worthwhile options when dating the Devil: Love ‘em deeply, or leave ‘em immediately.

3. Be patient. All that glitters is not gold.

When I was dealing with the residual stings of a frustratingly slow-to-heal heartbreak, a variety of stresses and a bout of illness, I started feeling sad, lonely and sorry for myself. It was the kind of sadness that lodges in your throat like a lump, dry and wordless.

Somehow, between about 10 words and what can probably best be attributed to a mother’s intuition, my mother understood. She hugged me and held me, and she said quietly, “Life is always easier when you have someone to share it with. I know it’s not easy to find someone good and worthwhile, but be patient because all that glitters is not gold.”

With the socialized pressure to put yourself out there and an increase in the array of tools to do so – from ChristianMingle to Grindr – there’s the tendency to desperately seek out love, and to settle for the first semblance of it without much thought.

But while it may look like love, sound like love and maybe even feel like love, it could very well just be trouble. Be patient, and be wise.

4. When people can walk away from you, let them walk.

Several months ago, someone I loved deeply walked away from me. I was hurt, incredibly.

It was the kind of pain that leaves you feeling hollow, too proud and bitter to beg, yet too hurt to move on. I just pined.

While Ghanaian notions of love are traditionally of patiently persisting and enduring — a dramatic "love conquers all narrative," probably rooted in the vestiges of colonial rule and the influence of Western Romanticism — my mother told me to let it go and move on.

Having seen her fair share of loves that pine and bear, she has witnessed the waste of life that is investing emotion where it is not valued nor reciprocated.

“It’s alright, Nana, let it go. When people leave you, just leave them alone, and do your own. You have too much left to accomplish. Forget about it kraa (tr: completely). And, if they come back, you can decide if it’s worth it. But just forget about it and move on.”

Sometimes, the ones we love leave us, and sometimes, they come back. And sometimes, they don’t. The point is to just let go and keep going, regardless.

Occasionally, I remember some of the things my mother said to us while growing up, some of the things she didn’t say and the ways she reacted to certain situations.

I find myself discovering whole new truths on what it means to love. I’m still learning my own truth, unlearning previous falsehoods and sifting through some question marks along the way.

But, as I define my truths on giving and receiving love, I find the lessons I’ve learned from my mom are still unfailing cardinal points.

She’s a fascinating woman, my mother. And she does know best.