What Happened When AJ Odudu Went Manhunting With Her Mum (In Nigeria)

Photo courtesy of Channel 4
Imagine letting your mum set you up with someone of her choosing. How would you feel? Terrified? Hysterical? Disorientated? Me too. It’s simple crush maths. Parent likes partner = daughter is repulsed by them. Parent disapproves of partner = daughter goes out of her way to be with them. But if we put our memories of teenage heartache aside for a moment, there’s another perspective on parent-approved dating to consider…
In a new one-off Channel 4 documentary show called Manhunting with My Mum, Blackburn-born TV presenter AJ Odudu heads to her family’s native Nigeria with her mum, Florence. The aim of the trip is to (yes, you guessed it) find AJ a man. Florence gets to play matchmaker and sets her daughter up on some carefully selected dates with a few very different men in hopes that one of them will be what AJ is looking for. For AJ, though, the journey is as much about finding a boyfriend as it is learning a bit more about the traditions and etiquette of Nigerian dating culture.
“A lot happened at the back end of last year. A lot being my turning 30,” AJ tells Refinery29 UK. Up until now, she's spent most of her time focusing on her career. Having become a familiar presence on British television screens (you might recognise her from Big Brother's Bit On The Side, or 4Music's Trending Live), landing a gig as one of the faces of L'Oréal's TrueMatch foundation and fronting a number of fitness campaigns – work has very much been at the forefront of her agenda.
Hitting 30 prompted AJ to reflect on what she's achieved so far and who she's got to share it with. “I never thought that I would get stressed about turning 30. I think it’s the realisation that life moves so quickly and you can just be working all the time and then … despite everything I’ve done, I’m not sharing this with someone I truly love, so to speak, and I thought that was something I wanted to focus on as well."

It’s okay to want to be loved, its okay to want to be in a relationship. It doesn’t mean that you’re not independent, it doesn’t mean that you are sacrificing your belief

It's a dynamic many of us are familiar with. At one point or another, we've all felt the pressure to prove ourselves as exemplary #IndependentWomen who don't need no man. It's an unfair image that can't help but make you feel guilty for craving companionship, but AJ is embracing this proactive quest for a boyfriend. "It is quite tricky sometimes, when people on the outside look at you and they go 'but you’ve got everything I don’t understand what’s wrong with you' and then you start questioning what’s wrong with you and actually I’ve just realised that it’s okay to want to be loved, its okay to want to be in a relationship. It doesn’t mean that you’re not independent, it doesn’t mean that you are sacrificing your belief, it just means that that’s an additional thing that you want to have. And even just admitting that was quite a big deal for me this year."
Hitting the big 3-0 also prompted the realisation that it had been almost a decade since she'd been to Nigeria. "When I went aged 21 I absolutely loved it. I felt really connected, I had the best time and I was like 'yeah yeah I’m going to come back every year' and I just didn’t."
So an opportunity arose: a road trip to find guys and reconnect with her heritage in the process.
By her age, AJ's mum Florence had emigrated, married and had five children. "And even though we've had very, very different careers, she still finds it baffling that I don't have children!", AJ says. She and her mum have had very different romantic journey's too. AJ's parents had an arranged marriage. "That is one thing that my mum said, that an arranged marriage for me wouldn't necessarily be the same way that she had an arranged marriage. The way she felt about her arranged marriage was actually really positive, therefore I've never had any real negative connotations from a personal point of view."
Five years ago, if you'd have asked AJ whether she'd ever have an arranged marriage and let her parents set her up with someone, the answer would've been a resounding "No way!" but her perspective seems to have changed. "My mum has always been like, 'yeah, do what you want' however my mum also finds this way of dating just absolutely mad. She can’t believe people are on dating apps, flicking through like it’s the yellow pages," AJ explains. "Its really weird because we always turn to our friends. If were not on dating apps you might ask to be sat next to the the single hot guy at a wedding, or you think 'surely someone in this office has a friend to hook me up with'. We never actually ask our parents and they know so much more than you think."
As AJ discovered over the course of the programme, Florence played cupid pretty well but the matchmaking wasn't all plain sailing. The biggest barrier with a couple of the men AJ met was their differing perspectives on what a woman's role should be in a relationship and how some of the traditional aspects of Nigerian relationships don't always translate to Western norms. AJ was not on board with being subservient. Nevertheless, now that AJ is back in the UK she says she'd be open to repeating the process. "I’ll definitely be more open to going on dates that my parents have recommended for me to see, even though it is still really cringe!" she says. "But actually now I’m like, 'yeah, bring on the Nigerian wedding, hook me up with whoever, I trust you now', I’ve found a new level of trust!"

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