If there’s a hill I’m willing to die on, it’s that, as long as you didn’t have an issue with your partner’s dressing in the talking stage, you have no business trying to change it in the relationship. But Juliet* explained her boyfriend thought her dressing could make guys think she was available.
In the four years she dated Maxwell*, she’d stopped wearing shorts and trousers, and cut ties with all male friends. My question was simple, “Why?”
As Told to Memi
I met Maxwell* in 2015, my first year in the University. He’d texted me on WhatsApp, claiming he found my contact on his phone as “Fresher one”. He was in his final year, so it seemed odd, but we started talking regardless. The first day we met in front of my hostel, he hugged me like he’d known me for years. Then we grew closer, and after about a month, I started to develop feelings for him.
I’m a very expressive person, so everyone knew I liked him. He’d flirt with me, so I thought the feeling was mutual. You can imagine my confusion when he started outrightly chasing my close friend who already had a boyfriend. I was so hurt, I blocked him. It was obvious he only liked that I was giving him food and assisting with urgent ₦2ks.
The following semester, early 2016, he came back begging. In retrospect, it was because my friend had shut his advances down. He’d also tried to get together with my coursemate. He had a way with words, and I still had feelings for him, even though they were suppressed, so it only took a few months before we started dating again in April. That was when he became controlling.
He didn’t want me to have any male friends no matter how platonic it was — hugging guys was out of the question. He said these things meant I was “creating a conducive environment for emotions to flow”. I cut off a lot of male friends while the others became acquaintances.
He’d also go through my phone randomly and accuse me of trying to hide things because I cleared my WhatsApp chats. He was projecting because he always deleted his own conversations. I, on the other hand, had space issues on my phone, and sometimes, my WhatsApp would decide to wipe itself.
After he graduated, things became worse. He didn’t want me wearing shorts or trousers. If I sent him a picture of myself, the first thing he’d do would be to point out all the things that were indecent about my outfit. I couldn’t go out with my female friends in the evening because I couldn’t risk upsetting him by not picking up his call or replying to his texts. I even stopped attending the campus blasts just outside my hostel.
Slowly, I started to lose interest in everything he didn’t like. My dresses were calf-length and unflattering — benefitting for someone with no intention of attracting any men. He helped with my schoolwork and sent me self-growth materials he thought I’d need. The relationship was good even though I was still bearing most of the financial burden.
He started serving in the West, so seeing him meant travelling from my school in the South. We’d split the transport — I’d pay the ₦4,500 going, and he’d pay it coming. I’d also take foodstuffs out of what I had in school and, sometimes, buy gifts to take to him. I didn’t mind building with him.
But in January 2018, I started talking to Kosi* online. He was a relative of one of my high school besties, so we sort of knew each other. When we started talking on Facebook, it was innocent — we’d banter and just gist. We both enjoyed each other’s company, but soon, feelings started getting involved. Once we kissed, I knew I’d fucked up, and I told my boyfriend about it.
The relationship became very strained. Whenever I did anything, he’d remind me of how I ran into the arms of another man. When I asked for us to break up, he said he wanted to work things out. I don’t think he recovered from that because he became very insecure.
There were times I suspected him of bugging my phone because we’d be having a conversation, and he’d indirectly mention something I had said to others in chats. But I knew I had given him a reason to doubt me, so I didn’t focus on his invasion of my privacy as much.
It continued during my IT period too. One of my managers, that was Muslim, had gifted me ₦20k. It was his salah gift and contribution towards getting a new phone because mine had been stolen six months before. I excitedly called my boyfriend to tell him, but he asked me to return it. This time, I made it clear the man had no underlying motives, and I wouldn’t turn down help when I clearly needed it.
We eventually moved past that, and he visited my family house on my birthday in July. It might as well have been an engagement because he met my parents and declared his intentions. We got engaged officially in March 2019. Things were going fine, and he was excited for me to graduate at the end of that year so we could settle down. As the time drew closer, I started to see he was in this bubble he’d built himself, and we were nowhere near ready for marriage.
He was still earning ₦40k from his job at a radio station. I tried to get him a better-paying bank job through my friend’s husband, but he didn’t want it. I asked him to try and talk to the top state government officials he met through his job and interacted with frequently, but he said it might upset his current boss. I know how likeable he was and how easy it’d be for him to upscale if he wanted to, but he didn’t want to move from his comfort zone. I never asked for anything; instead, I was always giving, so he was okay.
I didn’t know how to end things because I kept worrying about what people would say, how I’d face everyone I’d cut off. This remains my biggest mistake because I stayed even though I’d mentally and emotionally checked out.
By January 2020, Kosi* and I had become close again. When he reached out, he stated his intention was not to date but to marry me. He knew I was still with someone, but he wanted me to give him a try, and I honestly didn’t object. When Maxwell attended my grandparent’s burial, he went through my phone and read the chats between us. He saw that Kosi and I had reconnected and were “going out”. We went our separate ways after that. I regret the split wasn’t more honourable on my part because it gave Maxwell the leverage to say nasty things about my character. For months after we broke up, he’d drop think pieces on Facebook and Twitter about how women were scum, how he was the loving boyfriend that got played by a wicked woman. One of the rants ended up on a popular gossip blog even. I just wanted to do what was best for me.
Kosi and I got married in November 2020, he wasn’t joking when he said he wanted to marry me and giving him a chance remains one of the best decisions of my life. I married a man who not only cares for me but is secure enough in my love for him. He loves when I wear makeup, dress up and spend time with my friends.
Names have been changed to protect their identity.