Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
This week’s #ZikokoWhatSheSaid subject is a 55-year-old Nigerian woman. She tells us about losing herself after marriage, losing all her money to her husband at 48 and relearning independence on the journey back up.
Tell us what happened
Seven years ago, I found out that all the money I’d made so far was gone. I was 48, and my account was zero.
It was crazy. When I got married at 27 in 1994, my husband and I decided to have a joint account. I believed the husband was the head of the family, so I put everything I worked for in this account.
Then, I found myself in a situation where I had to ask him before I could spend any of it. After 21 years and three children together, I discovered he wasn’t faithful in managing our money.
Not just that, there was suddenly nothing left to manage.
What do you mean nothing?
I mean zero naira.
By the time I was aware of this, it felt too late to do anything about it, but I’m happy I was able to find it in myself to start over anyway.
Hold on. How did you find out?
By accident. It happened because I lost my job.
For about five years, I was COO at an HR consulting company. I actually worked three jobs at the same time because I was also an executive director of my husband’s publishing business and marketing consultant for a private medical facility.
Then in 2014, I left these jobs and started working at a bigger HR consulting firm that turned out to be toxic. The CEO would scream insults at the staff the whole day, and I worked directly with him. Add that to the physical intimidation and hyper-micromanagement, I was suddenly having anxiety which I’d never experienced before.
That sounds awful
It was. Knowing I had to face that every day made me rethink the job. Meanwhile, the scope of my work grew far beyond what we’d agreed on. And after three months, it became clear he didn’t intend to meet our agreement on commission payments either.
I left the company in 2015, before I was confirmed, basically halting my career. I was out of work and at home for possibly the first time in my adult life. And that was when I experienced divine providence.
Shortly after I’d left my job, my phone was stolen. My husband has run his own business — dealing in properties, fuel distribution and publishing — since 2012. When I told him I needed a new phone, he gave me his old one. His reason was he didn’t want us to overspend since I was temporarily unemployed. He was upset I quit the job even though I told him how terrible it was.
I’m sure he still doesn’t know that recordings of his old calls were on that phone. I don’t know what led me to listen to them, but that’s how I found out he had another “family” or priorities that involved finances, and most of what we’d saved together had gone into that. None of it was used to invest, build our own home or improve our status.
Hold up. What do you mean “another family”?
He had girlfriends around town whose rents and furnishings he was paying for. He even drove some of them from place to place so they didn’t have to pay for transportation. And I’ve never been able to confirm this, but it’s possible he has a little daughter for another woman.
After I found all that out, I had two options: grovel, fight, complain and die with it, or rise and start all over again.
These are very valid choices
Well, I did both. A little bit of the first for many months after confronting him. He was apathetic, and I was devastated and in grief like someone had died. But then, I woke up one day and moved on.
How does someone wake up and move on from a life-shattering occurence??
The first thing I realised was I had zero support system. And that was what I needed most at the time. I’d spent my marriage slowly being isolated from family and friends. So I started putting myself out there completely.
I had to let people know I exist, what I could do and the advantages of getting close to me. I also found a couple of communities, like my secondary school and university alumni, that helped me relearn how to have fun and do the things I haven’t done in ages — like start a business, for instance.
Tell me about that
It took about five years of hard work, prayer and tears — and diversification from HR into events, IT design and training, corporate communications and network marketing — to break even business-wise. In 2017, I joined a network marketing team that’s given me access to government contracts, financial classes and investment in cryptocurrency.
The schedules can run you from here to infinity, taking care of three kids, bringing two of them up to adulthood, all while growing new businesses. I didn’t leave my marriage, so I’ve also had to manage that relationship and create boundaries, then do my best to ensure our children were well-adjusted despite everything.
There are so many crazy things you learn growing up that as you get older, you disabuse yourself of, shedding some very caustic ones and trying to give yourself clean energy.
What are some things you unlearnt?
I suddenly realised I didn’t know who I was. I’d somehow lost track of finding myself in my youth. When the life-changing discovery about my marriage and finances happened, I had to learn how to do things myself, to be self-reliant.
It’s been seven years and I travel a lot more now. In the past, I couldn’t because I had to “stay and take care of my home”. I went to Dubai with my old secondary schoolmates in 2017, and it was therapeutic to reconnect with them on a strictly fun trip away from family. We take similar trips at least once a year, and I’m glad I can just up and go now.
I’ve learnt to put myself out there too; to attend events and speak up more. I used to believe you had to “let your work and character speak for you”. It was a huge struggle to get people to buy into my businesses for the first year, and discovering why helped me unlearn all that. If you don’t go out and engage with people, how do you expect them to trust and invest in you?
It’s been a complete 180-degree shift for me. Seeing my belief and thought systems from a wider perspective, they became subjective. Sometimes, we think failure is a weakness, but I’ve learnt it can be a strength if you can start over.
What would younger you think about where you’re at now?
I had dreams. I wanted to sing, write and travel the world. I wanted to have a charity because I saw a lot of need around me. I wanted my kids to have the things my parents gave me. As a child, my siblings and I went to sports clubs, had summer vacations, and more.
Then, I became caught up in Christianity. I had so much faith, but I’ve realised in hindsight that it shouldn’t preclude common sense. In the past, we believed everything they said in church, hook, line and sinker, and followed without understanding.
How did that lead up to you losing yourself?
I was satisfied to marry someone who shared my faith and didn’t pay attention to whether he would support my dreams. I pushed my personal plans from the forefront.
We started courting as soon as I graduated from university in 1991. I was quite young, so I buried myself in the relationship and let it subsume me. We were both passionate about our religion, so it wasn’t obvious at the time. Everything I wanted to contribute to the world, I put into our eventual marriage, until I lost myself.
There’s a lot to learn from that. What’s one thing that makes you happy now?
The fact that my businesses are going strong. At least, I have up to $2000 in savings now. And I started investing in stocks, bonds and cryptos in 2017.
Time spent with my children also makes me happy. I’m proud to say they’re old enough to teach me things. From them, I’ve learnt how to relate with people, to be less uptight and enjoy life properly, to write and use social media. And I’m humble enough to know I’m not always right, that they aren’t always wrong.
Two of them are full-grown adults who aren’t always available. So I’m even happier when I’m with them. We play Monopoly, sing along to Davido, Kizz Daniel and Eminem. When we play, dance and eat together, these are the times I’m happiest.
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