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.
The subject of this week’s What She Said is a 50-year-old woman who dated her ex-husband for 12 years and was married to him for 14 years. She talks about leaving him after years of being manipulated, the joy that comes from being a single woman again and life as a divorced Christian woman.
How did the relationship start?
I met my ex in 1988, in my first year in university. On one of our first few dates, he invited me over to listen to a Sade Adu record. I really like Sade Adu. So I went to a boy’s quarters he was staying at. When I got there, there was no proper bed. There was just a mattress on the floor. I had heard about the slaughterhouse where guys take girls to sleep with. As I sat on the bed, I saw condoms fall out from under the pillow. Shocked, I ran away. I told him never to come to see me again. That was the end of the beginning of our relationship. After a while, he came and said there would be no sleeping together. Then we started dating again around the end of my 200 level. We soon started living together.
What was the relationship like?
I was very grateful to be with him. I had a bad home situation. He provided the kind of environment that I wanted. He provided a lovely home and was very caring. Anytime I quarrelled with my folks, he stood up for me. I saw a champion in him. It’s only in retrospect that I see it was a perfect relationship for him to manipulate me because he knew the things that triggered me. It was easy for him to switch from being a defender to an aggressor.
Do you think he loved you?
Perhaps, he did. But I also think it was because when he got rusticated from school, I was the only friend that stayed with him.
So how did he manipulate you?
From the beginning of our relationship, he often got upset if I talked to someone else. I didn’t realise until later that this was manipulative. It got so bad that if we were stuck in traffic and someone in a vehicle looked at me, and I looked that way at the same time, he would start saying I knew the person but was only pretending.
He also made it mandatory that I check in with him all the time. One day, I went to work and I left my phone at home; my boss called me because he hadn’t checked my office to see if I was around. My ex then went on about how I lied about being at work because of my boss’ call. It became so bad that whenever he started to talk, I froze, anticipating his accusations.
Did your parents approve of the marriage?
My parents didn’t have a lot to say, because as I said earlier, it was a bad home situation. We went to the registry three or so years after we started dating. We didn’t tell anyone about it.
People always asked when we would get married, and at one point, my dad got upset and asked that we have a proper wedding since we were already living together.
When we got to church, we were told we couldn’t do a proper wedding because we had gotten married before. We had to get the first marriage annulled at the registry before the wedding could be held.
How long were you together before getting married in church?
Twelve years. We got married in the year 2000.
Before marriage, we were sexually active and were not using protection, but we didn’t get pregnant. I wanted children so badly. So, I was like, maybe if we got our parents’ blessings, we’d have kids. That was part of the reason I wanted to have the wedding.
What was it like in the beginning part of the marriage?
Because we had been together for such a long time, getting married was just a formality.
At this time, I had a full-time job, but he still didn’t do much. A lot of the expenses were on me.
Then he went to university in the UK.
At what point did you start having children?
We had our first daughter two years after getting married, and the second was born three years after the first.
But through this time, we were having all kinds of problems.
What kinds of problems?
When we first got married, he was not the problem. It was the fact that we were living in his mum’s house. She didn’t live in Nigeria, but she would come one month in a year, and I would be miserable throughout that month. She was mean and nasty in a very subtle way; she would be nice when people were around, but she was mean about everything when nobody was there. It wasn’t so much him as it was her, but him not being able to caution her was the problem.
It was after I had my first daughter that my ex relocated to the UK. He was living with his mother there. He wanted me to leave my job and join him there. I told him I was unhappy about living in his mother’s house in Nigeria, so I couldn’t move to the UK, where I didn’t have any job and live with her again.
I would visit him with my daughter once or twice a year. It was on one of those visits I got pregnant with our second child.
Did the experience ever get settled with his mother?
No. It was a big part of why the marriage ended. She was also manipulative and said I was proud. One night I woke him up in the middle of the night and complained about how his mother treated me. He begged me, but nothing changed.
When did you realise that things were going bad?
I had low expectations from him, so I didn’t know things were even bad in the first place. I was also the one doing a lot financially.
Then I got an American grant to go to the US. Before I left, I kept my ATM card with him for my kids — he was already back in Nigeria at this point. Every time I got paid, he would remove money from my account and lie that he wasn’t taking my money. This was my first introduction to the fact that he could lie. If anyone had told me anything about him before, I would have insulted them. Once when he was in London, someone called to tell me he was doing nonsense, and I told them to shut up.
While I was away in America, my mum passed, and he was very mean to me during the time. He even accused me of cheating on him because he called me once, and I was on a Skype call with a student.
He began his accusations again without leaving room for me to talk, so I switched off my phone. After that, he didn’t speak to me for a while. Anytime I called, he would give the phone to his daughters.
On the morning of my mother’s burial, he called from a service being held for my mum in Nigeria and he excitedly told me about all my family members who were present and kept giving them the phone to speak to me.
It was my sister who picked up the phone when he called. My sister was confused because I had told her we were not on good terms. We put the phone on speaker, and I told him I was the one on the phone. He kept up the excitement. This was when I realised that he was playing me.
What did you do next?
I called a friend who had been his best man at our wedding and told him what was going on. I asked him to find me a place I could stay in when I returned to Nigeria. I was ready to move out, but he convinced me not to do that, and I said alright.
When I got back to Nigeria, my ex was nice for about a month. It didn’t take long for things to return to to status quo.
He regularly checked my phone. Once he saw a contact he didn’t know, he would call me ‘ashawo’. He would call my daughters and tell them that I was a whore.
One day, I checked his phone for the first time and saw that he was cheating on me. I then realised that was why he was constantly angry.
I told him I wasn’t angry, that all I wanted was just for him to stop being constantly mad at me. He was getting progressively worse and verbally abusive.
In 2014, I lost my junior brother and an aunt. I took my girls on holiday to get over everything, and he said, “When you come back, you have one month to move out.”
How did you take it when he said that?
It was pretty clear by then that the marriage was over. Before then, he had gone to my dad to tell him I drank, smoked and followed men all over the place.
My dad asked him this: “When you came to marry her, was she like that?” He defended me and said that he (my ex) might be the problem. My ex tried to insult him.
Afterwards, my dad sent for me and asked me about everything. I told him everything that had been happening. When he asked why I kept everything to myself, I told him it was because he said to keep our marriage private. Then he said he was not an outsider. He said I shouldn’t leave by myself, but anytime my ex asked me to leave, I shouldn’t hesitate to pack my things and move out.
Did you move out?
After he gave me the one-month ultimatum to leave, my ex began to threaten me with a countdown. He threatened to kill me, so my dad insisted I go to the police. The police said they would invite him in for questioning, but that was a bad idea because if they invited him and he was allowed to leave, I better not be at his house.
So, I didn’t make a statement at the police station, and my dad was angry. I eventually found a place and moved. Immediately after moving, his attitude towards me got better. It was so strange people thought we were back together.
Did he also send your daughters away?
Yes. But in the first filing he did for the divorce, he stated very clearly that he didn’t want our daughters. It was later he changed his mind.
There was an incident where his girlfriend, who moved in after I moved out, went to my younger daughter’s school, picked her up and did her hair. The school apologised for allowing it and asked that I provide legal documents to enforce a rule on who has access to my child.
He went back to court to file for custody with the divorce, so I was simultaneously dealing with divorce and custody. Luckily, I got custody at the end.
As a Christian who’s divorced, what has your experience been?
I think God helped me to be wise. No one in church knew I was getting divorced except one man whose truck I used to move my things.
Nobody knew where I moved to for about two years.
I realised I was attending a spirit-filled church when the junior pastor called me one day and told me he had dreams about my husband, and God kept saying I should pray for him. I was reluctant — the pastor didn’t know I had left him.
I told him he could pray for him, but I was not interested. He was shocked, so this led to me telling him about the divorce.
What’s life like post-divorce
When it comes to this, I think I’m the exception. If my ex knew what he was doing when he asked me to leave, he wouldn’t have let me go. I’m living the life now. I’m having a fantastic time. One of the things I was very clear about was that we would parent my children together, whether he wanted it or not.
In the post-separation period, I spent a lot of time crying, praying and wondering what went wrong. I realised he had to be in their lives and take on his role as their father. I see in separations that the man enjoys his life while the mother continues to slave and ensures the children go to school. Then when it’s time to marry, the children find the father, and he becomes a knight in shining armour that gives their hand away in marriage.
This makes the mother resentful, thinking about all her sacrifices. I insisted he had to pay their fees and the girls visit him during holidays. I have the time of my life during their absence. It’s working even though we don’t talk.
What would you have done differently?
Growing up, I didn’t want to get married. I wanted to have two children for two different men because my parent’s marriage wasn’t fantastic, so I wasn’t looking forward to marriage like that. But when I met him, he seemed like someone who was focused and from a good home. So, when things started to go wrong, I told myself I shouldn’t have bothered.
However, I would not change a lot. A lot of the strength and character I have now is a result of this experience. And I wouldn’t change having these cool and well-behaved girls I have now.
Are you dating again?
Yes o. All I’ve gone through hasn’t changed me much; I’m a hopeless romantic.
I believe in love and marriage, but it’s not for me. I want to live life with a nice person. When Nigerian men say, “I’m going to marry you,” I cancel them because they believe that’s their selling point.
I’ve been dating the same guy since a year after I left my ex. I am mindful of being a role model for my daughters and also not exposing them unduly. I however love meeting new people and enjoy talking to lots of people I meet. It’s always amusing to me that people think getting to know someone means I want to date them but it doesn’t.