I Get More From Platonic Relationships Than Romantic Ones — Man Like Dearest Odubu

May 1, 2022
What does it mean to be a man? Surely, it’s not one thing. It’s a series of little moments that add up. Man Like is a weekly Zikoko series documenting these moments to see how it adds up. It’s a series for men by men, talking about men’s issues. We try to understand what it means to “be a man” from the perspective of the subject of the week.

Dearest Odubu has made a name for himself as a menswear connoisseur, but before he started creating content, attending exclusive events and influencing fashion, he struggled to find his place in the world. “I felt like my existence meant nothing,” he says. “If I died, it wouldn’t really matter.” 

While our conversation eventually helps me understand how Dearest got to this point, the pertinent question on my mind is whether or not he has successfully pulled himself out of it — he remains confident that he has. 

In this episode of Man Like, Dearest talks about shrinking his personality to avoid bullies, the stressful misconception about masculinity he recently had to unlearn, his parents’ reaction to his mental health struggles and why most Nigerian men would rather die than call him by his name. 

Before I raid your wardrobe, I’d like to know how you got into fashion? 

I was a very shy kid who always looked for ways to put myself out there without having to actually talk to anyone. Luckily for me, my dad was the real fashion OG and the blueprint for my style today. He taught me a lot about collecting watches, leather goods and just how to make sure my clothes lasted longer. Both of my parents are stylish. I always looked up to them, wanting to express myself through clothes. 

As the shy kid in the corner wanting to show himself to the world, fashion was the only tool I could use at the time. I let my clothes speak for me. 

Can you tell me a little bit about this shyness thing?

It started in secondary school, where I was bullied a lot. The bullying turned me into a recluse. All I wanted to do was shrink myself and avoid being the centre of attention. I was about 9 or 10 at the time, and I was so scared that I just shut myself off from the world mentally and physically. I didn’t want to be seen. 

I’m so sorry bro. Do you want to talk about some of these experiences? 

I don’t think I can. I’ve moved on and healed to an extent, but what I went through in secondary school really hurt me and made me small. I don’t know if I can revisit it. 

Does your family know about this? 

I couldn’t report or tell anyone at the time. Bullying in boarding schools is weird because reporting the case might only make it worse. I didn’t think talking to my parents about it would help, so I stomached everything and hoped it would go away. But, I recently had a casual conversation with them, and it came up. My mum and dad were shocked and disturbed by what I’d been through. I had to explain to them that reporting would’ve just made matters worse.  

Wow. How did this experience impact your life after secondary school? 

Being on the receiving end of bullying has made me a more empathetic and compassionate person, but getting to this place of healing wasn’t easy. When I was about 19, I spent a lot of time pretending to be someone I was not, just so I wouldn’t get hurt again. I was projecting the image of this nonchalant guy who didn’t care how people saw him. I wanted to be this cool kid, but that’s not who I am. I’m a guy who feels all of his emotions.

Damn. That’s sad. 

I was in Ghana for school, so it was easier to rebrand with a new identity. I eventually found this small community of Christians who helped me shed that fake exterior and accept myself. They didn’t judge me. I finally met people my age who loved God and accepted one another. I didn’t know a community like that existed. I felt accepted there. 

It was also reassuring to hear other people in the fellowship share their trauma. It made me realise that if they could overcome whatever they went through, I could too. I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t had that interaction in my life. 

Was faith the only thing that helped you heal?

Have I fully healed? I just know I’m here today. When it comes to my support system, I had my friends, and most importantly, my family. Shoutout to my parents, mehn. They’ve never dismissed my feelings, especially my mum. I needed people who loved me, and they showed up for me. 

How?  

I have to add that the bullying in secondary school was something I internalised to the point when I believed I was insignificant. To me, if these people who didn’t really know me could treat me like this, then maybe my life had no value. Even when I left secondary school, I found myself feeling suicidal. One day, when I was about to end things, something told me to talk to my mum about it. I did, and even though she was alarmed, she made sure to remind me that I was loved and appreciated. Just having her acknowledge my feelings went a long way in helping me deal with them. She knows about my struggle with depression, and in some ways, she can sense when I’m really struggling. 

That’s good to know. What’s your relationship with your dad like? 

My dad knows as well. Not as much as my mum, but he’s well aware of my struggles. He schooled and lived in the US. He was the first and only black man to do a lot of things in the 1980s, so it’s safe to say he experienced his fair share of resistance. He has supported me and lets me know he’s here whenever I need him, which is nice. Just knowing that I have support like this takes a heavy weight off my shoulders. I know that even if the world judges me or disapproves of me, I have a family that listens to and understands me. 

I’m curious about your relationship with other people in your life. 

Even after finding my Christian community in Ghana, I’ll admit that I was still guarded. I finally opened up at 22 when a friend of mine asked, “How come I’ve never met anyone who can say they really know you as a person?” That question hit me, and I knew I had to be more open to receiving people in my life. There were people who loved and cared for me, but I wasn’t letting them in. 

Another issue was I wasn’t used to being helped. I come from a privileged background, so I’m used to helping the people in my life. I didn’t think I needed help — especially since I was okay financially — but now, I have friends who “do life” with me. They get me, and I value our friendship. The love and support people look for in romantic relationships; I get that from my platonic friends. This is why I’m not keen on romantic relationships. It’s not something I actively search for. 

In all of these experiences, did you ever have an “I’m a man now” moment? 

I don’t think I’ve had a “man now” moment, but in 2021, I realised that to get to my goals, I needed to let go of the way I viewed masculinity. Prior to that year, I saw masculinity as hustling and strictly shouldering responsibilities. I put a lot of pressure on myself to the point that I suffered burnout several times. Why was I sleeping at 11 p.m. and waking up at 3 a.m.? Because I thought it was what real men did to make it in life. LOL. 

Not you doing aspire to perspire. LOL. But what would you say is the hardest part about being a man in Nigeria? 

The hardest part of being a man in this country is breaking away from societal and traditional norms. Once you try to do things your way, people will push back. There are weird expectations placed on us as Nigerian men. I was talking to an older Nigerian woman about a friend of mine who lost his dad three days after the birth of his first child. I couldn’t imagine how devastated he must’ve been, and all she said was, “Tell him to be a man and move on.” How would that help him? She also went on about how he needed to be strong for his family. This is part of the problem. People expect men to have zero emotions. It’s hard. 

Speak on it! Have you experienced pushbacks of your own? 

I’m a Nigerian man called Dearest. I’ve been against the norm since I was born, and Nigerians don’t find it funny. LOL. I’ve met men who’ve said they’re not comfortable with calling me by my name because it’s a term of endearment. It’s so silly. So you mean your sexuality will change, and your masculinity will shatter, the moment you say my name? We align terms of endearment with femininity, and femininity with weakness, and that’s very problematic. This is why most men struggle with telling their male friends that they love them. 

Scrim. I’d like to know if you’ve always felt comfortable with your name. 

The only time I wasn’t comfortable with my name was when I was a kid and people teased me about it. When I turned nine, my parents told me that my name was important and symbolic of their love for each other, and that made me fall in love with it. 

For someone named Dearest, has anything ever threatened your masculinity? 

Not being able to give. When I was younger, my brain was wired to believe that I needed to provide for any and everybody who asked, especially my female friends. Whenever girls asked for money, I felt less of a man if I couldn’t provide it. I’ve overcome that now. These days, if I want to, I’ll give, if I don’t feel like it, I won’t inconvenience myself anymore just to prove that I’m a man.  

Wish I could go back in time as a babe and collect your money. So what gives you joy these days? 

I’m all about having childlike fun with the people in my life. I don’t have the energy for Dorime again. I just want to chill with my people. 

I love that! 

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