Love Life is a Zikoko weekly series about love, relationships, situationships, entanglements and everything in between.
So tell me, how did you both meet?
Rita: Did we really meet? We were coursemates at university, so there was no particular standout moment like, “This was when I met him”. It was just like, here’s this cute guy I always see in class.
Ivan: Well, I noticed her right from our first year in school. That was around 2016. I think she was trying to log into her laptop for something. I was behind her, and I noticed her picture was the wallpaper. Very narcissistic, but you know…
Ivan: LOL. I was like, “Is this person in my department?” I asked one of my friends and found out she was in a relationship at the time. Interestingly, his name was Ivan as well, so I just closed my mind from that direction.
What made you re-open your mind to the direction?
Rita: In second year, our friendship circles began to intertwine and found ourselves always sitting beside each other in class.
Ivan: Our surnames even followed each other in the school register, so we were constantly thrown together for group projects, labs, etc. Around that time, I also got to know she was single again. So, even while we were friends, I knew I liked this babe and wouldn’t mind if we started something. I tried to drop one or two hints here and there.
Did you take the hint, Rita?
Rita: Honestly, I was about to enter my hoe phase. You know, trying to get out there, but then I was also feeling him. I thought he was hot, so even though I was dodging his hints left and right, we’d still find ourselves randomly flirting.
One day — and this day is burned in my mind — we were together at one slightly deserted spot in class. I was chewing gum, and he asked for one, and I was like, “Come and take it”. It was obviously in my mouth, so just imagine the heavy innuendo.
I said that then I walked up the stairs, and he followed me. We didn’t kiss immediately. We just stood at that point and talked for about an hour. I still don’t know how we didn’t get tired. We stood so close together, and at a point, it was like I’d basically merged into his body. In my mind, I went, “It’s about to happen.”
Is it getting hot in here?
Ivan: I asked if I could kiss her — because, consent — She said yes, and we did. That’s basically how we started dating.
Awww. So what were the first few days like?
Ivan: Interestingly, our relationship also coincided with the period I first started questioning my faith. This was towards the end of 2017. In fact, just before we became official, I told her I was now an agnostic.
Wait. Rewind. Were you both religious before?
Ivan: Well, we used to pray together sometimes and go to our school’s chapel, but it’s not like we were very spiritual like that in our relationship. Rita was from an Anglican background, and I was Pentecostal.
Rita: Both his parents are pastors.
Ivan: Yeah. I had a lot of interaction with the church setting growing up. I could — and still can — quote scriptures off the top of my head. I had a very good relationship with the Bible. But from my second year in university, I started questioning my faith. I’d read some books that made me ask myself questions I’d never asked before, and I didn’t know how to phrase what was happening. I wanted to allow myself the space and time to think through the questions properly, so I told everyone, including Rita, that I was now agnostic.
My friends laughed and called it a phase. Some of my friendships experienced a lot of friction at the time.
How did it affect your new relationship?
Rita: It wasn’t really a big deal to me. I’d always been something like a distant, lukewarm Christian. He was more of the firebrand church boy. So, his decision to be agnostic wasn’t something that bothered me. It’s not like I dismissed it, though. We discussed it as best as we could, but it wasn’t a deal breaker.
Ivan: But then I returned to Christianity shortly after, at the beginning of 2018.
That was short
Ivan: I concluded it wasn’t worth losing my friends, so I went back into the fold and threw myself into it. Almost like I was trying to make up for leaving in the first place.
Rita: Again, it didn’t really change much for me. It was just like, “Welcome back”, and we went on as usual. Then in 2019, I became an atheist.
I feel like I’ve missed some steps
Rita: It was our fourth year in school, and I was just turning 19. A lot was going on with me. My grades weren’t bad, but everything just felt overwhelming. We studied engineering, and the workload at that point was heavy. It was hard balancing all that. Plus, I was at an age where I was trying to be responsible and learn how to navigate the world, but it was just a lot.
I started getting closer to God. You know how they say, seek Jesus so something would happen. It wasn’t really doing it for me. Nothing was happening.
I’m a very introspective person, so I tried to figure out what the problem was. I decided to learn more about myself. And after reading a lot of feminist books, I fully identified as a feminist for the first time. I’ve always had feminist ideals, but I think that period triggered it.
Soon enough, the Bible started to conflict with my feminism. There were a lot of things jumping out, and I started to realise, “The Christian God doesn’t like me as a woman. Do I really belong here?” Even before I decided I didn’t believe in God, I already disliked him. I decided I didn’t like this character, even if he was real. I started to read books for and against the Bible. I’d read materials by Christian apologetics and atheist books alike.
I concluded: I’m an atheist. I didn’t tell Ivan immediately because school was on break, and we were home in different states. It didn’t seem like something I could say over the phone.
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So, what happened next?
Rita: There was a Twitter argument about Christians, and we were on opposite sides. He was on the side of the Christians, and at a point, I was just like, “I can’t keep pretending again.”
Ivan: She said she didn’t think she believed in God anymore. It was a heated conversation, and in the end, we decided to break up till we got back to school so we’d decide if we were still compatible. She’ll claim now that I called two days later, asking for us to get back together.
Rita: That’s exactly what happened. He said the break-up wasn’t necessary, and we could figure things out together, but as a solid babe, I stood my ground and insisted we stick to the break.
Guess what? I broke down and asked him out again myself, like three weeks later, in the early hours of New Year’s Day 2020.
Ivan: We still intended to talk about the faith thing when we saw. So, I spent time gathering information from Christian apologetics like Ravi Zacharias and William Lane Craig so I could convince her about God. I watched debates between apologetics and atheists to get material. To be honest, I was also trying to convince myself, but I ended up with more questions.
I remember crying one night because my entire belief system was falling apart right before me. I eventually got to the point where I decided I was irreligious.
What happened next?
Rita: We didn’t have the compatibility issue again, so we continued our relationship. I’ve always been aloof, with some pretty contrarian views, so people weren’t surprised when I opened up about my atheism. But it was different for Ivan. He’s quite open, so friends directed all their questions and complaints to him. Since I became an atheist first, there was this notion that I’d turned him away from God and pulled him into the devil’s den, not minding that he’d done his research and decided on his own. And this was one of the reasons I refused his attempt to reconcile us then, so it wouldn’t be like I influenced him.
Israel: It was a difficult time. I’d told a couple of friends about my decision because I didn’t want anyone to interfere, and the news somehow spread to even people outside our friendship circles. There were rumours like, “Oh, Rita pulled him just like that”, and “Ivan has gone to follow Rita”. It was quite insulting.
It felt like people were trying to create a different story because they didn’t like the outcome of a personal decision, and it was hurtful because it was coming from people that were really close to me. Most of them didn’t come to actually sit me down to have a conversation, save for a female friend who did and was really nice and supportive about it.
Many of my friendship dynamics changed during that period. Of course, some also thought I’d just backslid and would come back. They were wrong.
Did ditching religion affect your relationship?
Rita: I battled depression for a year after becoming an atheist. With religion, you have a sense of security that someone in the sky can do things for you. Losing that suddenly was hard. I had nowhere to go when I was anxious about something. I’m not that close with my parents, and I couldn’t go to friends because they’d want to “pray for me”. But having my partner beside me helped greatly.
Ivan was my support system. We went through everything together, sharing YouTube videos, books and answering each other’s questions. Sharing knowledge and bouncing ideas off each other really helped strengthen our new beliefs.
It’d have been much more difficult if I didn’t have him by my side, and I’m really grateful for that.
Do people try to change your stance on religion?
Rita: Initially, yes. But it’s not easy to challenge someone who’s well-read. I can tell you straight up why everything you’re saying doesn’t make sense. People don’t try to convince us anymore. They might still be praying silently for us, though.
Ivan: My parents don’t know about our beliefs yet. I moved out after school for work and to be in the same city as Rita, so I haven’t really been in the same space with my parents. I’ll tell them one day, maybe when I’m out of the country.
What does the future look like for you both?
Ivan: We both plan to travel out of the country for our Master’s at some point. We’ve been together for five years, and I honestly can’t see myself in my head with someone else. I don’t know what the future holds, but I just see us being together.
On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your love life?
Rita: 10. We’ve been friends from the beginning, and everything just feels easy. Our communication, our love, it just comes easy. I feel like nothing we’d encounter would be difficult for us to navigate. And we always want to spend time together. It’s become obsessive at this point.
Ivan: I wanted to be funny and say 11, but yeah, 10. I can talk to her about anything without overthinking it. Even when we argue, we don’t fight, shout at or call each other names. We talk ourselves through every single one of our problems. She’s managed to convince the entire world that she’s a hard guy, but she’s ridiculously romantic. She dey burst my brain steady.
NEXT READ: We Love Each Other But Can’t Live Together