He Loved Me, So He Let Me Go

September 2, 2021

As told to Toheeb

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It’s June 2021, and I’m meeting an old flame. It’s been about a year since he broke up with me, and he’s here to answer a question that plagued me for months after the split: Why did he leave me?

For you to understand why this means so much to me, we will have to go back to 2017 when it all started.

I was in my second year at Ahmadu Bello University and my dating life was non-existent. The thing nobody mentions about being single is how the boredom gnaws away at you. I wanted some excitement. Or at least something to look forward to. 

One day, my roommate casually talked about Badoo — the dating site. I thought it was a good way to meet new people and see what would happen. I registered on the dating site, and sure, there were tons of people. But I didn’t vibe with anyone. At least not until two weeks after I joined. 

Ismail changed everything.

When I matched with Ismail, I didn’t think anything would come out of it. Our worlds were slightly apart — he was a masters student in my university, and I was an undergraduate. However, he sounded interesting during our conversations, so I gave him some of my time. After a few weeks of phone calls and text messages, I agreed to meet him. The only condition was that it had to be in a crowded area. 

We met at the university gate. God, was he a fine man! Light skinned, tall, and his palms were soft when I touched them. I took a liking to him immediately. I held on to his hand and wouldn’t let go as he walked me back to my house. Two days later, we met again at his house where we spent a magical time together. It had been a year since I had sex but I knew I wanted to sleep with him. However, he didn’t make a move. There I was, wondering how someone could be so clueless. When I told him I was leaving, this guy tried to help me put my shoes on. I had had enough. I don’t know where this came from, but I looked at him and blurted: “I want to do.” 

Now, he got it. Slowly, his soft hands gripped me and pinned me against a wall in his room. We had sex for only a few minutes but I knew this was one I could never forget.

We met a couple of times after that to hook up. We were having fun until he told me he wanted to be in a relationship with me. I liked him a lot, but in my head, he only wanted a relationship because of the sex we were having, and I wasn’t down with that. Besides, there was someone else I was also talking to at the time. I did what I thought was right for me and ghosted Ismail for months. 

In January 2018, a couple of months after I cut him off, Ismail reached out. I had found out that the other person I was talking to had a girlfriend, so my guard was down. On that phone call, Ismail insisted that he wanted a well-defined relationship with me. He was in Kaduna, visiting his parents when he called, but we agreed to meet up and discuss the situation when he returned to Zaria a few days later. 

In February 2018, we met again for the first time in months. All the doubts I had in my mind evaporated when I saw him again. He was still tall and fine as I remember. I was sure he was in it for the long haul now. There was no way he couldn’t possibly be. We had a long discussion, but at the end of it, our relationship had started. It didn’t take long for Ismail to become my best friend. We shared everything and did everything together. We managed our money together and even shared one toothbrush. I knew his social media passwords, his bank details, and his ATM card pin. I could log on to his WhatsApp and reply to his messages or update a status, and it wouldn’t be a problem. Nothing either one of us owned was off-limits. He was family, and that’s the foundation our relationship was built on. It was that deep. 

The only downside? Ismail was an unemployed postgraduate student with no money. At one point, his brother was sending him money but this stopped after the brother got married. Although I was also a student, I had more money — courtesy of my parents. Naturally, I became the provider in the relationship. 

 This wasn’t a problem for me, but it was for my friends. They couldn’t understand why I was doing so much for a guy that could just up and leave anytime he wanted. They had a lot to say, especially when I started getting suitors — people who wanted to marry me. My friends wanted me to leave the relationship and be with someone else that could provide for me.

Ismail and I had never had a conversation about marriage, so I feared my friends might be right. I could be making a big mistake. When I finally brought up the conversation with him — trying to get where his head was at — he said he didn’t know where his next meal was coming from, so he couldn’t answer yet. But all he knew was that he loved me. Our bond was strong, and I believed him. From where I stood, he would never leave. 

Like every good love story, tragedy also struck ours. How? The age-old cheating. In 2019, about one year into our relationship, I cheated on Ismail. It was with a guy who didn’t mean anything to me. Wrong place, wrong time. He met me at a time when I was tired of Ismail not manning up. Tired of me being the sole provider in the relationship. Immediately I slept with the guy, I knew I didn’t want him — Ismail was who I desired. 

I didn’t tell Ismail what I had done but maybe I should have. He found out from looking through my chats with the other guy. I could tell it broke him and I knew I fucked up. But he forgave me, or at least that’s what he said. 

Later in 2019, his house rent expired and he said he couldn’t afford to renew it, especially since he was done with his Masters. It was time for him to return to Kaduna, our hometown, but he was willing to give a long-distance relationship a try. 

We didn’t see each other for a couple of weeks after he left but we talked every day. When school went on semester break, I dashed home immediately. I couldn’t wait to see the love of my life.

Something weird happened on the day we arranged to meet: he got to the hotel we were going to meet before I did, and since I was going to pay for the room, he had to wait outside for me. He was on a call when I saw him, and the moment he realised that I had arrived, he ended the call abruptly. I was like “Babe, who are you talking to on the phone?” but he waved it off. When I checked his phone later, he’d wiped his call history. He was hiding something. 

I probed further and checked his Facebook. I found a girl he’d been sending cute messages to, for six months. I also found proof that he had spent time with this girl after seeing me off a few months earlier in another hotel room I paid for. 

I confronted him in the morning, and he didn’t deny it. God, the pain I felt! I couldn’t help myself, so I let the tears fall freely.

 I travelled to Abuja later that week because I wanted some space from him. Ismail called me the entire week, trying to apologise. By the end of the first week, it made sense to let it go. I’d cheated on him once too, remember? The scores were even, and now we can try to patch things up.

Fast forward to 2020, two days before the lockdown was announced, we met up again in a hotel. The whole Covid talk had started getting to me and I understood that a lockdown was imminent. So, I just wanted to spend time with the love of my life before hell broke loose. And that’s what we did. We talked about our lives — where we were at and what the future looked like. I remember he said something along the lines of “Babe, I love you, and I want us to work out. I don’t have much and it’s not going to be easy. But trust me, you’re the one I love and we’re going to work things out.”

God, I loved that he said those words. We were going to be alright, and that was all I wanted to know. 

That’s why it didn’t make sense when he started acting up barely two months after. The frequency of his calls reduced. If I called him and he missed it, he wouldn’t call him back. The seemingly harmless questions I used to ask him started to irritate him. I could ask him “What are you doing?” and he’d go “Why are you asking me.”

Of course, I became miserable. Following the advice of a friend, I called him in June 2020 to have another conversation about where we were and what we are doing. On that call, he dropped a bombshell that still rings in my head till today.  

He said “I don’t want to lie to you. I don’t love you anymore.”

When I asked him what the reason could be, he said he hadn’t been able to let go of the time I cheated on him. Granted, he cheated too, but the fact that I forgave him didn’t mean he forgave me. 

I nearly died. A lot was happening at the time. First, it was the lockdown and the uncertainty of the time was wearing everyone down. Then I had to deal with this too. 

I wasn’t going to let go without a fight, so I texted him the following day

Me: “Babe, are you sure about this.”

Him: “Yes. I don’t want you anymore.”

My laptop was with him and he told me to make plans to get it back. We agreed to meet at our usual hotel the following week. Well, we slept together again. But when he didn’t spend the night with me, I knew this relationship was indeed over. I had to move on. 

Getting over someone you love is a hard thing to do, even if you have the best support system. Months after we broke up, I was still thinking about Ismail and the events that led to our split. The memory of our years together haunted me and the futility of it all broke me over and over again. I gave the relationship my all, yet I had nothing to show for it — not even a concrete explanation. Nothing prepares you for this kind of thing. 

 I should mention that I got into another relationship about three months after Ismail broke up with me — how it happened is another story. I just wanted to move on as fast as I could and my new boyfriend was there for me when I needed him the most. But he couldn’t give me what I needed the most: closure. Only Ismail could. So, I reached out to him repeatedly, trying to find out if there was still a chance we could get back together. The answer remained the same. There was none. 

In the following months, I went through different phases of sadness and bitterness. If Ismail could leave me, then anyone else would. Thankfully, my boyfriend understood and was there for me all through. But I still wanted my closure. I wanted it so bad. 

In June 2021, I saw Ismail again. He reached out to me, wanting to talk. That was an opportunity I wasn’t expecting and I wasn’t going to pass on it. Thankfully, my boyfriend knew how much it meant to me and said I could see him. 

I knew the question I wanted to ask Ismail and it kept playing in my head on my way to where I was going to meet him: “Why did you leave me?”

When I asked him the question, he came clean for the first time. He said he didn’t leave because I cheated. He loved me despite that. He left because he was pushing 30 years and hadn’t figured his life out, and he would hate himself if his journey affected mine. He couldn’t offer me stability and wasn’t sure it would change soon. He didn’t want me to bet on him because he wouldn’t bet on himself either. He loved me so much, so he had to let me go.

This was the closure I had wanted for months. But I didn’t know what to say. If I had heard these words months earlier, I would have wrapped him in a hug and told him not to worry about me. I would have assured him that it was okay and we would figure it out together. I wish he had told me. Things could have gone differently. 

I had a new life already, though, and I needed to return to it — to my boyfriend. Ismail was the love of my life, and I will never forget that or the fact that he gave me the closure I desperately needed. Till today, I remember his words. He loved me, so he let me go. 

Ultimately, he gave me what I needed to move on. 

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