Love Life is a Zikoko weekly series about love, relationships, situationships, entanglements and everything in between.

What’s your earliest memory of each other?

Aliyu: We met through family in 1988. Our fathers knew each other, and one day her father came to visit mine with her in tow. They stayed for about an hour, and we were introduced. She was shy and barely said a word. She just sat in a corner, and I remember me and my brothers watching her from the corridor to our rooms and talking about how beautiful she was. 

Mariam: I was so self-conscious to be in a strange house with nothing to do but watch my father talk with his friend. I wasn’t supposed to accompany him there; he’d just decided to stop by on our way to getting the things I needed for school. 

After that, we met more often during family and religious gatherings, and we just got close.

When did you start to like each other?

Mariam: After he kissed me in my father’s compound when no one was looking. It was the day after Ileya in 1989. I’d only ever been kissed once before, and it was nothing like his own.

Aliyu: My brothers and cousins had discovered I liked her sometime before that. They saw that I’d sometimes stare at her. So at this gathering, they teased me into kissing her and telling her how I felt. I didn’t tell her how I felt. I just kissed her and disappeared. 

What happened after?

Aliyu: We went back to our lives. 

She was still in school, and I was trying to get into the family trade of poultry farming. Not much happened until the next year when she was back from ABU for a long break and we met at the water factory her brother worked at. We talked a bit, and after she left, I told her brother I wanted to marry her. Imagine me with no money saying something like that.

Mariam: My brother came back home and told me about it. I just laughed. I crushed on him since the day he kissed me without regard for my father’s house. But I didn’t want to believe he liked me back. I returned to school and thought about him for weeks, imagining us married.

Why was marriage the first thing that came to mind and not dating?

Aliyu: Maybe it was the times, but that’s what I wanted when I saw her. I wanted her to be my wife. So I worked hard while she was in school. I did everything to make more money. I started buying and selling goats and rams. I did deliveries briefly. I saved most of the money I made.

Mariam: In school, I had a few other suitors, but I chose to wait for the possibility of being with Aliyu. I used it as a catalyst to focus on my studies. 

He waited till 1992, my last year in school to go to my father and ask him about me.

And then, you got married?

Aliyu: No, we courted for another year. I wanted her to finish first. I didn’t want to rush or scare her.

Mariam: During this period, he’d send me money and gifts all the time. 

A lot of my friends were getting married while in school, but I appreciated the wait. The truth is I was scared of the responsibility of marriage. Learning from my friends’ experiences helped me feel prepared after graduation.

What was the wedding like?

Mariam: It was big. Our parents invited every single person they knew. We had three different ceremonies, and by the end of it all, I was exhausted. In fact, whenever I think back to my wedding, I associate it with tiredness.

Aliyu: We didn’t get the time to bond before and during the ceremonies. Then after, we consummated and moved in together. The excitement wasn’t really there anymore.

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What d’you mean?

Aliyu: I’m not sure what I thought would happen, but I wasn’t prepared for how dull living with one person was. Everyone just avoided us because they didn’t want to intrude on our brand new marriage. 

But we just continued on with life. She got a job, I ran my businesses, and we performed our duties.

Mariam: I think we were fine until the kids started coming. 

I had our three children in the space of four years and that was really hard for me. Once the third one was out, I got on family planning, and he didn’t like that.

Aliyu: I understood why she had to, but she didn’t consult me first. What if I wanted one more child? I also didn’t like how it affected our sex. It became like a chore trying to get her in bed.

How did you navigate this period in your marriage?

Mariam: Taking care of the children mostly on my own was hard. I had to quit my job after I had the first one, but I was still always tired. Even with my mother and younger sister’s help. 

Our communication was zero at this time, but he always provided, so I was content. 

Aliyu: In my mind, I was giving her space and time to focus on motherhood while I focused on making us comfortable. Running the businesses was no piece of cake.

Fair

Mariam: Once the children were all old enough to go to school, we were never able to build our relationship. We were fully adults with adult worries and responsibilities. There was no time for gisting and jokes like I saw my friends do with their husbands. 

I’m not sure how everything went so wrong.

Aliyu: I found out she was sleeping with someone else.

Sorry, what?

Mariam: After I’d just had our third baby, I got close to one of my old friends from ABU, one of the “suitors”. He was still unmarried. So we met a lot when Aliyu was away at work and I wanted to get out of the house and the chaos of crying babies. We never had sex, but we got intimate sometimes. 

Aliyu: I was also sleeping with my secretary at the time. But it didn’t stop me from being angry. Instead of telling her I found out, I just held it in and resented her.

Did it eventually come out?

Aliyu: Yes, when I saw her with another man different from the first one.

We moved to Abuja from Kaduna in 2004, and I spent less time at home because I had to travel more. I had a new girlfriend, and most times, I’d take her on these trips with me. I was considering making her a second wife.

One day, I saw Mariam leaving our house with this man when I’d just returned from a trip.

Mariam: A trip with his “girlfriend” I’m sure, but he had time to judge me.

Aliyu: Later that day, I confronted her about it and she just apologised. I couldn’t say anything again.

You just let it go?

Aliyu: Yes. I didn’t want stress, and I didn’t want to chase her out of my house. So what was the point of pushing it? I also thought it’d make her more agreeable to my bringing in a new wife.

Mariam: Him not getting angry made me realise he didn’t care what I did. He didn’t care about me. He just wanted someone respectable to bear him children. And since I’d given him two sons and dared to do family planning, he was done with me.

Aliyu: That’s not true. She was cold and that surprised me after we got married. I could never really get her to ease up and have fun with me.

So what happened after this second bout of infidelity?

Mariam: This is when I feel we separated without separating. We just started leading different lives even though we still lived under the same roof — and slept in the same bed for nearly ten more years.

Aliyu: I continued travelling constantly and we hardly talked. In 2007, I married a second wife, we had a son, and things were peaceful. But in 2012, the second wife left me for another man.

Mariam: When he went to marry someone half his age. Guess who had to take care of an additional child for him.

You?

Mariam: Yes. The woman left her son. I recently heard she’s relocated overseas with her new husband and their children.

Aliyu: I’d never have let her take my son to another man.

After this, I just decided I wouldn’t take another wife. 

But did the affairs continue on both sides?

Mariam: Yes. I’m not proud to say it, but I’ve found other men I’ve felt more committed to than my husband. I considered remarrying once. In the end, I didn’t want all the drama and stigma. And I didn’t trust that the new man wouldn’t disappoint me. I also had three growing children to think about.

Aliyu: I didn’t date anyone for years after my second wife left. It felt irresponsible of me to do so. Every woman I was with after, I only had sex with.

Do you think your children feel any type of way about you living separate lives?

Mariam: Probably when they were younger, but they’re now all grown with families of their own. 

My daughter often calls me to try to force a reconnection between us because she’s feeling righteous. But I tell her off. She thinks it’s my fault the marriage isn’t “working well” because I never treated her father with respect. Imagine.

Aliyu: There were times you could’ve been more humble.

I think the children understand how hard life and marriage is now, so they’re fine. 

Do you think you’ll ever divorce?

Aliyu: No, I don’t believe in that. Even the prophet said that of all things permitted, divorce is the most hated by God. 

Even though you’re both committing adultery?

Aliyu: I believe marriage is for life. And I still love my wife. She’ll always be my first love. I do everything I can to treat her right. She’s also given me three beautiful children.

Mariam: If I didn’t do it when I was maybe in my 30s, I don’t think I’d ever divorce because there’s no guarantee that what’s outside is better than what’s here. Aliyu is my partner in many ways, even though God did not permit that sex and companionship be one of them. 

Today, we’re friends and we’re each other’s confidants.

Right. What was your first major fight about?

Aliyu: When she suddenly wanted to start using condoms during sex.

Mariam: He never agreed to use them. That’s why I had to get the implants in secret. When I later told him, he was angry but placated that at least he didn’t have to put on a condom.

Aliyu: Condoms are for laying with harlots.

On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your Love Life?

Aliyu: 5

Mariam: 5. Average.

Check back every Thursday by 9 AM for new Love Life stories here. The stories will also be a part of the Ships newsletter, so sign up here.

NEXT UP: Love Life: Nigeria Should Let Us Marry in Peace

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