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

How did you meet each other?

Tolani: We met during NYSC in 2012. We joined the NEMA CDS group at the same time and made friends with each other and a couple of other members. Then we all started attending the meetings in a group and checking up on each other at our PPAs. 

We didn’t start dating immediately. Her eyes were on some other guy in the CDS group who wasn’t part of our group of friends. They got close at a point and then I stopped seeing them together.

Praise-el: I realised the guy wasn’t serious at all. All he did was smoke weed. I got closer to Tolani after I cut the guy off, and we ended up becoming closer than the rest of our group because our corper lodges were in the same area.

Tolani: Then we went into an everlasting talking stage where I tried to take things to the next level countlessly, and she remained non-committal.

Praise-el: After I got strung along by the first guy, I got it into my head that people only look for flings during NYSC. Most people were trying to have as much sex as possible so that they could return to their home states and actual lives without strings attached. 

I thought Tolani was the same, and I’m not the kind of person who can date for fun. Maybe if we were both serving in a state we both lived in, I would’ve been more open. I actually liked him from the start, but he lived in Lagos while I lived in Kaduna. I didn’t see a future for us outside NYSC.

That makes sense, but how did your relationship advance?

Tolani: I was persistent, so we stayed in contact after passing out in October 2012. Three months later, she moved to Lagos for a job. By then, I was her closest friend in town, so we started hanging out a lot, and she found a community in my circle of friends. 

At first, I wanted us to stay friends because I was still sore from her constant rebuffs during NYSC. But once we hung out, I realised I still liked her a lot and hadn’t had my eyes on anyone else in a while.

Praise-el: I have that effect on people. 

I started liking him way more too, and really wanted him to ask me out again. He was a smart, serious-minded person and that sort of thing always attracts me. He was also really charming, so actually I wasn’t sure if he liked me at that point or if it was just his usual charm that made him nice to me. However, I couldn’t ask him because I couldn’t let go of the idea that a man must always ask a woman out.

Tolani: Sometime in March, I got a really good job with an FMCG that works closely with her company. We were both in entry roles, but we were able to help each other with information to meet targets that got us confirmed to junior positions in a few months. That really helped us get closer.

Praise-el: We got our confirmation letters within a month of each other. It was crazy. Our friends took us out to celebrate, and it was on my way home, as he walked me out to get a cab, that he asked me to be his girlfriend. I just said okay. 

It was later we realised that it was almost two years after we met for the first time in January 2012.

And what was dating like after this?

Praise-el: Honestly, nothing much changed. We didn’t even start having sex until we’d decided we’d get married.

Tolani: We were already very close friends who had the same friends and work-related relationships. So it was just more of hanging out and way more calls to check in on each other. Also, we spent more time in each other’s houses. I still lived with my parents at the time, but she had her own apartment she shared with a colleague, so we were there a lot.

Praise-el: It became his second house, but we mostly moved out of it to attend events and other activities. 

I heard something about deciding to marry

Tolani: We started talking marriage very early on. It started with plans to launch a start-up. We both studied finance and discovered our shared interest in being entrepreneurs during our early conversations. 

When I went to her place for the first time, I saw copies of books like Rich Dad Poor Dad, Outliers and different company biographies lying around. A black-and-white cover of Losing My Virginity comes to mind. We started talking about wealth and building successful businesses, and it just became a passion we shared.

Praise-el: You’re probably wondering how that led to marriage talks. We talked about being business partners, but we were dating, so I think he was like it’d be great if we were life partners first. It sounded romantic at the time.

Tolani: We decided to get married during the first month or so, but I don’t think at that time we thought we’d be married after five months.

Praise-el: Our careers were going well, and we had a lot of job security. In less than two years of working, I already had a sizable savings. I wasn’t privy to his finances at the time, but I knew we were both self-sufficient. 

Our relationship was going strong because we’d synergise for work. We’d help each other with contacts, connects and even gossip that was useful for company politics. We also had our parents’ network helping us both career-wise, signing references required to get some contracts and so on.

Tolani: Then we had sex for the first time, and Praise-el woke up the next morning, saying we should tell our parents we want to get married and go to Ikoyi Registry ASAP. I was in tears like “What the fuck?” 

She wasn’t joking.

Praise-el: I put my dad on the phone while we were still in bed and told him that Tolani wanted to tell him something.

OMG. That sounds like a lot of pressure

Tolani: It was. I just told him I wanted to come see him soon. 

We went to Kaduna the following week. We took time off work and spent a long weekend with them. At first, I was sure I wouldn’t tell them anything about marriage — not because I didn’t want to marry her but because I felt we had all the time in the world to do it. But on the Sunday night before we had to leave for Lagos, I changed my mind. 

Praise-el: I didn’t pressure him. I just think we had a lot of time to just relax together and have conversations. We talked about just getting the wedding out of the way so we could focus on building wealth and launching the business and raising our kids together, basically being in each other’s dream chasing origin stories.

Tolani: I believed in her and us. 

That night, I took a drive into town alone, called my own parents to tell them, and my dad was just laughing at me. They sha gave their blessings, so I spoke with her parents the next morning before we left. It was nerve-wracking but it also made me feel proud of myself for crossing such a definitive milestone.

Praise-el: I’m an only child and when I was younger, I used to tell my parents I didn’t want to get married, so they were quite relieved and happy for me. They promised to make the trip to Lagos for the court wedding when we were ready.

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Was it just a court wedding ceremony?

Praise-el: No, we had a traditional wedding about three weeks later. Court weddings are just sharp and low-maintenance, so we just wanted to get that out of the way. But there was no way in hell his parents were going to let their second son go without Yoruba fanfare. 

My parents on the other hand had separated themselves from our hometown a long time ago. We never even visit our village or relate too closely with our relatives because according to my parents, they can be diabolical. So we didn’t go there. I only invited some of my aunts and uncles.

Tolani: We also did a church thanksgiving after the court wedding, but no white wedding. At that point, we felt very “married” and didn’t feel like we needed further ceremony to establish that.

Praise-el: Especially since we were also in the middle of a two-month long house hunt. I didn’t know it would get a thousand times worse in the future, but getting a decent place to stay in Lagos is the ghetto. Apparently, we were asking for too much in terms of the area we wanted to live in so we had to change locations and living specifications.

Tolani: We had to live in a hotel for about two weeks because we didn’t want to stay in my parents’ house or her one room after we’d done the traditional wedding. We’d been living separately since the court wedding and we didn’t want to continue that either.

Anyway, that was the worst decision we could ever make.

How so?

Tolani: It was expensive. Our savings took a big dent. But also, reverting from that to packing into our new home, unpacking and settling into normal living was jarring. There’s no room service at home.

Praise-el: Also, living in a hotel for that long wasn’t ideal. It gave the first few weeks of our marriage a weird transient vibe. I think the fact that everything happened so quickly didn’t help. When we finally unpacked everything and started settling into our new life together, there was a lot of friction. 

Tolani: We were both so stressed. Don’t forget that we were both still going to work throughout this period. We only got a two-week break. So there was work pressure too. I remember that we didn’t even have sex for the first two to three months of our marriage.

Praise-el: I remember crying a lot and needing a shoulder but also realising I couldn’t go to my parents because I didn’t want them to think I was questioning my decision. I also didn’t want to go to any of my friends because most of them were his too, and I also didn’t want them knowing I had any issues so early into it that they’d mistakenly use against us later on in life. It wasn’t like I didn’t love him anymore or had any form of regret. I was just overwhelmed. It’s hard to explain.

Tolani: It was just growing pains, I think.

Praise-el: We’d fight over the smallest things. I was always so heated up like I needed to drain some energy from my veins or something.

I’m so sorry. It sounds so hard. How did you make things work?

Tolani: Eventually, the stress eased, and we just fell into a healthy space of getting used to each other and talking things out.

Praise-el: Something that really helped was finally getting the album of photos from our traditional wedding. Seeing those physical evidences of our joining and how good we looked together, how happy everyone was to celebrate us was strangely validating. The memory of us sitting alone together in the living room of our very first apartment together, turning those big pages, is stuck in my heart. There was no light so we were even sweating.

Tolani: Yeah, the ventilation in that house was bad. I like that we sorted things out between us without needing to involved external parties. That set the tone for how we deal with things between us. 

Praise-el: And remembering the vision that led us to marriage in the first place, working towards that goal of building wealth and starting our business. Once we started thinking about that and really making plans, it was easy for romance to come alive again. There was something to look forward to and be excited about.

So is it just about career for you? 

Tolani: I won’t say “just”. It might be what keeps us going but every relationship has their version of that. For some, it’s chemistry, children, shared interests, ministry. Most people don’t even have a unifying goal, and that’s why I think many relationships and marriages fade away after a while. For us, it’s building a company that stands the test of time just like all the amazing companies we’ve worked for all our lives.

Praise-el: And the realisation that we’re both capable of making this happen alone or together makes us very happy to be together. Two good heads a better than one after all. Our focus on money making has also made a lot of other things easier for us: maintaining a certain standard of life we aspired towards, giving our three children the kind of education we wished we had, we even have hobbies now, and romance is much easier after you’ve focused on career and making money — or how did Davido put it.

Tolani: We’re not where we want to be financially yet, but we’ve come a long way. And sometimes, when I look back I’m so proud of us. One thing I want to add about getting married right away is now that we’re making a lot of money we don’t have to second guess whether we still like each other or it’s just money that’s making us pretend. There’s not much room for ego because we struggled together to get here and we’re both earning almost equally.

And have you started the dream company yet?

Tolani: Not yet. But it’s coming. 

Praise-el: We’ve spent the last year courting early-stage investors, so it’s closer than ever. It’s a consumer goods manufacturing and distribution. We’re finalising manufacturing sources and distribution channels, due diligence, compliance and all that. It’s a huge risk we’re taking but it’s been a decade in the making so we trust we’ve done all our homework.

Tolani: There’s the lobbying involved as well. This is still Nigeria, a rough landscape for businesses. Thankfully, a person like Tinubu is in power now, so things will make sense soon enough.

I pray so. What was your first major fight about?

Tolani: We haven’t really had any. There was one time we fought about our house space. She’d started keeping her clothes in the guest bedroom because our wardrobe was too small for both of us, so one day, she just lashed out about how I couldn’t even notice that we’d outgrown our apartment. This was sometime in 2017. 

Praise-el: It wasn’t really a fight though. Most of our arguments are about the children. Either frustrations with their nannies or disagreements over something to do with their school.

Tolani: We argue about work-related gist too sha.

Praise-el: That’s right. It’s also not a piece of cake trying to build a business with your spouse. You can’t just say no, you have to coat it with explanation and mangae communication so it doesn’t ever feel like you’re taking them for granted. Thankfully, our business mentors help out on that front.

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

Praise-el: 8

Tolani: 8

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