Love Life is a Zikoko weekly series about love, relationships, situationships, entanglements and everything in between.
Geraldine* (55) and Felix* (61) were childhood friends who lost contact for 35 years. They talk about reconnecting on Facebook, overcoming initial family disapproval and valuing companionship over traditional gender roles in marriage.
How did you two meet?
Geraldine: We attended the same secondary school in Onitsha, Anambra State, in the early 80s, but only became friends in Class 5. I can’t recall all the details now, but we were preparing for our final exams, and we just became close.
Felix: I remember walking her home every day after school. Of course, I had to stop at the junction before her house so her neighbours wouldn’t see me and report to her parents. It was innocent, but how do you want to explain that?
Did you have feelings for each other at this point?
Geraldine: I became fond of him, but I definitely couldn’t tell him. Girls weren’t that open back then. My heart told me he liked me, but he wasn’t saying anything. I kept waiting for him to talk first. It didn’t happen till almost 35 years later.
Wait. What? Please explain, sir.
Felix: I liked her then too, but I knew I’d be moving to Lagos after school, so it didn’t make sense to start what I knew I couldn’t finish. Which father would want to give their daughter to a secondary school leaver?
Geraldine: We were walking home from school one day when this man just told me out of the blue that he’d be travelling to Lagos soon to work with his uncle. I felt betrayed.
Ouch. What did you do?
Geraldine: What could I have done? I just said okay, and within a week, he’d left Onitsha. This was 1984. There were no phones then, and he never sent a letter, so we lost contact.
Felix: Again, I didn’t think we had a future together. I just decided to focus on making something out of myself.
So, what happened next?
Geraldine: I stayed back in Onitsha for a couple of years. I didn’t further my education, so I traded okrika (thrift clothes) to survive and care for my ailing father, who fell sick sometime after Felix left. I think my dad being sick for so long affected my marital prospects. No one wanted to “inherit” their father-in-law’s medical bills. He eventually died in 1995 when I was 28.
Two years later, I moved in with my elder sister in Lagos and continued selling clothes around her home in Surulere.
Felix: I worked with my uncle for about five years in Alaba market, where I learnt to sell electronics. Or I tried to learn. I was terrible at it. My uncle grew tired and wanted to send me back home, but his wife — God bless her soul — convinced him to put me through university instead. I eventually got admitted into the Yaba College of Technology in 1992, to study office management.
I kept a relationship with one of my uncle’s customers who liked me, and he helped me get a job at one of the federal ministries when I finished around 1996. That’s where I met my first wife, Edith.
You weren’t always married to each other?
Felix: No. I met Edith in 1997, ironically, the same year Geraldine moved to Lagos. I still thought about her [Geraldine] once in a while, but we weren’t in touch, so there was no way I would’ve known she’d moved.
Geraldine: Abi, you’re just saying that because I’m here?
Felix: Honestly. Anyway, I got married in 1999, and we had two children in quick succession. I think God just wanted me to have those children to remember Edith, because she died in 2001.
Oh my. I’m so sorry
Felix: It’s God’s will. She was involved in a hit-and-run. It was really painful, but I had to be a man for our young children. People expected me to remarry immediately, but I didn’t want to go through marriage again. My sister lived with me then, so she helped raise my children.
In 2019, I moved my family to Port Harcourt when my office transferred me there, but I soon became lonely. I didn’t really know anyone there, and my children were in university. My sister was long married and had left us for her husband’s house. So, I became active on Facebook. My son had created a profile for me the year before and taught me how to use it, but I didn’t really pay attention then.
That’s how I opened Facebook one day and saw the app had suggested Geraldine as someone I may know. I was shocked. She’d obviously changed, but it was her name, and I saw she attended our secondary school.
Did someone say destiny?
Geraldine: I was so surprised when I saw his friend request. Of course, I accepted immediately.
Were you still in Lagos then?
Geraldine: Yes. I stopped my clothes business in 2010 when I became a full-time minister at a church. I also left my sister’s place around that time, to live at our church’s headquarters before transferring to the Agbara branch in 2014.
You didn’t mention marriage
Geraldine: Marriage didn’t come. Men came, but they either wanted to sleep with me or the relationship didn’t just work out. I was bothered about it, but I kept believing I’d get married one day. Faith in God was the only thing I could hold on to.
I watched my church members get married and have children. I even helped many of them settle their marital issues, but I was as single as ever. People mocked me, but I was stubborn. I can cry inside my house, but outside, you’d swear I had no problems. Why give people a reason to mock me even more?
My family members talked too, but will I marry myself? It didn’t stop me from visiting my mother in the village during the festive seasons. I know I must’ve been the topic of gossip, but that’s their problem.
Wow. It must’ve been tough
Geraldine: It really was. I remember one time I was trying to settle a fight between a couple who were members of my church. The lady was really angry, and I was trying to calm her down when she said something along the lines of, “Mummy, you can’t understand how marriage feels unless you’re inside it”. I just smiled and changed the subject.
Felix: Some people just don’t know how to talk.
So, back to you reconnecting on Facebook
Felix: We started chatting and exchanged numbers. For a couple of weeks, we just talked about everything that’d happened since we last saw each other. But I knew God had given me another chance with her, and once we started talking regularly, I was already thinking marriage.
Geraldine: He told me about his feelings for me from way back in secondary school, how he had been widowed for 18 years, about his children. Everything. Then, about two months since we started talking, he said he wanted us to get married. I was 52, and I wanted to marry, but I wasn’t that desperate. This was someone I hadn’t set eyes on in about 35 years.
When did you decide to give him a chance?
Geraldine: He actually came to Lagos just to see me. This was a month after he said he wanted to marry me.
Felix: I’m too old for games. I hadn’t given marriage a thought for so long, and I knew I wanted to do it for the right reason — companionship, not just someone to take care of the children. I came to see Geraldine and stayed for two weeks. A friend of hers hosted us, and I got the opportunity to fall in love with her again.
Geraldine: He still has the sense of humour I remember. Those two weeks helped us get reacquainted.
When did marriage happen?
Geraldine: My family and church members were understandably excited when they heard I’d be getting married. I didn’t even need to announce too much, people did the announcement for me — you’d think I was one celebrity. Some naysayers from my village even carried rumours that I was to be his second wife, not knowing he was a widower.
We travelled down to my village in December 2019 for the traditional rites and did the church wedding in March 2020 just before the lockdown. Then, I relocated to be with him in Port Harcourt.
How’s married life?
Felix: Honestly, it was rocky initially. My son was a bit disrespectful in the beginning. He schooled in a university here in Port Harcourt, while my daughter schooled in Lagos, so he lived with me. I guess he thought she was coming to take his place. I had to speak sense into him. He later chose to live with his friends.
Geraldine: I was worried I was coming between him and his children, but my husband wouldn’t hear it. Thankfully, I have a good relationship with my stepdaughter, and my stepson eventually came around.
It was also difficult to get used to being accountable to someone after living alone for so long. But it helps that he’s more experienced in marriage matters. We stay alone and basically live like friends. I enjoy his company, and I really enjoy being married to him.
What’s something being with each other has taught you both?
Felix: Companionship is even more important than whatever rules we attach to marriage. Maybe it’s because I’ve been single for a long time, but it doesn’t matter whether she cooks or I cook. Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed, and I want to enjoy every minute I have with the person I love.
Geraldine: Sometimes, waiting is good. I’m completely at peace, and we’re both old enough to overlook things that may have led to fights if we were younger.
How would you rate your love life on a scale of 1 to 10?
Felix: 10. I’ve been given a second chance at love, and I’m grateful.
Geraldine: 10. I’m happy. That’s all.