HAPPILY EVER AFTER (I LEAVE YOU)
I’ll start off by saying this: marriage is a beautiful thing, but it’s not a prize. It’s not the tape you cut at the end of the race, the gold medal you receive after running into a man or woman’s arms. Marriage is not the ultimate accomplishment, and it certainly isn’t everything, or for everyone.
Ironically, I write this as a married woman, one who never even thought she would get hitched in the first place – or imagined she could ever be this committed, and this happy, married. I also write this after participating in several discussions about life, relationships, marriage and kids with my 30-something-year-old friends, and as a woman who thinks we need to talk about this.
Marriage is a blessing, yes. But it’s not the only blessing that God has in store for women of a certain age. Marriage should not be the one thing that our mothers and aunties pray we’ll get, when we’re old enough to see that many of them are terribly unhappy in theirs.
A few months ago, I met a lady – let’s call her Liv – at a flea market. She’d won a giveaway I’d had the pleasure of partnering with Asenka Community Market on. Liv sent me a message telling me she had just gotten out of an abusive marriage and was rebuilding her life from scratch, and could use a little pick-me-up.
I’m a nosy cow, so I wanted to know a little more, and she told me. This is her story. In her words (mostly).
“I’m an introvert, I’m very quiet, and looking back now, I see that I grew up in a dysfunctional family. My parents barely spoke, my dad was violent, and my mom took everything dad dished out.
I was never comfortable around my dad, always hiding in my room whenever he was around. He didn’t seem comfortable around me either, so we barely spoke. I was in a boarding school and during the holidays, I’d go to my aunt’s place because I didn’t want to go home.
I ended up marrying my first boyfriend. We were in the same primary school and university, and in uni we both dated other people briefly before getting back together. It was more of a rebound than getting back together really. I was fresh out of a relationship, and he was familiar.
I got pregnant from that rebound. Almost immediately we found out, we did the traditional ceremonies, started living together, and in about nine months, I’d gone from being an (almost) carefree single chick to having a baby, and being a wife.
From the beginning, my mother-in-law was very controlling. And my husband (let’s call him David) was not what I thought he’d be. Had there been red flags? Yes. He was always chatting with other women, always had many girls around him. My friends in campus had warned me, but I believed things would change once we “settled down” together. That didn’t happen, and I got insecure.
David started traveling a lot, and I noticed something was different, so I started going through his phone. That’s how I discovered he was having several affairs. I confronted him. He turned it around and made his cheating my fault. Mine!
The funny thing is, I was so insecure that I accepted it. I didn’t have it in me to see that I wasn’t the problem. This made me even more insecure. I questioned my appearance, lost my confidence and became this woman with low self-esteem.
When our son turned two. I decided I wanted a church wedding. As crazy as it seems, I still thought I could change him. Even on the day of our wedding, I knew he was still having an affair. But I thought I could make things right. I tried to become the woman I thought he wanted me to be, the woman who could make him happy. I began to lose myself trying to keep this man happy, trying to save our relationship and hold our little family together.
But nothing I did for him was enough.
So I tried to do things for me. I’ve always loved fashion, so I would buy clothes and hide them from him, and only wear them when he travelled.
I wanted to leave my marriage, but I wondered what people would say. Desperate, I decided to attempt to save our marriage, to save us. I turned to the church. I prayed for him, for me, for us. I fasted, I asked for marriage advice from people I trusted in church. I was told to give him more sex; that that’s what all men wanted at the end of the day.
I even asked my mother, the woman who had endured the unhappiest of marriages, what to do. She told me to stay. That as long as he wasn’t beating me, I should stay. My mother-in-law, the woman who had never accepted me to begin with, told me to chill, to vumilia, because “our men are like this.” I should mention that we’re not from the sam tribe – not that it should even matter.
For a very long time, I felt alone.
I was planning to leave in 2015. And it’s crazy to say this now, but around the same time, which was about five or six years into my marriage, I decided that maybe I could give it one more shot.
My magic potion was going to be a baby. I hoped that another child would make him settle down. I got pregnant, had the baby – a girl – and nothing changed. Now I had two children and a cheating husband.
That’s when I realised that nothing I did would ever please him. You know, people mess up. We’re human. But this man never confessed to his affairs, or apologised. Everything was everybody else’s fault but his. It was peer pressure, friends, or the way he was raised. It was never him.
I was so unhappy, I became suicidal. I would sit and ask myself: what is life anyway? That was my lowest point, and it was also my wake-up call. I needed to get out for my babies’ sake. I didn’t want my son to grow up thinking that the way his father behaved was the norm. I also wanted to break the cycle of abuse for my children, for my son to know how to treat a woman, and my daughter to know how a man should treat her.
Around the same time, I got close with a male friend. It was purely platonic, but it felt good. When David found out and realised that I was checking out of our relationship, he began saying we needed to work on our marriage; that he had noticed we had been drifting apart.
I was excited. I told my friend that I needed to focus on my marriage. He respected that. One day, my husband saw me with this friend. He didn’t say anything, but by the time I got home, I had been locked out of the house. I couldn’t even talk to my kids.
I needed to talk to somebody, so I went to my aunt’s place to tell her what was happening. My uncle tried to talk to him, but nothing. I went home the next morning to find all my stuff thrown out. To top that, my husband had taken the kids with him to shagz.
I got into a matatu and followed him there. David agreed to meet me when I got there. He said he knew we’d been having problems, and we needed to get our parents involved. His mom insisted that I needed to go back with my parents, as dictated by their culture.
That meeting was a disaster, but a small part of me still thought that we could work it out if we tried marital counselling.
You know what I learned? That the church wants you to stay together at all costs. The more we went for our sessions, the more I realised that he was using the church to manipulate me into staying with him. The counsellor was mean. I was even abused, asked whether I was on drugs, whether I’d been sleeping around.
That’s when I knew I didn’t want to try any more; I needed to get out. I told David I wanted out. Again, he blamed his behaviour on everything and everyone else – anything by himself.
I moved out early this year.
We’re now co-parenting. The kids stay with me during the week, and spend weekends with their dad.
My biggest regret is thinking I could change this man. I regret ignoring all the red flags, and they were many. I thought that if I loved him enough, that if I changed into who he wanted me to be, that he would become the man I wanted him to.
But I learned a lot over those nine years. My biggest lesson? Know yourself before you get into a relationship. Know who you are, what you’re about, what makes you tick, what you will and will not take. Understand your value as a woman. A man who truly loves you will not ask you to change to fit him; he won’t use your weaknesses against you. If a man is weak, he will use your struggles against you, to make himself feel better.
To some extent, I blame my upbringing for how my relationship turned out. I had no idea how to approach relationships, what they were about. The most my mom did to explain womanhood to me was buy me pads when my period started, and tell me not to play with boys. That’s it. But I don’t blame her. She was in a forced marriage; she was literally kidnapped and taken to a man and told he would be her husband. My father was not ready to be a husband, so they stayed together in a loveless marriage.
You know what, if I had the chance to do things over, I wouldn’t get into that relationship when I did. I came into it with a lot of baggage. I should have taken time to heal, to find myself, to understand myself. I definitely shouldn’t have gotten married because I was pregnant.
But I’m enjoying life again. I enjoy not having to walk on eggshells, not second-guessing myself. I get to spend time with my kids and be in a good mood. We’re having more fun now, and the kids laugh more than they used to. I love that I have the freedom to be myself in every way; that I get to live without worrying about whether or not I’m annoying someone.
As for David and I, up until recently, we were barely speaking, even though we were co-parenting. But my relationship with him is changing, we are civil to each other. That’s how I know that I am finally healing.
We’ve explained to our son that even though we’re not together any more, we still love him and his sister, and that none of this is his fault. Sometimes he asks questions, like what happened, and how old he’ll be when he can understand it all, but he’s accepting it. He’s back to being a jovial kid, and his performance in school has improved.
Those conversations are hard, and I understand why women stay in unhappy marriages for their kids. But I know now that staying in such a toxic relationship could do more harm to the kids in the long term.
Would I ever get back with David? No. I give my all in a relationship, but when my patience runs out, it’s over.
Would I get married again? Definitely. I still believe in marriage. I pray for a man who will love me, be a good role model for my kids, and love them as his own. I haven’t met this man yet, but I’m going out, I host friends, go for movies and shop freely, and I love it!
I feel like I need to say this: I’m not telling people not to get married. For every marriage that didn’t work out, I’m sure there’s another that’s working out perfectly. I’m simply saying that the title – wife or husband – is not everything.
If you’ve been on the receiving end of “You’ve come alone, again?” at every family function, I say you shouldn’t be afraid to tell those who keep asking that you have other things going for you. Or to ask them in the nicest way possible to mind their own damn business. We need to get out of this mindset that many of our moms and aunties have. That you’re better off married and unhappy than you are being single and happy. Being single is not a disease.
That said, if your prayer for 2019 is to find a husband or wife – and I know those prayers will be whispered fervently at Christmas and New Year’s Eve masses, or drunkenly at Mercury – I pray that you’ll find a good one. One who doesn’t turn you into content for a blog post like this.