As told to Mariam
Last week, I asked women who have received marriage proposals to share what theirs was like — did they like it or not? I had a lot of entries but one stood out to me. Tomi* wasn’t sure if she had been proposed to or not because the first words her husband (at the time) said to her when they met were “I don’t like how your hair is uncovered as my wife”. She said she married him three months after that and if she were to try marriage again, she wouldn’t want a formal proposal. I asked what her marriage was like considering the unconventional proposal and our conversation led to this article.
Meeting my ex-husband, Tosin* was the most random thing.
It was 2008. He called my line and opened with, “Hi! Can I get to know you?” I asked how he got my number, but he couldn’t give me an answer, so I ended the call. He kept calling. Sometimes I would pick, and we would do the same dance — “How did you get my number?” “I don’t remember.” “Goodbye.” This went on for weeks.
One day, I was on leave and bored at home, so when he called, I didn’t hang up. We had a long conversation. We discovered we are from the same state and I went to secondary school with his siblings. That got me curious. I wanted to meet him.
I suggested we go out for drinks, but he said he wanted to come to my house instead. I refused and insisted on a public place. When he saw me, the first thing he said was, “I don’t like how your hair is uncovered as my future wife.”
I don’t remember what my response was, but I know we didn’t have drinks that day anymore. We had drinks two days later.
Some days later, I was at home when Tosin called that his mum would like to talk to me. I spoke to her, and shortly after, she sent me some gifts. I didn’t think much of it. One day, my dad asked when I was bringing my husband home. I said I didn’t know when, but I was talking to someone.
When I told him about Tosin, it turned out he and my mum already knew his family. My dad said I should invite him to the house. I did, and we had lunch with my dad. They talked. I was indifferent about the whole thing.
My leave ended and I went back to work, which was out of town. After a few weeks, I called my mum and there were drumming sounds in the background. I asked what was going on, and she said, “Your husband’s people came.” I was like, “Which husband? I never introduced anybody to you as my husband.” My dad said, “You shouldn’t have invited him for lunch if you didn’t want to marry him. They came with a letter, and we have responded. The next thing is to agree on a date for the solemnisation.”
I was 22 at the time. I had never actively thought about marriage before then, but I knew it was expected of me. It didn’t seem like a bad idea if it would get my parents off my back and possibly make them happy.
But you see, marriage was nothing like I expected it to be. First of all, I lost my freedom. I used to wear tiny dresses and skirts, but when I got married, I had to cover my hair. Even though I am a Muslim, I hated that shit. I loved travelling, but marriage meant I had to take permission for my trips. Sometimes, he would make me feel bad for even going at all. I had to give up everything that made me myself to be acceptable to everyone — my partner, my parents, my in-laws.
I think I was too young. Tosin was six years older than me. I didn’t centre my needs in making the decision to be married. If I had, I would have chosen better. Before I knew it, kids started coming into the equation. The first child was born in the first year, the second child was born in the third year and in the seventh year, we adopted the third. I think the kids made the ten years we spent married bearable. Tosin and I had nothing in common, but we were able to bond over caring for the children.
Tosin liked me as a person but hated me as a wife. We would have made good friends, but being married to him caused me pain. In the first year of our marriage, he started cheating.
Four weeks after I had our first child, I discovered he had gotten my best friend at the time pregnant. I saw the conversation on his phone. I confronted him, and he couldn’t deny it. He begged me to forgive him, and I did. We had only been married for about 11 months.
As time went on, I discovered that he would try to sleep with my housemaids, and when they did not agree, he would get abusive or send them away. This time, I threatened to leave him. He apologised and got our families involved. I gave him another chance to be better.
In the ninth year of our marriage, I went out of town for work one day, and while I was away, he tried to have sex with our maid again. When I came back, he had already sent her away. That was the final straw for me. There was no coming back from that. As if that wasn’t enough, I found out that he had been trying to sleep with my cousin and my younger sister. The worst part for me was his utter lack of remorse.
Our parents tried to mediate, but it was a done deal for me. I couldn’t look at him without swelling with rage. He left one day after I refused to let him touch me. He picked a few clothes and left. He came after a few days, said nothing to me, picked more clothes and left. After a couple of weeks, I got a place and moved with the kids.
I was not surprised that he did not try to reach me. I was wondering how we would have survived if we were actually dependent on him. The kids were exposed to some of the toxicity towards the end, but I am glad it did not affect them. I noticed that since we left, they are better at expressing themselves. My first son decided he wanted to grow his hair out and cut it in a specific way. His dad used to force a particular style on him. They choose their own clothes and style now. They are learning to make decisions that affect their daily lives. I think I am doing a great job.
He called after seven months. He said he was in town and would like to spend time with the kids for a few days. I told him they can visit, but they can’t sleepover. I gave him an address to meet us at. We didn’t say anything to each other; the kids just switched cars.
It’s been 15 months and I would like to finalise it in court, but I am not ready for that journey yet. I am just happy to have left. His presence sucked my joy. Now, I wear my hair however I like. I wear whatever makes me happy. I spend my time in places that give me joy. There is no pressure to do one thing or the other. So far, I have no regrets. I love my life the way it is.