Navigating life as a woman in the world today is interesting. From Nigeria to Timbuktu, it’ll amaze you how similar all our experiences are. Every Wednesday, women the world over will share their experiences on everything from sex to politics right here. This is Zikoko’s What She Said.
The subject of this week’s What She Said is a 31-year-old Nigerian Muslim woman who got married at 23. She talks about realising she should have waited, getting a job years later and finally settling into her marriage.
How did it start?
I’d just finished my master’s, and I’d met a guy.
We had been talking for two years, and we were friends. One thing that keeps me going is that no one told me I had to get married, not even my parents. I wasn’t ready for it and didn’t know what I was getting into.
I should have been independent for a while. Looking back, I needed at least two years to figure out myself after my master’s. Getting a nice job, fending for myself would probably have taught me lessons I struggled with along the way.
So why did you get married?
For people like me, a lot of us were not educated on marriage, so it was an “if not, why not?” decision. What I thought would happen was, once I got married, I wouldn’t answer to my mum and dad anymore, I’d get a job, and life would just happen. I thought marriage was IT.
I got pregnant a month after I got married, and that did not help matters. I didn’t know what to expect. There’s no perfect partner, relationship or marriage, but there are some things that, if I was told to expect, would have made marriage easier for me. I tell people now that marriage can be sweet. For me, It was the foundation. It was not strong.
What are some things you’d have preferred you knew beforehand?
That marriage is a different ball game. I had so many responsibilities. There was someone expecting me to care for them, and I wasn’t even done caring for myself.
Tell me about the foundation.
Let me start from earlier. I had dated guys but there was always a religion barrier for me. I sort of knew that I could not take a Christian partner to my parents. There was also this cultural thing about wanting to marry from your tribe. Parents are more comfortable with that. When I dated a Muslim from Ibadan, no one told me to not marry him, but I was sure no one took our relationship seriously.
In my service year, I had an aunt who was introducing me to different guys, and she introduced my husband to me. When she sent his picture, I wasn’t impressed. We started chatting anyway, and I found him interesting. He made me laugh. We would chat and chat and chat. He was 31.
One day, a few months later, he said he going to Kwara State and I went, “Oh, I’m from Ilorin.” Then he mentioned it’s my family compound he was going to.
Knowing about his background made me more interested in him, and now, our families were involved. After that, he told me he wasn’t looking for a relationship; he was looking for a girl he could marry. I was like, finally, a Muslim guy from my town.
And then, marriage.
Yes. It’s possible if I had a year before getting pregnant, I would have gotten a job and we would have been able to live together without having to deal with hormones and stress and thinking.
If I could go back in time, I probably would have married someone who was like two years older than me. There were some conversations we’d have that used to annoy me. If I wanted to express myself, he’d think I’m arguing. He’d say, “Why are you arguing? I can be your brother; I can be your uncle.” And I’m like, “No, you can’t be. You’re my husband.”
Thankfully, we were friends, so even if we were fighting, we’d still check on each other.
Has this changed?
Yes. My marriage is good now because I said to myself, I’m not going to endure what I can enjoy. If I can’t enjoy it, I’d rather move on. There was a time where it felt like we were complete strangers. We were like housemates. Then it got to a certain point that I was like, “What am I doing?”
How did you get to this point?
For five years, I routinely took my child to school and just stayed in the house. I didn’t work because I tried when I got married, but it wasn’t forthcoming, then pregnancy happened. I also didn’t have goals or plans set out. It was a conversation I didn’t even have with my husband before we got married. Till date, my husband can say, “I didn’t stop my wife from working”, but I sensed he didn’t want me to. He wanted an educated housewife. One time when I was looking for a job, I suggested going to NTA to get an internship — I studied mass communication — and he said he never knew I wanted to take my journalism seriously.
I got desperate after my second child. We were fighting more, and I wanted more for myself. I started a fresh juice business, but that wasn’t enough.
After my second daughter, I asked myself, “What next?” I had been home for five years, no job, just kids screaming for me. I searched and got a job.
What changed was I realised that my husband had been my only friend. If you checked my call log you’d see Mama or Brother. I wasn’t experiencing other people. And the job fixed this. I’d come back home, and we would have conversations that were not just about us anymore. He also started respecting me.
I think he sees me these days, and he’s proud. The other day I was speaking with the MD of a popular restaurant, and I could see his respect.
The lockdown also gave us an opportunity to speak and thrash things out. We bonded, and that was when I told myself I would work at my marriage or leave.
I realised that he was also going through stuff, so I took a step back. I asked myself, “What are you doing that is not making him happy.”
He just wanted me to be there, but I was not happy with myself and I couldn’t be. And because he was going outside, it was easier for him to free himself off me with friends and work.
I would say, right now, I’ve grown to understand him better. Men never accept they’re wrong, and that’s a way to manage them. I’d give an example. When we got married, I always wanted to contest what he was saying. So if he says, you can’t take the kids here, I’d fight. Now, I don’t ask, I just do it. And we talk about it after.
If I had known these things earlier, I’d have had a blissful marriage.