Tag Archives: single

Happily Ever After: a Disney concept or reality?

I am a huge Disney fan. My late grandmother Mamie introduced Disney to both my sister and I early. Every time she travelled abroad, she would return to Yola bearing delicious large variety boxes of chocolate and Disney Videos. She would watch the animation movies with us and being an adult, she got some of the more subtle humour and would chuckle away to herself. For us, it was about the songs and the princesses, about the girl finding her prince against all odds and getting that happily ever after. My sister and I knew all the songs and when we drew pictures, it was always of the beautiful Disney princesses with their tiny waists, long hair and dainty feet. It is not hard to see why I wholly believed then that every little girl would grow into a beauty, find her soul mate, fall in love and live happily ever after with lots of happy children. To make it worse, I was also an avid reader and there was nothing I loved more than fairy tales, all with their happily-ever-afters and when I became a teenager, I read numerous paperback romances.

Unfortunately for me, reality intruded at some point during adolescence. I was witness to women who had been beaten by their husbands, those who were practically enslaved and could not leave their homes on their husband’s say so and those who were in forced marriages, mostly young girls like me. I went from thinking that every little girl was destined to be happy to believing it was all a fairy tale and that there was no such thing as a happy relationship between a man and a woman. I still believed in romance but I believed that romance didn’t tend to last beyond the ‘honeymoon’ period of a relationship. I also learnt about the widespread deceit being enacted by adults who seemed blissfully happy in their marriages.

I could not find any aunties who could say to me that their marriages were truly happy. Even those who at face-value were living a fairy tale. I found out that many came to be content with their lot having gone through a lot of heartache and choosing to put up with the husband they got as opposed to looking for Mr Right. Most had considered leaving their marriages but on balance thought the security of a marriage outweighed their hurt and betrayal. Many had been cheated on, more than once. A good proportion were the main breadwinners in their household yet were still treated as secondary to their husband. They took the lion share of responsibility, financially and socially. They fed and clothed their children, they made sure the children attended school and did their homework. They sent the children to Quranic School and made sure they learnt to say their prayers and how to fast when the time came. They were the nurturers and disciplinarians. They did it all for little appreciation in many cases.

Unsurprising, I was quite cynical when it came to love. I had very few relationships that lasted longer than a flirtation over a week or maybe one date. Before I met my husband, I had two ‘significant’ boyfriends. I think it is pretty telling that both of those are guys I met on holiday and only gave them a chance because I was on holiday and in the mood to have some fun. The first one lasted about 7 months but the last 2 months wasn’t really a relationship. The second lasted about a year and I really did consider a real relationship with him but I had my rational hat on throughout and I could see how bad he would be as a potential life mate. It was clear to me that we were not in the same place in our lives so I broke it off, difficult though it was.

I was single for 4 years before I met George. By the time I met him, I was happy being single. Loving my space and the freedom to do what I wanted when I wanted, unlike many of my friends. I was happily alone and not at all lonely. The only thing missing in my life was children – I had always been sure that I would one day be a mother. I even had a plan for that. I wanted to take a year out to see the world then come home and work on my career for a few years. Then when I was comfortable, I would find myself a gay bestie who wanted children without the ties of a relationship and we would have a couple of children raised in harmony. Plan B was to go to a sperm bank and find myself some quality swimmers. The only concern I had was explaining to my extended family back in Nigeria who the father of my children was.

Of course, best laid plans and all. I was making plans and God had plans for me. Just before my year of travel, I met George and I was suddenly in a real relationship. George says he knew within a few days he wanted to marry me. It took me a little longer to be sure but I was pretty sure within 3 months that this was the man I would risk getting my heart broken for. We have been together for over 4 years now. We have, like everyone else, had some ups and downs. Some of the best times in my life have been in the past 4 years. Some of my worst too. Some of them because of the relationship, a good proportion nothing to do with personal life but for which I was glad I had George to lean on. I have grown up and learnt a lot about myself. I have found that I have infinite patience I could have sworn I didn’t possess. I am capable of much love despite hardship. I am capable of trusting a man. I still can get really angry but yet my capacity for forgiveness has grown immensely.

Question is: does happily ever after exist? I don’t have an answer. I wish I did. I know there are couples out there who give me hope. My grandmother and grandfather were not a perfect couple. I know Mamie (my grandmother) had to put up with a lot through the years and her patience had to have been great but I also know that Baba (my grandad) loved her and that she knew he did. He never forgot her birthday or their anniversary. He never passed on a chance to show her off. He loves all of his grandchildren lots but he has a special spot for the 3 of us named Aisha, after my grandmother. When she died, it was clear he was lost without her. She died just before their 50th wedding anniversary. He went into deep mourning and we were all worried for the first year after that he would self-destruct. He couldn’t bring himself to mention her name or talk about her for many months. When the raw wound finally began to heal, he would mention her with reverence and such love that it made me well up. Theirs was definitely a till death do us part affair. I cannot attest to how happy they were but I like to think it was happily ever after, at least for Mamie who died secure in her husband’s love.

As a relative newly-wed, of course I want to believe it will be a happily ever after affair. I only agreed to say I do because I had hope that it would be forever. No one goes into a marriage wanting it to fail. However, the facts speak for themselves a bit here. These are from the Marriage Foundation and the Office of National Statistics:

‘The Social Justice Outcomes Framework reports that 45% of children already see their parents separate. Unless trends change dramatically, nearly half of all children born today will not still be living with both natural parents on their sixteenth birthday.’

‘34% of marriages are expected to end in divorce by the 20th wedding anniversary.’

‘There were 241,000 marriages in 2010, near a 100 year low. Cohabitation rose from 2.1 million couples in 2001 to 2.9 million in 2010.’ Maybe because divorce rates are so high, people are opting more and more not to say I do?

There is a lot of good news though:

‘Those who marry have a far greater chance of survival as a couple than those who cohabit. 93% of parents who are still together when their children complete their GCSEs are married.’ In other words, couples that choose to marry as opposed to just living together are much more likely to stay together, have children and watch them grow to the age of 16 or older.

60% of marriages are expected to survive to the 20th anniversary.’ Isn’t that an amazing statistic?

‘16% of marriages reach the 60th wedding anniversary’ and ‘the average marriage is expected to last for 32 years.’ I think those are awesome stats, don’t you?

‘Among natural parents, 31% of those couples who were cohabiting at nine months had separated when the children were seven compared to only 12% of married parents.’ Meaning that married parents are nearly 3 times as likely to stay together for 7 years or more compared to those just living together.

‘Cohabiting couples make up only 19% of parents but account for half of all family breakdown.’ In other words, married couples tend to stay together more than couples who have chosen just to live together.

I will end with this quote:

‘Quite clearly getting married does make a difference to your life chances and your children’s outcomes.’ It has been shown to be socially advantageous. Married people are more likely to be happy than their co-habiting or single or divorced counterparts, despite the shocking divorce statistics. So let us look beyond those stats and go into marriage putting our best foot forward. Sure it is hard work but we all know that anything worth doing is worth doing well. So I remain a realistic optimist. I will work hard at my marriage and I will pray for my happily ever after. I think I deserve it.

Woman in Bloom

I love that term: in bloom. Normally I would use it when talking about beautiful spring flowers but this time, I am talking about myself. This was my 23rd year of life. I was in the penultimate year of medical school and to be honest, I didn’t particularly feel ‘in bloom’. That year, I had moved into my uncle’s house to save money on rent so that I could pay for my elective in Malaysia. My sister had quit her job in Lincoln and moved down to Birmingham to look for a job after graduation. It was during the economic crisis so jobs were hard to come by and money was tight generally. I had been single 2 years at this stage (I won’t count one date and a lot of light flirting the year before). I had a great 2 months in Malaysia and Thailand then flew straight home to Nigeria afterwards.

I think it may have been something in the Malay/Thai food, water or air. It didn’t take a long time after I got to Nigeria for the first proposal. In fact, I wasn’t even in Nigeria yet. I was on the plane to Lagos. My first flight on Virgin Nigeria. I was pleased that after the disastrous end of Nigerian Airways, here was a semi-Nigerian option. All of the flight staff except 1 pilot were Nigerian. My section in economy was served by 2 strapping Nigerian young men. I remember thinking ‘wow, I wouldn’t have thought this was the obvious career choice for these 2’. But there they were and they seemed very happy in their job. Polite and friendly, 2 qualities that are not in abundant supply when it comes to the Nigerian Service Industry. One of the stewards waited until after the inboard meal was served and cleared away to come and sit in the empty seat by me. I noticed of course and I reluctantly removed my nose from the book it was buried in. He started with chitchat (which made me cringe in those days) then went straight into compliments and then ended with saying that he was interested in a ‘serious relationship’ and slipping me a piece of paper with his details. I took it with a murmur of appreciation, tucked it into book and promptly tried to forget whilst ignoring the knowing looks from the passengers listening intently.

Next, I went to Kano City with my sister and her boyfriend (let’s call him Ahmed). We were all invited to dinner with an aunty and uncle. Ahmed’s friend, who we had known for 5 years, decided he wanted to come say hi at dinner and popped in unannounced. Ahmed must have told him where we were, not imagining he would turn up uninvited. He (who I will call Hassan) was a twin, the extroverted ladies’ man in comparison to his less confident twin. He was very charming and always had us in stitches with his funny anecdotes. He seemed to come across the funniest people and situations so his tales of everyday life would keep us all entertained every time we hung out with him. Hassan was Ahmed’s age, 11 years older than I was. So he always treated me with fondness like Ahmed did. As a little sister I thought. My uncle and aunty were gracious and insisted he joined us for dinner. He didn’t need inviting twice. He sat next to me and did what he did best, entertained us. We were all in stitches. Then, unexpectedly he turned to me and announced that he wanted to marry me. In front of my aunty and uncle!!! I was mortified. As a Fulani girl, that is probably as embarrassing as being seen naked by my uncle and aunty. Thank God for brown skin because I would have been beetroot red had I been fairer skinned. I tried to laugh it off but he was persistent and oblivious to my discomfort. My uncle and aunty were good sports and pretended this was an everyday occurrence. My sister smirked at me and appeared to be entertained. When it became really uncomfortable for me, I pretended I needed the loo and left the table. I stood outside to cool off and was wondering how long I could politely be away for when Hassan found me. He launched into why it would be an ideal marriage and how beautiful our children would be. Really? After a few polite ‘No’s’ I fell back on a lie. I announced that actually, it would never work because I had a boyfriend back in England who I loved dearly. Give the guy an A for persistence. It didn’t faze him one bit. He reckoned that if I gave him a chance, I would come to realise that he was a better match for me than my fictional boyfriend. Everyone who knows me knows I am a terrible liar. I was starting to crack when Ahmed came to my rescue. He draped a protective arm around me. Hassan immediately looked for support from him. He asked Ahmed ‘is it true she is in love with a guy in England?’ Without blinking, Ahmed say ‘yes’. It was said so matter-of-factly that Hassan bought it and backed off. I clearly don’t lie convincingly. I could have kissed Ahmed in that moment. I was very impressed!

Still in Kano, the very next day in fact, I got another marriage proposal. This time from another unlikely source. I was visiting an aunty who happened to be a judge. This means that she gets state security in the form of policemen on patrol at her house. I walked a friend to the gate of the house and when I turned around to go back in, there he was. I instinctively stepped back and with a quick greeting, tried to go around him. ‘Hold on’ he says in Hausa. ‘Can I ask you something?’ Basically, I seemed like a ‘nice girl’ and he would like to marry me. As he was on duty and shouldn’t have been trying to pick up girls, I didn’t hesitate to say no thank you and leave.

Next, I went to Kaduna to visit the aunties and uncles there. I had made no arrangements to get back to Abuja and was just going to hop into a public car the next day. My cousin and I were hanging out with her then boyfriend and his friend. She brought up the topic and the friend ‘Omar’ said actually I have to go to Abuja to meet with a client so I could give you a lift. My cousin and I went with him and he dropped us off. He was friendly and a great talker so naturally I got on with him and thought we were just mates. Until he said he was considering breaking up with his fiancée to be with me. Whaaaat?! 1. He had a fiancée and 2. He was in love with me. I was shocked. I was firm in my refusal. My feelings were definitely friendship and no more.

Finally, I was in Yola with my family and thought the craziness would have to stop because no Yola boy had ever approached me before (discounting the one at 13, less said about him the better). Wrong again. As I tend to be, I was my mama’s constant companion during the Yola trip and we went to visit one of her work colleagues. He was brilliant. Probably about 10 years older than me but he was well-educated, well-spoken and had achieved so much at his age. I was impressed that here was a Fulani man I could potentially get on with on many levels. But that was where it stopped. I admired him but didn’t even consider I could fancy him because he was my mama’s (young) friend. He told my mama he wanted to marry me. ‘Crazy man!’ she said. He was already married with a child on the way. Why would her baby want to be any man’s seconds?

I remember looking in the mirror and studying myself. I wasn’t any different from the previous year. I had no more curves than the year before. I was still too skinny for my liking. My hair was its normal self. I wasn’t dressing to impress. I wasn’t on the hunt for a man. I was happily single. So the only conclusion I could draw was that maybe I was in bloom and I couldn’t appreciate it. Whatever it was, it certainly was a major ego boost for a girl who looked in the mirror and saw skinny instead of slim, gawky instead of elegant, cute instead of beautiful. What an amazing summer!