Seven years of dating turned into a 16-month engagement which turned into a 14-month marriage which ended after a two-month separation period. That is the story of my relationship — and it sucks.
My ex-husband and I met through mutual friends in the park and it was love at first sight… for him. It took two more calculated meetups (on his part) for me to even pay attention to him, and when I did, I gave him my phone number because I was attracted to the goofy yet brazen way he solicited it from me.
I was heading home from a house party at our mutual friend’s place and pulled out my phone to call my mom to pick me up. As I stood in the doorway preparing to dial her number, I heard from the corner numbers being whispered to me. When I turned around, there he was standing off to the side, smiling.
“What did you say?” I asked, and he repeated the number. I laughed at how brazen he was, and how he continued on with, “you know, just in case you wanted to chat.” I rolled my eyes, but entertained him and saved the number in my phone. My mom picked me up and as we drove off, I texted him, “My name is Afiya, btw.”
Text messages progressed into late-night phone calls (in a time when free minutes existed only after 7 PM), and for the first time in a long time, I was being chased — not the other way around. Despite being almost ten years my senior, he was able to fit right in with me and my 20-something circle at the time by getting our often sarcastic jokes, sharing similar pop culture interests, and not shying away from the occasional hang or night out at the club.
He “courted” me like a gentleman for the first two months or so by visiting me at my mother’s home on a weekly basis, and in spite of my mother’s indifference to him, I wanted to see where things went. We’d sit on her couch, hold hands, and sneak cuddles and kisses. It was fun, aside from the occasional side-eye from my mom who’d shout that we were sitting “too close.”
After about three months of dating, we solidified our coupledom by creating a contract of six terms, which included a breakdown of how we’d tackle jealousy, build trust, pay for expenses incurred in the relationship, and suitable nicknames we would call each other. Once it was drafted, we both signed and, finally, I was someone’s girlfriend — something I’d never been before. I was usually a girl someone “liked” or “had feelings for” or fooled around with, but now my long-awaited wish to be a “girlfriend” came true.
Hearing him address me as his “girlfriend” felt weird because it wasn’t something I was used to, but it was great. I was happy about it, though I was admittedly nervous because I knew things would eventually escalate in the physical intimacy department.
While not completely inexperienced, I was a 20-year-old virgin, who was propositioned at 16 to remain as such ‘til my 18th birthday for a hefty sum. I accepted the proposition and bided my time by watching Talk Sex with Sue Johanson and reading Cosmo to prepare me for the real deal. After I turned 18, I had a chunk of change, but no one I loved to be my first so I eventually stopped thinking about losing my virginity. Now, I was with someone who made it apparent he wanted to have sex during our intimate moments and I was expected to do so as a “girlfriend.” I wasn’t as emotionally invested as I’d wanted to be for a moment like that, but I liked him a lot, so I resolved myself to doing it.
We tried to have intercourse twice, but failed. He wanted to make my first time a wonderful experience with mood lighting and music. Instead, he became so anxious, he couldn't keep his erection. Making it even more awkward (and annoying) was him repeating, “we don’t have to if we don’t want to,” with his naked body hovering over me. We took a break from trying, and as luck would have it, we consummated our romance physically on the third try.
The sex, which was good, became a staple in our time together. It was fun to be, as my gynecologist called it, “sexually active” and experiment with our limits, but I could tell he enjoyed us having sex more than me, and that bothered me. It was something he’d suggest whenever I visited his place or after each dinner or on the way home from the movies. For me, sex was supposed to be a byproduct of our emotional bond, but it appeared to be the main way he bonded with me. It was his bridge to the emotional aspect of our relationship and this was uncomfortable for me, as I’d never needed a sexual relationship to connect with a person before. Looking back, I realize we didn’t know how to communicate with each other and I put my discomfort aside for the sake of our relationship. He was kind, goofy, and nerdy — all I could want in a man. But this point of contention stayed with us, as well as my unwavering ability (from childhood) to compromise.
In the six years that followed, we dated, broke up, and then got back together again mostly due to my battle for independence from my Caribbean mother who thought it wasn’t “right” for an unmarried woman to spend nights at her boyfriend’s home. He wanted me to defy her and I couldn’t, so we’d split. During our yearlong breakup (our longest ever), I tried to date other men, but was unsuccessful. I messed around with a couple guys, mostly kissing and flirting, but nothing serious came of it. He came back into my life during a time when I was seeing someone I liked, but had no time for me. My ex showered me with all the attention I wasn’t getting, so we got back together. In turn, I put my foot down with my mom and started spending nights at his apartment (a cheap, shabby place I didn’t care for but was good enough for a bachelor). We took our first vacation together to Niagara falls, where he proposed. A year later, in front of friends and baby-fevered relatives, we were married in the Fall of 2015.
The wedding was a tiring experience as weddings in my West Indian house meant letting my mother handle everything from my wedding colors to baking the traditional black (rum) cake. However, my would-be groom wasn’t a fan of that and so I was caught in the middle of the two, doing my best to compromise, while wanting the wedding to reflect who I was as an individual.
My mother made it painstakingly clear she didn’t like my dress, any of my ideas on the decor, the menu, and even my guest list. She wanted to dictate the menu, cook everything, suggest the color scheme. Meanwhile, my ex privately shut down every idea she had and even threw a tantrum about the rum cake (as he does not consume alcohol) — even if to be given as a favor. I just wanted to survive.
Ultimately, some compromises were made (my mom made the appetizers and the groom got a carrot cake), and I lived through it. The next day, I was left with the realization I had to leave my family home to move in with a man whose place I’d only ever been in during weekend rendezvous and after-work pit stops. I was to live where my husband didn’t clean, cook, or care to make his place a “home.” But since I had to live there, I felt compelled to make up for what he lacked and create a routine for our lives. His contribution? Insisting our married life included lots of sex (a note our pastor had for us during our pre-wedding counseling).
His lack of interest in being a husband (or the husband I needed) started to weigh on me. When I’d argue about his apathy towards creating a home, he’d point the finger at our barely-existing sex life. Sometimes, we wouldn’t speak to each other for days, and I grew to resent his inability to bend when I’d compromised so much. To ease the tension, I resorted to doing the usual thing I did which was to give in to his desires. With heavy breathing, arms entwined, and a climax-induced sleep, he thought things were better. Meanwhile, I cried myself to sleep feeling things would only get worse — which it did.
It started as we prepared to move into an apartment my family owned. His disdain for being there was clear, and his carelessness continued. We talked less, and I stopped having sex to keep the peace. He grew distant and cold, so in search of warmth, I reached out to men whose friendships I silenced because of my husband’s dislike. It was a bargain I brokered for the ring on my finger. He eventually found out I’d resumed chatting with these people and demanded I end it to save our marriage. I’d grown tired of the one-sided accommodations and had a command of my own — be a better husband. Soon, a glacier grew between us and unbeknownst to our relatives and friends, we sought couples therapy to melt the ice.
For three months, we extracted the venom poisoning our marriage, shooting barbs at each other and attempting to talk them through in counseling, but the infection had run its course. In the almost ten years we were together, I had grown from an overly compromising girlfriend into a wife seeking fairness. He, however, remained the same boyfriend used to getting his way.
I started going to therapy on my own to reconcile what I knew during our couples’ sessions: I didn’t want to be married anymore — at least, not in a marriage where I felt I was giving everything, and receiving very little in return. I couldn’t say the words in our joint sessions, but on my own, I felt I outgrew our relationship.
I showed up early to our final session and told the counselor I was done with the marriage but couldn’t tell him. I didn’t want to compromise myself or my body anymore. When he came in, he said he wanted out as well and was ready to start the paperwork. My mom urged me to be the one to file first, but I didn’t. A final kindness, I guess, to let him have the narrative of “us”. I didn’t care, as I was ready to start a new narrative on my own.
Picking up the pieces following the divorce was mixed. I moved into the family-owned apartment meant for “us” by myself, providing me with the opportunity to live on my own for the first time in my life (albeit one story above my mom). The meals I cooked were for me and me alone, I didn’t have to nag about the cleaning, I painted the walls in colors I liked for my space, and bought furniture that spoke to my sensibilities (and wallet). I called the shots and it was pretty liberating… and also pretty lonely.
I continued therapy on my own to get a better understanding of who I was. I understood those stinging moments were not because I missed him, rather missed having someone to be my person. It was self-reflective and questioned what having my own person meant for me, which then led me to question what my wants and needs were. I gave myself permission to grow and create boundaries, which not only benefit me as an individual, but makes for healthier relationships.
Currently, I’m working on being more vocal with not only romantic partners, but with people in my professional and personal life as a whole. I’m expressing my wants and needs, my right to my feelings, and rebuking any guilt for having them. I even share my thoughts and feelings and navigate my adult life in my podcast called, “Adult-ish”!
Of course, it’s still a work in progress, but I’m getting better at being alone versus feeling lonely. I’ll admit, I slip back into habits here and there, but I found my voice, which was hard for me in the past. I learned that I could compromise without compromising who I am.