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DISCLAIMER: In this series, we will be covering stories on Toxic and abusive relationships. This may be a triggering topic for some. This particular story mentions instances of emotional abuse and financial abuse. Kindly remember to be mindful of your mental well-being and that of others when reading and sharing this story.
What attracted me to Mr X, and it was really wrong, was that I saw him as a person who was spending ridiculous amounts of money on me. I was in uni, and here was this person who’d send me money and give me bundles of cash.
When the relationship got a bit more intense, I noticed that I wasn’t allowed to make my own money. I was working as a makeup artist and took up transcribing as a side hustle as well in that break between uni and figuring out what you are going to do with the rest of my life. I was fortunate enough with the transcribing. I was making around Ksh 8000 to Ksh 10,000; that’s a lot of money for someone who’s just finished uni. Mr X would look down on the money I was making from transcribing because it was not as much as the money he’d make in whatever he was doing. He would find a way to sweet talk and manipulate me into giving it to him, or we would just squander it and completely use it.
I learnt a lesson the hard way. I once told him how I usually save Kenya shillings 10,000 on M-Shwari in case of emergencies. Somehow, he manipulated me and got me to use that Ksh 10,000 on going out and entertaining people, so my savings went just like that. I was now completely at his mercy.
We moved in together in an unconventional manner, and the rent was Ksh 60,000. I couldn’t afford that, so the pressure was endless. Mr X would say, “You can make 1000 shillings every day, and at the end of the month, we split the rent by 30,000 shillings each.” At the time, I was a brand ambassador for a brand based in the UK. What I got from them were makeup products. Of course, I wasn’t able to pay the rent. Having makeup products wasn’t equivalent to making money. I didn’t have a say financially at all.
Even when it came to eating, he had a really strict diet he had to follow, where he could only eat plant-based foods. His diet was bordering on vegetarianism and veganism. His metabolism was different from mine. I needed to pack up on proteins – drink milk, eat eggs, eat meat – stuff like that. But he controlled my diet as well. I had a kabambe, I couldn’t even use it to contact my friends. That kabambe had a certain amount of cash that was dedicated strictly to food, and it had to be a vegetarian/vegan diet. I wasn’t allowed to buy milk or meat or anything. Finances were controlled to the point of what I ate.
I couldn’t even go out with my friends. I missed a trip with my friend group post-university because Mr X would talk down to me and tell me I needed to learn how to “use money properly.” He wanted to control how I go out and interact with people. Even when I met up with my mum for lunch, I’d have to ask for fare.
I found ways to hide money. If my mum ever sent me money, I had to hide it. When I look back at it, I had absolutely no control when it came to my finances.
This was a pretty short relationship – we dated for about seven months – but in that time, I gained many years’ worth of experience. If I didn’t go through it, I honestly don’t think I’d be who I am now.
Looking back, there were many red flags in that relationship. For one, Mr X was overcontrolling – if that’s a thing. He controlled my diet, my financials, and my relationships – whether with family or friends. I ended up losing so much weight because I lost control of myself. Someone else had taken control of my body.
Second, for me, was how he made his money. His source of income was suspicious. At first, I was so naive. I was excited by the thought of his money, but I never really thought about where the money was coming from. I didn’t really think about if I was paying back the money I was getting. It was a huge red flag for me, in hindsight.
His relationship choices were also another red flag. Mr X was a student just like me, but he was friends with real goons – thugs in the street and his other group of friends was a bunch of wealthy people that I’d look at and think about how I had heard suspicious stories about them. His circle of friends was off putting.
Finally, his behaviour and thought process was terrible. Mr X and I had started a company together, but I got so tired because I never had a say in anything. We had to do a lot of admin work – interviews, paperwork etc. That can get overwhelming. If I made small mistakes, say a grammatical error, in drafting a contract, he’d react as if the entire contract was now null and void. To err is human, but Mr X was a perfectionist. His perfectionism showed me he wasn’t ready to grow or accept his own – or other people’s – mistakes. He was always ready to blame others, even for his own mistakes.
In any relationship I have, going forward, the need for honesty is extremely important to me. Honesty doesn’t have to look pretty. It can be as ugly as it can be, but the fact that you are able to be honest and open with me is a big plus for me. This couples up with communication.
The ability to grow and allow mistakes is something else that matters to me. For one thing, you can’t put your partner on such a high pedestal because they need to make mistakes to get to that high pedestal. They need to be able to make those mistakes and be allowed to learn from them and grow. For another, you can’t put yourself on a pedestal, deem yourself a god, and expect your partner not to feel inferior and intimidated. How can your partner approach you when you are already exuding godliness?
I think anyone going through what I was going through with Mr X should first separate themselves as an individual and then as a person in a relationship. A good way to do this is to take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. In the first column, write down who you are as a person without having to label yourself in that relationship. Be honest with yourself as you do this. Cry if you need to. If you are crying, you need to ask if those are tears of joy, or if you are crying because there is a problem and you can see that you have already lost a bit of yourself in your relationship.
In the second column, write down how you are in the relationship or how the relationship is. How are you when you are with that person? Reflect on questions like: are you honest? Can you communicate? Is there space for growth? If you can’t answer these questions or if what you’re writing down doesn’t align with what you’ve put down in the first column, then you can cry (again) if you need to and come to terms with the situation you’re in. It’s going to be painful, and maybe you’ll realise you’ve lost friends along the way, but it will help you decide where you want to be.
Something else that’s important is that one shouldn’t be scared to say no, to walk away, or to ask for help. If you’ve already accepted that you need help, don’t be scared to ask for it. There is nothing as bad as being trapped in a relationship where you can never see growth or where you’re always stressed out.
I asked my mum for help when things got really bad. I had to sit down and tell her the truth. The thing is, you don’t have to open up to the whole world. It could be just one person. One person is enough to make the biggest difference. My mum is my best friend, so I told her the truth. I was staying quite far from her but when I told her she came all the way down. She reassured me that it would be fine and helped me pack up all my things. I remember her telling me, “Whatever you’ve left, I’ve cursed it. Don’t pick it up. Let’s go.”
My mum also helped me pick up the pieces. It wasn’t easy integrating back into society. The community has a way of stigmatising people who’ve been in such situations. She helped me integrate back slowly. So that’s the advice I’d give. Tell the truth to one person and let them help. If it means moving out, move out. If it means going to the police and writing a statement so you can get a restraining order, do it. If you have any financial ties with this person and have to get a lawyer involved, it may be expensive, but it will relieve you of a lot of stress and pain in the end.