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Please read this disclaimer before reading this story. 

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 has instances of emotional abuse and financial abuse. It also has mentions of abortion. Kindly remember to be mindful of your mental well-being and that of others when reading and sharing this story.

I started dating Rich at the end of my first year in university and got pregnant two years later. The complete end of our relationship was one year after my pregnancy. At the beginning of our relationship, he seemed like a go-getter. He seemed street-smart and like he really cared about his mum. That was the type of man I wanted to be with. I saw a future with him. I saw his flaws, but I didn’t mind. At that point, they were things I felt I could compromise on. I thought I was the one and that he loved and would never cheat on me and treat me like shit.

I fantasized about marrying Rich and starting a family with him. I shared my dreams with him and told him I would be waiting whenever he was ready to get married. He always shut me down. He always had an excuse. He told me he couldn’t get married until he fulfilled his goals, which I found to be very mature at the time. He realised those goals with time, but his tune stayed the same. It took me getting pregnant to realize that there was nowhere I was going with Rich.

Rich criticized me from the word go. He knew how self-conscious I was about my looks, and he would hit out at me over that. If I gained even a bit of weight, he’d tell me, “By the way, if you get fat, this relationship won’t work. There’s nowhere I’m going with you if you get fat.”

I often asked myself if he’ could still love me the same if I ever got pregnant and gave birth; sometimes, after giving birth, a woman’s body may never go back to the way it was. When I posed the question to him, he told me he’d help me work out so I could lose weight. He tried to make it seem like a kind thing he would be doing for me.

The way I present myself is a big deal for me. I love wearing short and tight clothing. I usually tell myself that I should do these things while still young. Rich didn’t like it when I dressed to my liking. He wanted me to cover up. Even if we were going to the club, he’d tell me I should wear jeans and a “sensible” top. I couldn’t wear a mini-skirt, a short dress, or anything exposing a bit of skin. Yet when we got to the club, he never hid the fact that he hit on the girls wearing the same things he stopped me from wearing.

Rich would not allow me to wear heels. Once, my cousin invited me to a fashion show event at their school, and I planned out my outfit – a nice dress and a pair of heels. When Rich saw the heels, he was mad. There was a place near where he was staying that used to sell second-hand shoes. He took me there and bought me a pair of Converse canvas shoes. It turns out that Rich was insecure about his height all along, but I didn’t know it then. We were almost the same height when I was in flats, but I was definitely taller than him with heels. 

How I dress is one of my favourite ways to express myself, so how Rich controlled my looks and my dressing really got to me. It would hurt me even more when he gave attention to girls wearing the things he denied me. I didn’t even want to dress like that because of him; it was because it would make me feel good. It did a number on me. At least we were not staying together, so if I went somewhere alone, he wouldn’t know what I was wearing and definitely couldn’t have a say. But if we were going somewhere together or if I were to swing by his place on my way to school or something, he got upset. He’d tell me I was embarrassing myself. It wasn’t only with the short and cute things, though. When I was in university, I had this one comfortable pair of shoes I loved wearing. They provided me with support since I had to walk a lot. They were also easy to clean, so I could wear them daily. Rich hated those shoes. He told me I shouldn’t even bother visiting him if I wore those shoes.

After I got pregnant, I felt like Rich resented me a lot, and he made it very clear by being extremely mean to me during this period. I wondered why he couldn’t just leave and tell me I was alone with the whole pregnancy and parenting thing rather than mistreat me.  Rich would switch up his treatment of me. One minute he would be so mean; the next thing, he would be very nice. I even got to a point where I didn’t trust him at all. I wouldn’t want to drink anything he gave me because I suspected he wanted to terminate the pregnancy. His switch-ups were too extreme. I didn’t understand how he could suddenly be so bad and then so good.

Even after our child was born, he resented me. I looked a lot different after carrying the pregnancy and giving birth, and like he told me, if I were fat, I wouldn’t be on his menu. We used to take photos, but now he didn’t want to be in pictures with me. The photos weren’t even for sharing on social media; they were just for our private memories. Rich would tell me that he didn’t want people on social media to get an inside look at his family. I tried to tell him we could avoid posting our child, but he could post me occasionally. He used to do it, but suddenly he didn’t want to do it anymore. And yet, each time he went out with his friends, he took photos, and shared them on his social media platforms. It made me feel that he resented everything about me.

When our baby was born, Rich didn’t want to hold him at all. He tried to play it off as saying he was scared of holding small babies. The kid came out light skin, almost mzungu, and when Rich saw him, he said it wasn’t his child. I didn’t force him to do anything. He stayed away from the baby and me a lot in the beginning, and when he felt ready to at least see and hold the kid, the baby would cry nonstop every time Rich held him. Rich told me, “Umewekea mtoto uchawi (You’ve bewitched the child). He doesn’t like me because you don’t like me.” But he hadn’t been showing up, so the baby simply didn’t know him. I got to a point where I told him, “You know kids are so pure. I think you have a bad omen with you, or your intentions are not pure; that is why the baby cries this much when you carry him.” This baby didn’t click with Rich at all.

Rich told me we should go for a DNA test. He told me his mother was the only person who could clarify that the baby was indeed his. Apparently, if she held the baby, she’d somehow be able to tell if it was his or another man’s. Rich was the only person I had ever slept with. He broke my virginity, and I had never slept with anyone else after that. He was looking for a reason not to be there for me and the baby. When his sisters came over and saw the baby for the first time, they immediately said how much he looked like Rich. That’s when he started pretending to accept that this was his son.

Rich cleared my delivery bill, but unfortunately, I had a complication during childbirth and had to undergo surgery thereafter. My parents were in a fix. My mum asked Rich if he could loan her money that she would return. He kept saying he didn’t have the money, so Mum borrowed money left, right and center until we could clear the bill for the surgery. It hurts that almost one week later, Rich bought two cars. I don’t hold it against him, but this was a life-or-death situation—priorities, you know.

In the beginning, Rich used to support the child. He would send me between Kenya shillings 10,000 and 20,000 monthly for upkeep. If there was a hospital emergency and I let him know, he showed up and paid. Luckily, we did not have too many of those. There were many vaccinations, though, and he really came through for those. He tried the best he could. This was him for about a year, and then things went south, and he stopped supporting us. His exact words were, “You will never see my money again.” 

The reason Rich stopped supporting and even visiting the baby is that we exchanged some words. My personality is that I bottle up things – you’ll say and do something to me, and I’ll keep quiet. The problem with that is the day you do one small, petty thing that could trigger me; I’ll explode and tell you every single thing I think about you. 

Rich had never experienced this side of me. I never told him how bad I felt that he wanted me to terminate the pregnancy and how bad I felt when he didn’t want to see or hold our child. So all those emotions came to the fore, and I told him everything I thought about him. Here’s the thing with Rich: money is everything to him. It is the only way he can buy friends or buy love. Rich took my venting as disrespecting him, so he said I would never see his money again. But it was never about the money. 

I had a lot of anger. I just wanted him to put in some effort to see his kid. Rich didn’t work an 8 to 5 job, so he had a lot of time on his hands. All I wanted him to do was dedicate even one day in his week to spend time with the child, but that was too hard for him. Yet when I checked social media, Rich was living his best life. So all this came up. I told him he didn’t need to send me the money directly. He could support the kid on his own by doing the shopping and sending me groceries. I even told him I could go to the shop and send him the Paybill or Till number, and he could do what he wanted. This wasn’t the first time Rich and I had a falling out.

He accused me of cheating on him the first time we fell out. It was after I had given birth. We were intimate, and he said I felt different. We had sex a couple of times after I gave birth, but on this particular day, he accused me of sleeping with other people. I tried telling him it must have been biological, but he didn’t want to hear it. This man body-shamed me through my vagina and told me he couldn’t be in a relationship without sex. I cried a lot and tried defending myself. I felt so stupid. I even thought to myself that I had brought shame to my family because I had a loose vagina. That was the first time I got close to depression. 

I begged Rich to try and work things out, but he had already made up his mind. He was using this as a scapegoat to end things between us. He ended things, but I still felt like I loved him. If he made a move on me, I would still sleep with him. I was in a very vulnerable state. 

This second time when he told me I would never see his money, I was unmoved. I was unwilling to put myself through all that with him again. To be honest, deep down, I was hoping and praying he would leave. I looked  at him, how he carried himself, and the things he posted on social media, and asked myself, “Is this the type of person I want my son to look up to?”

I told myself that it was either I ran away from Kenya or Rich just disappeared from my life and the face of the earth – and he did. I knew I had to step up a lot especially because he would not  give me financial support, but I was okay with it. I just wanted him gone. I hope he gets the life he deserves. That falling out was the last time we spoke. He’s never bothered to ask about our son or know anything about our lives since.

Recently, Rich had a public scandal, and his defense was that he’s a family man and a good father. He had photos of our child when he was younger, so he suddenly started reaching out asking for more photos. Rich wanted to come back into our lives as well. He has approached me a couple of times asking if he can see our son. He told me he only left because I pushed him away. The first time he reached out, I said no. I wasn’t ready, and I wanted him to face the consequences of his actions. I don’t want him to pop in and out of our lives whenever he feels like it. It is not healthy for our son. If he left that easily the first time, what would it take for him to exit our lives again? 

Right now, our son is starting to understand things. I wouldn’t want him to know all the history between us. I will just tell him that his biological father was not in the position to be the best version of himself for us. Our child doesn’t deserve to have all that negativity in his life, and I know having Rich in our lives will bring that baggage back. I don’t feel bad about denying Rich the opportunity to see our son. He is the one who left us and did not care about us until the moment he had a scandal and wanted to present himself in a positive light. Let him stay where he is. Ako sawa na sisi pia tuko sawa (He is fine and so are we).

Thinking back to how I was in that relationship, I feel like I was so stupid. I believed that everybody was like me – that if they loved, they loved wholeheartedly. I thought it was impossible for someone to take advantage of someone they loved. If you asked first-year me, I would say I loved Rich. But looking back, was that even love? It was just stupidity.

Now, I believe some people can love but take advantage of those they love. With these people, the only thing that can fuel their “love” is if they get what they want. I can 100% say now that that was my relationship with Rich. He saw the potential in me to help himself.

Rich didn’t come from a financially stable family and had his fair share of suffering. He met this young girl who was going to a good university and whose family was building a house in an affluent part of town, and he knew that was his ticket to establish himself. The minute Rich realised I was no longer his ticket, madharau ikaanza kuingia (disdain set in). But in the period when he knew I would help him, things were great.

The thing is, I would actually help Rich out. I was a campus student supporting a grown man’s lifestyle. The whole time I dated Rich, I don’t remember buying myself anything. If I saved up for an entire semester, maybe I would have saved Kenya shillings 10,000 by the end of the semester, to spoil myself. I wished to buy original clothes from the mall, not mitumba(second-hand) clothes, but if Rich told me he was in a financial fix, I always came through for him. I took the moral approach, or so I believed. There’s no way the person I love could be sleeping hungry while I was spoiling myself, so I would send him money.

Very early in our relationship, Rich gained access to my Mpesa (mobile money) details. He registered me for mobile loans like Tala. He would justify this by telling me we should take loans so my borrowing limit would grow. I didn’t understand the point of that, but I trusted him. I told myself he loved me and was older than me, so he knew what he was doing. He took loans with three different lending services – two of them were Tala and the KCB Mpesa; I can’t recall now what the third one was. Rich would default seriously on his loans, and  am the one who was be called incessantly to pay back. When this happened, I was answering every call that came through on my phone because I was looking for attachment opportunities. I couldn’t afford to let any call go unanswered in case it was a job opportunity coming through for me. Rich did not care; he didn’t have to deal with those calls and was just using me. Once he got his own hack to get money, I became entirely useless to him.

Now that Rich has money, he has started hanging around “famous” people. For as long as someone has a certain following on social media, Rich will bend over backwards for them – he welcomes them to his house, takes them out, and buys them gifts.

When I think of a healthy relationship now, I eliminate the idea of love from it. What matters most is being genuine. You need to be who you say you are and be okay with letting your partner know the real you. You should be able to be completely naked, in an emotional sense, with your partner. The element of trust is also essential. The thing with love is that it could be there, but it’s toxic. I’d rather not have love in my relationship but have someone genuine and trustworthy.

Love is a verb and not a noun. By showing me exactly who you are – whether you are a good or bad person – and allowing me to choose whether I accept you the way you are, that is love. Your actions will show me if you love me. Not words and false promises. Telling me, “I’ll do this,” or “I wish I could do this”, is not love. Even saying “I love you” is not enough. Words don’t mean much. It is the showing part that’s very important. You can’t tell me you love me but then go behind my back and do things that would hurt me – that is not love. I’d rather you don’t tell me whether you love me or not but let your actions speak for you.

Everyone should trust their gut. Your gut is always right. I’ve been trusting my gut since my relationship with Rich ended. That is the one piece of advice I’d give to anyone. It is also something I hope future me will remember if I ever find myself in such a situation again. If something inside you is ringing warning bells because of something your partner said or did, no matter how petty or small the thing is, go with that as long as you feel those warning bells. Avoid giving the benefit of the doubt – you will lose so much from that. If something does not sit right with you, move. For you to be able to trust your gut, you need to know yourself. You need to know what you can and can’t tolerate. You need to know what you can compromise on and what you absolutely cannot. And don’t let anybody change your mind.

If you are going through a crazy familial, platonic, or romantic relationship, take a step back. Get to know who you are outside of that relationship. Fall in love with yourself first before letting anyone tell you or show you they love you. Know what you can and can’t take. If you are scared, you only have one life. There is no rewind or replay button. So what if you don’t end up with someone? Will you die? No! You may cry for months or even a year, but you won’t die. Once you know your worth, nobody will ever walk all over you. Have your price tag, and don’t give any discounts once you have it. Don’t bargain on that. Until you meet someone who can tick all your boxes, that is when you can be sure. 

If you’re in a relationship that you feel is toxic, make a list. What is it that you love about yourself? What would you love to be appreciated for? Then check against that list whether your partner ticks those boxes. Do they value you for the things you want to be appreciated for? Do they make you feel how you want to feel? If any of your boxes are not getting checked, clearly, there is a problem. You may think someone telling you these things may be jealous for one reason or another, but doing the list yourself should bring some clarity. You can’t be wise and in love at the same time, at least not for most people. People on the outside know these things, and they can see it. When someone brings it up, they are not being jealous.

So if you are going through something – whether you’re dating, newly married, married for ten years, or have kids – try to get out. Your kids have their own lives, and so do you. You can die tomorrow and then? You have one life, and you should live it the best way you can for yourself, not for anybody else. I am not living for my son. I used to say I’m living for him, but he has his own life. I hope to make it as comfortable as possible, but that is his life, and I also have my own life to live.