An Encounter with a Toxic Muslim Counsellor and the Pressure to Get Married at Thirty-Two
If I do not write about this, I will have no rest. I have tried writing about some other things but I cannot. And I know that my writer’s block has to do with my refusal to write this story and let the burden off me. I had wanted to put this down after getting married. Someplace in my mind, I feel it will give me more credibility. But the question is, when is that going to be? Even I cannot tell. Therefore, I have decided to document this now so that I can move on and get around to writing other things.
Earlier this year, my mother took me to see a counsellor after I was asked for the umpteenth time if I was dating anyone. The backstory is, I recently clocked thirty-two and I have not dated seriously in seven years. My mother had had enough! I agreed to see a counsellor because somewhere in my thought, I had hoped for some unpacking, rationalisation and maybe epiphanies.
We arrived at the counsellor’s office somewhere in Lagos. It turned out that the organisation is run by Muslims, has three Muslim counsellors; two men and one woman, and they all sit on sessions together when present. The one who attended to us upon arrival was a diminutive man who arrived late. I think my mother chose Muslim counsellors because she had hoped that they’d use religion to buttress whatever point they made. I have nothing against Muslim counsellors. In fact, I am of the opinion that there is a need for more Muslims in such roles
My mother was sceptical when the diminutive male counsellor arrived. I recognised scepticism in her facial expression because I have seen it in most of my professional life. I have seen it on many faces when I am introduced as the lady who will be “handling your test”. Many people attribute a person’s physical size to their capability and competence.
On this occasion, my mother deferred to me. And I chose to go ahead with it. Why? I recognised a part of my struggle in him. And so, subconsciously, I thought this man would prove my mother wrong.
My mother soon made payment and I was given a form to fill out. We were then ushered into his office. The chair felt very uncomfortable. It was nothing like the comfortable couch I had expected. I felt like an errant child when my mother began explaining how I was too choosy and needed to be saved from my self-inflicted spinsterhood. At no point did my counsellor ask me what the problem was. He allowed my mother to speak for me. During my mother’s explanation, an elderly man, introduced as part of the counselling team came in. It was at this point that she was asked to excuse us and she obliged.
Once my mother left the room, the diminutive Muslim counsellor asked me if I was a virgin? I retorted that I don’t share my private life with strangers. He went from a zero to a hundred, giving me an earful on how he was older than me and had, by virtue of his age, earned the right to question me. I eventually bulged. Right now, I feel hurt and disappointed that I caved into a bully. I know I would have walked out if my mother was not within earshot. But I sat there like a dutiful daughter, opened my mouth and rolled out words. I was given a session schedule and was compelled to take down notes. For the first time, I had a semblance of what conversion therapy might have felt like. I could have gone home that fateful Saturday and never returned. But I was determined to try, for my mother’s sake.
During my second session, I asked to know the author of the instruction manual I was given. I asked because the author focused on male values, needs and desires. Feeling too conflicted about certain lesson points to pen them down, the diminutive counsellor reminded me about how he was handing me special marriage secrets. As silly as that sounded to me, the instruction manual was not entirely outrageous.
During one of my subsequent sessions, the form I had earlier filled out was reviewed. One of the questions read “List five of your expectations in marriage’. I had included domestic partnership on the list. The elderly counsellor had asked me to explain what I meant by the term. And so I had to explain. The elderly counsellor then said, “men were created for women, but women not for men“. The purpose of female creation, he said, “is to serve men“. He urged me to do away with the thought of domestic partnership. “After all, it was ‘civilization’ that brought about women taking up jobs and partaking in the financial upkeep of the home“. I then asked him, “If women had evolved, why weren’t men evolving”? “Why are men still considered too sacred for domestic roles”? To that, he had given the flimsy, dismissive yet not atypical excuse of “men do not like being questioned“. I muttered to myself “may I not be saddled with such men“.
At some point in my sessions, I decided to show up only mindlessly, registering my displeasure by scowling and asking fewer questions. I reached this decision after the diminutive counsellor had said that “Husbands forcing themselves on their wives is not rape“. I had afterwards asked him to define rape. He was angry at my audacity. He did not appreciate being questioned. He had hoped that he would be able to shut me up with the old tale of “refusal to honour thy husband’s call to the marital bed would amount to asking for a co-wife“. I had sharply retorted “Everyone should be willing to face the consequences of their actions“. He dismissed my retort with a wry smile, saying “Economic power is not an important factor to be considered when taking a wife, or a subsequent one“. At a more profound stage, I understood better why Muslim men, who share the diminutive counsellor’s point of view have plunged themselves into a long, steep, hilly and dark abyss. While wealth is a blessing from God, Muslims must begin to see the economics of marriage and begin to factor in the positive or negative economic power potential of polygamy.
During another session, the diminutive counsellor had created a hypothetical scenario where I visited my intended in-laws for the first time. In the scene, lunch had been served and he had asked what I would be cleaning the dining table with. I had deliberately told him “hypothetical speaking, I would not be cleaning. I am, after all, a guest“. He was aghast and accused me of being a feminist. I do not appreciate labels. And If you would label me, the onus is on you to get it right. I am not a feminist. Although, I believe and propagate some feminist ideas. To identify as a feminist is to be all in. And I am not, all in.
My sessions were, however, not a waste, I picked up a few valuable teachings and now I’m writing an op-ed from those interactions. However, the things I was subjected to still bothers me when I think of our Ummah. The counsellor, at some point, had said that men’s thoughts are centred around four things; money, sex, food, and some other thing I now, cannot remember. For all the “leadership roles” men want to take on, I find the versatility of their grouped thoughts uninspiring. Or was it when the counsellor asked me how many men had asked me on a date that week? I had dismissively told him I do not keep count of such matters. He then chided me for not doing so. Personally, I think it is ridiculous that I have to keep a tab on how many men ask me out every week. Even though I knew, quite subconsciously, and could have supplied him with the information, I chose not to. I spend most of my days starting and monitoring processes. The last thing I want to pay attention to is how many guys ask me on a date every week.
Two things from this experience trouble me the most. The first being the eagerness with which both male counsellors were quick to divulge to me that their wives were virgins. I honestly do not want this level of intimacy. I have no use for this information. But here I was, seated and having to listen to it repeatedly. The intent of this is not to begin a conversation about whether virginity should be considered an achievement or a measure of morality. However, whatever it is, it belongs to the women who kept themselves. Not these men constantly informing. What I wanted to ask these men counsellors was “were you also virgins”? This is what they ought to have been revving about, if at all.
Secondly, the diminutive counsellor tried to hook me up with his friend. On what basis? I’m as baffled as you are. I must specify here that I am not opposed to anyone being upfront about certain characteristics one wants in a partner. What I am personally perverse to is being treated like some laboratory mice; chosen for qualities beyond my power and picked for breeding potential. If I were to pick men off some imaginary rack in the same manner men with ‘AS’ genotype do, I, with all of my AA-genotype glory, will still pick an AA man. Excuse you, even I, will like to confer a head start to my offspring. However, before your genetic potential, I want to know if you are a human being and what sort of human being you are.
For various reasons, however, many people do not operate in this manner; the diminutive counsellor inclusive. He had told me that his friend’s genotype was AS and the only quality he could come up with was that he lives in Abuja. I guess Abuja is now the new America, everyone sure must be queuing to get in. For some reason, he had hoped that that would appeal to me. So when I told him that agreeing to a meeting with his friend (whom I had only agreed to meet because of my mum who had been given a weekly report and would not stop barging me with questions) is not a code for “yes, I will marry him”, he had called me arrogant and went ahead to ask that I apologise to him.
At this point, I blatantly told my mother “enough!” I am not apologising. If being vocal is what it means to be arrogant, then, so be it. After all, for many men, all their lives, they have been raised to think for women. And women have been taught to pretend like they cannot think for themselves. Therefore, how dare I think for myself? More so, out loud! To this end, when our biases steer us to make certain choices, it helps to keep in mind that the same bias can be the basis upon which those choices can backfire. Selfishness harms the selfish too. What my mum should have sought was a competent counsellor. And I, on my part, should have encouraged her to. This is my perspective. My mum’s perspective might differ, especially as they give her a weekly update. So much for privacy.
Oyinkansola Fadiji is a cage rattler; a purr girl who is most at peace with donning pants, living unassumingly and being a nomad.