The Three: October Edition

Cultural happenings that caught my eye this month

It feels so good to be dropping a new edition. This month, I talk to my friend Amanda Dozie about being (very, very) single, while another friend Edirin writes about her rock-solid rules for dating in Lagos. Previous editions here and here.

Oh, and a quick programming note: I’m in graduate school now, studying new media and digital cultures. As I’m now focused on research papers and doing tons of academic reading, you can expect the newsletter to not be updated much over the course of the coming year. This is a space I love having, though, so I’ll definitely try to update as much as I can.

A Conversation on Living Single

Success in the dating scene is pretty much defined by having a love life that reflects your desirability. If as a woman you’re not shooing potential serious and not-so-serious partners away with a stick, then — logic goes — there’s definitely something wrong. Some of us ride the waves of the dating scene fairly easily because we get precisely what we want from it, whether it is gliding from situationship to situationship, flirting with exciting what-ifs, or even having a couple of Serious Ones. But there are some of us for whom navigating the scene is more difficult, fraught as it could be with cues that we miss, more nearly-there's than there are Bobrisky memes, or even just traumatic experiences that sent us off into hibernation. Sometimes you might have excellent fortune with great platonic relationships, but your luck does not quite extend to finding great romantic partners -- be it for the long- or short-term -- and you can’t figure out why.

My friend Amanda Dozie and I have had several long conversations on our experiences with protracted periods of singleness, and we thought it would be great to share one of those conversations. Here, in a series of texts back and forth, we discuss being single, the impact of our platonic relationships on how we view romantic ones, and what these relationships have taught us about ourselves. My responses/comments/questions to Amanda are bolded.

Hi Amanda! Shall we begin? That’s what Esther Perel named her podcast, and I’m stealing it idc. How’re you doing?

I just hope I’m not named in the lawsuit! I’m well. Going through an intense work patch so this is a timely distraction.

I’m in Amsterdam, slowly acclimatizing to graduate school life. As I’m not quite a full month in, it’s been Ikea runs, library runs and high street store runs. I’m looking forward to being more settled in and having a more normal rhythm to my days.

So this is supposed to be a conversation on being alone. Do you make a distinction between being single and being lonely? Where’s the inflection point for you?

As someone who recently settled into a new city (and country, in general), I can tell you that it takes quite some time to feel ‘normal’ in a city. I lived in Addis Ababa for almost five years and it only started feeling like home the very year I moved away. I’ve now been here in the UK for about 5 months and in some ways I’m still living out of cartons, physically and mentally.

There’s a definite difference between being single and being lonely. The clearest proof of this distinction is how easy it is to feel lonely even when you’re in a couple (or group, whichever your predisposition is); and how one can be romantically single but lead a fulfilling enough life which leaves no room for loneliness.

I will say though that in my marathon run as a ‘singleton’, loneliness tends to ebb and flow. There are seasons of being fulfilled in just being alone, and seasons where you feel like you just might die if you don’t go home to someone. Do you find this to be the case?

Oh, absolutely the same for me. I have many times where I’m grateful for my singleness, but there are also many times where I feel as though I would be happy for it to end. I also know that being in a couple would not necessarily ease loneliness, as so much more important than being paired for me is being seen and understood. My friendships give me spaces where I can be wholly myself and be seen and loved as I am. In a way, I wonder if maybe the beauty of my platonic attachments have made navigating romantic ones harder. Maybe one of the hardest things I’ve learned in dating is that your honesty and openness is not always taken as a symbol that the other party can be open and honest, too; and that what is prized in one kind of relationship can be a cudgel used against you in a different kind.

You've just touched on a number of things that resonate with me. The beauty of platonic friendships which blur into the romantic - friendships which feel like a romance, just without the amorous and/or sexual feelings - is truly wonderful. I’ve always subscribed to the idea that the most fulfilling friendships are those in which the two people are a little in love with each other, without necessarily being physically attracted to each other. I've wondered if being unlucky in love has allowed me to focus on building those deep emotional connections platonically. The honesty you have in a friendship where you're angling for nothing is very scarcely replicated in a romantic relationship where all you want to do is put forward your most presentable (not necessarily best) self. Honesty in romance is also difficult when you have a crippling fear of being undermined or disappointed; you don't want a partner to tap dance all over everything you've laid bare.

What is it about the potential for sex and intimacy that turns us into such liars, anyway? Why do we do that? I don’t think it has to be that way, but we are often too easily led by fear and unwilling to be clear about what we want. I’d like to think that, thanks to the quality of my platonic relationships, I’ve become more impatient about spending time with people I am not utterly delighted to be around, and find it easier to spot relationships that do not nourish me in the precise ways I need.

I can’t say I don’t get the fear of being undermined or disappointed; I’ve definitely been on the wrong end of opening myself up and realising I’ve made a huge mistake. All I’ll say is, that shit is no fun. But I’ve definitely come around to the notion that if someone takes advantage because I have been clear that I care about them, that’s not on me. I refuse to be led by fear in any aspect of my life, and certainly not in this one.

I keep telling myself that, if it were any other thing that isn’t working out, I would pivot away from it and drive my energies into what is indeed working in my life. That’s pretty much how I’m approaching my love life at the moment. My love life is just one aspect of my life, even if there’s currently nothing in it but tumbleweed. I’d like for it to be richer, but I am both aware and slightly discomfited by the fact that things need to be a certain way.

It’s a bit more difficult in practice to remain self-assured, I think, when your norm is not to intimately share your life. Your personality also has a say in how you will finally interact with a romantic partner after long spells of solely platonic relationships. The thing about love is that there’s a reason why it preoccupies an entire global population so- it is the most maddening of concepts. It is not so easy to apply an objective and logical lens to love. The social expectations of love also don’t help; I think they lend even more mystification to an already mysterious feeling. Love and lucidity are not exactly a natural pair. If you put all of this in a blender - ineptitude at the unfamiliar situation, a non-stoic personality, the chemical X of love and the pressures of the performance of love - you have yourself a lot to contend with.

I say all this to say that in all my forays, I found my seasons of love were mostly fraught with the management of what was and what ought to have been, and I often found discontentment in that gap. This is where the solo act is a refuge. When I’m alone, I’m the only one who has to be enough for myself.

I used to think that love and lucidity can’t quite co-exist, but the older I get, the more I disagree. I used to do that thing where I’d just follow my heart, but I can’t lie -- love for me right now must have comfort and ease built in, and I am not in a place where I can lean into something that feels entirely without a solid basis. If what I feel for someone is all heat with a variable that cannot quite name, I automatically view it with suspicion. There is, of course, always an element of the irrational in love, but I also find comfort in being able to name at least some of that which keeps me close. That’s the alchemy I’m trying to unlock. Like you, I find it a lot to contend with, but maybe there is comfort in the fact that I don’t have to have it all figured out. I just need to figure it out in a specific context, with someone who is hopefully deserving of the effort.

Love and lucidity can definitely coexist, but they will frequently butt heads! You’re completely right about comfort and ease- following your heart into chaos is the ultimate yikes. Generally, I think spending long periods being single, especially in your 20s, is a great advantage for future romantic pursuits.

First, you’re less likely to be impulsive and carried away by unrealistic ideals of romance. Secondly, you get to figure out who you are and what you like. Third, and most importantly, if you get “learning yourself” right, you find that you don’t need another person to complete you- the best thing a partner can do is complement and accompany you in this journey of life. This timeless allegory explains what I mean.

There are times when growing alone is difficult, but it’s necessary. My perennial solo act has made me more certain of when a romance is right, both in the feeling and in the execution of it. It’s also made me more generous to the other person, because I don’t so much need them as I want them; and I find that this distinction lowers the stakes a little.

All of that. I’ve been lonely a lot, but I also will not replace my years of being a mostly-solo act, because I too would rather want someone in my life, than need someone in my life. There’s nothing more liberating than when your first instinct is to reach within and give yourself that which you need. It’s a message I’ve learned to reinforce for myself, that I am enough, and everything that adds on must truly be a boon to what and who I am.

Absolutely. And I have to say, it’s tricky to stand by your choice of going solo in a society where singleness is almost illegitimate. Ending up shackled to the wrong person is hardly an original story. Contrary to what it might seem, it’s more difficult to stay single where your primary yardstick is, ‘does this person improve upon the silence?’ But boy, won’t you be glad when you find the person who does! And if you never do, then you’re no worse off. There’s so much life and love to be enjoyed in other places.

Edirin on Love and Relationships in Lagos

I am a 33-year-old female unfortunately wired for sexual relations with men, and I have dated a ton of men in Lagos in the past few years. In fact, I have so many stories that I am even writing a book about dating in Lagos. So when Saratu asked me to contribute to the newsletter, I was ecstatic.

Well, not really, but you get the point.

Dating Lagos men has forced me to develop the ultimate framework* for doing this relationship thing. I hereby present to you, dear reader: these major lessons.

*insert drum roll please*

Just as there are a thousand shades of gray between black and white, there are a thousand different degrees of madness to be encountered when you are dealing with Lagos men.

The best part is the strain allocated to each person is absolutely random. Mr. A might be an absolute asshole to someone who you know, but then a delightful angel with you. There is no rhyme or reason for the strain of skoin-skoin you would get to experience. I used to think that maybe there was something about me that triggered the madness, but the more I spoke to other women**, the clearer it was that this was all by the men’s design. While I was relieved that nothing was wrong with me (and probably you, if you are a woman reading this), it led me to this second, more critical, finding:

When dating Lagos men (and is probably not applicable outside of this) is the fact that your old experiences are not likely to help you in new situations.

Yes, I know. It is crazy, but it is true. But because every single man has over a thousand strains of skoin-skoin and randomly activates his preferred choice for you, it is impossible to solve for and/or optimize for. You just address it when it eventually arrives. This posed a huge learning curve for me, because what is experience if not provide greater illumination with which to approach similar situations?

Learning that I could not apply whatever lessons I had managed to distill from past experiences led me to the ultimate love and relationship advice which seems counter-intuitive but works.

Create a checklist of non-negotiables.

CLING TO THIS LIST LIKE A FIRST TIME SKYDIVER HOLDING ON TO THEIR SKY-DIVING INSTRUCTOR FOR DEAR LIFE. Do not let anything slide. Do not compromise on whatever is non-negotiable to you. For whatever reason. Just don’t.

For myriad reasons you might be tempted to make allowances – this one time for Mr. X, or to tell yourself lies on behalf of this man — because the world knows that when you like someone enough, you lie to yourself on their behalf. But the real magic of having a non-negotiable checklist is that you teach yourself what is important to you and by extension honor those things by letting only people who meet the criteria into your life. The more you allow yourself to only entertain people who can meet your non-negotiables, the better the quality of your relationships. Not just with other people, mind you; but with yourself.

Stick to that checklist, and you’ll find yourself waiting less by the phone like you are expecting a call from Beyonce, and more in control and at ease because your list of non-negotiables will invariably filter all the shades of crazy that Lagos men possess.

I said it was simple. I never said it was easy.

I know the title said love and relationships - I’ve hacked the relationship bit. As for love, I have a lot of that. My girlfriends continue to teach and prove to me that they remain the true loves of my life.

*Results may or may not vary. But on the upside you’d have done the work of knowing what you really want and this list will alert you when you are beginning to consider settling.

** And if you are concerned about knowing women who have had relations with men you know, think of dating in lagos like a Venn diagram. Eventually groups of friends will overlap and there are only so many random Velvett nights fuelled by free champagne before you find yourself firmly in the land of “my friends friend is not necessarily my friend hence he is fair game”. Just so it’s clear- I’m not judging- whatever lets you sleep at night.

What’re You Listening To?

It’s been a great period music-wise. Watching Wizkid and Tems rule the world with ‘Essence’ has been incredibly gratifying, but just as gratifying is seeing Tems soar. I’ve loved Tems work even before ‘For Broken Ears’, but have always been worried that her work may be too moody or not dance-y enough, but I’ve never been happier to be wrong about anything. Her success is a wonderful sign of the coming maturity of Nigerian music, that you can walk the less beaten path and rock it. Her new EP ‘If Orange Was a Place’ is also worth a listen, although I think the first one was better. She seems to have a solid sense of self and an awareness of her strengths, which I really dig. Wizkid and Davido are becoming OGs, and it’s also wonderful to see them do what OGs do: put newer and/or lesser known artists on.

Speaking of folks on their way to being OGs, Tiwa Savage’s new record unlocked something she hasn’t quite done before. Her song with Brandy “Somebody’s Son” is the undeniable hit on the “Water and Garri” EP, but “Work Fada” is the real surprise. Lyrically and production-wise, Tiwa Savage has never done anything like it, and nor have many artists. She even crowned it with a short Nas verse. I hear there’s going to be a sequel to this EP, so let’s wait and see. I’m a fan already.

The one record that’s been on rotation since it dropped in September, though, is Little Simz’ new album ‘I Think I Might Be Introvert’. There’s plenty to like about the album, from to her flow and the diversity of the production and sounds she played with. There were so many smart choices that show she’s as thoughtful as her flow suggests. There’s the clever use of intros to mark mood changes, and then there’s the deceptive simplicity of her flow. I loved how she gave the songs what they needed, like the quietness of her tone in “I See You” and “Woman”, exultant on “Standing Ovation”, and the code-switch on “Point and Kill” that flowed seamlessly with “Fear No Man”. It’s precisely the kind of record you want to see performed live. A feat.

And then there’s stuff I’m yet to check out. Juls just dropped a new record, and I’m a huge fan of his so I look forward to checking that out. Staying in Ghana, Sarkodie has a new album, and I’ve always been a fan so we’re definitely checking that out. Cheque also has a new record that’s on my list because Joey Akan has been raving about it. If you’re a house music fan, Bonobo is dropping a new album (FINALLY!) in January 2022, but he has blessed us with a new single a few days ago. Check it out.

Until next time.