I heard of Love-a-phobics Anonymous from a random girl in a lounge bathroom. She had found me sobbing with my head bowed on the bathroom sink, and she immediately concluded it was because of a man. “These men…you need to put them in their place,” she said, her hand on my shoulder, her breath stinging. My tears dropped on her old previously seeming white Converse shoes.
“Men are a scam. Don’t let them reign you. They’ll ruin the *** out of you. Men are dogs, men are sick and painfully stupid, men will break you, men will tear you apart, men are trash, men will…” she went on, I don’t know how in her mind she thought this would make me feel better, it didn’t. I wanted to turn my head and say it was me, I was the scam, I was sick and painfully stupid. That I was sick and excruciatingly foolish. But I was tired of standing there, and her breath gave me a good reason to leave. So I stopped crying and thanked her before returning to the lounge.
Looking at her she seemed a bit younger than I was. She tied her long hair in a ponytail with lazily laid edges (the ones you can tell no scarf was involved), her face was bare, and her ripped jeans were seriously shredded. I ran across her a few weeks later when I returned to the same lounge. Met her in the same bathroom, and in the same manner. “Issa boy? Issa boy that’s making you cry like this? You’re letting us down, girl…this crying, it’s giving coward…it’s giving weak…it’s giving sijui what,” she said, her hand on my shoulder, her breath stinging me. That’s the night she introduced me to Love-a-Phobics Anonymous.
The first time I attended I had still been crying the whole day, not because I hated someone but largely because I despised myself. Instead of working, I spent the day in the bathroom, lying to my boss about having a stomach upset. This was nearly the millionth time Andrew and I had an argument, and it was my fault; it was always my fault. He insisted it wasn’t entirely my fault, that we both needed to work on our relationship…but I knew I was the problem. He was mostly cheering for the anti-hero, like Tyler Swift.
Love-a-phobics Anonymous was held every Wednesday in Amamihe’s home. We called her Ama. She was a sweet fifty-something-year-old woman who lived with her husband Waema. Her smile was my favourite aspect of her gorgeous dark chocolate face. It was bright, warm, and welcoming; it was a hug in and of itself. And her hugs were tight, as if she was trying to squeeze your worries out of you, and it often worked. Ama, who was fifty-something, appeared to be in her thirties. When we teased her about it, she would chuckle and claim that joy kept her young.
On my first day at her magnificent Kileleshwa apartment, she opened the door for me. I was the first to arrive. “What is your name, my dear?” she’d asked as she led me to her pure white couch. “Joy Mboya,” I’d replied, taking a glance around her home. On the walls were pristine photos of her and her spouse. They were younger on two of them, but the excitement on their faces was constant. The house smelled like fresh strawberries. Her rag was soft and almost comforting on my feet. Ama’s residence had an oddly homey feel about it.
Soon the other girls started walking in. Becky, the girl I met at the lounge, also came in. She was in the same clothes I had met her in the first time. She was and still is the most unfazed person I have ever met. When Ama called us to her dining area to start the meeting we were four of us. The other girls were Saida and Wawira. I kept throwing glances at each girl there and I couldn’t help but wonder how this even started in the first place.
“Good afternoon, dear God,” she prayed, “Thank you for keeping us alive. You are love. May you help us to believe that Love is true and good, even just for the reason that you are. Amen.” Everybody said Amen. That prayer gave me a lump in my throat. In as much as I didn’t expect this to be a religious set-up, given that it’s Becky who invited me, I was secretly hoping it was. Andrew was a committed believer and I was having a hard time catching up with him.
“Hi, I’m Becky and I love love,” Becky started, standing with her hands placed on the dining table. I thought this was Love-a-Phobics Anonymous, I thought to myself. But, as I later discovered, Ama had the girls repeat it until they believed it. “Ryan asked me to marry him and I said Yes,” she said, a cheeky smile on her face. Everyone laughed. “Becky, you’re what, 19?” Saida said, she had lovely a raspy voice. “I’m turning 20 in 8 months,” Becky responded. “Tell us more, Becky, how did he propose?” “Y’all think I’m capping? Wait,” she said, taking out her phone from the back pocket of her jeans. “Here’s the voice note.” The voice on the voice note was deep, and the speaker seemed like he was trying hard to sound sober.
Yo babe, me I think we should get married. Si kina nani, this Enola chic, Milly Bobby Brown, she’s engaged. Who said we need to be ati 25 ati 30 to get married. Sa nani atangoja hizo miaka zote. Look, me i love you, and my folks can always help us find a good house, they can pay for it…ama? You don’t want?
We discussed Becky’s ghetto proposal and deciding that she needed to love herself enough to tell the difference between a gentleman and a man that was just high. Turned out she was not really a love-phobic but she always turned up for the meetings because Ama was her Aunt.
Saida was next. She had been suspicious about her boyfriend of four years, Sam, cheating on her. She talked about how she had found out that he was marrying someone else in a month’s time. She broke down as she shared her hurt, the promises he had made, and the ring he had promised to buy her. She had imagined her proposal happening at a beach with Sam playing his guitar and candles on the sand. “What changed, Ama? Am I ageing badly? Am I not beautiful enough? What does that Sarah witch have that I don’t?” Becky stood to comfort her. “These men, they are…” “No, Becky, don’t say that,” Ama said.
After Saida, Wawira shared her part, she had recently found out that her father had cheated on her mum. She could barely last a day without a headache. “This marriage thing man, it’s just not for me…I mean, I want to fall in love with someone and be loved back, but not get married, you get?” she said. Becky nodded.
Then it was my turn. I thought Ama would talk before me but she only talked when everyone was done. “Hi everyone, I’m Joy and I love love,” “Hi Joy,” they responded.
“A few weeks ago, I suspected my boyfriend Andrew was cheating on me. He told me he would be going to Limuru for a meeting with a client. I didn’t believe him, so I followed him there, hoping he wouldn’t see me. Turned out the meeting was with a certain company’s CEO, Wendo. Andrew saw me as I was trying to leave. He was shocked to see me, to say the least. We went home together but we fought for a whole week…
Later as I was going through his phone, I found that he had talked to one of his female friends for about an hour. I was livid. What was he telling her all that time? What were they talking about…what was he sharing with her that he wasn’t sharing with me…I was so mad at him. My problem is I can’t stop suspecting him. I mean, he has got to be cheating, right? There is no man with an eye for only one woman. My ex, Brian, cheated on me in campus with his neighbour, my best friend’s ex, Jeff, cheated on her with her own cousin, Max cheated, Jay cheated, Dan cheated…okay, I know you all do not know who all these people are, but I have proof that men cannot be trusted.
The problem is, Andrew is a good man. I know he is a good man. He is kind, he is so patient with me, He listens to me even when I know my words are hurting him, and He tries so hard to understand me…he has tried to help me deal with my insecurities, getting bible plans on the You-Version, suggesting counsellors…He doesn’t even yell when he is mad, he says sorry, he prays for me, he cries with me…I just want this to stop. Right now he’s not talking to him coz I got mad at him for taking a photo with a workmate. I am the problem, I don’t want to lose him…sorry, did I talk for too long?”
“No, it’s okay,” Ama said, placing her palm on my hand, her brilliant smile on her face. “So you get a perfect man and you just screw it?” Becky said, her hands in the air, expressing ‘What?!’.
When it was Ama’s turn to speak, she went to her shelf, picked up a big brown bible, and stood where she had been.
“Before I met my husband my heart had been broken by a good number of men,” she started, we chuckled. “I kept finding myself with the wrong kind of man, every time. I was 27 and about to get married to a handsome young man, his name was Muli, when I found out he had been lying to me and already had a family. I was broken. That’s when I gave up on love, and decided it wasn’t for me, I didn’t have, what’s that word?” “Nyota ya ndoa,” Becky said.
“It is not even my husband who redefined love for me. He is also flawed, our marriage isn’t perfect, we still struggle with some things. God redefined Love for me. By the time I was meeting Waema, I was so content with God’s love that I was ready to stay single for as long as He would want me to. I know you’d like to hear me advise you on what to do in what each of you is struggling with, but this matters more- that you allow Love Himself to tell you what Love is.”
She went on to read 1 Corinthians 13:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.
Love never fails.
Ama helped me to see that knowing the true form of unconditional Love found in Christ was more important than finding it in a person. And once I started to look at love through God’s eyes it wasn’t scary any more, it was beautiful. It didn’t give me fear, it gave me hope. That someone would love so much that he would lay down His life for His bride. If that love is true why would I want anything less than it? I look at Andrew and see in Him the Christ he loves so much, in his speech, in his walk. It doesn’t mean he’s flawless, but an imperfect person filled with the perfect love of God will deal with his imperfections in perfect ways.