I was twenty-six when Ato put a promise ring on my finger. It was my birthday and we had dated for a year. He put it on my left middle finger and said, “From the middle finger, it will move to the wedding ring finger. That’s the next step and it wouldn’t be long.” He was a good guy who tried all he could to make me happy, even at his own expense. I saw his heart and saw his dreams—they were pure so I committed my heart and myself to build a relationship that will stand the test of time and lead to the ultimate.
He wore his dreams over his sleeves, worked hard each day but there was always something that didn’t go right. He invested money in a business and lost everything. Just when he was picking up the pieces, his best friend brought up a business idea that looked like a success. They both invested time and resources, creating and building a business one block at a time. Just when they thought they were getting somewhere, things changed. They needed more money to keep the wheels of the business going but none of them had the money. He took money from me and invested in the business but that wasn’t enough to keep the business afloat. The whole thing sunk right in front of their eyes and there was nothing they could do about it.
Tough times bring the worse in people but Ato was always calm. Sometimes I was surprised how he was able to manage a smile after those series of failures but he did smile at me and often laughed at my stale jokes. “Don’t worry, the sun will shine and we’ll try again,” he would tell me. A lot of water had passed under the bridge of our relationship but all I had with him was just a promise ring that promises nothing. How do you start a marriage conversation with a man facing one business failure after another? But it was also important to me that I know about my future and our future so I told him, “You have a degree. Why don’t you find a job in the meantime? You can be in a company and still work on your own hustle on the side.”
He started applying for jobs. Attended a few interviews that promised to call him but never did. I could see the frustration in his eyes. He tried to hide it but I knew him too well to let his frustration go unnoticed. The height of it was when his rent was due. He couldn’t tell me his landlord was harassing him. It was when I was there one night when the Landlord came asking for his rent; “If I don’t receive my rent in a week from today, I’m going to bring in another tenant and you’ll have to move out that very day.”
It was such a huge embarrassment for him and that was the point he asked if I could help. I gathered what I could and paid for a year’s rent. He was grateful. I saw his smiles coming back again and I was happy for him too. He continued looking for a job while doing some gigs for others. It was enough to get him by but I began to worry. Anytime I spotted the promise ring on my finger, I asked myself, “When is this promise going to come true?” I wasn’t worried about his commitment to me. I was only worried about the future; Maybe he could make it very soon and make the promise come true. Maybe, I would keep believing and by the time I realize he couldn’t make it, time would be far gone for me to make any better decision.
It was during those reflective moments that a stranger I once met started getting closer. I noticed his intention but didn’t give him much attention until he came forward, telling me his mind; “I’m not here to waste your time. We only have to decide that we are good for each other, then we move on. But for us to know each other very well, you have to give me some space in your life first.” To me, he was just a man saying everything to get into my life. I was in a very vulnerable situation and didn’t want to let my guard down. He kept coming. Inviting me to places where I met his friends and some of his siblings. He had a very great network of wealthy friends. Judging from the car he was using, he had money too. The money wasn’t my interest I was after his character; to determine if he was good enough.
At some point, I wanted to use him to get my boyfriend a job. I thought about it and nearly took an action but my conscience never stopped tripping me into deep guilt; “Don’t make things complicated. You may end up destroying both relationships.” I didn’t do it.
I kept giving him mixed signals, just enough to get him interested as I continue observing him and also think about how to finally drop the promise ring and move on. I didn’t want to do it in a way that would hurt Ato but no matter how hard I thought about it, there was no easier way around things of such nature.
This man I called a stranger some three paragraphs ago became the man I thought of every day. He showed me enough to trust him. Somehow, he gave me the courage to say yes to him regardless of what Ato was going to say but the problem was how to finally come to a place where I would be comfortable to tell Ato that I was leaving him. I planned all the conversations in my head; what I would say and how I was going to say it. The response I would give if things become difficult. I planned everything and even walked to his house to tell him that I’m moving on but immediately I saw his face, courage disappeared and everything I had planned left my mind. Speechless.
I started giving him some clues but he wasn’t picking it. Maybe he did and decided to ignore or he didn’t. One night, while he was in my room, the stranger I once met called my phone. I didn’t pick. He looked on the phone and saw the name. He asked me to pick, I told him I couldn’t pick the call in his presence. He asked me why and I felt it was the right time to tell him the truth; “He likes me. He has proposed to me long ago and the sad thing is, I like him too. I didn’t know how to make this simple for us. That’s why I haven’t spoken about it.”
I saw him shaking. There was anger in his eyes. He started asking questions, almost screaming;
“How long have you been seeing him?”
“I don’t know but we were friends before he proposed.”
“Did you say yes to his proposal?”
“Not immediately but yeah, I said yes to him some few months ago.”
“Have you kissed him? You two have had sex already?”
“Please don’t let us talk about that. It doesn’t help the conversation in any way.”
“You mean you’ve been sleeping with him while we are still together?”
“I didn’t say that but don’t let us go there.”
“How many times have you slept with him?”
He was so angry I thought he was going to hit me but I was relieved that I could finally tell him the truth. At some point his voice mellowed; “Why would you do that? Does the promise ring means nothing to you now?” He looked at my finger and realized that I wasn’t wearing it. “You’ve even removed it. Why would you throw a five year relationship away just because of a man you met not too long ago?” I didn’t answer that. He kept talking and talking then he said, “Is it because of money? You’re going after a man because of his money? What happened to love?”
I knew he wouldn’t understand so I tried not to explain. I was hitting thirty years in a few weeks and I was still with a man who didn’t have a job. My junior sister had married two years prior. I wasn’t under any pressure but the security of the future—my future was very important to me. That night we decided not to meet again or talk to each other. We decided we were moving on with our lives. Yeah, he kept contacting me every now and then asking me to change my mind but I’d already decided to move on with the Stranger I Once Met.
Almost a year after this breakup, I and the Stranger I Once Met got married. I heard all the things Ato said and all the insults his friends dished out to me. When I posted my wedding photos, some of them came in the comment and called me a gold digger. One wrote, “Remember tables may turn. He’ll make money and you will lose everything. That day you’ll regret ever leaving a good man.” I took a screenshot of the comment before deleting it. I sent it to Ato and told him, “See what your friends are doing under my photo. Speak some sense to them.” His response was, “Where is the lie? You think I will remain like this till I die.”
He was still bitter but I wished him well.
Three years down the line, I and my husband had left Ghana. He has a business here in the US and I’m doing my masters and also working full time in his company. Somewhere last year, Ato sent me a message on Facebook seeking financial assistance for a new business he’s into—he’s into delivery service and he had created an App for the service and wanted money to push the business. I sent him twice the amount he asked for. He was grateful and came into my inbox to thank me every day. About five or six months later he came again; “I have only one bike in full operation now. The request is booming. If I get more bikes, I could make more money and scale-up. Do you mind lending me some amount to purchase more bikes?”
I sent him an amount that could buy two motorbikes per the estimate he sent me. He promised to pay in a few months. I told him, “You don’t need to pay. I only want you to do well for yourself because you’re a good person.” I don’t know if he indeed used the money for what he said he was going to use it for. I want him to do well and I pray he indeed does well. He’ll forever remain my ex and there’s no honor in having an ex who is a nobody.