How we discovered real love after nasty heartbreaks, deceits –Individuals dwelling with disabilities

Some Nigerians living with disabilities share the stories of their love lives with Tope Omogbolagun

‘The internet went agog when our wedding pictures surfaced online,” newly-wedded Dorathy Osaro (Nee Osaronu) recalled fondly.

Osaro noted however that the pictures attracted diverse reactions, saying many people who celebrated with them warmly commented on how they looked great together in the pictures.

She said the comments didn’t really bother her because many didn’t know their love story. “Our union was ‘made in heaven’ so their opinion doesn’t count. I found love when I wasn’t even looking for one. I don’t blame critics. People who know me know that I am in my mid-twenties and my husband is well-to-do. I know that our union was made in heaven so critics’ opinions do not count,” the plus-sized, busty, light-skinned lady said excitedly.

Flashing a charming smile complementing her glowing skin, Osaro, who sat in a wheelchair as she spoke with Saturday PUNCH, recalled how she met her husband.

The lady said she met her husband when she sat the West African Senior School Certificate Examination in 2010, noting that their fathers were friends.

She said, “I met my husband in2010/2011 at Osu Academy, a school owned by his dad in Eleme, Rivers State. I sat the WASSCE in the school but we didn’t talk to each other when we first met. Our fathers are childhood friends but we weren’t.”

Love in familiar places

Treasures can be found in familiar places; such was the experience of the River State Indigene when she received a casual call from Gabriel nine years after they first met and ‘love happened to them.’

Flashing a gap-toothed grin, she stated, “In 2019, I got a strange call from one Gabriel who said he was at Eleme and that he wanted to buy a black soap from me because I trade in beauty care products.  I asked which one exactly he wanted and he told me to give him the best. I recommended a particular size and told a rider to dispatch it to him. He later called back to ask for a direction to the area.

“A week after, he called me again, saying that he wanted to help me boost my business, especially through social media. As at then, I had like 300 followers on Instagram.  Told him that I didn’t have the time to keep posting on social media but he said he was not usually around but whenever he was around, we should meet to talk better. Eventually we met and today we are married.’’

Osaro, who gushed endlessly over her husband, told our correspondent that she was captivated by his appearance the first day they met. She said, “My husband is cute. In fact, I fell in love with him the first day we met him because of his intelligence.’’ She ecstatically expressed how love found her.

She added, “After that day, we started going out together every day. Coincidentally, it was the same time I was trying to open a beauty shop.  We ran errands together.  He has his business but at the time, supported me as we went out every day. My husband and I started dating in October 2019. We got engaged on February 14, 2020 and married on May 23, 2021. We courted for one year and seven months. He proposed to me last year on Valentine’s Day, I was shocked. I really didn’t see that coming because at the time we had only dated for four months. I said yes and here we are today.”

A relationship psychologist, Meg Tuohey, from Melbourne, Australia, said society is comfortable accepting relationships that fit the norm and those that deviate by ‘about 10 per cent.’

A director at the Lagos State Ministry of Education, Mrs Rita Boyo, who is visually impaired, is one of those who found love unexpectedly.

Speaking with Saturday PUNCH on how she met her husband through his uncle who is a reverend father, Boyo stated that she accepted her husband’s proposal because she observed how he naturally cared for people living with disabilities.

As our correspondent’s called in while she was cooking, Boyo apologised for any noticeable occasional distractions.

“I knew my husband through a friend who is also visually impaired like me.  His uncle was like a godfather to me. He is a reverend father. My husband lived in the mission house with his uncle so I saw him during visits to the place. His uncle used to take us out for picnics,” she said.

 Boyo said she once asked her husband why he was interested in her, adding that his response was that she was more beautiful than others and quite reserved.

She stated, “We courted for five years before we got married in 1999.  We have known each other longer than five years before we started a relationship. We became more intimate and it ended in marriage. When he proposed to me, although I was familiar with him and his uncle, it wasn’t a straightforward decision for me.  I had doubts; I didn’t know if he was real or fake. I also considered parental and familial acceptance. I thought of my disability and if they would accept me.’’

The director noted that when she discussed her fears with her husband then, he assured her that no one would choose for him. She stated, “Yes, there were inhibitions and I understood their reasons for doing so, especially because my vision impairment was genetic. They objected for a while. We inherited the blindness from our mother so my husband’s family was afraid of the transfer of the ailment but they later accepted me.’’

It’s not only physically challenged ladies that found love to treasure, some men in that category also did. One of them is an educationist, Mr Oluwafemi Bayode, who said he met his wife at a church’s single meeting.

He said, “I met my wife at a programme for singles. We met after the participants introduced themselves. We built a friendship and one thing led to the other. We became lovers and today, we are married.”

Bayode said he believed that his love was divinely ordained for she hadn’t related with any person with disabilities before they met.

He added, “I am the first person with visual impairment that she met apart from beggars on the street. Meeting me exposed her to many things such as communicating with people living with disabilities, learning how they act, talk and do other things for them. She never thought of a blind person attending the university not to talk of earning a living.”

Bayode said she took her mind off any relationship with her when she asked to be allowed to think over his request for dating.

“Hearing that word, I wrote her off because of my previous experience but I still had a feeling to hold on. Three months later, she finally agreed,” he said excitedly.

He further said that he was emotional when his wife took a chance of a lifetime journey with him, adding that she told him that she was confident that he could take care of her and their unborn children.

He said, “She told me that she made up her mind the day she visited me. She said seeing the way my room was well arranged; she knew I could take care of myself and her as well as handle a family.”

Bayode said that because he knew God was behind him, he stood strong while his wife doubted if her parents would endorse the union.

 “There was no issue because her parents accepted me although she was scared to introduce me to them because of her previous experience and my condition. But I told her not to worry because I knew it was already settled. The first day, she told her mum but her parents said they would think about it. The next day, they invited me over to their house, I went there and I was accepted.”

For the Omiyales, the lovebirds are both visually impaired but determined to run a marital race together. The Ondo-based wife and mother of three, Olabisi Omiyale, said she met her husband at the higher institution they both attended.

Omiyale added that when her husband started showing interest in her, she wasn’t ready to give in because she was dating an able-bodied man then.

She said, “But fate brought us together and today we are married. I am visually impaired and I am married. My husband is also visually impaired. We paired up because we trust each other. If we have able-bodied partners, they may likely cheat on us. Although some people are lucky, it is not common. We are coping, God is helping us. We got married in 2006 and we have three kids.”

On how she got her parents’ approval, Omiyale said that her parents were initially worried, “But I convinced them because of what was happening around me,” she said.

Before love happened

Osaro said that life before she found the love of her life wasn’t an experience she enjoyed talking about.

She said, “I don’t want to talk about the past. Now I am married to the love of my life and that is all that matters.”

Also, Boyo also said she encountered unfaithful lovers and deceivers before love found her. She recalled that in one of her relationships, a sister to her ‘supposed’ lover called her to say her brother was only deceiving her.

Disclosing at a point during the interview that she had finished cooking, the beautifully-voiced woman narrated, “I had relationships before I got married. The sister of the first person I dated told me that her brother was only deceiving me and I quit the relationship.

“The other one I met loved me but I broke the relationship because of some characters which I could not cope with. One endures many things being visually impaired.”

Failed relationships aren’t peculiar only to the women, Bayode also had similar experiences.

He said, “I had different relationships before I met my wife. Let me share three of them with you. Two of them were during my university days. For one of them, people knew we really liked each other. I didn’t know that she was only using me. She eventually told me that she couldn’t continue with the relationship because she was being distracted in her academics and we should part ways for a while. I later realised that she was already going out with another person in the same fellowship we both attended.’’

Bayode said he thought he had seen it all until he had another bad experience with a lady who cheated on him by dating his friend.

He stated, “The second one was also while I was an undergraduate. I attended a Christian student programme on a Friday and before I returned on Monday, my then girlfriend had switched over to my friend.  Another friend of mine, Dauda, informed me about what happened in my absence. I confronted the guy and he didn’t deny it. He knew who informed me and he confessed that he was caught red-handedly in the act. I told my friend to leave the girl for the sake of friendship but he refused. After a month, I reconciled with him because I couldn’t imagine us quarrelling over a lady.’’

He added that another lady he met during his one-year mandatory National Youth Service Corps scheme was a timewaster. “She was all over me and she said she would pray over it when I asked her out. After about four months, I told her that God would have spoken to her. She then rejected my love proposal and used a false family rejection claim as an excuse. She was dating another person and I suspected. We only lasted three months, it happened 20 years ago,” he said.

On her part, Omiyale said she faced several challenges and heartbreaks dating able-bodied men before she found love in a visually impaired person.

She said, “Before I met my husband, I had dated some guys and I know how I felt when they cheated on me. I thus made up my mind to marry a visually impaired person like me.”

 Coping with stereotypes as PLWD

Being born with a silver spoon shielded Osaro from hassles that many Nigerians living with disabilities face ranging from maltreatment, hardship to stigmatisation.

“Personally while growing up, being in a wheelchair did not really affect me that much, because my dad, who is a monarch, made sure I got everything I ever wanted. The love from my family and friends made me see ability in my disability,” she said.

Treated at home as a princess that she is, she built strong self-esteem to ward off any challenges.

She stated, “Though many see people like me as less humans and not good enough, I never let any of their negativity weigh me down or get to me because I know I am beautifully and wonderfully made.”

Osaro while recalling her school experience said though one was comfortable in one’s immediate environment, he noted that every other place became a danger zone the moment one left the haven.

“Living in this country with a disability can be draining. The government hardly makes provisions for people living with disabilities. During my university days, I went through much stress accessing most of our classrooms,” she lamented.

Boyo believed that some people marry persons with disabilities because they felt they would not cheat. “They feel people living with disabilities won’t cheat on them and they are wrong. Disability is not inability. At the end we are all humans. It is either the relationship lasts or it does not,” she said.

Boyo noted that most times stereotypes started in the family of a spouse, especially if the person living with disabilities is a woman.

She noted, “They are worried and sometimes out of ignorance, wonder how a woman living with disabilities would take care of the home, nurse babies, carry the pregnancy and do many other things. They mock us; tell one’s husband that he married someone to spend on. But as they see the progress in such marriages, they tend to loosen up and embrace us. For example, they see a person living with disabilities using cars and having well-trained children. These help to clear their doubts. I am a director in the Lagos State Government and I support my husband.’’

Boyo further said that people often treated general challenges like peculiar cases when it involved someone living with disabilities.

“Another form of discrimination women living with disabilities face is that they are often blamed for some issues because of their physical disabilities.  For instance, if someone living with disabilities marries an able-bodied person and there is a marital issue like delay in childbearing, such would be easily linked to disability ignoring the fact that even people who don’t have disabilities have such issues,” she added.

Boyo said that stereotyping and discrimination was beyond the family because it’s fused even in the corporate environment.

She added, “Outside marriage, even in the workplace and other places, people have stereotypes against those living with disabilities. For example, as a visually impaired person, if one works in an office, it is usually believed that one shouldn’t do any other thing than working as a clerk to receive calls in the telephone room. They believe one can’t offer more than that.  A lawmaker didn’t know that a blind person could use a computer. Those are the discrimination we face.”

For Bayode, there was ignorance in society regarding the fact that some people thought people living with disabilities were liabilities. He added, “Another issue is superstition. Some people believe that individuals living with disabilities are cursed or under a spell. In this part of the world, people believe that if one has a sexual relationship with a physically challenged person, the imaginary curse can be transferred.

“Furthermore, there is a belief that if one marries a visually impaired person or anyone living with any form of disabilities other , there is a tendency that they would give birth to some children with disabilities. Also, as people living with disabilities, we have a role to play. We look down on ourselves emotionally and don’t socialise with people because we believe we can’t. We need to carry ourselves well and stop looking down on ourselves.”

Bayode added that some people always wanted to have an opinion on the lives of others.

 He stated, “People would always have something to say, either positive or negative. I know that whenever we walk together, people would look at us and wonder how a beautiful woman married a visually impaired person.’’

For Omiyale, she has battled diverse stereotypes from society. He said, “It has not been an easy thing because of our society. Many people believe that if one moves closer to visually impaired people, one will also be like them. That is the belief. They see us as cursed. Some people see us on the road and find it difficult to assist us. Even if they do, they prefer to hold our bags or the canes we hold instead of our hands.”

Lessons learnt

Speaking on her love life, Osaro said, “My love story has taught me that true love exists. I have realised that one must first love oneself before true love will find one.”

According to Boyo, her love story has taught her that no condition is permanent.

She said, “We should not write any child off; no child is useless. Our love story has taught us not to talk down on others and see anyone as being useless. My husband is a caring man. Even before he married me, he had always cared for people with disabilities and even when he saw them outside, he was always there to help. Like other couples, we quarrel and settle. But whenever I want to be a ‘woman’ during such quarrels or arguments, I will delve into a pity-game, saying, ‘Is it because I’m blind?’ He would then tell me not to try to use that. We sure have a beautiful marriage.”

Bayode said that his story had taught him that whenever anyone left him, it was for reasons best known to them.

He noted, “The next person that would come my way will always be better than the former person. I have realised that whenever people said no to me, there is always a better opportunity ahead.’’

Also, Omiyale said she had learnt that people must be open-minded especially when it came to dating fellow people living with disabilities. She said, “I do advise my fellow visually impaired ladies. I share my experience before marriage with them because some visually impaired ladies have yet to marry because they don’t want to marry someone like them. I had a friend when I was in school that was with a guy from 100 level days till final year. It was after during their final examination that the guy disappointed her and the lady is now over 40 and still single. Therefore, I do tell ladies like me that God’s will is certainly going to be done our lives but ours is to pray.”

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