Sins of Our City: Dating in a Time of Drama, Trauma, and Instant Gratification

I cannot fathom that, at some point, cute ladies were called manyanga and dotcom. Today, you will hear words like mdenge, mangoko, pengting, a girl toto etc. These words refer to a beautiful woman. And just like the name evolves, so does the dating scene. This is my observation and in no way represents the actual dating scene in Nairobi and, to a broader extent, dating across all ages. 

Dating in our time is like when Wakadinali, in Geri Inegi, said : ‘Hatuitishi ruhusa kuguza/Tunaishi nchi rahisi hutundura/Na ukisnitch juu ya clique unasundwa/Shock delete unakam kuchunguza, umbwa!’ Especially the Umbwa! part. Everyone seems to know it. Everyone shouts it. It is like The Podcast With No Name and the ladies. Inseparable. Other times, it’s like that Golden Buzzer moment at American Got Talent/British Got Talent. 

Marashi ya woria. That good scent. It is when Ethan Muziki sells out KNT within a week. It is that Maina and King’ang’i, Yolanda and Dj Absolute, Mike Mondo and Cess Mutungi, and Mwende and Clemo radio combo. Lulu Hassan and Rashid Abdalla. Oh, it is Peter Drury and football. Sometimes, it is like the Google search bar and the keywords of an under 18 confirming symptoms of pregnancy or that 22-year-old trying to find the easiest way to commit suicide other than talking back to his mother. 

First, they tell you that they are not big on texts. They invite you to their world. If you are keen enough, you will learn they do not often text or call. It is a normal thing for a youth who is trying to find themselves. This is Nairobi. Shamba la mawe. It is adulting whipping your ass. You will think, ‘What is the worst that can happen?’ You will receive more texts from conmen who tell you, “usitume kwa hii number, tuma kwa hii ingine’ than you will receive from the love of your life.

I have seen the good side of love. But I must admit, I am still a student. I am not Doctor Love (so treat this as a fact). I have little experience being in romantic relationships. But I have allegedly dated a few people, and in their own words, kiliwaramba. So expect kikurambe. Nairobi si ya mama yako, and so trade carefully. 

Dating in Nairobi is like volunteering in a toxic work environment. Or unpaid internship. In building your CV, you have to take in loads of bullshit. It is beautiful on the CV, and the experience gained can take you far. But see, people who do not care about you cannot take you anywhere. The dont-care attitude is all over.

Ever heard, “I don’t owe anyone anything?” As if we are ready to take your lack of respect lightly. As if we will let you steal from a mama mboga without holding you accountable. As if we will let you treat makangas, nduthi guys, and bartenders like trash. It is this same behavior that makes Nairobaes misbehave in relationships. Eating fare? Pathetic.

Someone told me if you cannot be trusted with 500 bob, you cannot be trusted with a car/house/more money. But don’t we all want ‘soft life?’ It is essential to ‘carry’ yourself with some standards. Some dignity. Not sending fare? Even worse. This battle never ends. And so dating in Nairobi is a silent battle of who has not sent fare, and yet they want to hit it, and who has sent fare and the other party saw it wise to eat it.  It is a Tom and Jerry game. It never ends. 

Nairobaes want to own you: My love. My nduthi guy. My mama mboga. My errand girl. My mama fua. Kosea, make a mistake, like talk to another babe/guy, and you will be in big trouble. Nairobaes know how to be jealous. And not in a healthy way. In her book ‘Lizard,’ Japanese writer Banana Yoshimoto says, “Maybe jealousy is an indication of a general lack of energy rather than of problems in the relationship itself. Again, Nairobaes love ownership. Invite them to your space, and your hoodie is gone. Trust them with your bank account details; they evaporate with your money. And the worst thing is they will gaslight you. They will play the victim. 

Nairobaes are hardly romantic. Myself included. But look, there are these high school kids, hardly 18. My girlfriends have told me these kids say the right words and do the right things more than older men. Yes, age is just a number, but a good sentence to spend time at Langata Women’s Prison and Kamiti involves numbers, too.

See, in Nairobi, even kids who just grew tirries the other day are promising wababaz to take them places they have never been and do to them things their wives have never done to them. The beauty? They are not like your favorite politician. They deliver.

This is the reality of dating in Nairobi. You have to blow the box, think far outside it. It does not favor those who are in the middle. Go hard or go home. Spend more, or submit more. Sometimes, Nairobaes give more and receive less. Think of that ‘wife material.’ She cooks. She washes. She gives head (bless these ones). Yeye huseti, every style there is. Yet, when all these are removed from the equation, suddenly, the relationship is empty.

Perhaps we must ask ourselves, “Where do I draw the line.” Filling other people’s cups makes no sense when yours is getting empty.  What’s your leverage? Brenda Obath of Classic fm recently asked listeners, ‘What is your motivation?” when doing the most for the people you are in a relationship with. 

We are always in a rush. Mwendo wa kasi. You know someone without knowing them. You remember what you did with them but not their name. Dating has become like the feeling when watching videos on Tik Tok. You cannot wait to move to the next. The attention span has reduced so much that within a year, you could be in more than 12 situationships, 6 Friends With Benefits (FWB), a few sneaky links, and a fight with someone’s wife/husband/bae. It is scary to think that your mpoa could be someone’s mverified. 

In Navutishwa, Ben Sol says, ‘Nairobi hakuna amani.’ That there is chaos as much as love exists in great measure. Navutishwa. Haya mapenzi sijalipishwa. Mapenzi halali (mapenzi legit). Nakulishwa (matamu ya roho). Kidogo tu ninyonyeshwe. This song captures the Nairobi dating scene well.  It’s mostly physical intimacy. It‘s what Bien sings thus: “Kukaa kukaliwa, kulala, kulaliana na kulaliwa.” Relationships are the proverbial “Fast-paced work environment.”

In Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Season 1 Episode 2, Greg Serrano (Santino Fontana) asks Rebecca Bunchi (Rachel Bloom) why she is becoming a “duplicitous minx.” The word itself is a mystery to me (and I love mysteries), but it simply means copying others. And we Nairobaes are good at that. Copy and paste. Today it is kufungua bra na mkono moja, as Mejja puts it, Tomorrow we have a young couple moving in together. Nothing wrong with this. It is what it is.

The pressure to live like others has never been low. The pressure to impress is even worse. In her 2015 article, The Problem with Dating in Nairobi, published in The Standard, Yvonne Aol shares; The men want to prove very many things to their egos (and their “homies”) and the women largely want to own fancy things.” In this context, the aphorism ‘fake it till you make it’ seems not to work because many Nairobaes fail to do the work, so much so that the fake remains what it is. 

We do not take care of each other. Are there people who love each other unconditionally? And I know relationships are not a smooth sail. I am worried about the fights I see around me. Verbal violence. People shouting at each other unprintable words. Lovers fighting. Ask a bartender/bouncer, and they will tell you a night or two, there is always a fighting couple. As a waiter, they will tell you a day or two, someone refused to eat there because of a fight they had with the love of their life.

Look within. How many times have you put up a fight because of an issue you would have solved diplomatically? I spent almost half a day with a friend, and we talked about adult friendships and relationships. What stood out is that our friends are always carrying our burdens when we have issues with the people we are in love with.

Often, we run to our friends, confide in them, and when we have gotten that ‘listening ear’ or a ‘shoulder to lean’ on and things are great again, we dust off and return to our loved ones. We do this over and over. While some people like my friend have a ‘gift’ of listening and comforting, it leaves them drained most of the time.

Nowadays, she loves her ‘me’ time. For someone so caring to detach herself like that, it shows how bad relationships are and a wake-up call for all lovers (even the ones who attend Men’s Conference) to slow down and love compassionately, warmly, and tenderly.

In the end, dating in this ‘sin city,’ the big bedroom, is like a Drama Festival. Remember the function of repetition in poetry? To create rhythm and musicality. Now, dating a Nairobae creates the musicality of drama in human relationships. 

The chaos in dating during our time inatisha. I pray that we can love each other warmly, gently, and empathetically. Furthermore, those allergic to bullshit keep up with not allowing the bare minimum but handle others with care. Teach them if you can. Good things take time, and so do successful dating. That’s my time Nairobaes.

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