“Ladies and gentlemen, put your hands together for the beautiful Tabitha Mugo, our regional head. By the way, Tabby is SINGLE and FREE TO MINGLE,” the emcee roared.
Tabby sat at her chair. She felt the glare of the crowd. The anticipation, the weird stares, some snickers here and there. This was her company’s’ community dinner meeting. She was the guest speaker. There were more than 300 people in the crowd. These were people she considered important not only for her company to achieve results, but personally their validity would help solidify her standing in the company she worked for.
Her insides tied in a knot. She cringed. She wished she could disappear. But she couldn’t.
She needed this moment. Had worked for this moment.
She sighed. She adjusted her skirt, and in one brave stride made it to the podium. Where would she start? Does she start by setting the record straight, by offering pleasantries or by going straight to the reason she was called on stage?
She went straight to the point. The agenda of the day. There was no point for her to rock the boat. It may come out as insecure, she reasoned.
She faked a smile, even a slight laugh in between her speech. She had prepared for this speech tirelessly. She wanted to make an impression. She had to make the right connections.
But inside she was hardly but put together. She wondered if she had managed to sway the audience from her biased introduction.
“How dare he introduce me like that? Why is my being unaccompanied even an issue?” she fumed.
It was not the first time it was happening. It always centred on her being alone. “I thought I would get used to it. You feel judged. Like what you are, what you have fought so hard to be, doesn’t matter, unless you have a partner on your side!” the 35-year-old exclaims.
That’s when she made the resolve. She was going to get a male companion. To keep appearances. To get validated in a society that on one hand says that a woman relationship status shouldn’t matter, but in reality made it the only agenda about her.
We are meeting somewhere in town, because of this need.
“I need a male escort!” the divorced mother of two declares.
As it is, she has auditioned in her mind what she needs in a male companion. She has it all up to the Tee. “I don’t want a Ben 10! And not a relative, they must be able to hold down their drink, I don’t want embarrassment, and no broke guys either — I don’t want him to start fleecing me or taking advantage and get underhand deals with the men I interact with. And I must add not married either,” she spells it out.
“I know I could have gone on Tinder. I could have picked someone up at a bar. I could have even asked my gay friend to accompany me and fake being a straight dude for the night — but those options are messy and unpredictable.
STRONG MALE FIGURE
"I want to do this the right way.”
What’s the urgency, I enquire? “Do you know the wazee requested that I slaughter a goat for them? You know, for my ushering into the community? And you know in Kikuyu culture, women are not allowed to do so! I need a companion also for this!” she exclaims.
“I need a strong male figure, one who would not be intimidated, knows his place and doesn’t have baggage for a wife,” she continues, as I shake my head at the paradox of her needs. Purely transactional but also one who would be relied on to appear on short notice.
“Oh, did I say he has to look the part? I mean not plain ugly!” she thunders on.
“A man who can be trusted,” she sums it up.
Didn’t she think this was too much to be in one person?” I question.
“That’s what would work for me!” she barks.
I pause. My mind searches for the right words.
In a perfect world, there would be no need for male escorts. However, we do not live in such a world, and thus, we must navigate adult issues in the imperfect one in which we reside.
This is a world in which an unaccompanied woman sends the signal that she is easy prey to men and women view her as a threat to their relationships. It is what it is.
DateMeKenya.com, founder and CEO Ian Isherwood, says: “As women break through the glass ceiling and take on high stress job roles, and office hours increase, something almost inevitable has happened — the number of females using escorts has increased.
“Over the years we have had a number of inquiries. Especially during December when there are a lot of work and family events.
Unfortunately, some people still have old and outdated mentalities that often stigmatises woman, typically aged 30 years and older, who are not in a relationship or married with a family. These pressures can drive some women to look for a short-term partner rather than handling all the nagging questions and comments,” says Ian, whose platform was founded in 2013 and caters for 60 per cent professional females between aged between 20-75 residing in Kenya & Diaspora.
Back to Tabby, and I wonder what she is willing to part on her part. I mean, something always gives.
“What will you be offering in return?” I pose. “Hmmmh, I guess there will be some sort of compensation. Access to my networks. Plus, he will love my company! Don’t you think so?” she beams.
“Honestly, I have not thought seriously about this!” she admits.
Now, I know what you're thinking: this Tabby chick must be A) high, B) butt-ugly or C) hands-down the most desperate single woman in Kenya to have entertained such an idea. She is none of those things.
The correct answer is D) tired.
“I'm straight-up worn out from hearing, ‘You're pretty cool and smart, so why can't you find a guy?’ Society condones asking women questions like this without stopping to consider how they feel.”
Joan Kirera, a marriage and family therapist based in Nairobi, says it’s okay for a woman like Tabby to get a healthy companion to cope with a particular moment. But the woman must know that this is a temporary measure that only serves that one intended purpose.
It’s a catch 22 of some sort.
“For females who are nervous about coming out and embracing self-acceptance, being singled-out because of their marital status can be nerve-wrecking. But while it may give desired instant results, I would not advise it for longer periods.
Think that anyone hired can also be hired by other people. You do not want a community husband? You may also end being labelled as one who is promiscuous.
It also may take a lot of energy to sustain it and ensure you introduce the same man to the same group of people. Also the male companion may take advantage and resort to blackmail or you might end up developing an unhealthy relationship with the escort,” says Joan. She advises that one sees a therapist for self-acceptance.
“These type of set-ups must be done with clear boundaries. Each person needs to know the rules and what is expected of them. Otherwise, things will get messy and it can backfire in your face,” cautions Isherwood.
When I posed the question in one of the relationships groups on Facebook, few sided with her quest.
“The idea is ridiculous and whatever she is trying might lead her to make more mistakes,” commented Dan.
“The moment you start living for other people there is something seriously wrong with you. DO YOU and let the world deal with themselves,” offered Lucille.
There are those who understood her predicament.
“Simple. Buy a cheap wedding ring set. Yes, it happens especially when conducting research in rural areas. That perception often determines the success of a project,” advised Jemimah.
But Tabby is dead set on her way. “Well, Sod off society. I want to change the rules. I have reached a point where I am so tired of the perception I get that I am willing to try this.”
Clarisaa Wanza, 44, would agree. She got a male companion three years ago and she is full of praise.
“I have always been defiantly single. But reality struck. I was stuck in a rut. I realised that if I needed to not only climb the ladder but be respected, a partner sent the right signals,” Wanza, a County Director says.
“When I applied for my job, I indicated I was married despite the fact that I wasn’t. I needed to position myself right. I got a companion to send the right message. It’s been three years. When people see your partner, they respect you automatically.
Let’s face it, we live in a patriarchal society. The boy’s club is a reality. And as a single woman, men don’t naturally trust you. So you have few chances of getting into the inner circle. When you have a man, they readily accept both of you.”
“Personally, I LOVE it! But let's be blunt here, the only opinion that truly matters is that of the woman choosing to do what she is doing. It's easy for us to make snap judgments and throw 'opinions' around, but the truth is unless you have lived within the exact same circumstances and feel her same pressures, then you will never know what is driving her to do that. Focus on your own life, let these women be happy and do what they want,” says Isherwood.
Phyllis is a media and communication expert based in Nairobi.