What Men Can Learn from Women About Self-Care

Si Madame hujipenda, lakini!

This past Saturday evening, I visited an old female friend to square a few things out (not what you think). 

I arrived at her place rather late in the evening, just when the rains were beginning to pound. The first thing she gave me at the door, were those white warm slippers I normally see in high end hotels, that lady clients are fond of carrying home. It is a good host who ensures your feet remain warm in his or her house on a cold April Nairobi night. 

Entering her house, she was due for a work-related zoom call, so she served me the tea (she is a teetotaler) she had prepared in advance, and man, it restored hope in me that other than myself, there is actually a person, much less a woman in Nairobi who can brew tea better than me. Proper tea brewing is an art and skill that is fast disappearing as our grandmothers of a certain generation are fast dying. Sad. 

Anyway, she went for her zoom call, and left me in her sitting room that is the subject of this memo. 


I have been inside so many living rooms in Nairobi, from Kileleshwa to Kibera, from Dagoreti to Dandora, from Karen to Kayole, from Muthaiga to Mukuru kwa Njenga/ Reuben. I have never seen such a tasteful, minimalist living room like the one my friend has. 

The elegant grey sofa is one of those you see in those huge Mombasa Road furniture shops. One whose price tag makes you carry on walking around the store like you didn’t see it. The carpet was a neatly soft and fluffy affair, so good, on a female eye can pick that. Her TV, a 55-inch LG was mounted so well on the wall, I have seen TV on the walls, but that looked so proportionate, so well hung, like it was built into the wall. Damn. It was connected to a sound bar hidden behind a miniscule stand. There was a good bookshelf, specially designed for her, and while I don’t approve her choice of books, they looked neat on the shelf. She is saved and reads a lot of Paul Coelho. 

And then, there was the wall. It was hospital blue. Never thought that colour could look so good on the interior of an apartment. However, with the black-framed artworks, framed quotes from her favourite leading women in business and authors, blended quite well with that austere if depressive blue. On the wall was a huge picture from her bust upwards with that fetching smile that smile of ‘I overcame (insert-depression, cancer, a heartbreak), you know it. It was a smile of I own this space. All these complemented a look of quietude; the kind of personal space that transforms a house into a home. Add her OCD-level of cleanliness and it is a house I wanted to move in with her. Only that men don’t move into women’s houses. 

Since her Zoom call went on and on, and I could not watch the unwatchable film she was watching (women, really watch weird stuff, like all women I visit are always watching this movie with a thin white woman in some forest with a bearded man in a checked woolen shirt doing nothing), I turned into my head to ponder about the sheer beauty of her ‘personal space’ as the modern women are wont to call their apartments. I can understand why she may not want anyone, man or woman to come and violate it. 

I have known the girl now since we joined campus. That is 13 years and counting. When I went back home, I had to look at the pictures from campus, and there she was like me. Wearing those funny jeans that look really bad on us. Old college photos always make us look like the sons and daughters of peasants we are. I know she comes from a place that is 90 kilometres to the nearest tarmac, where they sell Kimbo and Blue Band in metallic tins and Kenneth Matiba’s 1992 campaign posters are still on the walls of local eateries as decorations, but nothing has stopped to live like she was born South C, when it was South C. 

Our lives have followed the same curve, failed or false career starts. Not so good breakups, great relationships that led to nowhere, and a lot of arrested dreams. But we have lived to tell. However, if you measured my life and her life, you will notice who is doing better. 

Now, when I used to enjoy a cigarette with Mark Twain, he would tell me, “Silas, comparison is the death of joy.” And by no means was I comparing myself to her. I just admired her and how she has been able to cope with adulthood in Nairobi. 

Arguably, women sometimes tend to handle breakups and divorces better than men. Reasons may vary, and today, is not a day of pointing finger or being defensive. Today, I want it to be a day of learning for us men. 

I have worked as a lifestyle journalist for 15 years, that means running a token article about men in an exclusive female magazine. I have been reading those magazines. And man, those magazines have carried the message of self-improvement for women and women have internalised it so well. An average working, corporate Nairobi woman has such a positive outlook about life. That is why you can’t break the heart of a Nairobi woman. You dump her and she will take herself to Diani to cool her heels. She dumps you and moves on with her boyfriend, like nothing happened even as you go on a destructive path to a prove a point she won’t care about. 

On the other hand, there have been few spaces in media where men can learn even how to be positive about life. Just being positive. I have tried to pitch a male show to local TVs but even male TV producers don’t give a rat’s ass about men. Hence most men don’t know the value of self-care and self-improvement. 

I want to contradict myself a bit from last week’s memo. While there are men having a good time as bachelors, there are those who are not having such a good time. Not because they lack, but because they have let themselves go. 

You visit a woman, and she will have very nice seats, good and colourful cushions, a fridge stocked so well, and her spice shelf will make Gordon Ramsay green with envy. Add to this a good library, and you are half-way through healing from whatever you are suffering. When I visit such women, I often note, that other occasional sex, such a woman needs nothing from a man. Or even a man. 

There are some men I visit, and they have totally neglected their personal space. You enter their house, and you can ‘hear’ the stench of utensils from last Thursday smelling. To even get a glass of whiskey is such a chore, driving to a bar 135 kilometres away is a more sensible choice. 

This is not how to live. 

It is easy to say that women have fewer responsibilities compared to men, or some women live off men, but this is not entirely true. 

I know women who spend up to 20,000 on skin care products. It is easy to throw in stuff like, “she is fighting social invisibility”, but even as a man, the older you grow, you have to fight social invisibility, by looking good, by smelling nice. You may not need Sh 20,000 for your skin, but you can buy a great leather bag for your laptop, or buy yourself those nice light boots. 

More and more women work for their money, no need of justifying our poor choices by pointing fingers. Sometimes all it takes to catch up, is sparing a few whiskies and gins, staying home one or two weekends, and you have saved enough for a good carpet. Or being selfish and putting your needs first. It is a skill we have to actively learn from women. 

As men, we must learn to fix our abodes. This spartan life only contributes to the nihilism that characterizes men who lose their job or family later in life. Cleaning your room and grooming yourself, goes a long way to change how you look at yourself. Even people judge a book by a cover. 

Once you take care of the outer you, then you can start healing the inner you. Personally, there is a certain joy and satisfaction I derive once I have cleaned ‘my space’ and the house smells nice. Even when reading a book, it reads better. It helps you deal with your inner scars, if you change the environment around you. 

So, if you are a single man, spare a few coins (I know times are hard), but keep trying or at least have an idea of what you want. You don’t have to buy a Sh 252,000 couch from a Mombasa Road shop where attendants only speak English. Give a good carpenter the same design and they will make the couch for a quarter the price. 

I have come to accept that it pays to have creative female friends (those with a sense of space and colour). Even when you can’t marry or date them, women can be useful when designing your interior. If you can do it yourself, do it. If you can’t, have your sister or a girl friend, do it. Women know better as most of them have generally seen the inside of more apartments than you as a man. 

Here is to a great week. Put yourself and your needs first. That does not mean your abandon your other responsibility. But a little self-love never hurts. 

Take care of yourself.


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