The illusion of #relationshipgoals

Particularly on social media, #relationshipgoals (or #couplegoals) has become a commonly used hashtag. What, if anything, do these phrases mean?

We sat down with our good friend Dolly (Dolapo) to talk about how to challenge this prevalent phrase...


Dolly: How would you describe your partner?

Ayo: So, Ruth is exceedingly ambitious and hard-working. I don’t think you’ll find many people in this life who have the drive and determination that she has and are as intentional in their approach to fulfilling their purpose.  

Ruth: You better remember these lovely words next time we’re having a disagreement ha!

Ayo: ...I think that it’s not often the case that a man will marry or be on the verge of marrying someone and know that of the two of them she is the one with the destiny that outshines his. But he knows that he is someone who has been put into her life to draw out the beauty and strength in her which is so evident to everyone else but sometimes not even to her. In many ways I can see that in our relationship. I truly believe that once she comes into her own, I’m so excited to see what will transpire. So yeah that is my partner. That is Ruth in a nutshell.

Ruth: Dolapo, how long do you think Ayo’s speech will be at the wedding?

Dolapo: One hour…lol that was a very long answer!

Ruth: So, I’ll answer in half the time. Ayo is fun and an extrovert which brings me out of my shell and he’s definitely a people’s person. He loves being around people ALL.THE.TIME...which I find...interesting! He’s very caring and he spoils me a lot by driving me everywhere because I don’t really like going on the tube - lol.

I feel like we’re best friends and he’s my biggest encourager. I’ve definitely seen over the last few years how he’s always supporting me in so many ways - especially those that aren’t seen to others. What I’m most excited about for him, is that I feel that he loves supporting people and seeing them reach their dreams and full potential but I want him to believe that he deserves that as well. He’s also the most loyal person I know. There’s a Bible verse that says ‘Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart’ (Proverbs 3:3) and that exemplifies Ayo as a person.


Dolly: What were some of the things that surprised you about being in a relationship?

Ayo: I feel the word 'surprise' is an interesting one because I feel that even after 10, 20, 30 years there will still be things I’m learning about Ruth. Ruth is a very sophisticated person and full of depth and when a person has that level of depth of character and emotions – you can only scratch the surface after a couple of years. Once you appreciate that marriage is a journey about continually learning, you understand that you will always be graduating onto new and deeper lessons as you progress together.

Ruth: What surprised me is how much a relationship teaches you about yourself in a way that friendships don’t. You’re not as open with your friends as you are with your life partner. Also the importance of being committed to learning to forgive quickly after you have disagreements was different to my idyllic view of relationships. I'm learning and being challenged so much - especially in the area of character by being with someone like Ayo.

Once you appreciate that marriage is a journey about continually learning,  you understand that you will always be graduating onto new and deeper lessons as you progress together.
— Ayo afolabi

Dolly: What were some of the things you had to work through when you started dating?

Ayo: For most of my teenage/young adult life I've always relied on myself. Due to my upbringing and my education (I was in boarding school for most of my life) I’d grown into a very independent young man. A perfect case in point is that even today I don’t understand the concept of missing someone.

Ruth: That is very odd…! In fact it’s weird..

Ayo: Missing someone was almost anathema to me.

Dolly: A what?

Ayo: It was almost repulsive to me.

Ruth: Which would have been easier just to say in English which is fine. There’s so many other easier to understand words you could have used.

Dolly: Hahahaha

Ruth: Babe just carry on.

Ayo: I’m still learning that I must master the art of having to depend on someone and that no man is an island. That’s critical for openness. If I don’t depend or allow for a dependence on Ruth – how can I be open with her? Dependence improves openness. That’s me admitting to myself, even as an independent man I do need her at times and being able to put that into practice has strengthened our relationship.

Another thing I’ve had to learn is displaying vulnerability - something I found hard. I wasn't taught to show vulnerability and in previous relationships when I did show vulnerability, I'd been hurt. And no guy likes to admit – with the stereotype of being an alpha male, who has no weakness, who is supposed to protect his woman - so there were walls which needed to come down.

Ruth: Dolly what time do you need to go?

Dolly: I don’t need to go.

Ayo: Dolly’s enjoying now!

Ruth: Ok babe I'm sure Dolly doesn’t’ want to be here all night  – let’s be a bit more concise with answers.

Ruth: I’m the opposite of Ayo in that I’m a very independent person in general, but in our relationship I’m having to learn to be more independent. So for instance I never get bored of spending time with Ayo. There’s not ever a time I would rather chill on my own than spend time together. Early on in our relationship, if he ever needed his alone time or time with his boys instead of spending time with me, I would take it very personally.

I’m learning that in order for us both to thrive in the relationship it’s important to give each other space when we need. As Ayo said, I do have a big heart but I can appreciate that sometimes when I’m trying to show care - maybe in my head that’s how I would want to feel loved whereas for him that’s not perhaps the case. So, understanding how he wants to receive love has been a learning curve.


Dolly: Where do you think the idea of #relationshipgoals comes from?

Ayo: I think if a relationship was two good looking people standing next to each other looking nice – then anyone could do #relationshipgoals. You would just need nice makeup, a nice dress and a good suit. But I know - having experienced it in life – there is no such thing as #relationshipgoals. It’s the biggest myth in the modern millennial age – conferred on us to give us a wrongful idea of what relationships are. Relationships are hard work. They require compromise, hard work, sacrifice – not words you usually equate to #goals.

Relationships are hard work. They require compromise, hard work, sacrifice – not words you usually equate to #goals.
— ayo afolabi

In the cold light of day, it’s a hashtag that’s a visual one but when you look below the surface of what it truly matters, often, the goal isn’t’ something that we can see. Once you start to worry about #relationshipgoals – your focus becomes the context and perception of that relationship rather that person. At the end of the day, relationships aren’t the variable – but what is going on with the people is the true variable. It’s not relationships/marriages/partnerships that fail – it is people that fail.

Ruth: I think for me I find the idea of #relationshipgoals so strange as it's more just going off of two people dressed nicely or two people having a laugh which anyone can do. I think it distracts people and I think from when I was single it made me feel disheartened and I’m sure there are people who put up great photos and their lives are a mess. I’m not sure what the point of the hashtag is given every couple must decide themselves what type of couple they want to be. In our relationship, my goal is to always keep God at the centre and to be the best partner, encourager and supporter to Ayo I can be. So for me, the most important thing is to know in my life and this relationship what my priorities and goals are.

Dolly: Why do you choose to share some aspects of your relationship on social media?

Ruth: I’ve always felt besides us being really content in our relationship, that there’s been a real purpose in why God brought us together. We’re very different which you'll see in our videos and posts! Through what we share, there’s usually a deeper message we want to convey and a lot of the reason we’ve been able to relate to people (with wisdom and boundaries) is because we're quite open. For me too, my Instagram shows my life which Ayo's a big part of and as a person I wear my heart on my sleeve.

Ayo: One of the things I said to Ruth’s dad when I was asking him for permission to marry Ruth, was that I believe that our relationship and our union is bigger than us. I’m not grandstanding but I strongly believe in my heart that God has joined us together for a reason bigger than the two of us. Part of the reason we’re building this platform is to share our lives authentically and experiences in a way that edifies, supports and develops others around us. The nature of what we both do and where we both are at in life means there is an exposure. And we’re not living for anybody or to show people a false ideal/utopia, but I think in our position as young people and young aspiring leaders – we have something to share in a solid foundational relationship. For me again with wisdom, again with discretion, this is why we are motivated to share some aspects of our lives.

Ruth: How come you didn’t share your life before we started dating?

Ayo: I had an Instagram account before we started dating but I think that sometimes sharing aspects of your life and a relationship without knowing your/its purpose can be a recipe for disaster – for both parties. When I met Ruth, I was in the position where I started to discover what God wanted me to do in life. Now I’m in the process of sharing my life, knowing the purpose, direction, who I’m going there with and what the bigger picture is - I feel more confident to share certain aspects of my life.

Dolly: How does social media affect your relationship?

Ayo: I’d like to think its effect is minimal/non-existent. I say that because one of the things I love about Ruth is that she’s unashamedly herself. She’s not one to try and act up or adopt a certain persona that’s not her. One of the most tedious aspects of social media in today’s world is that it adds a pressure to people to be what they are not. And to put up a front and mask who they are.

I think if there’s anything that Ruth and I have worked at the hardest - is being open about being ourselves 100% with each other. Once you scale away all the makeup, nice clothes and filters – not just on social media but in real life - you realise that the reality of who you are is more important than the falsehood that can be portrayed on social media.

Social media doesn’t negatively affect our relationship because we established the true foundations in real life so early on.
— ruth Yimika awogbade

Ruth: When we got together, I don’t think Ayo was seen on my social media accounts for about 6 months and I think in a way that was to protect our relationship and establish foundations outside of social media. Social media doesn’t play a part because we established the true foundations in real life so early on. My Instagram account shows my life which Ayo is obviously a big part of hence why he’s often seen but I use wisdom so I don’t just display your life anyhow.

Ayo challenges me to live in the moment because I feel like the danger of social media, especially if you’re in a relationship and showing that, is that people think that things are perfect and you waste your time trying to curate and project perfect moments. So yeah I’ve just learnt a lot from him in the sense that if social media shut down tomorrow, I’d still want us to have the most solid and enjoyable relationship.


Dolly: What are the genuine goals you aspire to in your relationship?

Ruth: From day one, the thing I could always tell about Ayo was that he was going to be someone I could build a future with. Neither of us came into the relationship with everything sorted and already together. I’m excited as I feel we’re a team and as we keep God first I can't wait to see what He does.

I also can't wait to raise kids together in the future and instil values and principles into them. I always felt so loved at home - home was the place I was empowered to face the world and aim high. I think Ayo will be such a great dad as he's so good with children. Even yesterday we were seeing these people riding bikes in the countryside and I was like 'Babe it’s so weird that people would voluntarily go out to a bush in their spare time and be riding bikes'! Ayo was like ‘definitely - sometimes that would be fun. If you don’t want to do it then I would take the kids.’ He’s so driven and ambitious but even with everything he’s involved in, I’ve never felt second fiddle to anything he’s doing and I know that's how great he'll be as a dad. Aguntunde what goals do you aspire to…?

Ayo: Who’s that?

Ruth: Isn't that one of your middle names?

Ayo: Well firstly you didn’t even say it right it’s ‘Akintunde’..

Ruth: Ahhh I’ve always thought it was Aguntunde

Ayo: Who’s that?

Ruth: Well it’s obviously not you then.

Ayo: Glad we’ve corrected that then!

Ayo: One of the things I’m looking forward to is being a helpmeet to Ruth - even beyond fulfilling my God-given purpose I can't wait to help her achieve what she was born to do. I’m also looking forward to the chance and opportunity to establish a legacy which obviously includes a family. I know she’ll be an amazing mother. A mother who probably needs me onside to toughen up the kids as she’ll wrap them up in cotton-wool!

Dolly: Lastly, which couples do you admire?

Ayo: In terms of a relationship that I can see, I know it’s cliché but I just love the way the Obamas comport themselves.

Ruth: Comport?

Ayo: Fine carry themselves.

Ruth: No it’s fine to use that word I’ve just never heard that. Dolly – have you heard of that?

Dolly: No, but I’ve learnt two new words after this conversation – I’m gonna be smarter!

Ayo: The way they carry themselves in public together is a real indication of what their relationship is like behind closed doors. Without even thinking, you would see Barack reach out walking across the lawn to hold Michelle’s arm or she would hold his shoulders - it’s a very noticeable thing how tenderly they look at each other. Obviously these are visual examples but when they’re happening naturally, they give you an indication of what’s going on beneath the surface and the affection they have together. After all the years they’ve been together, that affection is something to aspire to.

In terms of couples I speak to and hear about, I have to say our mentor and Ruth’s pastor - Pastor Agu (Irukwu) - the relationship he has with his wife Pastor Sola is memorable. He’s utterly devoted her - he respects her, he listens to her and he values her opinion. And he also respects her enough to surrender their relationship to the accountability of others/his mentors. And to do that even at his level – that’s a relationship I admire.

Ruth: From a distance I’d definitely say the Obamas. One thing I respect is when you have a man who is strong and talented but has no problem supporting and encouraging his wife – that’s really admirable. My parents – I feel very privileged to have seen their genuine friendship, commitment and devotion to one another. It still amazes me how they both still enjoy being in each other’s company even after 30 years – if you want the true definition of 'relationship goals’, theirs captures the often misused cliché perfectly.


LOCATION: Dirty Burger, Shoreditch