The Tennis Coach and Depression

After Ifemelu goes to the tennis coach when she’s desperate for money, she spirals into depression because she has no one to talk to about it. She can’t tell Ginika or any of her other friends in America because doing so would be to admit how desperately she needs the money and how she’s “failed” as an America. Ifemelu feels as though she’s failed because every time she calls home, her father tells her about the many wonderful job opportunities in America (even though he’s never been there himself). The idea that America is the promised land of money and success is so ingrained in Ifemelu’s mind that because she hasn’t achieved any of that yet, she feels as if she’s the problem, not the society’s racism that makes her skin color unattractive to employers or her lack of a Social Security Card or a work visa. These factors leading up to the incident pushed Ifemelu to the point where she felt she had to essentially sell her body (or at least use it for things she was uncomfortable with) for money.

The actual incident itself (if you aren’t reading the book, a tennis coach is hiring an assistant to “help him relax,” Ifemelu initially refuses but later calls him back when she’s desperate for rent money. He touches Ifemelu and she lets him, but doesn’t really want to and isn’t comfortable with it, and she complies when he asks for sexual favors. Ifemelu is paid $100 and leaves), not quite rape and not quite prostitution, was incredibly degrading for Ifemelu. This is obviously the major stressor that sets off her depression. Afterwards, she loses contact with Obinze and shuts herself in her room. Right after the incident, Ifemelu calls her Aunty Uju and tells her she made 100 dollars at a man’s house that day and gets upset when Uju doesn’t ask her what she had to do for the money. This shouldn’t have shocked Ifemelu, since Uju slept with the General solely for his money and power for years, but it does. She herself is still in shock from the event and still feels very detached and disconnected to it, and needed someone to talk it out with.

Ifemelu and Obinze break up in probably the worst possible way. What Ifemelu really needed to do after the incident was to call Obinze and tell him about it. He was the only person who could have convinced her that everything was okay and he was who she really needed forgiveness from before she could forgive herself. I think a part of her feels that by going to the tennis coach, she cheated on Obinze, even though she was only in it for the money. The breakup must have been devastating for Obinze, since Ifemelu did not email or write letters back to him and he had no idea what happened or why they were no longer in touch. I don’t think the breakup gave either of them enough closure—when Ifemelu sees Kayode at the mall and he mentions Obinze, she becomes very upset at the thought of Obinze moving on with his life and to London without her knowledge. She holds a very childish belief that his life would stand still while she figured some stuff out, and Obinze would just be waiting for her when she was ready to pick up where they left off. This leaves Ifemelu and Obinze in a weird, unfinished relationship state, even though both of them have started seeing other people.

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