When Ayana met Bola, she was just leaving something long-term and entering her new life as a single mom.
They had no idea Twitter DMs would lead to a chance meeting, a chance meeting would lead to an unlikely connection, and that the like that would eventually follow would pave the way for a love story neither of them could have guessed were in their futures. Back then, the 27-year-old Ayana Gibbs and the 29-year-old Bola Okoya were three years younger. The photographer felt an instant attraction toward the life coach/project coordinator/founder of Authentic Convos. But he, too, was just getting out of something serious.
It would take some time and the mutual enjoyment of shared simple pleasures like walking in the park and talking on the phone, but timing would find them exactly where they needed to be. The only hesitation for Ayana would be the fact that her and her daughter, Ayo, were a package deal. Luckily for her, she fell for a man who had no intention in awakening the love within her without committing to building a relationship with her daughter as well.
In this edition of How We Met, the couple of three years talk the importance of a friends first relationship, love lessons, and challenges they overcame to forge a love stronger than any meme.
How They Met
Ayana: He stalked me (laughs). It all started in the DMs on Twitter years before we met. He wanted to know who I was and why he didn't know me since we lived in the same town. At the time, I was dating someone and replied, "Because I have a man," and cut the conversation short. About two years later, he asked me to be a part of his photography series and I agreed because I liked his work. It was platonic. A year later, I hired him to shoot my grandmother's 80th birthday. We became friends and kept it casual until we didn't.
Bola: I first spotted her on Twitter. Oddly enough, we found out that our mothers knew each other, but we had never met each other. After that first interaction, we kind of friend-zoned each other until we reconnected a few years later.
Bola: [I felt an] instant attraction when I first saw her but could only admire her from afar.
Ayana: I thought he was quiet and I found that interesting, especially since most guys I dated in the past were not. My attraction developed over time and started with getting to know him.
Ayana: I don't think we ever had an official first date. Strange, I know. Since we started as friends, it was a natural progression that intensified over time. I can share that we had many moments that were simple pleasures, like walking in the park and talking on the phone or in-person for hours, sharing our dreams and desires.
Bola: We didn't officially have a first date, but if I had to choose a time when our friendship grew, it had to be right around the second time we did a shoot together. We had gotten a lot more comfortable with each other and speaking a lot more frequently.
Bola: I would say that it was a mutual initiation from both sides. I knew what I wanted in a partner and found that in Ayana. She challenged me in ways I hadn't before.
Ayana: In my opinion, it happened in parts. We dated and stopped because there was a little hesitation from both of us. Since we were both fresh out of long-term relationships, jumping into a new one felt scary. When we finally took that step to be in a monogamous, it was definitely mutual.
First "I Love You"
Bola: About three months into our relationship, we took our first trip together to Dubai. We spent one week alone, and I didn't get tired of her. That's when I knew (laughs).
Ayana: I agree with his statement. He didn't make me want choke him and that was a good sign. But, I knew before the trip and didn't hesitate to tell him. I genuinely loved being around him and the way he made me feel.
Ayana: [Being a mom] definitely had much to do with my hesitation in committing to another relationship. I was still in the process of healing and accepting life as a single mom. My time was precious, and I didn't want to commit to anyone who didn't recognize that we (Ayo and I) were a package deal. Honestly, Bola was always gentle and kind to both of us and I wasn't used to that. I didn't always know how to handle such kindness because I wasn't sure if there were other motives.
When you're used to dealing with boys that want to waste your time, it can be hard to recognize a man that wants to invest in you.
Bola: Although I knew what I was getting myself into, nothing really prepares you for dating a woman with a child. I admit, I had my hesitations going into the relationship, but this is why Ayana is the best person I know. I'll explain; I never felt pressure to be everything that her daughter's father wasn't to Ayo. Ayana allowed me to naturally build a relationship with both her and her daughter so that made this new experience one worth exploring and deepening our connection.
Bola: I don't think I had to communicate true feelings to anyone, not even to myself. So, when dating someone who knew themselves so well and who was able to communicate their needs and wants, there was a disconnect that I had to get right with myself. Something I'm still working on, for sure.
Ayana: I think we came into this relationship as prepared as possible, but there are things you just can't foresee. I had to learn he wasn't used to having boundaries, or [being] challenged on certain behaviors that didn't promote growth. As someone who's very vocal, I think he found me to be a nagger, which was quite the contrary.
I wasn't going to allow anyone, including him, to mess with my peace. I worked too hard for it.
As far as my own bad behaviors, I had the tendency to lump his shortcomings with all my previous relationships by generalizing statements. Bola's an amazing guy and didn't deserve to carry the burdens of my unresolved anger.
Bola: I think it's fine not to have all the answers. I'm not the best communicator so I don't always know how to express my thoughts and feelings, and it's good to have someone that knows and understands me during those times I can't express myself the way I want to. I've learned that there is a constant give and take. Love isn't a given, you have to work at it. Also, you have to figure out new ways and things to love about it each other.
Ayana: I can't be happy with him if I'm not happy with myself. Since we're both creatives, we need those outlets of outward expression. If my outlets aren't nourished, I become dull and unhappy.
My motto for our relationship: We are two individuals co-creating a life together.
We need healthy boundaries and communication to be our best selves. There's no perfect love story that doesn't have a few bumps along the way. Love is the ultimate sign of patience because you have to be willing to let your partner grow and have their own transformations.
Ayana: We moved in together in August of 2017. There weren't any challenges specifically, just clutter. We had to let a lot go in order to make the space our home. I still haven't grown tired of him (laughs), sharing the same space doesn't hinder our love. As far as finances, we've mostly split the bills. My favorite thing about living together is waking up next to my best friend…and that he buys full-size name brand detergent without price checking. My budget doesn't play those kinds of games. My least favorite thing is that he doesn't like to make the bed, still working on that.
Bola: There were no challenges [with moving in together]. It felt very natural. My favorite thing is that I get a home-cooked meal every night. My least favorite thing is making the bed (laughs).
Ayana: My favorite thing about my man is his giving spirit. No matter what I need, he is there, ready to be of service.
Bola: I like how she makes everyone around her better. She sees the good in people and makes them see it in within themselves. And she has a beautiful smile.