How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
For newly-engaged couple Jaleesa and Eric, their mothers were the catalysts of their love story. Jaleesa had no idea that a woman she'd known as an 'aunt' for most of her life would be the common thread between her mom and her soon-to-be mother-in-law. One night in New York would be the beginning of a forever with a love that the Bronx native couldn't have ever imagined. It all started with her mother encouraging her to thank Eric's mother at the function they had gathered at to celebrate the life of a loved one. From there, his mother offered to connect Jaleesa with her son, Eric. "I jokingly noted that I lived in L.A. and that I’m trouble. She responded, 'Well then, y’all can be cousins.' She showed me a picture of Eric and I immediately said, 'That’s not my cousin,'" Jaleesa recalls.
Jaleesa might have joked that she was trouble, but in their very first interaction, Eric could tell there was something special there and there was an attraction at first sight. His interest was piqued from the very first FaceTime call. She would need a little more convincing, but after some strategic liking of her Instagram pics, the connection between the two was established from there. And a year into the relationship, the 29-year-old knew he had found the one in Jaleesa. So much so, that he popped the question on the night of their anniversary. "I was so nervous and anxious all day. Not because I wasn't sure if she would say yes, but because this is such a life-changing decision," he admits to xoNecole.
The Sony Sniper
During a photo shoot at the Brooklyn Bridge under the guise of it being a shoot to commemorate their first year together, Eric popped the question to the HBO Multicultural Marketing Manager. He continues, "We are taking pics naturally posing in our element then the photographer directs Jaleesa to face the bridge, and I'm hyping her up like, 'It's giving boss,' 'It's giving big dawg,' 'It's giving HBO,' 'It's giving executive,' and the last one, 'It's giving fiancée,' and when she turned around I was on one knee. And Ja being Ja, after she wiped her tears before she said yes, she says 'Okay, okay, let me hear your speech,' and I spoke from the heart."
Eric surprised Jaleesa for a second time that night by taking her to a rooftop lounge where her mother, close friends, and immediate family had gathered to celebrate them and the next chapter of their love. "I love him so much and I’m so blessed that I get to spend my life with my life partner," Jaleesa affirms.
In this installment of How We Met, Jaleesa and Eric talk about how they met, courtship, and important lessons they've learned in love.
The Sony Sniper
How They Met
Jaleesa: I love this story. My mother and Eric’s mother have a mutual friend and she’s been an 'aunt' to me most of my life. However, their paths have never really crossed because they are in separate friend groups. For the first time, the friend groups came together to support my aunt during a difficult time in her life. I was there and at the end of the night, my mother said we should say thank you to Eric’s mom. Somehow [Eric's mom and I] ended up talking and laughing together, and she mentioned she had a son she wanted to put me on with. She FaceTimed him from my phone, but the reception was bad.
He texted me that evening to ask who it was and I told him “Hey Eric. It's Jaleesa. Your mother is trying to put you on, but I told her that I’m trouble.” He responded “What kind of trouble?” I loved the flirty response. I ended up going back to L.A. a few days later, and we didn’t get to meet in person. We spent the first month or so getting to know each other via FaceTime and phone calls. One day he said, "I have to come and see my baby." He flew to L.A., the rest was history, and now we’re engaged!
Eric: I believe it was a Thursday night. So I’m home that night watching TV, probably a basketball game. So I get a FaceTime call from my mother and when I pick up she's saying something to me but I can't really hear her because they’re turnt up over there. But I do hear her say, 'Hold on,' and she puts an unfamiliar face in the camera (Jaleesa) but the service is terrible so I can’t really see or hear what's going on. They then call from what I'm guessing was Jaleesa’s phone and it's the same thing, I can’t really see or hear anything but I was able to get a good enough view of Jaleesa to see that she was an attractive woman.
Later that night, I text that same number asking, "Who’s this?” Jaleesa states her name talking bout how my mom was tryna put me on but she's trouble and the slick talker that I am, I reply back and say, “What kind of trouble?” And I must say that was probably the line that reeled her in. After that night, we didn't speak for about two or three days and I’ll be honest I felt a little way so I went into my bag of tricks and searched for her Instagram, and luckily her IG handle is her actual name. I liked a few pics to get her attention and the next day I got a text from Jaleesa and the rest is history.
Jaleesa: When his mom showed me his photo, I was like Whew, this man is fine. My fiancé is fine. He has that bad boy look though. He’s 6’2'' and tatted up everywhere, so at first, I just thought he’d be someone I could entertain whenever I came to New York. I didn’t expect him to be such a genuinely good and loving man.
Eric: Like I said when I first saw her on Facetime, I thought she was attractive and I must say from that little 30-45 minute text exchange I felt like we had a little vibe going but I didn’t expect us to be where we are now.
Jaleesa: Eric flew to Los Angeles for the weekend. It was our first time meeting. My stomach was in knots. I thought I would throw up. I was so nervous but when I saw his face, all my nerves went away and I knew. This is my baby and the first thing I did was kiss him…very passionately. He planned an entire weekend for us. He never asked me once, “What are you into? What kind of food do you like?” He flew in from New York not knowing much about L.A. and planned a weekend of activities that consisted of a hike in Malibu, a fun activity at the Break Room, we did the Museum of Illusions, and a fancy rooftop dinner. It was beautiful. A man with purpose!
Eric: Our first date was a whole weekend and it was actually our first time seeing each other in person. I flew to L.A. and had a whole weekend planned for my baby and she ain’t even know it. She probably thought I was a corny dude that was just coming to shack up for the weekend but I had to set the tone and let her know that I didn’t come to play. The vibe from start to finish was unmatched and I have never felt anything like it before in my life. When the weekend ended, I dreaded having to go back to New York.
"I flew to L.A. and had a whole weekend planned for my baby and she ain’t even know it. I had to set the tone and let her know that I didn’t come to play. The vibe from start to finish was unmatched and I have never felt anything like it before in my life. When the weekend ended, I dreaded having to go back to New York."
Getting to Know Each Other
Jaleesa: As crazy as it sounds, I truly believe we fell in love during that month of courtship, before we even physically met. We spent our first weekend together and everything felt so natural. Eric was a gentleman from the beginning and extremely intentional. He’d surprise me with flowers and made every effort to show me he wasn’t playing about me. At the end of our first weekend, he told me it wouldn’t take him six months to figure out what he wanted to do with this and basically told me he was in love with me. I told him I felt the same and we’ve been committed ever since.
Eric: I'm going to give it to y’all raw right now. I don’t remember exactly what she said but the nature of the conversation led to an 'Okay, what is this' type of thing, or like, 'Are we dating or exclusive or what?' Ja wanted to know straight up. I told her, “I thought the weekend we spent made that pretty clear.” And that's all that needed to be said.
Jaleesa: Eric left no room for anyone else. There’s just something about a man with purpose who is confident and romantic and who treats you the way you deserve to be treated. With Eric, I didn’t have to compromise. He gave me the world. He spoiled me and was extremely romantic. He is still very romantic. I don’t think I’ve ever been told where we’re going. He’s the “get dressed and be ready by 8” type of man and I love it. Choosing to be committed to him was a very easy choice. I was confident that there was no other man for me. That I truly had found my life partner.
I’ve spent a lot of time working on myself. On my relationship with God and on loving myself. I know what love feels like. I knew it was love when it felt exactly how I love myself. Nothing less.
Eric: Even from 3,000 miles away Ja was quote-unquote "applying pressure" in a way that I haven’t seen or felt before and when I say 'applying pressure,' I don’t mean she was pressuring me into a relationship, she was just simply setting the bar high. I was realizing that Jaleesa was the first person I wanted to speak to when I woke up and the last person I wanted to talk to before I went to sleep. And anytime in-between where we didn’t speak, which was very rare, I was wondering what she's doing, where she is, and why she isn’t texting me.
"As crazy as it sounds, I truly believe we fell in love during that month of courtship, before we even physically met. We spent our first weekend together and everything felt so natural. At the end of our first weekend, he told me it wouldn’t take him six months to figure out what he wanted to do with this and basically told me he was in love with me. I told him I felt the same and we’ve been committed ever since."
Jaleesa: His spirit. Eric is one of the most loving, selfless, and gentle people I’ve ever come across. He is a genuinely good person with pure intentions. I love that about him. I also LOVE his voice. Lord. Those voice notes in the beginning really did something to me.
Eric: Jaleesa is very intentional with everything that she does but especially in regards to our relationship and her sense of humor matches mine. I tell people we are the real-life Martin and Gina from top to bottom.
Lessons in Self-Love
Jaleesa: Whew, I am still learning about the patience and grace that you have to give yourself through this relationship. I’ve spent so much time working on myself as a woman that I got into this relationship and thought I had all the answers. I don’t. I make mistakes. I still have things I have to unpack and unlearn. It’s very important to be patient with yourself and give yourself grace. Just because you know the type of relationship you want to have, and you may even have the tools to build a healthy, loving, relationship - that doesn’t mean that you know how to. That doesn’t mean you know how to apply those tools and so the relationship requires a great deal of self-awareness and patience.
Eric: I'm the type of person that will give you the shirt off my back and do anything in my power to help someone, especially if I love them but Jaleesa is continuously preaching self-love and how I need to put myself first more. Take more days off. Don’t pick up anyone's workload when they fall short. She is always telling me how she wishes I could just stay home and lay around and relax because I work so hard and often go out of my way to help the people closest to me, her included. Through our relationship, I’m learning how important it is to put myself first and what self-care looks like.
Jaleesa: Family and friendship are extremely important to both of us. We value family time and are very mindful about maintaining the relationships that are close to us. Loyalty. Infidelity is a deal-breaker for both of us and it's not something we’ll ever compromise on. For both of us, your word is important. That also comes from how we grew up. I grew up in the South Bronx and Eric is from Hollis. Your word is everything.
Eric: I like to make sure that no matter what we have going on we always, always, always make time for family even if we aren’t in the best of moods to do so. Family is everything. Another one is to say what you mean and mean what you say, then stand on it, and never compromise your character and who you are for anything. Stay sucka-free.
Jaleesa: We go to therapy every week and that’s truly been a game-changer for us in helping us navigate difficult conversations and unpack things from our past that I’m not sure we’d be capable of doing on our own. I’d say for me I really had to, and I am still learning how to, be more vulnerable and trusting. I always felt I deserved this type of love, but that doesn’t mean when it came into my arms I was the most receptive to it. I’ve had to get rid of that toughness and work on being more open and expressive and allowing my partner to see all of me and trust that he would love and support me through it. A healthy, stable, fulfilling relationship is built off trust, communication, and patience. You have to lead with love and can’t assume the worst of a person.
Eric: Therapy is extremely helpful. Shoutout to our therapist, that's my dog. Some bad behavior I had to unlearn was being more aware of how I move and set boundaries with women. I realized, in the beginning, that I was doing things that wouldn’t be okay based on the boundaries of our relationship and based on what we were trying to build, and still in building mode wasn’t fair to Jaleesa.
"I always felt I deserved this type of love, but that doesn’t mean when it came into my arms I was the most receptive to it. I’ve had to get rid of that toughness and work on being more open and expressive and allowing my partner to see all of me and trust that he would love and support me through it. A healthy, stable, fulfilling relationship is built off trust, communication, and patience. You have to lead with love and can’t assume the worst of a person."
Lessons in Love
Jaleesa: I would say the most important thing that I’ve learned is that people that love you will still disappoint you and that doesn’t change the fact that they love you. My fiancé is an AMAZING man. Even the amazing men just do stupid things sometimes. That’s life. But what matters is that he doesn’t do anything that compromises my love for myself, the boundaries of our relationship, or my values. So when he makes mistakes I always check and say, “Is this a mistake or is this a reflection of his character?” I think it's very important to accept that people you love are not perfect and that you have to be able to work together and really be a team. I make mistakes every day too. I’m no different. Therapy too. Therapy really helps.
Eric: I never liked to look at love as a job but during this time with Ja, I’ve realized that loving someone unconditionally is a job because in our cases we fell in love before we even knew everything about each other or knew each other's flaws so we’re pretty much learning how to love unconditionally on the fly. And I feel like that's the most beautiful and at times that can also be the most stressful part of our relationship but we are a team and we always find a way to get to some common ground.
For more of Jaleesa, follow her on Instagram.
Featured image by Kai Byrd, courtesy of Jaleesa Diaz
Whether it was your group chat, social media feed, or your favorite media outlet covering the spectacle, I’m pretty sure you’ve come across the viral Black wedding between actress KJ Smith (Sistas, Raising Kanan) and actor Skyh Black (All the Queen’s Men, Sistas). From their grand entrance to Jay-Z, Kayne West, and Beyoncé’s song “Lift Off” to KJ’s standout dance routine and the endless celebrity appearances, it’s an addictive TikTok scroll you can’t help but delve into.
But what many people would be surprised to know is that the couple’s original wedding plan was nothing like what it grew to be. What started as her simply scrolling through posts to get ideas eventually transformed into what the internet knows now as #TheBlackExperience. In an exclusive conversation with xoNecole, KJ walked us through her planning process, the morning of her wedding, and what she thinks of the online response.
Some women have their whole wedding planned out, from the bridal gown and venue to the bridal party and playlist. However, KJ was not one of those people. “I didn’t foresee a wedding in my future,” she reveals. “I was just gonna be the boss chick, rich auntie. I didn’t force love in my life until recently. I never had an idea of what a dream wedding would look like, it was easier for me to elope.”
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
And to many people’s surprise, that was their original plan – until Skyh brought up a valid concern. He was raised by his grandmother and thought she should be at the wedding, and naturally, that led to KJ wanting her grandmother to be there as well – then her mom – and later her sister – and, you’ve gotta invite the besties too, right? From there, the guest list continued to blossom. Much like the updo and pop of color bold red lip, she wore on her special day, which was initially on her Pinterest board as a soft glam look with her hair hanging on her shoulders, KJ is okay with changing her plan if it brings her and her loved ones happiness.
So let’s get into the wedding, which took place in Malibu, CA. The first thing you should know about the celebrity couple is that they’re non-traditional. They know, and they don’t care. So, in true unconventional fashion, they shared the morning of the wedding together.
“I woke up with Skyh, we walked our dog, had black coffee, and said good morning to the people who stayed at the venue with us,” she says.
Now, it was time for hair and makeup. While she was getting glammed up, she had Black-owned McBride Sisters wine and champagne (which ties into The Black Experience theme) on deck with her mom and friends, had her besties help rework her vows, retried on every outfit (sis is very Type-A), took photos, and ended the early-celebration with prayer and meditation. It seems very non-Bridezilla, I said.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company,” she explains. “The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
Things moved quickly, and before she knew it, it was time to line up to walk down the aisle.
“Yeah, I was the most unbothered bride ever. Everyone was just so supportive. As entertainers, we go on red carpets all the time. We actually have a production company. The get-ready process was like a day at work, but with people we love the most. Being entertainers, we didn’t feel stressed at all, but my excitement was so high.”
KJ Smith and her bridal party
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
Since everything started with their grandmothers, the couple wanted to ensure they honored them and planned to keep an element of their wedding traditional. Although we’ve all seen the reception videos and photos online, you may have noticed visuals from the wedding itself are harder to find.
“We planned for it to be traditional, but we’re not like that, so we tried to create those moments. We jumped the broom and had a salt ceremony (where the bride and groom individually pour salt into a glass container, symbolizing their lives becoming one.) But honestly, still, nothing was traditional about it.”
She goes on to explain that her mom caught the holy ghost coming down the aisle, her glam team was on deck, and she became so nervous with excitement that she had an anxiety attack – something she struggled with for years, she explains tearfully. Her friends had to literally cheer her down the aisle because of how overwhelmed she felt until she eventually calmed down.
“Skyh was standing there with his hand on his heart; we have our own little language, and I could feel the support,” she shares.
It was surprising to hear all these emotional moments happened before the party we saw online. That is until she once again got into the backstory.
“As a Black woman actress, for so long, it was popular to be mysterious and secretive, but that’s not who I am or what I like. Plus, we both wanted to create an experience for everyone there. We are the people who always host family and friends,” she says. “Like for me, the first order of business was getting sandals for the women so they can dance all night long. We had oxtail, D'ussé, and a coffee and sativa lounge – which is part of Skyh and I’s lifestyle and routine. We wanted to bring them into our world.”
Skyh Black (L) and KJ Smith (R)
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
She went on to discuss the dance routine she did for her husband at the reception, which has taken over the internet. Apparently, that’s another thing that didn’t go according to plan. According to KJ, she had promised a performance at their joint bachelor/ bachelorette party, but her outfit got stolen from her car. So, Skyh ended up performing for her – complete with a strip tease. Still, she never forgot her promise to dance for him.
So, she hired her friend as a choreographer, learned the routine, made friends and family watch it endless times, and attended Beyoncé’s Renaissance show a few days before for a confidence boost. It ended up being a show to remember. But that wasn’t all the night offered. Lil Mo performed, and the guests received special goody bags featuring their favorite Black-owned products like journals, hair care, and more.
“We made sure everyone was taken care of all night. That kind of stuff makes us happy. I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives,” she says.
But naturally, the internet is going to internet, and while there were countless people praising the event and applauding the newlyweds, some thought it was too over the top. I was curious to know her thoughts on some of the criticism.
“It’s cool. We did what we wanted to do. I’ve decided to share my world with people. Just how I went on social media platforms and found inspiration, I want people to do the same,” she explains. “I don’t think it's fair to my supporters not to give that out. There’s so much I wanna share with brides, specifically Black brides. I love that people are adding it to their Pinterest boards."
"I wanted everyone there to experience the joy and love I have for myself, my partner, and for them. I wanted them to feel full and whole, and they had the time of their lives."
Photo by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
“I’m happy with it because we did what we wanted to do. They can do what they wanna do. Don’t be cruel, though, because you will get blocked,” she said, laughing.
The more I spoke with her, the more her sense of freedom shined through. People are always going to have their opinions, but at the end of the day, it’s you who has to live your life, and it seems like the couple realizes that and embraces that power. She also stressed the importance of not living for others and the lessons life has taught her.
“I’ve been to countless weddings, and I’ve been in countless weddings. I’m a generally older bride. So when women in my demographic get married, and you and your husband are busy working people like us, you deserve to have the one you want to have,” she shares.
“This is what we wanted to do. Our loved ones love and support us. We did so much to honor them, but we also wanted to start our own tradition, legacy, and creation. I'm not going to be pulled back into ideas of the past when I’m trying to create a future with my partner. “
If you’d like to see more of the couple, you probably won’t have to wait long. Although no content is planned yet, she admits to being an oversharer. “Me being open and transparent about my experiences lets people know it’s okay to have flaws; it makes you human, and for many years, I didn’t believe that was okay. I had pressure to be perfect, and I’d crumble every time,” she explains to xoNecole.
Now, she owns her flaws and uses them as a superpower to connect with her community and feel and express her love.
“Some people give us [Skyh and KJ] a hard time because they say we just seem too perfect. I’m like, why is that a bad thing? I love the people I love. From my man to my mama, to my friends - unabashedly. We move through time and space how we want to move. If we did it another way, we’d let ourselves and our union down.”
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Feature image by Stanley Babb/ Stanlo Photography
Whether you prefer to travel in groups, solo, or on baecations, picking the right destination is a major component of ensuring a great trip. Where you go for your next vacation can come down to price, location, activity options, and a host of other things. We’ve seen how often group trips can go awry because each person has different interests and wants to do different things. But how do you pick the right place for yourself when there’s so many options to choose from?
Choosing a destination that will provide you with the most memorable experience comes down to your own needs, and believe it or not, your love language can help with that. Our love languages are a guide to how we prefer to receive love and support, as well as how we like to give it.
Knowing about our love language can help build healthy relationships, better self-care routines, and improve our overall well-being. Imagine centering your travel around the way that you like to be loved and then experiencing that each moment of your trip. Every place around the world is unique and thus can provide a different vibe and feeling for us. Figuring out the places that align with our love language can be a game changer in how we experience the world.
Whether you’re a quality time girlie like me or prefer acts of service, here’s some of the best destinations to visit based on the five love languages.
If your love language is acts of service, you might want to visit...
The “Eternal City” is home to the Colosseum, Trevi Fountain, and all the pasta and gelato that your heart desires. People who value acts of service love when things are done for them, and life is made easier. If that’s your jam, consider going to Rome and experiencing an authentic Italian dinner cooked by locals for you. What better act of service than having someone cook a full meal for you in their home?
No need to learn how to roll pasta dough or knead pizza. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the free-flowing wine while learning about Italian culture and having a 4-course meal provided for you. After that, take a guided city tour where someone else can show you around all the popular spots, skipping the lines and avoiding crowds.
Having acts of service as your love language is not just about how others show you love but also about how you show it back. If you enjoy giving acts of service to others, consider heading to Thailand and visiting an ethical wildlife sanctuary where you can spend the day volunteering. Choose a place like Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, where people are not allowed to touch or ride the elephants but can help with harvesting bananas, cleaning enclosures, or even helping out in the animal clinic. You’ll leave feeling a sense of pride and knowing that your time was spent in a way that made an impact.
If your love language is physical touch, you might want to visit...
There are so many ways that we can experience the love language of physical touch, and Guatemala is a tropical sanctuary that can provide just that. This South American country is full of rainforests, volcanoes, and ancient ruins and can be the perfect escape to get some TLC. Consider staying at a luxury hotel like Villa Bokeh, where you can get your physical needs met through massages, yoga, or rowing on their lagoon. And if you want to explore off the resort, get those steps in with a hike of one of Guatemala’s volcanoes.
If your love language is gift giving, you might want to visit...
There’s no better place to go to for all your shopping needs than Dubai. Whether you are a gift giver or like to be spoiled, this is where you need to be. To start, the Dubai Mall is the largest mall in the world at over 12 million square feet. With around 1,200 shops to choose from, you are bound to find something for just about everyone. Dubai is not a budget destination, so leave a little extra space in your luggage and prepare to spend a pretty coin while you’re there. If luxury gifts aren’t your thing, head to the Covent Garden Market, where you can shop local vendors for more affordable items.
If your love language is quality time, you might want to visit...
Whether you’re planning a cute baecation or a solo trip, quality time is all about disconnecting and spending intentional time with your loved one or yourself. Costa Rica is an ideal location to be off the grid and be present. Spend some special time with bae at a nice resort, enjoying a couples massage, a trip to the rainforest, or a sunset dinner. There’s something about being off the grid that allows us to be more present with each other.
If you want to get in some DND solo quality time, book a stay at Nayara Springs Resort, located on the outskirts of Antigua, where you can enjoy uninterrupted and secluded relaxation while indulging in amenities like yoga classes and a hot springs pool.
Marco VDM/Getty Images
There are many ways to spend quality time with yourself or others, so why not do it in one of the most beautiful countries in the world? Explore Dar es Salaam with family, learn about the history of Tanzania, and then spend more quality time at the beach on Mbudya Island. If you are looking for a more romantic trip or quality time on your own, go out to Zanzibar, the archipelago off the coast of Tanzania. Here you’ll find some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and can stroll through the historical Stone Town.
If your love language is words of affirmation, you might want to visit...
If words of affirmation get you feeling all tingly inside, then why not take a trip to the "City of Love," Paris, France? Not only is Paris considered the mecca for love, but French is literally one of the world’s romance languages. So take a French lesson where you can learn how to speak beautiful words about yourself, or if you’re with bae, take a stroll by the Eiffel Tower at night while sharing some of the things you appreciate about each other.
Bonus points if you can say it in French.
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Featured image by Diamond Dogs/Getty Images