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
Exclusive: Gabrielle Union On Radical Transparency, Being Diagnosed With Perimenopause And Embracing What’s Next
Whenever Gabrielle Union graces the movie screen, she immediately commands attention. From her unforgettable scenes in films like Bring It On and Two Can Play That Game to her most recent film, in which she stars and produces Netflix’s The Perfect Find, there’s no denying that she is that girl.
Off-screen, she uses that power for good by sharing her trials and tribulations with other women in hopes of helping those who may be going through the same things or preventing them from experiencing them altogether. Recently, the Flawless by Gabrielle Union founder partnered with Clearblue to speak at the launch of their Menopause Stage Indicator, where she also shared her experience with being perimenopausal.
In a xoNecoleexclusive, the iconic actress opens up about embracing this season of her life, new projects, and overall being a “bad motherfucker.” Gabrielle reveals that she was 37 years old when she was diagnosed with perimenopause and is still going through it at 51 years old. Mayo Clinic says perimenopause “refers to the time during which your body makes the natural transition to menopause, marking the end of the reproductive years.”
“I haven't crossed over the next phase just yet, but I think part of it is when you hear any form of menopause, you automatically think of your mother or grandmother. It feels like an old-person thing, but for me, I was 37 and like not understanding what that really meant for me. And I don't think we focus so much on the word menopause without understanding that perimenopause is just the time before menopause,” she tells us.
Photo by Brian Thomas
"But you can experience a lot of the same things during that period that people talk about, that they experienced during menopause. So you could get a hot flash, you could get the weight gain, the hair loss, depression, anxiety, like all of it, mental health challenges, all of that can come, you know, at any stage of the menopausal journey and like for me, I've been in perimenopause like 13, 14 years. When you know, most doctors are like, ‘Oh, but it's usually about ten years, and I'm like, ‘Uhh, I’m still going (laughs).’”
Conversations about perimenopause, fibroids, and all the things that are associated with women’s bodies have often been considered taboo and thus not discussed publicly. However, times are changing, and thanks to the Gabrielle’s and the Tia Mowry’s, more women are having an authentic discourse about women’s health. These open discussions lead to the creation of more safe spaces and support for one another.
“I want to be in community with folks. I don't ever want to feel like I'm on an island about anything. So, if I can help create community where we are lacking, I want to be a part of that,” she says. “So, it's like there's no harm in talking about it. You know what I mean? Like, I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change. I'm just getting better and stronger and more intelligent, more wise, more patient, more compassionate, more empathetic. All of that is very, very welcomed, and none of it should be scary.”
The Being Mary Jane star hasn’t been shy about her stance on therapy. If you don’t know, here’s a hint: she’s all for it, and she encourages others to try it as well. She likens therapy to dating by suggesting that you keep looking for the right therapist to match your needs. Two other essential keys to her growth are radical transparency and radical acceptance (though she admits she is still working on the latter).
"I was a bad motherfucker before perimenopause. I’m a bad motherfucker now, and I'll be a bad motherfucker after menopause. Know what I’m saying? None of that has to change. How I’m a bad motherfucker, I welcome that part of the change."
Gabrielle Union and Kaavia Union-Wade
Photo by Monica Schipper/Getty Images
“I hope that a.) you recognize that you're not alone. Seek out help and know that it's okay to be honest about what the hell is happening in your life. That's the only way that you know you can get help, and that's also the only other way that people know that you are in need if there's something going on,” she says, “because we have all these big, very wild, high expectations of people, but if they don't know what they're actually dealing with, they're always going to be failing, and you will always be disappointed. So how about just tell the truth, be transparent, and let people know where you are. So they can be of service, they can be compassionate.”
Gabrielle’s transparency is what makes her so relatable, and has so many people root for her. Whether through her TV and film projects, her memoirs, or her social media, the actress has a knack for making you feel like she’s your homegirl. Scrolling through her Instagram, you see the special moments with her family, exciting new business ventures, and jaw-dropping fashion moments. Throughout her life and career, we’ve seen her evolve in a multitude of ways. From producing films to starting a haircare line to marriage and motherhood, her journey is a story of courage and triumph. And right now, in this season, she’s asking, “What’s next?”
“This is a season of discovery and change. In a billion ways,” says the NAACP Image Award winner. “The notion of like, ‘Oh, so and so changed. They got brand new.’ I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
"I want you to be brand new. I want me to be brand new. I want us to be always constantly growing, evolving. Having more clarity, moving with different purpose, like, and all of that is for me very, very welcomed."
She continues, “So I'm just trying to figure out what's next. You know what I mean? I'm jumping into what's next. I'm excited going into what's next and new. I'm just sort of embracing all of what life has to offer.”
Look out for Gabrielle in the upcoming indie film Riff Raff, which is a crime comedy starring her and Jennifer Coolidge, and she will also produce The Idea of You, which stars Anne Hathaway.
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A dead bedroom can kill any relationship. In all long-term, committed relationships, couples experience various phases, from the initial passion to a more complex and enduring connection. Yet, as time passes, sex may decrease, which introduces an issue often referred to as "bed death."
According to Advance Psychology Partners, 'bed death' occurs when individuals in a committed relationship experience a decline in the frequency of sexual activity and fall short of the desires of both or either partner. It is sometimes labeled a "sexless relationship" due to the infrequency of sex. In the U.S., an estimated 20 million people find themselves in such relationships.
This shift is a significant change for couples. Let’s face it: no one wants to be in a sexless marriage or relationship. But how can couples effectively confront the impact of fading physical intimacy on the overall health of their enduring partnership?
"I have found that many factors influence one's desire to dive, and it is often not a majority of just one thing. Most people assume that if they don't desire [sex], they are no longer physically attracted, but in my experience, that has little to do with it most of the time," explained Brittanni Young, LMFT, CST.
"Some of the heavy contributors that I see most often include excessive goal orientation towards orgasm, people not prioritizing their own sexuality, and the landfill of ‘should’s’ that develop from toxic sexual scripts created long ago in upbringing," she added.
Furthermore, these issues are not exclusive to any particular orientation, but it does manifest differently.
Young is a licensed marriage and family therapist, sexologist, and board-certified sex therapist who practices in Georgia and Florida. She has worked in the sexology field for over a decade. Young helps couples and individuals looking to get through challenges of all facets facing sexuality and intimacy, such as desire mismatch, over-compulsion, and dysfunctions. She recently launched a deck of intimacy connection cards called "Show Me Your Cards." Young is working on another product that helps teach children to consent and negotiate appropriate touch. She sat down with xoNecole to discuss what causes the decline in the bedroom, the myth of 'lesbian bed death,' and recommendations on overcoming "bed death."
The Decline In Intimacy
Intimacy often dwindles within relationships, a phenomenon triggered by various factors such as stress, the insidious monotony of routine, and the toxicity of unresolved conflicts, to name a few. While couples manage daily life, exchanging intimate desires and concerns may take a backseat. Sadly, this gradually erodes the closeness once shared in the relationship.
"Typically, the first thing I do when working with a couple on desire challenges is rule out medical causes by referring them to their primary care physician or other provider they are working with," Young shared. "There are times when unmanaged or mismanaged conditions factor into low desire levels. Also, many medications can wreak havoc on keeping desire levels up, such as antidepressants, SSRIs, anti-anxiety, and blood pressure medications, to name a few."
Jeff Bergen/ Getty Images
"Next, I look at the state of the relationship. If there is dissatisfaction in the relationship, then it definitely affects how close and intimate one wants to be to another. There are also plenty of individual factors one can bring into the equation, such as low self-esteem, anxiety, depression, feelings of shame or guilt around one's own sexuality, and external life stressors that can get in the way. I find that life stressors can be a big one for folks, as once you get in the habit of not prioritizing sex, it tends to stick," she added.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent "bed death." It can involve prioritizing your wants and open communication about sexual needs.
"What tends to be effective for all couples is taking an inventory of how satisfied they are with their sexual behaviors and engagement. Being truthful in this vein can be the start of unlocking inhibitions that can keep you from seeking out and being genuinely vulnerable in intimate spaces," Young explained. "Next, I suggest opening up lines of communication around these truths. When people assume that nothing can be done, hope is lost."
The Myth Of 'Lesbian Bed Death'
The notion of "lesbian bed death" perpetuates a simplistic and inaccurate stereotype about the sexual dynamics within lesbian relationships. Contrary to the myth, the experience of a decline in intimacy is not universal among lesbian couples. The diverse spectrum of relationships among women challenges this oversimplified narrative, emphasizing that the complexities of sexual dynamics extend beyond stereotypical assumptions.
"The notion of 'lesbian bed death' is based on a research study done by Pepper Schwartz in 1983 that found that lesbian couplings fell behind in sexual frequency compared to heterosexual and gay male couplings," Young revealed.
"Several other studies [after] have replicated these findings but give very little information about sexual satisfaction. Despite there being more research needed overall in the sexuality field, more recent research did find that when it comes to the length of sexual encounters, lesbian couples had the longest duration of encounters. To that end, sexual quality over quantity is a better marker of satisfaction, and that is what I pay most attention to in my work. With that said, dissatisfaction can happen in all couplings over time," the sexologist continued.
Factors influencing reduced intimacy among lesbian couples may include communication challenges, societal pressures, and individual variations in libido. Menstruation can also play a role, with some couples navigating discomfort or hormonal changes during this period.
"There are certainly some nuances that come into play with lesbian couples that differ from heterosexual or other-oriented couples. As I stated earlier, physiological factors can factor into the rise and fall of libido. The hormone fluctuations that come from menstruation and menopause can impact desire levels, and it is double present in lesbian couples. Another nuance is the lack of a sexual script from society on lesbian sexual behavior. There are patriarchal roots to sexual research, which have created our societal norms that tend to leave out anyone who isn't heterosexual," Young stated.
Overcoming The Challenges
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While 'bed death' challenges couples, solutions are within reach. By identifying and addressing the underlying causes, couples can rekindle the flame of intimacy and ensure a healthier, more fulfilling relationship.
"In the words of Esther Perel, another sexual professional in the field, 'love enjoys knowing everything about you; desire needs mystery.' I recommend keeping it in the front of your mind, prioritizing, and keeping it interesting. Be open to learning more about your own sexuality every day, as well as your partner. You are always growing; what worked for you 20 years ago may not be the same today. Stay curious with one another and be open to exploring new ways to pleasure. You deserve it," Young said.
For instance, Young advised that couples should "keep sexual encounters light and playful." And not be afraid to introduce new elements, such as toys.
"Touch often in ways that are consensual and feel safe! I made 'Show Me Your Cards' to serve this purpose specifically. Just because you do not feel in the mood to go all the way does not mean you aren't in the mood to hold hands, exchange body massages, or dance together. Connecting often in any physical form, as long as it feels pleasurable, still counts as 'being in the mood,'" she said.
Overcoming the hurdles of "bed death" and debunking myths surrounding 'lesbian bed death' offers a unique perspective for couples grappling with the difficulties of sustaining a connection. Learning the proper ways to work through a sexless relationship can help foster a healthier, more fulfilling relationship.
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