How We Met is a series where xoNecole talks about love and relationships with real-life couples. We learn how they met, how like turned into love, and how they make their love work.
One thing I've been seeing return to my social media feed is the opportunity to travel. Since the top of 2020, the world has been trying to figure out what "catching a flight" will look like in the future. And when you travel with your bae, it is an extraordinary experience that should be on everyone's bucket list. On a baecation, you are able to unwind from the daily Zoom meetings and experience another culture together. It's also another way to really take your intimacy to another level and grow closer to your boo mentally, physically, and emotionally.
One couple who prioritizes their love for travel and love for each other are digital creators LaNaiza Kelly and Mahdi Gaines. Originally from New Orleans, LaNaiza and Mahdi met each other at work when Mahdi noticed LaNaiza around the office and attempted to get to know her. One day, Mahdi joked that whenever she was around him, that there should be a smile. This exchange turned into an authentic relationship where they'd go everywhere together, including traveling the world.
As their love for each other grew, they created their own platform, Love at First Flight, where they share their journey of love and travel. This is a couple that knows how to put the bae in baecation. After three years, LaNaiza and Mahdi are still showing up for each other through amazing global experiences and smiling every step of the way.
In this installment of xoNecole's How We Met, LaNaiza and Mahdi share how their love story is based on honesty, authenticity, and unlearning bad habits.
How We Met
Mahdi: I was in marketing and she was in sales. I actually transferred over to the sales department and that's when we met. LaNaiza used to walk around with this mad look on her face. She is not a morning person. One day I asked her, "Why do you look so mad in the morning?" And she told me, "Don't worry about it." My response was, "Well, you need to make sure you smile when you're around me," and she told me she will make sure she smiles next time.
LaNaiza: Yeah, I think it was a pretty well-known thing at work that I was not a morning person, so I never looked happy in the morning. Then this guy tried to tell me to smile, and I was like, "OK." I am super-sarcastic, so every time I saw him after that I had the biggest smile on my face. That's really how things got started. It was just a bunch of sarcasm with each other.
Mahdi: Usually LaNaiza and I would hang out, but it was always with a group. But one day, we decided to go to this place called Barcadia. She came over that evening to my place and she was all dressed up. She blew my mind when she showed up. I felt I was underdressed. We had a really good time that night. It was amazing.
LaNaiza: I was a ball of nerves that night. I was actually really nervous and tried to avoid any kind of feelings toward him. I wasn't looking to be in a relationship, but he was very persistent. We hung out a lot already, but I felt that this time was different and it was turning into something more. I started freaking out. But that night was a really good night at the end of the day.
LaNaiza: I think the moment when I started to like him, I was thinking to myself, 'I don't want to do this anymore.' But I couldn't deny it, you know? I would notice myself feeling salty if I couldn't hang out with him sometimes, so I had to be honest with myself that I was ready [for a relationship].
Mahdi: It was pretty early on for me. Even when we were hanging out, I noticed that I stopped wanting to hang out as a group and more one-on-one with LaNaiza. At a certain point, I kind of knew that a relationship with her was where my mind was going. One night we were hanging out at this club and I told her, "You know what, what's going on here? I'm interested in you for real.'" I kind of laid it out on the table.
"At a certain point, I kind of knew that a relationship with her was where my mind was going. One night we were hanging out at this club and I told her, 'You know what, what's going on here? I'm interested in you for real.'"
LaNaiza: I love that Mahdi is super goofy. He has a great sense of humor and can make friends with anyone you can imagine. I really admire that about him because sometimes I can be a little standoffish. He still embraces that inner child in him. I believe that's the core of who he truly is.
Mahdi: LaNaiza has this hard outer shell that everyone knows about but she has the biggest heart ever. She cares about people, animals, you name it. That is something that really attracted me to her. Earlier on when we were dating, I noticed that soft heart. That really means a lot to me.
The "L" Word
Mahdi: I think it was a couple of months into the relationship for me. We moved so organically and I had strong feelings for LaNaiza. We were so close and she was my best friend. I could talk to her about anything even before we became a romantic relationship, so when we finally got together, it just clicked. This was everything I ever wanted and I have never felt this way about anybody. I started thinking about my future and she was the only person I wanted to be in it with me.
LaNaiza: For me, I knew I loved him but I didn't want to admit it. When I started to feel my walls coming down and I was comfortable to just be myself around Mahdi, that was when I knew. I used to never think about the future with someone and it just felt right with him. It was just one of those things where when you know, you know.
"I knew I loved him but I didn't want to admit it. When I started to feel my walls coming down and I was comfortable to just be myself around Mahdi, that was when I knew. I used to never think about the future with someone and it just felt right with him. It was just one of those things where when you know, you know."
Mahdi: What I've learned about love is that when you love somebody, you give that person the real you. A lot of people like to put up a front or try to be someone else in order to fit this ideal partner. But with LaNaiza, she is unapologetically herself. She reminds me all the time (laughs). I love that because that makes me want to be unapologetically myself too.
LaNaiza: I have learned that love is a job. It is a continuing thing that you have to work toward every day. There are times where we butt heads, but if you really love someone, you have to put in the work and the effort to keep the love alive—to show up for one another.
LaNaiza: In the beginning, we were both coming out of serious relationships. We were both in unhealthy relationships where we developed bad habits. We had to unlearn those habits in order to be with each other. We were honestly figuring out how to love essentially and learning how we would want to receive love. One habit I had to unlearn was communication. I am not good at communicating (laughs). I am very quick to express when I am angry. But for me it was learning how to express how I'm feeling when I am feeling it. Instead of holding it in and blowing up later.
Mahdi: For me, I had to unlearn a lot of things. I felt that I had to take care of everything like I did in my previous relationship, but LaNaiza taught me that I don't have to do everything. We are a team. With her, I feel like I am in a true partnership. I have never felt like this before. I remember we went on our first trip to Puerto Rico. The room was in my name and we were checking in. At first, I was going to take care of everything, but then LaNaiza stepped up and handled the check-in—honestly, better than I would have. As I watched her, I thought to myself, "You know what, I like this!"
LaNaiza: We both have busy lives, so I think it is important to carve out some time for hobbies. One of my favorite things to do is salsa dancing. It's a time for me to be social and it's also how I like to unwind. Mahdi and I spend a lot of time together so we try to carve out our alone time when we can.
Mahdi: So LaNaiza is a night owl and I'm an early bird. So I like to get a morning workout [in] at around 6 a.m. It's a good start to my morning and it helps me clear my head. Then when night comes around, I'm already tired but LaNaiza is still working on emails and things. It just works because she knows I'm out for the count anyways.
LaNaiza: I think one shared value is just being honest with each other. I think that should be the foundation in any relationship.
Mahdi: We also talk about our life goals a lot to each other. We keep each other motivated and focused on what the end goal is. We have meetings about it and everything.
For more of LaNaiza and Mahdi, follow them on Instagram @loveatfirstflight_.
Featured image via Love at First Flight
Nazanin Mandi is never out of options.
About a year ago, the 37-year-old life coach and actress was navigating life after divorce and determined to experience homeownership for the first time as a single woman. She’d been married to the R&B singer Miguel for three years, following a long-term relationship that started when she was 18 years old. But, in 2022, she filed for divorce. It was certainly the most public change she made but, in reality, it was just one of many decisions to refocus and reach her full potential in recent years.
“During my 20s, I was not ready for more. I was living a really crazy life. It was unpredictable. I was helping somebody else grow. It was a lot, and it was intense. I was not pouring into myself the way I should’ve been,” she says in an xoNecole exclusive.
Still, as Mandi worked to get to know herself and her needs during this new phase of life, she realized the home she’d purchased wasn’t a good fit. Overwhelmed by the echoing of her voice in the spacious home, she had a breakdown and called her cousin, who immediately suggested she lease the home and live somewhere else. “I woke up in my house, and I was like, ‘This is not it for me,” she says. “All those years, I had been accustomed to living a certain way [and] in a certain house, so I bought myself a house like [my old home]. But my family was not the same. Waking up in that house by myself, it highlighted the divorce. I was like, ‘Oh, no, we can’t do this. This is not it.’ My life has changed, so my choices need to change.” At that moment, Mandi became open to the idea that there wasn’t one set way to achieve ownership on her own.
“I feel so much better. I’m in a smaller place. My best friend lives a minute from me and I can walk to her house,” she tells me during a Zoom interview from her home one recent afternoon in early February. In the past two years, she hasn’t just been advising other people on varying circumstances, she’s also been healing herself.
"During my 20s, I was not ready for more. I was living a really crazy life. It was unpredictable. I was helping somebody else grow. It was a lot, and it was intense. I was not pouring into myself the way I should’ve been."
Credit: Solmaz Saberi
If supporters began following Nazanin Mandi because of her conventional beauty or the contagious, bright, white smile she often wears in many of her photos, that’s likely not the reason they’ve stuck around. Instead, she’s amassed a following based on her transparency about her own anxiety and depression, along with the encouraging messages of self-acceptance, gratitude, ambition, and humility that are often sprinkled into her social media posts.
In an era where looking at Instagram photos of models can often lead to feelings of self-doubt and insecurity, Nazanin Mandi is determined to be more than eye candy. She’s food for her follower’s souls, too.
Since being recruited to model while dining at an In-N-Out at 10 years old, Mandi has worked in many areas of entertainment. The Valencia, California native has modeled for brands such as Olay, Savage X Fenty, and Good American. As a teen, she sang at Carnegie Hall and auditioned for season 1 of American Idol, making it all the way to Hollywood before producers disqualified her for lying about her age. (Mandi was 15 at the time, and contestants had to be at least 16 years old.) Mandi has acted, too, including appearing on Disney’s That’s So Raven as a teenager and on the BET+ series Games People Play and the Prime series Á La Carte in more recent years.
In recent years, though, she’s also expanded her professional goals outside of entertainment, too. After becoming a certified life coach in 2020, Mandi launched the membership platform You Bloome in 2022 with the hopes of providing wellness services to others, including her self-published gratitude journal. “I wish I had access to something like You Bloome earlier in my own life,” she writes on the company’s website. The actress, who has been forthcoming about her struggles with anxiety and depression, has never had a life coach, but credits therapy as a tool that “really, really saved me and it laid the foundation to who I am becoming.”
Credit: Solmaz Saberi
"I’m trying to find the balance between living life and knowing that whatever is meant for me is going to happen, but also know that I’m doing everything in my power to make those things happen and better myself."
While she’s always had a nurturing personality, Mandi says her interest in becoming a life coach was inspired by the women who would message her for advice on social media. “I would answer them back. It really sparked a fire within myself to help people,” she says.
You Bloome currently has three membership tiers, ranging in price from $2.99 to $39.99 per month. The highest tier offers a motivational text message twice a week, two live, group coaching sessions per month, and more. “We get emotional. We cry. We laugh. It’s really beautiful. I’ve built close relationships with my members through this. It’s been inspiring both ways,” Mandi says of the sessions. Still, the founder says she hopes to take on more motivational and keynote speaking opportunities in the future with the hopes of impacting as many people as possible.
And, she’s hoping to do all of this while continuing to explore a career as an entertainer.
At this point in her life, Mandi says she’s gained enough perspective on modeling, music, and acting to realize what she wants to prioritize moving forward. “We are going full force with acting,” she says, noting her goal is “to book a series regular or a film that impacts my career and the world.” She plans to continue to model, too, but has no desire to pursue music.
“I don’t want any part of that because I know what that life entails,” she says. “I don’t want to tour. I don’t want to do any of that. That is not where my heart is at.”
Credit: Solmaz Saberi
If you ask Mandi, she’ll tell you she feels most comfortable in front of a camera, but she’ll also admit that she’s recently experienced a lot of imposter syndrome when thinking about her acting career. “I think it’s a fear of not succeeding,” she says. If anything, she adds, she’s harder on herself now than she’s ever been. “There were distractions before. There’s no distractions now,” she says. “I’m putting pressure on myself for no reason.”
This is where the life coach’s own personal healing comes into play. Mandi says she’s learning recently that “slow progress is still big progress at the end of the day.”
“Currently, I’m trying to find the balance between living life and knowing that whatever is meant for me is going to happen, but also know that I’m doing everything in my power to make those things happen and better myself,” she adds.
Still, one of Mandi’s strengths is that she doesn’t feel the pressure to limit herself to just one passion. From working as a life coach to pursuing acting, she has given herself grace to explore all other dreams.
“We can be allowed to be many different things in this lifetime,” she says. “As people, our identities are allowed to expand. Don’t put us in a fucking box. I cannot live that way anymore.”
For more of Nazanin, follow her on Instagram @nazaninmandi.
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Featured image by Solmaz Saberi
It's no secret that the dating scene is different from our parents' generation, so as a hopeful romantic, many parts of me feel like I was born in the wrong lifetime. My mother often says that she feels like my husband will be a bit older than me; perhaps that was her way of telling me that she hopes I find someone more mature. But these days, between the countless podcasts debating gender roles and discussions online of who brings what to the table, finding your person can feel hopeless.
Still, people are finding love every day, so how can we go from being amongst the brokenhearted and nonbelievers? How can we get to the meat of what our needs truly are to find the love we've been searching for? Beverley Andre, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist says that the key is getting out of your own way.
Q: How can we get in our own way when it comes to relationships?
A: We get in our own way in relationships by having rigid expectations that make it difficult or impossible for someone to meet. I know this is a hot topic regarding having and maintaining standards, but there’s a fine line between reasonable expectations and creating a barrier that is nearly impossible to break through.
You have to assess the standards and see if they are genuinely in protection of you and maintain the standard of how you want to be treated, or are the standards fueled by fear and what you're really trying to do is avoid feeling hurt and disappointed, so you create this cycle where you set impossible standards that no one can meet, therefore limiting the possibility of close intimate relationships, leaving you feeling lonely and frustrated.
Q: In this dating age and era, how can we determine what our needs are versus our wants?
A: Your needs are tied to the core values and belief systems, while the wants are personality and lifestyle considerations, so I recommend creating a list of both. Identify your core values early on because those are your principles and qualities that matter most to you in a relationship. Those values are fundamental to your overall well-being. For example, do you want to be with someone who wants children, has integrity, and aligns on finances? Your values should be your deal-breakers that weed out people who are not in alignment.
For wants, think of physical, personality, and lifestyle traits that aren’t necessarily deal-breakers, aren’t tied to someone’s core traits, and don’t compromise your mental wellness. For instance, enjoying 100% of the same interests, specific physical attributes, and shared cultural background. As an extra measure, I recommend discussing your needs and wants with a trusted inner circle and getting their feedback. An inner circle should give you fair feedback instead of just agreeing with it because they’re within the inner circle.
"Your needs are tied to the core values and belief systems, while the wants are personality and lifestyle considerations."
Q: Are there fundamental needs that everyone should have or has on some level in romantic partnerships?
A: Yes, to be seen and heard. No one wants to be in a romantic partnership where they feel invisible, and their needs are met with consistent resistance just because it’s different from their partner. One of the core issues I see with couples is their inability to make space for their partner’s voice and influence. They find it difficult to see the value in what their partner is saying, especially if it contradicts their thoughts and opinions. Therefore, they register it as not being good enough and lacking merit and then get into a cycle where they inadvertently want their partner to change their minds and prove to them why they have a point.
Q: What are different examples of needs that everyone has?
Q: How can we get to the meat of what our needs are so we can in turn get better at communicating what our needs are from an empowered place versus a disempowered one?
A: Identify your unmet childhood needs and heal them. I often see people trying to heal these wounds in relationships with people who aren’t responsible for creating them or fixing them. You can communicate your needs from an empowered and healthy place if you’re not starving. Getting to the meat of your needs will require self-exploration, curiosity, and patience to understand why the need is even a need.
"Identify your unmet childhood needs and heal them. You can communicate your needs from an empowered and healthy place if you’re not starving."
Q: What do you find your clients who are succeeding in relationships have done differently in explaining their needs to their partner?
A: They have done the self-work and healing to know their needs through individual and/or couple’s therapy. Most of the clients I’ve worked with never had the space to develop their thoughts around their needs. They’ve adopted their needs based on what they’ve seen in their personal lives from family growing up, movies, and now social media. Until you have a healthy relationship with yourself, where you’ve identified your needs and are meeting them, it isn’t easy to have that with someone else. You can’t communicate and give what you don’t know and have.
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