'K' is a multi-hyphenated free spirit from Chicago. She is a lover of stories and the people who tell them. As a writer, 9-5er, and Safe Space Curator, she values creating the life she wants and enjoying the journey along the way. You can follow her on Instagram @theletter__k_.
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
Y'all remember the show Girlfriends? It was my first introduction to what my 20s could possibly look like with my closest friends. For me, it was a nice dream for little ol' me to look forward to when I grew up. Now that I’m grown, honey, adulting is not a joke. There are many responsibilities to have, mistakes to make, and breakups to recover from. It is a struggle but a beautiful one. Today, there are a few shows that still highlight amazing Black women living their lives and navigating the ups and downs with their day-ones by their side.
These are the types of shows that remind us that while we all have our not-so-good moments, our girls are there for support, making life just a little bit easier. If you haven’t heard, there's a fairly new Amazon Prime series, created and executive produced by Tracy Oliver, called Harlem. This series is a comedy narrated by a character named Camille (played by Meagan Good) and includes her three best friends as they navigate their 30s in Harlem, N.Y.
One of the three best friends is Tye, a queer woman who left the corporate world and created her own dating app for LGBTQAI+ people of color, and she's played by the vibrant and loving actress, Jerrie Johnson. I figured it was only right to have a chat with Jerrie for an exclusive xoNecole interview and get to know the woman behind the Harlem series' tech entrepreneur.
xoNecole: [In 'Harlem'], we definitely see Tye's development throughout the show in her portrayal of what it looks like to show up for yourself and your friends. What's an important lesson you’ve learned about showing up in your own personal life?
Jerrie Johnson: Well, I’m a very drop-everything-for-someone-who-is-going-through-something type of girl. Literally last night, I was preparing to wash my clothes. My friend was having some issues and I felt she wasn’t in the best headspace. I got dressed, met up with a couple more of our friends, and we all went down to Brooklyn to see her. Now, mind you, I live in Harlem. People ain’t just hopping over to Brooklyn any given day. Now the thing with [my character] Tye is, she's really good at setting boundaries.
She mentions in a scene that she is not comfortable to share her business contact with her friend. For me, I would have been quick to text it for my friend without even thinking about it. Not to say that what Tye did in that moment was wrong or right. It’s just something that I am incorporating into my life now. Showing up for people differently than they show up for you doesn't make you a bad friend. You may not always be able to just get up and go to Brooklyn when your friend is in trouble. So, I am learning to show up by setting more boundaries.
"Showing up for people differently than they show up for you doesn't make you a bad friend. You may not always be able to just get up and go to Brooklyn when your friend is in trouble. So, I am learning to show up by setting more boundaries."
The show also talks about the trope of being a strong Black woman. There's a moment where we see Tye not wanting to be seen as weak by her friends. Are there moments during your day where you put self-care at the top of your to-do list?
There have been multiple moments in my life where I have learned to prioritize self-care. One example is when I was in undergrad, I was in a lot of activities. The amount of things I juggled with the amount of time I had still baffles me to this day. This was around the time of the Michael Brown incident, and I personally couldn’t even get out of bed. It was probably a combination of exhaustion and depression. There is a thing that happens with my body when I am exhausted. I start to lose my voice, so when that happens, I [know I] need to slow down.
What is real for me is that I like to show up 100 percent in every room I am in, but sometimes I have to gauge the amount of energy I can realistically give. I say to myself, 'Alright Jerrie, we only have 20 percent to give right now.' My body has been trained to go to that 100 percent level, but I have to reel it in and only give the 10 out of the 15 percent or just the 20 percent.
Admittingly, there is a guilt that we, as Black women, feel when we practice the act of self-choosing. What advice do you have for other women who struggle with saying the word “no”?
When a person first starts to create boundaries, guilt is a normal response, so don’t feel guilty about feeling guilty. I would say the first thing you should do is forgive yourself for the moments that you didn’t put yourself first. The second thing I would say is to recognize what the [reason] is for feeling that you cannot set boundaries. I am one of eight children—seven who are still alive—and I grew up in a household where my mom didn’t hug me. My mom didn’t come to my shows or give me that kind of support others seek from their parents.
Because of that, I overcompensate support and do not want people to feel the way I felt growing up. I leave myself on the line for others more than I should. It’s really about healing those childhood traumas to understand why we do the things we do. We like to celebrate people who are caregivers and people-pleasers. There is nothing wrong with tending to other people’s needs, but if it means leaving yourself in the dust, then it does turn into something that’s not okay. Lastly, empower your 'no.' Be proud of your 'no.' Practice saying 'no,' and revel in that good feeling you get after you say it.
"There is nothing wrong with tending to other people’s needs, but if it means leaving yourself in the dust, then it does turn into something that’s not okay. Empower your 'no.' Be proud of your 'no.' Practice saying 'no,' and revel in that good feeling you get after you say it."
In the series, we see how important it is to have a sense of community as you navigate through life. How important is it for you to have your main tribe or crew?
Growing up, I didn't really have a clique nor was I ever a cliquey person, so, when I was in undergrad, I yearned for that. You hear the stories from other people stating that they have been friends since their freshman year of college or they go on vacations together—you know, stuff like that—and I didn’t really have that. Now I have friends. But most of my friends already have their friend groups, and I’m like the plus one. So to be a part of the group now, with the friends I mentioned before, allows me to really appreciate adult authentic relationships. It is near and dear to my heart.
Life isn’t always easy, especially when you are juggling a career in the entertainment industry. When you feel overwhelmed, or you don’t feel at your best, how do you usually handle it?
Well first, I listen to a ton of Abraham-Hicks videos and that gets me in my bag! Then I like to listen to a playlist of my favorite songs that I know are going to get me out of the funk. I also try to write things out since I’m a writer as well. But if there’s any resistance to the first few things, I practice tapping, and I recite affirmations for myself. I will say things like, "I am feeling really unbalanced right now, but I love and accept myself." After that, I feel so much better.
Let's talk about the importance of wellness and self-care again. How has practicing self-care helped you become a better person as well as a better actress?
My favorite type of self-care is watching my campervan shows. I like to light my candles and maybe indulge in some vegan ice cream. I love HGTV, interior design videos, and I am obsessed with watching people create their own campervans and go off the grid. I think, when it comes to self-care, when we do certain things because it works for other people and it doesn’t necessarily work for us, we get further away from our true essence. If my first instinct is to go on YouTube and watch a campervan video, I can’t judge myself for it. I can’t say, “Jerrie, you can’t watch a campervan video for self-care. That is so weird. You should be taking a bath instead, or [to] do some yoga.'
If I end up doing yoga, I know deep down it’s not my truest desire. My philosophy is to always follow my desire. If I do what I desire for self-care, when I get a script or I’m on set, I’m not judging my instincts or desires for my character, either. It just helps me not to put restrictions on Tye or any other character I play. People do weird things. I know I do weird sh*t all the time and that’s okay. If I were to put limitations on Tye, it would have closed the box of all the possibilities there are for her to be.
"My philosophy is to always follow my desire. If I do what I desire for self-care, when I get a script or I’m on set, I’m not judging my instincts or desires for my character, either. It just helps me not to put restrictions on Tye or any other character I play."
What is your motivation to keep working toward your goals?
I do this for my hood n****s. I feel like I haven’t seen a lot of people just doing it for the 'hood. Because I have transcended into different areas in my life, people assume that I have this certain way of living, but in reality, when I go back home, I go back to the 'hood. My main goal is to really heal the 'hood. There are so many things I have learned from where I came from.
We are so used to being consumers and there are people who still do not know how to economize or capitalize off of their gifts. We can really branch out into fields that we didn’t think were possible, similar to what Tye is doing in Harlem. We are so used to having limited resources, [so] we have been forced to be creative in so many different ways. I don’t care to make things for rich people. I care to be an inventor or a creator for my people in the 'hood that are trying to find a way to be better but keep getting pulled back into the same cycles.
What does success mean to you versus happiness?
I think success and happiness are directly correlated. I feel like success for me is living in my authentic truth. Success for me isn't attached to any worldly possession. All of that comes and goes. I’m interested in figuring out how I can elevate the human species, spreading light and joy, and getting to the truth about what our purpose is. When I reach that level of seeing the results of my manifestations, then that is what happiness means to me. I am able to share the information I have learned to others. I want everyone to know everything that I know.
Reflecting on where you are in life right now, what would you say to your younger self?
I would say that everything is going to be alright. Don’t be so hard on yourself, and allow yourself space—room to breathe. I didn’t have the luxury when I was growing up to not be in survival mode. People would also say I was "too much" of something. So I would internalize that and be cautious about how I came off to people. I didn’t want people to criticize or judge me for simply trusting my own instincts. I'd encourage her to give herself grace and to understand that she is not responsible for other adults' feelings or behaviors. In my adult life, I have been reparenting myself.
I would [also] say to my younger self, I love you. There are so many people who love you and will love you. Everything will happen for you and don’t be stressed out about the how or when. Celebrate the now!
For more of Jerrie, follow her on Instagram here.
Featured image by Cecile Boko
Money Talks is an xoNecole series where we talk candidly to real women about how they spend money, their relationship with money, and how they get it.
As the year comes to a close, I know many of us have been doing a lot of reflection on what we did and didn't do in order to reach certain goals. We have created to-do lists and vision boards, prayed on a daily basis, cut people off who hinder growth, signed up for masterclasses—the list goes on, honey! Whether you feel you have seen any progress or not, if you've done at least one of the things I listed, sis, you're doing a good job. The worst thing you can do to yourself is to have all of those amazing dreams and not put any action behind them.
In order to reach your goals and live a fabulous life, I spoke to the expert herself: Cheryl Grace. She's no stranger to corporate life and became a full-time "fabulosity coach" after more than 25 years climbing the corporate ladder. Cheryl knew she wanted to become the person to others that she felt she needed in her early 20s. In 2017, she created Powerful Penny, a lifestyle brand for women at work, in love, and at home.
Courtesy of Cheryl Grace
Through her platform, she empowers women to show up in all the areas of their life at work, in love, and at home, which equals the ultimate fabulosity. "There is this myth that women do not have any power when it comes to money," she said. "I named my company the Powerful Penny because people discount Black people, especially Black women, the same way we discount pennies. But what people forget to realize is that pennies add up. So, pennies can be powerful when you make the decision to collect them and not toss them away. You can do whatever you set your mind to when there is intention behind it."
In this installment of Money Talks, Cheryl talks about how trusting your gut, setting intentionality, and asking for help as the keys to being financially free.
On what she makes in a month:
"Powerful Penny was founded in 2017 and I started it as a side hustle. I went full-time starting at the top of 2021 and I generated $30,000 in the first month. My next goal is to make my first million within the year, so for me, March 2022 is my deadline to see if I reach my goal."
On pivoting to full-time entrepreneurship:
"I think the pandemic helped me. I know a lot of people went through challenges during 2020, and rightfully so. But for me, 2020 was my most productive year ever! I wasn't traveling like I usually do for work, so with the opportunity of staying still, I was able to focus on the products I wanted to create and the courses I wanted to teach. I was ready for a change. I was very intentional about moving out of corporate America into my new role."
On the definition of “wealth” vs “success”:
"I think everyone needs to define success for themselves. For some people, success is strictly monetary. They are trying to reach that six-figure-a-year job. For me, success is owning a cottage by the water. I've collected furniture and decor for the last 10 years and manifested my cottage, [which] for me is mainly a place where my family can gather and keep for generation after generation. Wealth, for me, is being able to build a legacy. Things you have accumulated and can pass on to the next generation is a priority."
On the lowest she has ever felt when it comes to money:
"The lowest I've ever felt when it came to money was when my car got repossessed. During that time, I was going through a divorce and it was a reality check that I could not depend on my then-starter husband to take care of things. I had to figure out how to take care of things myself. That was when I started being intentional about my financial choices instead of living in the moment."
On educating others on the importance of setting intention with money:
"Let's say a person walks up to you and they say they want to be rich. You question them and ask, 'What does being rich look like for you? How are you going to get there?' We have these big audacious goals for ourselves—which is great—but if we do not know how to take small bites or understand what it will actually take to get to our goal, then we are not setting intentions. We can't assume that we can think of big goals and expect them to come true just because we put them on our vision board. It's also about the actions you take and the choices you make to get there. We have to take things one bite at a time."
Courtesy of Cheryl Grace
"We can't assume that we can think of big goals and expect them to come true just because we put them on our vision board. It's also about the actions you take and the choices you make to get there."
On having multiple streams of income:
"I wanted to continue living the same lifestyle I was living when I was working in corporate. So right now, with the Powerful Penny, I have products and services. I have my journals, affirmation cards, online courses, and executive coaching sessions. A book called The Miracle Morning helped me figure out who my core client would be.
"At the end of the day, I make sure that I keep my products at affordable prices for my clients and consumers [in order] to sustain my multiple streams of income."
On unhealthy mindsets about money she had to let go of:
"A few years back, I had no problem dropping $2,000 to $4,000 on a handbag, but if you would have told me to drop that same amount into an investment product, that would have been another story. I really started to look at less material things and more at what was important for me internally. I started learning how to invest in myself and stop being afraid of what my reality looked like. How you organize your money in your purse says a lot about how you respect it."
"How you organize your money in your purse says a lot about how you respect it."
Courtesy of Cheryl Grace
On the money mantra she swears by:
"My mantra is always, 'Trust your gut.' I don't think a lot of women trust their gut when it comes to money."
For more about Cheryl Grace, follow her on Instagram @iamcheylgrace.
Featured image courtesy of Cheryl Grace
What is a healthy example of love? If you really think about it, how was love shown to you growing up? Do you even know how much your childhood affected your love life as an adult? These are the questions we should be asking ourselves because, let's face it, we all want that love story we've seen on TV or in the movies—even if we aren't saying it out loud. But who's to say we are making the right moves to find not just a relationship, but a healthy one?
Whether you are team Love Jones or team Martin and Gina, how we perceive a healthy love can be based on so many things. And that is not excluding our upbringing. While love can look different for so many people, as long as we can all acknowledge that love should not feel like a challenge, then, we are on the right track. With the right person, love should be beneficial for both partners physically, emotionally, and spiritually. Periodt.
I recently chatted with someone who believes he grew up with healthy examples of love, which has helped him with how he approaches love and dating today. And that person, my friends, is actor Arlen Escarpeta. Arlen was born in Belize and moved to the United States at an early age with his mother. He pursued his acting career after college and landed his first movie role in Playaz Court in 2000. After that, he secured several TV roles including one in the legal series Boston Public, as well as police dramas The Shield and Boomtown. He also starred as Bobby Brown in the Lifetime original film Whitney.
Image courtesy of Shamayim
His most recent role is on OWN's coming-of-age drama series David Makes Man, a show created by Academy Award-winning screenwriter Tarell Alvin McCraney (Moonlight). The drama centers around a teenaged prodigy named David who lives in the projects but tries to navigate his way between his neighborhood and his prestigious school. A newcomer to the series, Arlen plays JG, David's brother, who brings grounding to the young man. He's a rising businessman facing an opportunity that will change him and his community forever. (If you haven't checked out this OWN series, you should. It's so good!)
For this second season, Arlen's bringing the jokes and realness, and he's making the audience feel all the feels. At the same time, in his personal life, Arlen is making sure that he is making time in his love life to be the best human he can be and exude that healthy example of love he learned about while growing up.
xoNecole: In 'David Makes Man,' we see a time-lapse between younger versions of the characters and the older version. If you could give your younger self a piece of advice, what would it be and why?
Arlen Escarpeta: Well, something I have learned over the years is that procrastination is not the way to go. I am still learning that now. I consider myself a healthy procrastinator. I recognize the faults of it now whereas before, I would just tell myself I have more time. Since then, I have learned I can get a lot more done when I give myself enough time in the upfront to get things accomplished. When you realize that procrastinating is not the way to go, the better off you'll be.
When you were growing up, who was the most influential person in your life and why?
It sounds so cliche and I am sure a lot of men say this, but it is definitely my mother. My father died when I was very young and my mother moved from Belize to the States. Growing up, my mom was the sole provider and she kept the whole family above water. Her tenacity, drive, faith, and her whole spirit is intertwined in everything that I do.
Do you believe that societal pressures of what a man is supposed to be have affected how men and women date nowadays?
I think the pressures of social media have definitely affected the way people approach one another when it comes to dating. Back in the day, the guy that had the best pickup line got the girl. Nowadays it's about sliding in someone's DM and hopefully, you get a response. Even though things have changed, I still believe people are still looking for that real connection with someone. It's just wrapped in a different package.
"Back in the day, the guy that had the best pickup line got the girl. Nowadays it's about sliding in someone's DM and hopefully, you get a response. Even though things have changed, I still believe people are still looking for that real connection with someone. It's just wrapped in a different package."
Did you have healthy examples of love growing up? If so, what did you learn about love that you apply to your own relationships?
I think I had plenty of healthy examples around me growing up. I am a hopeless romantic. I was influenced by TV too and would see all these romantic gestures. I'm the type of guy that will go out and get you flowers just because. I want my girl to feel special. But what I have learned about gestures is that the simple ones are just as important as the big ones. It doesn't have to be a grand scale gesture all the time. Something as simple as loading the dishwasher can be received and appreciated the same as a bouquet of flowers. My current partner taught me this as well. Love can be simple.
Another thing I have learned from healthy examples of love is knowing when to walk away in a relationship. I learned that from my mother. When my mother divorced my stepdad, she knew that she deserved more. And now she has more. It is about setting boundaries for yourself and knowing when letting go of a person is better than just holding on. You have to do what makes you happy and [know] what is a better situation for the both of you.
Is it important for you to feel safe within your own relationship? If so, what does feeling safe look like for you?
It is absolutely important to feel safe in a relationship. Feeling safe for me is me being able to say whatever I want to say and trust that my partner hears and understands me. Feeling safe is having effective communication. I know we are going to bump heads sometimes. So being able to have a disagreement with my partner one moment, talk it out, and still be able to kiss them on the forehead, later on, is healthy to me. I honestly believe that if you are not having those uncomfortable discussions in your relationship, then you are not growing.
"Feeling safe is having effective communication. Being able to have a disagreement with my partner one moment, talk it out, and still be able to kiss them on the forehead, later on, is healthy to me. I honestly believe that if you are not having those uncomfortable discussions in your relationship, then you are not growing."
Image courtesy of Shamayim
What is one thing you think a man should work on for himself before he's ready to be in a relationship?
Having accountability. Men are not always held to the highest standards and can get away with some things sometimes. So, while we are quick to judge others, we really have to look at ourselves and call out some of the things that we do. I think accountability can help men receive what they want to receive and communicate better what's on their mind when they enter a relationship.
What advice do you have for single women who may overthink what it means to impress a guy in dating?
If I am speaking just to women, single or in relationships, I would say that it is important to not misrepresent yourself and let it lead the way. What I mean is, that mask that you put on in the beginning, you are going to have to keep that up. The longer you keep that mask on, the less the man is able to really know you. I know we put on masks mainly to protect ourselves. But when you are comfortable with yourself, it is easier to be comfortable with a potential partner. So you are better off being honest and allowing them to like you/love you for who you really are.
In your opinion, what are your three best qualities that you bring to a relationship?
Just three?! I mean I have a long list! Well, I know I mentioned accountability earlier but I think it is a very important quality to have in a relationship—like being aware of what your flaws are. The other quality I have is to be able to trust. You have to trust your partner and you have to be able to trust yourself. For the third quality, I would have to say I am passionate. You need to have passion in a relationship to keep it going. Passion helps keep the spark alive.
What is one thing that people do not notice about you right away that you wish they did when it comes to love and relationships?
I come across as a "glass full" type person. But honestly, I can be a big old baby. I wear my heart on my sleeve and I don't think a lot of people know that about me.
What would you say is your biggest fear about relationships?
Because I am a hopeless romantic, God forbid the relationship ends and my partner no longer views me as a good person. I ask myself, 'Are we able to be friends afterward, or do they see me as the bad guy in the end?' I never want to be the bad guy.
Even when you try to do everything right, there are still circumstances that you have no control over that could lead to a relationship ending. So, with this fear of mine, I try to remind myself it's not about being the good guy or the bad guy. It is about staying true to yourself and putting your best foot forward.
To learn more about Arlen, follow him on Instagram.
Featured image courtesy of Shamayim
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.
When it comes to sexuality, there have always been societal limitations centered on what is "acceptable." However, with more honest conversations about how fluid sexuality and sexual expression can be, now there are so many more opportunities for self-exploration and taking back ownership of our identities again. One couple that is living their truth and being sexual beings unapologetically while living and loving their lives are Jasmine Johnson and King Noire.
For some background, this husband and wife have been in a relationship for 10 years. Jasmine Johnson, aka Jet Setting Jasmine, is a psychotherapist and a Master Fetish Trainer, along with her husband, King Noire. Jasmine has over 20 years of experience in the industry. King Noire is an accomplished writer, artist, MC and global activist. As a couple in love and in business, Jasmine and King are owners of their award-winning adult entertainment company, Royal Fetish Films. Through their work, Jasmine and King have combined their talents and passions to produce erotica that stimulates audiences to explore their sexual boundaries.
In this installment of xoNecole's How We Met, Jasmine and King shares how their love continues to grow through intentionality, selflessness, and finding strength in baring it all.
How They Met
Jasmine Johnson: King and I met on a radio show. I was interviewing him on a podcast and the focus was porn and relationships. It was mainly about how people in the porn industry find relationships. We connected outside of the podcast and, when we did, we shared our personal bios to each other. We let each other know, 'This is what I've been through, this is where I'm at, and this is where I'm trying to go.'
King Noire: Yes, so we met on the podcast and I was very interested in getting to know Jasmine more. Jasmine was super straightforward and direct with her questions. I liked that. So I slid into her DMs and asked if we could work on our 'talents' together. At the time, Jasmine was teaching pole dancing and I was doing erotic touch massages. We both were very intentional about getting involved with each other.
King: After connecting outside of the podcast, Jasmine booked a session with me [for an erotic touch massage]. For me, that let me know that she respects what I do. When I saw her in person, I thought she looked better than her pictures. The first thing I noticed is that she has a very vibrant, illuminating smile. Jasmine's smile makes me want to smile.
Jasmine: Wow. How am I supposed to follow that? Before I met King in person, what attracted me to him was that he is a multi-dimensional man. The way that he is very in tune with who he is. I liked how he was not trying to shut off any of those dimensions. At the time, I was learning about all the dimensions of myself. So I thought, 'Well, here is a man who is educated, cares about his people, and likes to have a good time.' I also liked that he had a business pleasing women. I enjoyed my time with him, the conversation that we had, and the experience overall. He did not disappoint at all.
"What attracted me to him was that he is a multi-dimensional man. The way that he is very in tune with who he is. I liked how he was not trying to shut off any of those dimensions. I also liked that he had a business pleasing women. I enjoyed my time with him, the conversation that we had, and the experience overall. He did not disappoint at all."
Courtesy of King Noire and Jasmine Johnson
Making It Official
Jasmine: There wasn't exactly a clear moment for me. Our relationship grew gradually and the shift had a nice slow incline. We talked about each step along the way, so it was very thoughtful. For example, one of us would say, "I'm thinking about you all day long and I wish you were here with me." Instead of saying, "I wish you here with me and I want you all to myself."
King: It has been gradually growing and I think that is the best way to put it. We continue to grow together and how we express our interests and admiration in each other.
Dismantling Myths Around Polyamory
King: The biggest myth about polyamorous relationships is that people think it is always sexual. It is so much more than that. My expression for love is just different and it is not solely about having sex with people. When it comes to Jasmine, how we connect and share with one another makes us stronger. So being honest about how we may like to do certain things differently or we have separate interests is important. With polyamory, it's recognizing that you can't be everything to anybody.
For example, Jasmine wants to go to a certain event and the event is not really my thing. If I'm there, I am not going to have as much fun as she will have. To me, I would be taking away from her enjoying it if I told her that I didn't want her going with someone else. When you truly love a person, you want them to experience all of the things that they enjoy. So I want her to enjoy herself, do her thing, and tell me how it went when she comes back home.
Jasmine: I completely agree with King about the sex part. I know a question I get asked a lot is, "Oh, do you get jealous when your husband sleeps with other people?" Truly, when I think about King and I's relationship, it is about the quality time we spend with each other. Also, when people think about polyamory, people assume that both of the individuals have to be polyamorous. There can be mixed styles of orientation in one relationship.
We both tried different relationship styles and chose what worked for us. I was oriented towards monogamy when I met King. Now I am not saying I just threw in my monogamy card, because I didn't. I just became more open to the possibility and explored what other ways of being together would look like. For years, we have been able to have a sustainable and beautiful relationship in love.
"The biggest myth about polyamorous relationships is that people think it is always sexual. It is so much more than that. My expression for love is just different and it is not solely about having sex with people. When it comes to Jasmine, how we connect and share with one another makes us stronger. With polyamory, it's recognizing that you can't be everything to anybody."
The Fears Around Different Relationship Styles
Jasmine: King was really certain about who he was and his relationship style. For me, the fear was if I reject this, then I miss the opportunity to experience life with this man. I also had a fear of "failing" at being good at being poly or exploring what our relationship could look like. I questioned if it would possibly jeopardize the bond we had. Both of these fears, either way, the outcome was not going to be him and I. So I leaned into those fears and I'm glad we figured it out.
King: I didn't have any fears from her specifically, but in general. I only had one experience before Jasmine where I felt I was able to fully be polyamorous. But it still felt limiting because I was still learning myself. I think the fear was as we got down the road, is she (Jasmine) going to change up on me? That fear of her not trusting me. This happens whether you are in a monogamous relationship or a polyamorous relationship. People were trying to tell me what my love was for my partner and I felt boxed in. But Jasmine was that person I wanted to dive into, get to know, and share all of myself with her. At the same time, I don't want to compromise who I am because of a relationship. I want to enhance myself because of the relationship.
King: I don't know how cliche this will sound, but Jasmine really helped me express and find myself. With Jasmine, she is very confident in who she is and how she defines herself. She confirms that I also have the space to do that for myself. Those fears that I just spoke about were fears from past relationships and she made me realize that that is not a part of who she is. People say everyone comes with baggage and that shit is real. You realize you have to check your luggage somewhere else, because this is a new trip right here.
Jasmine: To love yourself is to take a hard look at a lot of aspects of yourself. You have to love the parts of yourself that you are not quite finished with yet. So much of King and I's relationship is helping others, but more importantly helping ourselves. A lot of the trauma work [I've done], King has been front and center.
Really doing that healing and processing it all, we really did it together and figured out how to make it pretty for y'all. How to express our sexuality to the world was really digging into the why's and meanings of who we are individually. From being in a relationship with King, I have also learned how to love myself differently. I don't have to do everything by myself anymore. When you have a partner to really appreciate the moments when life slows down, it's beautiful.
"From being in a relationship with King, I have also learned how to love myself differently. I don't have to do everything by myself anymore. When you have a partner to really appreciate the moments when life slows down, it's beautiful."
Courtesy of King Noire and Jasmine Johnson
Blended In Family, Love & Legacy
Jasmine: We have a blended family. We started co-parenting two to three years into our relationship. I think there is a huge stigma around blended families, where people think that when you have a blended family, it is going to be lacking something. I used to think this and it honestly took a while for me to believe that King could father all of my children. It wasn't necessarily about him expressing himself as a man and a father. It was really these preconceived notions and judgements of, 'No one is going to love your kids like you.'
The idea that someone in a blended family is not going to love your kids as much as if they were the biological parent is the furthest thing from the truth. My children have a full and complete family. Black families work hard and we continue to work while also through the expression of love. Black love does not have to look like that traditional Eurocentric idea. Black love can look like whatever it needs to look like for people as long as values are respected and aligned.
King: Building off of that, when you think about it, African-American family units don't just make lemonade out of lemons. We make everything with lemons]! History has shown us that the Black family has been broken up since we got here. People try to create this negative narrative around the Black family to make us feel bad. But I look at how we have created our definition of what family looks like, blood or not. We have always said it takes a village to raise a child. Family is more about who you love, how you love, and the responsibility of how you show up for your loved ones.
King: I think just finding more ways to love each other. What I mean by that is, how can I show you that I love you more within moments that we share? Within the Black love story, I believe we are afraid to expose the bareness of our souls. The more you expose yourself to somebody, we call it vulnerability. But I think of it as more of a strength. When you have a partner, if there is an area that you lack, your partner always has your back. They fill that space for you. So when we are able to show the totality of who we are, we are also able to fill in each other's blank spaces.
Jasmine: King has this motto for his music, which is, "Freedom, Justice, and Equality." I feel these three principles really cover every aspect of our lives. They make a really easy formula for our love. There is freedom in our love and I am not talking about sex and relationships. Freedom to respect our interests and support each other through them. The second one is Justice. There's a lot of accountability in our love. No one just gets away with anything around here. In terms of Equality, I have been able to see it as we come as equals to the table. We may not agree on everything, but we show up as humans and no one is inferior to the other.
If one wins, we all win.
Featured image courtesy of Jasmine Johnson and King Noire
In xoNecole's Our First Year series, we take an in-depth look at love and relationships between couples with an emphasis on what their first year of marriage was like.
Love is beautiful, and if you believe otherwise, then you may just haven't found the right person yet. What I mean by beautiful is that love is a journey that is comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. I am not saying that love doesn't come with its bumpy times because that would be a lie. What I am saying is that when it comes to love, sharing those moments with someone makes the ride called life all the more worth it. Whether it's going on trips, doing adventurous activities, or even relaxing together in the park, those moments are what helps keep the love couples share alive. That is exactly how DJ QuickSilva and Ashley Silva approach their love.
They have been married for 12 years, and they still make sure they have fun and do things together like they did when they met almost 20 years ago. Quick is a DJ and radio host from east Baltimore who is best known on Washington, D.C.'s The Russ Parr Morning Show. He is also the host of The QuickSilva Show, which can be heard weekdays 3 to 7 p.m. EST on both 92.3 FM in Baltimore and 93.9 FM in DC. Outside of DJing, he's the owner of Club Downtown Bmore and has opened a DJ school called The Quick and Eazy DJ Academy, with the goal of providing a curriculum that teaches a wide range of skills necessary to be a successful DJ.
While Quick has become very successful and is still reaching new heights, he was not expecting to find that support system and his partner in "fun" in the love of his life, Ashley Silva.
Courtesy of DJ QuickSilva
Once they got married, Quick and Ashley Silva, creator of the lifestyle brand and podcast @funtimemoms, made sure that they kept dating each other. "I think we lead by example. We really try to show our kids what a healthy marriage should look like. We hope that through our actions and how we live our lives, we inspire our children. We hope that through us, our children see that marriage can work if you allow it to work."
How We Met
Ashley: We met at a nightclub called Hammerjacks. One of my neighbors was the opening DJ and I was driving him to the club that night. I saw Quick there and I thought he was cute. The rest was history at that point.
Quick: So initially in 2002, Ashley messaged me on BlackPlanet.com. She introduced herself and was telling me about a DJ she was friends with. From there, we met in person at the nightclub a week later.
Ashley: We didn't really call ourselves being in a relationship until four years after we met. I used to call it a 'friendlationship'. But I think it started being called a situationship later on. One day, I stayed over at Quick's place and I literally just never went home.
Ashley: I love how dedicated Quick is to everything he works toward. Whether it is for work or for our family, I know that it's going to get done. That really motivates me because there are times where I am not as motivated, but when I look at him, I tell myself, if he can do it, then I can do it too.
Quick: It's hard to narrow it down to one thing. She is the most thoughtful person I have ever met. When I say thoughtful, I mean she goes above and beyond. It could be friends, family, or any person that she comes across. For her, it is really about making other people feel special. She does an amazing job of that.
The Big Day
Quick: We had our wedding in Jamaica and I remember it rained a lot that day. The wedding was also two hours late from starting. But my favorite memory of that day was when I first saw her. Ashley came around the corner and then Brian McKnight's "Never Felt This Way" started playing. Everybody in the room started crying. It was an amazing and magical thing.
Ashley: I believe there's a saying, "If things go bad, the better the marriage." Literally that morning, I woke up with three mosquito bites and I'm slightly allergic. With the rain, my hair was messed up and we had to move the wedding indoors. But the reception was so much fun. It was really the best time.
Ashley: I don't want to say it was love at first sight, but it kind of was. I remember telling Quick years before (when we were in our situationship) that one day he is going to want to marry me. I just loved everything about him. To me, he was the perfect guy.
Quick: There was definitely a moment for me. Back in 2002, Ashley was there for me during one of the lowest points of my life. During that time, when I lost everything, I would ask her, "Why are you still here?" Her response was that she liked being around me. I knew at that moment that she was the one, but honestly, I knew I wasn't ready.
"Back in 2002, Ashley was there for me during one of the lowest points of my life. During that time, when I lost everything, I would ask her, 'Why are you still here?' I knew at that moment that she was the one, but honestly, I knew I wasn't ready."
Quick: My biggest fear before marriage was not being able to provide for and protect my family. A lot of people get married because of love, but I wanted to make sure that I was financially and mentally ready before we took that step. What helped me overcome that fear was reminding myself that Ashley was there for me when I had nothing. Because she was there for me, it let me know that she is not with me for the money.
Ashley: I really never saw examples of long-lasting relationships growing up. Even if they were in a long-lasting marriage, the couple hated each other. That is not something that I wanted in my marriage. I wanted to have a friendship, too. For our children, I want them to see that their parents love each other and like each other. I think they are able to see that even now.
Ashley: The beginning of our marriage was around the time social media became popular. With social media, people have been really mean to me. There were people who said the worst things to me, and I was genuinely shocked about where this hatred was coming from. It really bothered me and it showed me how there are so many people truly unhappy in their own lives.
Quick: We live in a time where most people are pretty unhappy. No one wants to see success in careers or love with other people because that is something that they want. If there is one small thing that someone can nitpick at, that is what they focus on. That is what gets on blogs. It just shows that positivity is not what people buy into. It is the negativity that sells.
Self-Care Within Marriage
Ashley: I am a huge advocate for mental health and wellness. Self-care is a part of my everyday routine. I like to meditate with my daughter, and I like to take hot baths. Self-care can look different in different marriages. For Quick and I, we enjoy spending time together, but we also enjoy our own 'me time.' Having your own identity within your marriage is so important. For example, it can get hard being able to spend time with your girlfriends after you get married. Three months can turn into six months and then you're wondering where the time goes. So my other form of self-care is maintaining those relationships outside of my marriage. Everyone needs that.
Quick: I work so much. I literally party for a living and I am around people 24/7. There have been days when I have worked myself into exhaustion, so when I am not working, I do not want to do anything. I enjoy watching an old movie, smoking a cigar, and just relaxing. If I could watch a movie, smoke a cigar, and get a massage every day, life would be amazing! My form of self-care is honestly doing nothing.
"Self-care can look different in different marriages. For Quick and I, we enjoy spending time together, but we also enjoy our own 'me time.' Having your own identity within your marriage is so important."
Courtesy of DJ QuickSilva
Quick: One thing that Ashley mentioned in another interview really resonated with me. She said, "In marriage, you will always love each other. Will there be moments when you fall out of love? Yes. But what helps with keeping the marriage going is that we don't fall out of love at the same time." So those moments when we get on each other's nerves, it is always one of us that still cares to bring us back to love.
Ashley: A lot of people talk about communication, but for me, I think comprehension is more important than just communicating. If someone is telling you something and it is going in one ear and out the other, it doesn't mean anything. To understand where your partner is coming from is key.
Ashley: I think a goal for us is that in 20 more years, we still like each other. We try to do things together that we both will enjoy. Keeping the fun is a huge part in keeping the marriage alive. A big mistake that a lot of married couples do, is that they forget who they were before they got married. So it's important to do things that remind you why you got together in the first place—to be reminded, what made you fall in love.
Quick: I think it is important for people to see that just because you're married, doesn't mean you can't do the fun things you were doing before you were married. Yes, some things may slow down and change. But the Silvas like to turn up!!
"I think a goal for us is that in 20 more years, we still like each other. We try to do things together that we both will enjoy. Keeping the fun is a huge part in keeping the marriage alive."
Ashley: Keeping that balance of being a couple outside of being parents is essential. I remember Guiliana Rancic (works for E! News) said that her marriage comes first and her children come second. A lot of people were upset that she said that. But when I read more about what she was saying, I understood why. If I spend all my time with my children and my marriage is failing, I don't have a marriage to go back to.
Quick: Everything does not work for everybody. What works for us, may not work for the next couple. I think the main important thing in a marriage is to agree on what works for you two. It's not easy to be married to someone like me in this industry, but once you figure out what works, go with that. Nobody can teach you what works in your marriage better than you.
Featured image courtesy of DJ QuickSilva