The opening line of the “Love Is___” series alone had all of us shook.
Sitting in the forefront of a spacious room victoriously smiling, gentle face lines hinting at a few years of satisfying nostalgia frequently curling her lips, we are introduced to a wise, glowing, and seasoned Nuri. In front of a rich royal blue background, Nuri sits comfortably on a chic pale-pink couch. While draped in a shimmering silver cover-up, white blouse, playful ripped blue jeans, and mildly salted shoulder-length deep black soft curls, she looks into the camera in what appears to be a documentary of some sort. It is then that Seasoned Nuri fondly delivers an epiphany about the impact of encountering her husband of twenty plus years:
“He was a meteor that hit my life, I didn’t see coming. He blew up my world and my plans. He unearthed the truth in me….made me take off this mask I had been wearing… [pause] so that you could see the real light in me.”
The simple beauty of the statement was hauntingly familiar. Isn’t that how we all felt when we fell in love with the first person we desired to be the one? Seasoned Nasir soon takes his place on a shared yellow couch and gives us our first taste of his strong presence as he warmly pokes fun at his wife’s wardrobe. The audience is filled with the relief of knowing ahead of time that this love story worked out in the long run and the anticipation of unraveling the journey that has led to the presumed present success.
I admit that I was tardy for this love party. I either did not realize the show had started already or had actively dodged the heavy mirror that love stories post up in the living room of your heart: I cannot recall which is the truth.
However, on every single one of my social media timelines, people were going off about this show, “Love Is__.” The debates started catching my attention. My mind excitedly processed the chorus of –
“I’m hooked! I love Love!”
“Why we always gotta raise these men?”
“This is not relationship goals! Nuri couldn’t have been me!”
I was particularly captivated due to being in the midst of my own most unexpected but mirror-est and most successful relationship to date. My faith in men had been restored, although I have never been the type to give up on love. I’m a hopeless, recovering undercover over-lover mushy thug life romantic. Therefore, it was refreshing to see a black love story with round, evolving characters, (I love my ratchet reality television shows but have long been craving deeper), being discussed with such fervor. After catching up on every single aired episode of the new series (twice), I can now confirm that this show fully lives up to the hype. I was floored in the best way possible. The range is intensely fulfilling. The performances are phenomenal. The emotion is tangible. I cannot think of a more delicious treat to unwrap and honestly did not know where to start. There are myriad complex layers to be unpacked. Do I talk about (the valid) black man anger, black woman disappointment, absentee fathers, the superwoman complex, generational curses, or “build-a-man” theory to name a few topics? For the sake of making this an article and not a book, I chose to delve a little deeper into the controversial dilemma of healing traumas while in a relationship by expanding on a few reasons why I passionately approve of Nuri and Yasir’s story of overcoming the hardships in the name of love and commitment, and prevailing. There are many people who would prefer that everyone remain single until all of “the work” is finished and we are perfect, whole, and healed, but that is not reality. I, a therapist, a flawed human, and romantic, am not one of those people. Here are some reasons why.
Love is a choice.
Love is a choice. Love is commitment. Nobody is perfect. No two love stories are the same and there is not a one-size-fits-all formula for ensuring a relationship will endure. Again, love is commitment. One that couples that have been together for years and years decided to make every day. On any day, any of us could decide that someone is “too complicated,” “too heavy,” and “too much work” to actively participate in the journey together anymore, relinquishing our compassion capacity for an individual at that time and opting to love them from afar.
We are always in relationship with other people. None of us is an island on this world, no matter what the state of those relationships are at present. We were born from someone else. We were raised by people. We learned how to socialize, behave, and express ourselves by observing other people, word to Bandura’s Social Learning Theory. If I could say, “I’m not going to work today because I have not completed all of my personal work and therefore do not feel qualified to deal with capitalism for a few years,” that would be freaking awesome! Unfortunately, many of us do not have the privilege of being in a huge plastic bubble supplied with endless food and water until we have completed all of the work there is to be done in our personal development. Chances are that we have unintentionally hurt someone before reaching Maslow’s aspired for self-actualization. Do you remember the people who loved you when you were not the easiest person to love? How do we even know who we are until we are confronted with the reality of who the people we associate with, are? What do we strive for? Do we get inspired to be better? Most hurting people are deprived of a connection of some kind—is the solution to deprive them of all bonds and connection to reduce their risk of ever harming anyone ever? Isolation is a primary risk factor and symptom of numerous mental health disorders. The treatment? Therapy. Support groups. Improving natural supports. Connection.
This does not mean that you have to be anyone’s confidant or therapist. Even if you are, they have to be willing to engage with their own issues and do their own work to progress. But at any given time, when we choose to love and support someone, that entails wearing many hats and being impacted by the emotions they experience. They do not ask us to be, but we are impacted because we love them. Jada Pinkett Smith recently expressed the sentiment I am attempting to convey in a video on her social media pages, “The key to love is learning how to be devastated.” There is no immunity from pain when you love. We are human. We will hurt. Who is worth the pain, to you?
We make a choice in all of our roles. Although it may be socially misunderstood to outsiders, there are millions of parents, children, brothers, sisters, and friends in the history of humankind who have given up the responsibility of their roles because they decided it was “too much.” As we read this, bonds are being severed. Oftentimes, these decisions are rightfully made in toxic situations where maybe one party or the other refuses to confront their shortcomings, heal, and actively work towards changing their predicament or behaviors. Our personal boundaries, (the guidelines, rules, and limits we create to identify reasonable, safe, and permissible ways for people to behave towards us and our responses to them), dictate what and who we allow into our lives at any given time. Nuri chose Yasir. Yasir chose Nuri. Repeat times twenty years and we have a dazzling show inspired by the real life love story of Mara Brock Akil and Salim Akil. I am a happy spectator.
Timing is everything.
Whether your spirituality keeps you grounded in your beliefs about timing like myself or you simply believe in coincidence or serendipity, timing is everything. We can trust it, distrust it, reflect on it, remember it, but things happen the way they happen and it is up to us to decipher the meaning in perpetual retrospect. Most of us agree that everything that happens and every person we meet is for a reason or a season. What makes the difference? The alignment of the timing, our level of consciousness, and our commitment. Nuri was not a paid writer when she and Yasir first met. Furthermore, their love story did not start when they first met—it picked up a year later. Prior to becoming aware of Yasir’s existence, Nuri confidently boasted that she would never date a man with kids or settle, with her definition of “settling,” (emphasis on her definition and at that time), being inclusive of finances.
Everybody has a journey. In theory, we are never a finished product for as long as we are still alive and kicking. We are all on a journey and constantly learning, evolving, and becoming. The space someone is in when you meet them is not the space they are destined to remain in. Similarly, tables could turn and you may end up becoming the more financially, physically, cognitively, or emotionally dependent party in the relationship. Yasir even wonders on Episode 1 what their lives would have been like if they had connected a year ago, the first time they met. Nuri says, “Maybe we weren’t ready a year ago.” Shortly followed by the heart-melting exchange courtesy of charming Yasir’s inquiry after hours of bonding into the late night hours (their first substantial conversation which was supposed to be a rejection), “What if—what if we were together for a year already and it was time to say goodbye…what would you say to me?” Time and frequency are waves. Life happens in waves. You are going to go through hurdles and dynamics can change in the blink of an eye. This is why the fiber of a relationship is strengthened and tested by the caliber of the qualities beneath the surface.
The “Four Intimacies” of Love.
I had the pleasure of speaking with relationship expert Dr. Michelle R. Hannah about her wealth of relationship knowledge and the role of the “Four Intimacies” in relationship success. Intimacy is our experience of connection to another person, a closeness and vulnerability made up of sharing and understanding. The four intimacies Dr. Hannah promotes are: emotional intimacy, physical intimacy, intellectual intimacy, and spiritual intimacy. Emotional intimacy refers to our trust and comfort with showing our innermost selves and occurs when the communication level between two people fosters mutual sharing. Physical intimacy involves sensual proximity or touching as a form of emotional expression, romantic love, or sexual attraction. Intellectual intimacy consists of acts such as sharing personal and business goals, visions, purpose, ideas, opinions, and other mental connections with comfort. Spiritual intimacy encompasses the ability to connect with a higher power beyond yourself with reverence whether that be energetically or religiously in the form of shared practices and rituals.
Dr. Hannah graciously shared her personal experiences and thoughts on the importance of the four intimacies in a committed relationship:
“You have to be able to be honest about how you feel and where you are. It’s one thing to put all of your faith in potential and another if [your partner] is showing you action, ambition, and drive to improve. Here is what I’ve found: when you get into a committed relationship, you have the responsibility to show up. I had been through everything, been by myself for a while, and did ‘the work.’ I thought I was whole when I met him [my husband] but he actually ended up triggering things that I didn’t know I still needed to work through. My husband was working with 3 of the intimacies, he struggled with emotional. I saw the growth and he was showing up with what he had. I had to move towards compassion. The core part is that I love him. I loved his being and I wanted to see him win. I was a workaholic and he brought the balance. It’s hard when you’re in need of something and you have to teach it, but If a person brings a healthy balance to your life, that’s worth more than them needing a little work in an area. When you love someone who has Spiritual and Intellectual? You know their values and foundation are strong. You don’t throw that away. Sometimes, you have to drown yourself in patience.”
One could argue that Nuri is “doing better” than Yasir when they meet, however, the character herself frequently explains how Yasir’s strengths add balance to her life and challenged her to grow in certain areas as well. “Better” is in the mind of the beholder: again, we are all masterpieces in progress. Although financially struggling, Yasir is devout to his faith, fasting for Ramadan during many of their initial encounters. He is intellectually strong, passionate about his career goals, romantic, and an attentive lover. You cannot help but swoon when he gifts Nuri a book lovingly signed with, “A great writer can only become greater.” He cooks and he’s thoughtful. Yasir not only possesses many strengths, they literally outweigh his shortcomings. He blatantly has and expresses the desire to improve his condition, grow, and be better than his current state and predicaments. If we examine Yasir under the lens of the four intimacies, he demonstrates high competency in three of them. Nuri sees his potential and decides he is worth the gamble. Both felt “small” in their own right in comparison to the other. Both possessed qualities admired by the other. I root for the couple not because it is okay to showcase emotional deficiencies that inconvenience and confuse those who care about you, but because it is human.
We are always in a relationship with ourselves.
In conclusion, one of the most spectacular reasons why I love both love and 'Love Is__' is because we are watching a love story of ourselves. We are always in a love story with ourselves, and we cannot turn the page without examination of the relationships we choose and the reflection of ourselves they provide. We have all given, received, and used. We have all poured and poured into. What we have poured, depends on what was in our cup at the time. We cannot give what we do not have and I would personally like to believe that we are all operating to the best of our abilities at our current level of consciousness. As Nuri’s spiritually hip mother, Carol, sagely reminds us in the first episode of 'Love Is', “I know you don’t like this Nuri, but this is what love looks like…me making you look in the mirror.” The sweet romance between Yasir and Nuri encourages us all to ponder on whose journeys we are committed witnesses for: defeats and victories.