The Story of how “Love Is__” Went From a Magazine Cutout on my Vision Board, to a TV Show on OWN.

Nuri and Yasir, Courtesy of OWN Networks

It was 2014, when I was scrolling through the February issue of Essence magazine, and I stumbled upon a feature of this black couple, with whom I immediately fell in love. I was enthralled by the way the man leaned into his wife with eyes closed and a soft assured smile on his face, as if he was giving himself fully to her with the trust that her love was his safe haven. The interview had a featured quote which when I read, instantly felt like a manifesto of the kind of love I wished for myself. The quote said,

“What’s been successful for us is we keep defining for ourselves what our life should look like personally, professionally and spiritually. If you compare yourself to other people, then you get distracted and can’t see your own blessings”.

I had no idea who these people were, but I knew I wanted a love like theirs. Something both grounded and divine about the kind of love that deliberately throws convention out the door, to build their own from scratch and on their terms. I tore that page out of the magazine and kept it with me to remind me to stick with this as my standard, to fall in love with a man who dared to dream outside of the confines of love that’s often based on dominance or entitlement. I still have that torn page, which you can see below. Little did I know, this couple whose principles I fell in love with, were the Akils which I only realized just last year when I was doing my yearly ritual of re-reading the quote to remind me of the kind of love I wanted; I realized wait a minute, that’s Mara Brock Akil, the same Mara who has always told our stories with such care, tenderness and purpose. The same Mara determined to give us complex, full fleshed out characters in an entertainment world determined on making us one-dimensional tokens. The same Mara who gave us Girlfriends, Being Mary Jane, Black Lighting, and so many more. Mara who loved us black folks, well before I fell in love with her and Salim’s love.

It’s a kind of full circle moment, that fast forward 4 years after I tore that page, I was sitting in front of my TV screen this Tuesday for the premiere of “Love Is___” on OWN, a show based on the story of their love. 4 years later, I am able to watch a love story unfold, one which I fell in love with, before I even knew it enough. In a way, this parallel’s their story too, because Nuri who is Mara in the show), also fell in love with Yasir (Salim in the show), before she knew him well enough. They sat in the same coffee shop in which they had met a year prior, and they spoke from 9pm to 4 in the morning, unfolding to each other like flowers flirting with the light of the sun’s rays. Hours and hours of conversation, capped with a declaration by Yasir who said, “let’s cut the BS and get on with this life together”, which they sealed with a kiss that could make your knees betray you. One date, and they were hooked to one another the way that I too, saw that interview in Essence Magazine and thought, this is it, this is the love I want.

But stick with me here, because I know it sounds as though this show wants to convince you that love is fairy dust and sparkles and cupid arrows, but it isn’t the case. While this first episode establishes these two characters are two people with a quiet, enthralling power that pulls you in, they don’t try to give you perfection. Yasir is a struggling actor living with his girlfriend who is fed up with writing dreams that aren’t paying the rent and these financial issues are putting a strain on their relationship. He’s been living for more than a year with a girl carrying all the financial burden of the home and she’s fed up. It isn’t to say he is worth less because he doesn’t work, but he hasn’t made an effort to get a “conventional” job to help with the bills while he works on his writing career. Well at least, that’s what the show’s premiere will have us believe. Perhaps it’s the reason why he persists to take Nuri on a date, because with her he gets to be something other than his failures. With Nuri, Yasir’s game is smoother than a Boys to Men love song and oh man, it’s so easy to get pulled in. Likely, this is the same charm that his girlfriend Ruby, fell in love with until bills came to suffocate the fire.

Nuri herself, though she is much more stable with a stable job and a home of her own, is juggling multiple relationships that fulfill different needs she has, and she commits to none of the men. Her mom even reminds her that she has to make room for love. But Nuri does not want to settle; She had a picture perfect idea of who she wants in her life, which she notes, “I’m educated, I’m bringing a career to the table, why am I wrong if I require a brother to match my effort, as a prerequisite to marriage”? Either none of those men fit her criteria, or she hasn’t allowed herself to see whether any of them measure up to her standards.

Neither character has it all together and they often get pulled under by the fear of not measuring up to the kind of dreams they have for themselves. They don’t always make the right decisions or say the perfect thing that is wrong, but just cute enough to be endearing or overlooked like in romantic comedies. They are characters with real flaws, who don’t always do the right thing, but you can’t help but root for them. And as older Nuri says in the confessional style interview in the show, “he came and he shattered all my plans”. Older Yasir on the other hand, says ever so tenderly with his voice cracking with emotion, “she saved my life”. A sentiment that Salim in real life, has echoed many times. In a way it seems they came to each other’s lives to pull all of their fears, worries and shortcomings to the light so that love, dreams and a mutual surrendering, could pour in the space left empty.

“Love Is__” is a show that brings you back to the magical love of fairytales and romantic comedies but also takes your hand to show you what happens in the after of happily ever after. It isn’t interested in painting to you a pristine love that is unblemished by the trials and tribulations of life. Neither is it interested in giving you what Salim described as a blueprint to love. He emphasizes instead that this show is for the viewers to see themselves in, and to get permission to have their own relationship designed on their own terms. Without realizing it, he essentially reiterated the same sentiment that led me to tear that page off in 2014, To aspire to a love where I could say,

“What’s been successful for us is we keep defining for ourselves what our life should look like personally, professionally and spiritually. If you compare yourself to other people, then you get distracted and can’t see your own blessings”.

I already love this show the same way I love that 2014 interview, the same way Nuri/Mara fell in love with Yasir/Salim, without having known him enough. Only this time, I get to find out what it is about this love that drew me in so quickly and mysteriously. I get to see behind the curtain of a magazine cutout I’ve had for 4 years.

Love Is__ Serendipity.

“Love Is__” airs Tuesdays at 10/9c on the OWN Network.

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How can I live in a way that makes room for you too? I write for our healing, our love, our redemption. Read me here too==>https://dearbodyproject.com/

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Isabelle dany masado

How can I live in a way that makes room for you too? I write for our healing, our love, our redemption. Read me here too==>https://dearbodyproject.com/