From couples and best friends to a family and your own radiant self, we explored the depth of love in all its forms. We sat down with cool creatives, thoughtful individuals, and overall, just beautiful spirits to peel back the layers on love. When we stripped away surface level societal expectations and lofty ideals of what love is, we found that collectively, love is hard. But in its difficult, raw moments and challenges is where the breakthrough is. Real, deep love – for others and yourself – isn’t easy, but it’s so worth it.

What does love mean to you?

Sarah: It’s like a feeling. To me, love means accepting people through all the good and bad – but really actually doing it. And it just means being yourself. If you love someone, you have to be yourself so that they can in turn love you and see if it’s real love.

Arden: I think love is an emotion that should be given and received. Otherwise it’s ineffective, it just doesn’t work.

Do you feel like you have to learn how to love yourself before you can truly love others?

Sarah: There’s a Madonna song called “Secret” that I heard when I was quite young. But one of the lyrics is “Until I learned to love myself, I was never ever loving anybody else” and that has always stayed with me my whole life. But honestly, I myself… I don’t think you do. I think you can love other people before you learn to love yourself. You just have to learn that the way you love them is how you should love yourself. It’s like how people can give great advice, but it’s harder for them to take that advice.

Arden: It’s funny because it brings up a memory I have. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school and we were required to take an emotional assessment test and one of the questions was “Do you love yourself?” and “Do you blush when you look in the mirror?”

Sarah: That’s so creepy.

Everyone laughs and Arden proceeds to explain.

Arden: At the time, we all answered “no” to the two questions because there was a sense of entitlement that came with it. Like how could you love yourself? How vain of you to do that. And if you blush in the mirror, you love yourself too much. So my response at that time was, well of course I don’t love myself. But I think over time, I’ve come to understand that one does have to love themselves in order to give themselves fully to others equally. The more that you know of love and of yourself, the more you’re able to give. It kind of addresses how much love you bear internally. Like, how bright is the glow of love inside of you that you can shine onto others.

Do you think you need to learn to love yourself before you can truly accept love from others?

Aliek: Yes. Because then you don’t believe it. It just doesn’t seem like something that makes sense.

Jazz: And that’s just trust, with yourself and with others. Trusting that you know best for yourself. I know for a really long time I was really insecure about “maybe she wants to be with somebody else” because I have all these flaws and I’m a complex person. Then, she was like “you don’t trust me, do you?” And I realized, “oh, no actually, intellectually, I do trust you. So I’m doing you a disservice by second-guessing what you’re telling me.” I think that’s fundamental in any relationship, it’s just trust. And loving yourself.

Aliek: Yes, those two things. Trust and love.

Jazz: Trusting myself helped me love myself and helped me share love with Aliek and helped me receive love from Aliek.

Aliek: It’s that linear thinking. That scripted, storybook stuff. It’s easy for us to latch onto. It’s the dominance discourse of our time. Like when I chase you and find you in the airport and tell you that I love you, that’s “love” and there are so many movies that have that. I don’t think love is really like that. It’s in the tiny things that roll over. Every little action rolls over into the next action into the combination of love.

Jazz: It’s very easy to think that that’s what you’re looking for but it’s not. It’s Tuesday at 9am when you look at me the right way, that’s love. And I’m taking that and I’m receiving it and I’m holding onto that moment and it’s just as precious as a time when we’re laying it out and trying to talk about it. Gestures of love like Valentine’s Day or our anniversary, all of those narrated days where we’re supposed to share are not very important to us – or really at all. I am more interested in how do you feel about me on Wednesday, any given Wednesday.

How has your idea of love changed over time?

Aliek: I think my idea of love growing up, because I lacked a lot of things, I sought out physical affection. If someone was being touchy with me, oh that was love. But I think the more I’ve grown up and gotten a little braver to dig a little deeper, I realized that love is more about being able to talk through hard things and being able to see the ugly parts of each other and still love each other through that and being able to grow and connect. Those things are so much more important to me than these little staples of what I thought love was, like saying you love me or holding my hand in public or kissing me. I have moments now where we’re talking and I realize “oh, you’ve never told me that about you.” I just keep discovering you.

So there are these cards called “{THE AND} Couples Edition Card Game”. They’re cards with questions prompts on them.

Jazz: We actually both got each other the same Christmas present, which was these cards!

Aliek: Ultimately after nine years, I just still wanna get to know you more. There’s so much more to unfurl about you. If I ever stop wanting to learn about you, that’s a problem.

Jazz: Oh yeah, for sure.

Aliek: Either you’ve gotten stagnant and there’s nothing left to learn or I’ve lost interest.

Jazz: We’ve also been together our entire 20s, which is a really fundamental time. It’s a lot of growth, turmoil, and self-discovery. When we first started dating, I’d been in a relationship before, but I had these markers of like what “showing me love” looked like. And now I just… It’s just trust again. Now I feel fully seen. I feel really understood, deeper than – in many ways – I understand myself. I don’t even see myself the way Aliek sees myself. But now, through your eyes, I can see the reflection of myself through Aliek. And that’s helped me to be honest with myself about good things and bad things. My idea of love and broadened over time.

What actions make you feel love? Is it the small things or the large gestures?

Jazz: Holding me accountable shows me that you love me too. It means that you trust that you can be forthright with me and I’ll still be here and it’s not going be an issue. I think in my life, people have been really tepid with me but I like that Aliek just calls me on my shit.

Aliek: Yeah that was hard for me at first because in my last relationship, every time I tried to tell her how I felt, she just would ghost me for like a week. Especially the first few years of our relationship, I didn’t really tell her how I felt. Anything I was unhappy about, anything I was feeling, I was just like if I tell her how I feel, she’s just going to dip.

Jazz: And I’d be like “HELLO! Say something to me!”

Aliek: And I’d be like “No you don’t want this!” But I think we’ve created a really safe space for each other to feel and say what we need because we know that space is always going to be as respectful as we can possible make it. It just creates a space for us to be honest, like even if our truth was like “wow I hate that, I want to leave,” we would still talk about it – you wouldn’t just leave.

Jazz: In terms of grand gestures of love, Aliek proposed to me in a very grand way. There was a band and a photographer hidden in a tree.

Aliek: I had our friend lead her to this special tree and I was waiting there with a three-piece band of our friends playing her favorite song in a Prince-y looking outfit.

Jazz: Everyone asked me after that, because it was such a grand gesture as proposals tend to be. And I realized that I had never thought I was worth a gesture like that. Perhaps, I didn’t ever anticipate something like that. I didn’t realize how much I wanted someone to show me how much they loved me. I don’t look for it in that way, but having had it, I felt so precious.

Aliek: I’ve never done a grand gesture like that either, I thought I was gonna vomit all day.

What does love mean to you?

I was thinking about this all morning, and it means so many things. I always think of romantic love – that’s the first thing that comes to mind for me. I was reading Bell Hooks and I started looking up love quotes and one that really spoke to me was “The practice of love offers no place of safety. You risk loss, hurt, pain…we risk being acted on by forces outside our control.” It really resonated with me because I think of love as knowing the song of your heart, knowing the language of your heart. Learning that language too. And it’s like an all-encompassing sort of experience that is euphoric and innate, but also life-shattering at the same time. I guess as a chef I would say it’s like the umami of emotions or of the human experience.

Do you think that the way you are loved at a young age shapes how you perceive love and give love and what love means to you?

Absolutely. I think our early childhood development dictates a lot of how we move through the world. Especially how we show up intimately with the world. Because just living in it itself is an intimate experience. On the other hand, I don’t think your childhood isn’t a definitive thing. It might be the initial imprint, but life is rich with opportunities to go back and refine what that looks like. And I think that as we move through relationships, platonic or romantic, that’s an opportunity every single time to go back and come to yourself and really check in with that song of your heart. Like I was saying, your language and vocabulary, and the tune changes as you grow and experience different people and things and how you’re deepening your relationship with yourself also through that process.

Do you feel like love is worth the risk of pain?

100%. I feel like my soul purpose is to connect with people. This summer I had this whirlwind romance thing and I knew it wasn’t going to be long term, but I let myself fall into that. And I was kind of heartbroken all summer. But it was like a really beautiful exchange and it was fast. But I think that’s just to say that even knowing it was going to be short term, it was worth the risk. I knew the inevitable outcome. But yes, absolutely. Allowing yourself to fall into that and face that fear. I think people get really freaked out if a newer partner says they love you early on. I guess I’d want to tell them to just love more easily.

I think it’s easy in the culture we live in to feel jaded by love. We live in a society where intimate connection has been channeled by technology and we seek something authentic but it feels so disposable. People don’t want to work as much. Love isn’t about finding somebody who checks all your boxes, it’s about finding somebody you can build a supportive foundation with and grow with and create a container with that you can eventually check all those boxes with or not. There’s a lot of work involved and a lot of self-reflective work that is really daunting and hard and ugly and gross, so people don’t want to go through it, but ultimately on the other side of that is where I think you find the really juicy fruit.

What does love mean to you guys?

Glenda: We are very different. We have a lot of different views on things so we have gotten into crazy ass arguments. We travel a lot together and if we don’t have a crazy ass argument we didn’t really travel [laughs].

Sam: I feel like that makes us closer. It’s cool, because I learn from her and she learns from me and I feel like the people we are now as individuals has a lot to do with each other. To me personally, life is so stressful and so many things happen that are unexpected, it’s really cool that at the end of the day to have someone that’s not romantic that’s just going to walk off and leave. If you need to hide a body that’s the first person you call [laughs]. It’s a ride kind of thing. This girl, I got her until the end. Even if she’s mad at me, I’m pulling up.

Glenda: And she has, we both have.

Sam: I actually went to an island by myself to go look for her because I knew she had no money.

Glenda: It was in Colombia on one of our trips. We were fucked up (drinking) and we started arguing and I just needed space, so I decided to hop on a bus and go to an island. I was crying the whole way, and I felt bad so I called her and left her a message that said where I would be. But I really didn’t have money, I didn’t know that there were no ATMs on the island, there was no wifi, and there was only electricity for three hours each day.

Sam: And I was thinking “I know she’s fucked up right now and she’s angry, but she’s gonna be suffering if she stays there overnight”. So I got on a boat and went there. I got myself a mimosa and walked around the beach looking for her, sure enough 30 minutes into my walk across the beach, I saw her lying in a hammock in distress. And we ran to each other like a romcom movie. It’s so cool to have things that we both innately care about even though we are different in other ways. Like she knows me, I don’t have to say anything. Friends aren’t born into your life, you choose them.

Has it always been this way? You guys have this great relationship and are so close, was it hard to get there?

Both: No

Glenda: Everything was always natural since that first time we did hang out.

Sam: We’ve been friends now for seven or eight years, and always keep each other in check and if I need anything I know who to call. We’ve seen each other literally go through relationships, family issues, mental health issues too – we've always had each other’s back no matter what. That’s been great because you do have love in other ways like relationships, but we’ve seen those come and go and we’ve always stuck by each other. The world has changed around us but we’ve stayed constant, and that’s refreshing. You don’t really meet people like that, especially here in LA. It’s been a journey, but I know I’m going to be 80 years old and this b**** is going to be right there next to me.

Glenda: That’s the crazy thing. I don’t know who I’m going to end up with, what I’m going to end up doing, or where I want to live, but I always see her in my life.

What does love mean to you?

Ari: I think as a unit, it is taking each other for all that we are and still choosing to love each other. Choosing each other every day. For myself, it’s almost the same thing with my platonic relationships as well. Just being able to be the true essence of yourself and someone accepting you for that.

Tundae: I would echo her sentiments exactly as she said. Choosing your partner every day, but also the freedom to be yourself and to have someone who isn’t going to judge you and just be present on your life’s journey – whether romantic or platonic.

What do you value the most in love?

Ari: For me, it would be trust. I think trust and love go hand-in-hand and that becomes the most important for me in general.

Tundae: Connection and companionship. If you’re not connected to that person, it’s hard to love them. They’re just kind of there. And choosing them every day and reconnecting every day every time you interact with them. And of course, the actual joy of being their partner or friend.

How has your idea of love changed over time?

Ari: I think that before I really felt love, I had no idea that it would be any sort of hard or challenging. I just kind of thought, “oh you fall in love and now you’re in this fairytale world.” But now, it’s like “no actually love is about growth and really finding the people that will grow with you and love you through all of your different phases or changes.”

Tundae: When I was younger, I believed in that fairytale shit. Like, oh for sure, you find that person and then that’s it. And if that ends, then never again. But as humans, when you’re in it (a relationship), you just think “Oh if this ends, I’m just gonna die” but actually, if it does end, you’ll both be okay. As humans, we live long lives and we’ll all have many different experiences.

Any last remarks?

Tundae: Don’t run when it gets hard. Love is hard.

How do you know when it’s worth it?

Tundae: Those reality checks. Just those moments when you need the other person and you realize, “Wow, if I didn’t have you in this moment.” And that’s when you realize you’re good for me. So why not keep going?

Ari: When the fights are teaching you about yourself. And the fights really reflect on you more than anything. I think that’s when you know it’s worth it. They’re more so lessons, than being just issues or pain. Then you realize, “Oh, I didn’t know that about myself and this is how I act or react in these situations.” To be able to do that with your partner and move through all of that, brings you even more love with yourself.

Photography by Andy Baptiste

Creative Direction by Neijah Lanae

Words & Interviews by Jessica Wu

Graphic Design by Melissa Ver

BTS Video by Joseph Poakwa

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