The Thing About Real Love Onscreen
Love is_ complex. That’s at least what I filled in the blank with after catching up on the awesome new series from Mara Brock Akil on OWN. Based on the true-life story of Akil and husband Salim, the show centers around Nuri (Michele Weaver) and Yasir (William Catlett) in the 90s. They fall for one another quickly and we are taken on their journey that we know eventually ends in marriage. But I think many of us are intrigued by exactly, how.
I don’t love Yasir.
This actually shocked me because I was enamored with Catlett’s character Charlie on the YouTube series “First” that aired through Issa Rae’s channel. Created by Jahmela Biggs, the story was sweet and endearing and followed two people that grew up together but reconnected romantically later in life. I just knew that I was going to get something similar, but to my surprise I didn’t.
Now, I think Catlett is amazing as an actor because he brings the same depth of soul to Yasir, but he is a completely different character than Charlie to me. As he should be, but he is not easily likeable to the naked eye. He seems controlling, insecure at times, arrogant, and he is an absentee father.
But Yasir, is very real.
The first trigger I experienced watching the show was when Yasir mentioned that he doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day. I knew exactly the feeling Nuri had. I knew exactly what it meant to like something, but try to make a partner comfortable. I remember in my past dating experience, also dating a muslim who didn’t celebrate Christmas. I loved Christmas growing up, but was more than willing to sacrifice raising children with Christmas and celebrating Christmas in my own home because of his beliefs. The thirty-two year old me thinks “what were you thinking?” While the 20-something year old me didn’t know what she believed so was a lot more easily swayed.
There are lots of other real-life experiences that I’m sure hit home for many viewers. Nuri’s success brings angst although Yasir tries to be as supportive as he can, he can’t help but feel a little intimidated. Nuri is dating multiple men, but trying to balance it all eventually blows up for her. We go through their ups and downs and we have to be kidding ourselves if we don’t see a little of ourselves in their experience.
What we are witnessing is the depiction of a very real love story and that doesn’t always look so pretty on screen. Every situation doesn’t necessarily tie up into a neat little bow at the end. There are real scars and arguments and moments of despair that come with loving someone in addition to the highs and butterflies and excitement and I’m not so sure a show has captured that in the way that Love Is_ does.
It’s easy to say that Nuri deserves “better.” But that trivializes what love really is. Love often isn’t about two equals coming together and riding off into the sunset. Who sells us that dream? Most often when you talk to people and hear their stories, it’s not that way. The depth of the characters and the depth of the situations likely seem more real because it’s based on the actual love story of a couple. Granted, Akil has mentioned that there is some creative license because, hello, it’s TV. But nonetheless, I believe that having a foundation of something very real, helps.
I had a friend tell me that the show is “a woman’s dream love story” and I thought where, exactly? Most of us aren’t necessarily lining up to take care of a man, reassure him, and try to help him see his potential at all times. But this is often a reality. Listen, my husband did not have it all together when we met. And neither did I, but in life’s view, I had a little more together. And I see so much of our early struggles in Yasir and Nuri. Navigating finances, arguing over the dumbest things, having to learn one another’s triggers. This is the nitty gritty of learning to love someone.
None of us want to go through the battles, but we want to win the war. We want to have the love story and the kids and the great life. But I haven’t met a happy couple yet who has never experienced the bending that comes with love. They just decided not to break. I’m not saying that love should be painful or traumatic. But I am saying that the ish AINT easy. Deciding to love a person wholly, unconditionally, is a whole trip.
Love is also a decision. From week to week, that is what we see playing out on screen and we haven’t experienced that often. We’ve seen love depicted as the butterflies or the magical story. But here, Yasir and Nuri keep choosing each other. Through the drama, through the hurt, through the lack. They made a choice in deciding to say they loved one another and we see them sticking it out.
Is it uncomfortable, vulnerable, triggering? Absolutely.
Whether he’s likeable or not, Yasir is not trash. He is a black man, showing a lot of the range of emotion that hinders black men from being the partners they’re capable of being at times. And Nuri is not the saint woman being abused by him. She is naive at times and learning to make space for him in a real way. And they are of course, much more.
I hear people say, “It couldn’t be me,” and that statement couldn’t be more accurate. It wasn’t you. The love story of two other people doesn’t have to make sense to the rest of us. The love that is for you, is for you. And most often God knows exactly what we can handle. But I will say, he often gives you in a partner a lot more of what you need, than what you think that you want.
I’ve learned not to speak so quickly about what is and what isn’t for me in love because I’ve experienced enough to know that love has a way of humbling you real quick. The thing about real love onscreen is we are seeing the humility of love in a very genuine way. That part of it is never comfortable, but I hope that it will trigger conversation that can advance our thinking and move us forward not just in our romantic relationships but in how we love people in general in our lives.
There is a strong push and pull and a lot of conflict thus far between Nuri and Yasir. But we know how the story ends. Rarely do you get through the battles unscathed, but it makes the victory that much sweeter when you get there. I may not understand how it worked, or what kept them together, but I am intrigued by them because I am being fed something of substance and not the bullshit fairytale that many of us spend way too much time chasing. I’ve had to unlearn most of what I thought I knew about love and this show for me is one of the closest depictions of the real thing I’ve seen in some time.