For Rookie’s Show & Tell theme this month, I decided to take photos of couples. The complicated chemistry created by two people who love each other has always interested me, maybe because I struggle so much to understand how it’s possible. So there I was, like some sort of spy: biking in the rain, hopping on and off buses, making friends with strangers in houses I’d never been to, thrust all of a sudden into someone’s love story. What I unearthed was surprising and miraculous, as if I was a scientist finding undeniable proof of the existence of something I had never truly believed could be real. But I found it: in the most commonplace moments, the grimiest bathrooms, the milliseconds between a blank expression and a cracked smile, in the prolonged eye contact I had never had the courage to sustain with anyone. I saw it beginning to bloom on sheets moulded to men and women’s bodies, their cloth cocoons. In the angle of a neck or the pronunciation of a word. At the end of the project, flicking through my photos–which felt more like their photos–I couldn’t help but accept the beautiful ubiquity of this mutual, magical reverence: this thing we call love. ♦
What does the other person mean to you?
Jonna: Well, there’s a saying in Finland where I’m from, usually when you’re in nature and you look at something really beautiful, there’s this saying, “Sielu lepää. Your soul rests.” You feel at peace. That’s how I feel when I’m with Sharles. I feel at peace, all the time.
Sharles: What does Jonna mean to me? I genuinely feel like I’ll be lost if it wasn’t for her, if she wasn’t in my life I don’t know what I’d be doing with myself. She gives me stability and I feel love like 24/7 and yeah without that I think that’d be lost. So yeah that’s what Jonna means to me.
Who’s funnier in the relationship?
Sharles: I think I’m funnier.
Jonna: I think I’m funnier (laughs).
Sharles: I’m funnier.
Jonna: I’m funnier [laughs].
Sharles: Nah okay I think Jonna’s funnier than me [both laugh].
Thank you to Lomography for the film.
Do you have any nicknames for each other?
Barbie: Yeah, we call each other moo or cow. We’re kinda silly.
What was it like when you first met?
Stefan: It was slushy. We were drunk.
Barbie: Did you think I was fit?
Barbie: Were you like, “damn she hot”? What was going through your head?
Stefan: You were so beautiful I wanted to lick your eyeballs. I wanted to make the moo mine. I love you B.
What gets you through the hard times?
Ligia: Talking usually for hours, most efficient after midnight.
Describe your relationship to me. What’s it like?
Ligia: It’s the classic best friends scenario: we can talk about anything, any time. We can scream at each other and judge each other and in 10 minutes it will all be fine. There is also a love for food, sci fi movies and discussing absurd ideas. I guess you have to love it all–the good, the bad, and the ugly. You’ll just have to guess who’s the ugly one.
What have you learned from each other?
Josey: Mary has taught me to kind of just be more carefree and happy, and I feel like she really brings that side out of me. She’s just really a super positive person and makes me feel positive all the time, which I love.
Mary: Mine is equally romantic: Josey has taught me to make the best vegan bolognese out there. It’s delicious [both laugh].
When did you start going out?
Josey: So we were coming back from a meal, sat on the Central Line (one of the subway lines in London) and I saw a couple sat opposite us and I turned to Mary and said “Oh look, they’re out-coupling us” because they were being really cute. And Mary kind of look at me and said “Oh so are we a couple now?” And I said “Um. I don’t know! We can’t do this on the Central Line, at least wait until we’re home.” And that was kind of it. And then it happened when we were back at home. That’s how we got together.
Tell me about the first time you met.
Pea: I had orange hair and an olive green field coat with an empty beer bottle in the side pocket of my bag. I followed the Couchsurfing phone app and took a bus from Euston train station to the address Josh had given me. There is a lot to comprehend when you first arrive in London. It was 2pm: I got to his house way too early. The montage goes: me sitting on his patio; me walking towards the main road and back; me taking selfies; me greeting his neighbour Jennifer and telling her I’m OK, just waiting for my friends; me asking her if a person called Joshua lives here; me greeting Jennifer again and being offered to go in and have a cup of tea because she has just made cake; me watching Jennifer’s youngest son doing his homework; me eating a slice of cake and then another. At about 7:30pm I heard a knock on Jennifer’s door. I heard Jennifer talking to this person who sounded happy and grateful. I stood up and went to the front door. I saw a skinny guy with long wavy hair and eyes as big as globes wearing a Red Nose Day t-shirt with an Eric and Ernie print. Black backpack. Arms opening. I saw a silver bike outside. I saw Joshua. I ran towards him and answered his arms with a rather polite hug. I remember that afternoon very well because that was the last event to ever happen in my life without Josh.
Josh: I had been couchsurfing around Europe and when I got back to London I decided to host people, so I had hosted a few people in my spare room. And after a while, one of them was Pea! She was in London because she wanted to see the city. Apparently she asked three different people and two of them turned her down; I was the only one to accept to her as a guest [laughs]. And we just hit it off straight away; we got on really really well. And she was only here for three days and we were just like, “Oh wow, you’re very special, let’s stay in touch.” And we did. And we just kept seeing other and fell in love I guess. The first time I met her I knew I was in the presence of someone very unique. She had a different way of looking at the world and I knew that if I hung out with her I could experience the world in a new way. And the more I hung out with her the more I got a sense that she also had a big belief in me. She really believed that I was a good person, and she brought out the best in me. She had high expectations of me and wanted me to be my best and so I tried to, and I realised that she was making me a better person. Life feels more like a journey now, like an adventure. And I have someone to share that journey with, to swap notes with along with, to laugh with along the way. It’s an amazing feeling. Yeah Pea… she’s fucking incredible [laughs].
What do you guys like to do together?
Lara: We love to just chill at each other’s houses, watch movies, go to galleries, make food. We’re both quite busy so when we’re together we take that time to just relax and chill, enjoy each other’s company.
You’re my mother, and I emailed you some questions and you didn’t respond [laughs], so I tracked you down.
Zeynep: I replied to you though.
You did. What did you say?
Zeynep: Well I said that I don’t like the questions and I don’t want to answer them. And now you are here asking me again.
I am. Everyone else has answered questions and everyone else’s relationship is like a quarter the length of yours, so I think it’s important that you share something. What makes you stay with someone for 20+ years? You guys are often irritated by each other so…
Zeynep: Are we?
Zeynep: Well, this is a very private question [laughs]. I don’t know. I’ve never been with anyone else for around thirty years, so I can’t compare. So it’s just what it is.
Okay, but what makes you stick with it for that long?
Zeynep: Well I guess as long as you are fine, you go with it. You become a family. And the continuation is a challenge as well. So you try or you hope that it’s going to get better with time and with being with each other. I don’t know. Every relationship has its drawbacks and satisfactions at the same time.
What’s your relationship like?
Zeynep: Well you see this is why I told you I don’t like these questions because reducing a relationship down to a couple sentences isn’t fair and doesn’t do it justice. So I don’t know, it’s just a relationship where we had two children, where we became parents, and we moved around, so we had to put up with a lot of daily questions together and we didn’t always agree on them, but we worked it out in a way.
How did you meet?
Adam: We met at my work at an event, where I was working at the bar. You were there and we got chatting and you hung around chatting at the end of the night and I was like “Oh she’s keen.” And then we went for a really nice walk–
Liz: Well it wasn’t really a nice walk. It was just a walk down Hackney Road [laughs].
Adam: Yeah but it was one of those nights where you just carried on chatting. We just kind of wandered around aimlessly.
Liz: He’d never spoken to me during my internship and I thought he was a bit of a dick. But I went over to the bar and we started chatting. Rust & Bone had just come out, the film, and as usual I got confused and perplexed about what are probably very simple things, so I ended up rattling on about my confusion as to how whales are moved around seas, from like Sea World in America to Sea World in France–
Adam: Why are you talking about whales though?
Liz: Because of Rust & Bone.
Adam: But that had nothing to do with Rust & Bone–
Liz: Yeah because–
Adam: Oh, she’s a whale trainer?
Liz: Yeah. In France. But there aren’t any whales in France.
Adam: Aren’t there? At Sea Worlds there are.
Liz: Yeah but they have to move them. Because how would they get there in the first place! See, we have still, four-and-a-half years later, not resolved the whale question. So yeah. That is how we met. Then we went on a date and that was it. I couldn’t get rid of him.
Do you remember when you first saw each other?
Alev: I saw her in a big group on the first week of school and she was talking to a lot of people. I was kind of shy to approach her at first. I was really nervous about it being difficult to make good friends or to meet people and actually establish a connection with them. But then after I started to talk to her, it was like an instant thing.
Bianca: Yeah it was. At first I thought she was a little bit weird. She came to me saying that she loved Italians and I thought it was interesting. But then, yeah, after thinking that she was weird I started appreciating her excitement a little bit more [laughs].
Alev: You were open to the excitement.
Bianca: Yes, I was! I was looking for something like that–I was scared to find only posh people, strict, close-minded people. And you didn’t look like that at all and that was nice!
Alev: Mhmm. We were on the same page on life, which made it easier to get closer.
What do you think makes your relationship good?
Alev: We both really don’t take things seriously.
Bianca: And we also help each other not to take things too seriously when we’re about to. I think that’s very important (laughs). And then what I like about Alev is her way of not caring about things, and the way she will do things her way even if it’s not the conventional one or evcen if it’s not globally accepted. I appreciate that.
Alev: Bianca’s very compassionate, which I think is really important. That’s like the thing that grounds me to her.
What’s something the other person has taught you about love?
Toni: Krisha taught me how to share food. The first time we met she opened up a packet of crisps at the pub and I’ve never seen anyone do that before and I just thought it was such a nice thing. And our friendship and our relationship has just been based on the sharing of food pretty much ever since, and that’s why I love her [laughs]. She’s taught me to be so open with my sexuality and not be scared about expressing and talking about early sexual experiences–especially with girls–things that I definitely repressed or would never have talked about because I thought it was shameful or something that I just didn’t understand and then being with her obviously normalised it and you just realise that that’s part of growing up. So she’s helped me grow up I suppose.
Krisha: My love for Toni grows every time I am with her. The way our interests complement each other’s. Whether I’m feeling down or full of excitement, she is always there to support me. I have learned to love through her loving.
What have you learned about yourself from being together?
Dian: I’ve learned to be comfortable being my complete self, and not a version that pleases people. I’ve always tried my hardest to make people happy, sometimes even if it makes me miserable. Being with Michael has made me more open and accepting of my thoughts and voicing them even if it’s not the nicest thing to say. I’ve also realised the kind of partner I’ve always wanted to be with was a person like Michael. Living on your own in a country far from home is the hardest and most rewarding thing I have ever done, and I couldn’t have gotten this far by myself.
Michael: I’ve learned to be comfortable being myself. I always struggled to fit in around people but with Dian it just feels like it fits. I don’t have to try, I’ve learned that about myself, and I continue to learn more about myself as I grow with her as a couple.
What’s your favourite thing about the other person?
Maria: I love his humility and his awareness of the power he has of his life and how beautiful he can make it.
Pedro: What I love about Maria is the way she’s always committed to whatever she does. She puts all her effort into making things go perfectly, and she’s perfect even if things go unexpectedly. She’s brilliant.
What’s the hardest you have ever laughed together?
Maria: Probably about how weak I was when we were trying to do indoor rock climbing. It was probably the second or third time we met. I thought it was a fun thing to do so we met there and were just having fun for hours climbing and doing crazy shit. He was much stronger than me; he’d constantly climb a wall easily and I’d just be able to get up to the third stone. I seemed so weak it just made me laugh. It was funny how he could so easily go up, like a little monkey [laughs]. ♦