“WHO is THAT!?!” Reese Scott asked the first time she saw Laini Madhubuti—who just happened to be hosting the Brooklyn brunch Reese had been invited to 13 years ago by a mutual friend.
“I was in the living room sitting on the sofa just taking in the room when this beautiful, tall, bald woman, dressed in all white glided by me. I was mesmerized by her eyes and the sway of hips,” Reese tells The Root. “She didn’t notice me but I stayed for a little while to watch her go back and forth from room to room, making sure everyone had drinks and was having a good time.”
The two didn’t meet that day, but Reese never forgot the vision in white. Over a decade later, it was Laini’s turn to be intrigued when a mutual friend recommended checking out Women’s World of Boxing, the East Harlem, N.Y., gym owned by former heavyweight Reese.
“I checked out the Instagram account and saw her, and I’m like, “Who’s that!??” recalls Laini, who helps fund cutting-edge projects to end the drug war as manager of grants and partnerships at the Drug Policy Alliance. “[Our friend Nina] thought we were likely a good match, so we both decided to see if [Reese] was single.”
In the spirit of 21st-century romance, a “secret social media investigation” ensued, revealing that Reese happened to be best friends with an old friend of Laini’s. Surmising that the boxing trainer seemed to be “maybe, kinda, probably dating or in a relationship,” the quest was abandoned...until last year.
“I happened to see her picture and became curious again. I decided to follow her on Instagram, but still didn’t say anything,” Laini admits. “One day, I decided to message her privately, introducing myself and mentioning our mutual friends.” After Reese did her own due diligence, “the next day we FaceTimed for four hours; the day after that for three hours, and it’s been us since then,” says Laini.
Reese remembers well the date Laini slid into her DMs—July 9, 2020—making their love story one of the rare bright spots amid a global pandemic, a period that has left many uncoupled folks feeling even more isolated and lovelorn. While Reese has a strong recollection of her first impression of Laini (“Oh, she fine!”), Laini’s began with that first call.
“I honestly can say that I imagined her, but didn’t imagine I’d meet her,” she shares. “[Reese] felt grown, and warm, and joyous. I felt like I’d been missing joy in dating for a very long time. I was so excited.”
“I have never been much of a talker and have always enjoyed being more of a listener,” says Reese. “I knew it was love when I would look forward to talking and FaceTiming with Laini. I wanted to know everything about her and share more of me. That was a first for me...Her calls never felt like work; they were my relief, my joy, and my confirmation that I wasn’t in this alone and that she was thinking about me as much as I was thinking about her and us.”
“She has never hesitated in deepening our relationship or commitment, or in envisioning a big full life with me,” Laini further adds. “I felt like she met me, and got to know me, and consciously chose me, and I did the same. That was different than just really having big feelings and desires for someone. I felt safe to see more and go for life with her, and now that’s what I think love needs to be.”
After a surprise beach proposal in Los Angeles last November, the two are now engaged to be married.
“I thought it would be nice to propose on the beach with a violinist posing as if she were having a photoshoot while playing some of the songs Laini shared with me from her wedding playlist,” Reese explains. “It was Laini’s birthday. Mariama, Laini’s sister, packed the car with all the beach proposal essentials and we headed to Point Dume State Beach in Malibu...We found the perfect spot on the beach near [violinist Janel Strachan and photographer Alexis Hunley] and as the music played I asked Laini to dance with me.”
“I DO NOT DANCE,” says Laini. “I’m very shy, I don’t like dancing out in the open, I didn’t want to mess up these women’s photoshoot, and...COVID. I was feeling and being super uptight, but because she asked, I tried to step outside of my comfort zone.”
“I told her to trust me, that it would be OK, and that they wouldn’t mind,”Reese continues. “[Laini] reluctantly stood to dance with me, and as we danced I asked her to turn to look at the dolphins in the ocean. When she turned back around to tell me that there were no dolphins, I was already on bended knee asking her for a couple of forevers, and she said yes.”
Laini and Reese now live together in East Harlem, where Laini occasionally lends a helping hand at the gym. “As an entrepreneur I didn’t think it was possible for me to be in a relationship and run a business that solely relied upon me,” says Reese. “[S]o my challenge was figuring out how to show up and be present for both my relationship and my business.”
“I accept there will be challenges, so I’m not devastated and stuck in my devastation,” Laini shares, referencing wisdom gained by time spent in a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and reading Thich Nhat Hahn’s book True Love. “I’m not stuck in a need to love [Reese] in a general or narcissistic way that I believe love should be, and therefore I have more fluidity and kindness when life takes a different course. But this only works for us because she is firm but fluid. We make decisions together, she is firm with the outside, but soft with me. If I ask her to consider a different perspective, she does. We’re soft together, and we don’t let our past trauma dictate our perspective today. We fought hard to get to each other.”
The couple is planning a wedding that “will be intimate, slightly cultural, slightly artsy, and a touch bougie,” Laini shares, adding: “I kid, but I’m trying to fight for the visions that were lost to COVID and not getting married until our late 40s. Elders have passed on, priorities have changed, but we still deserve to be a tad extra.” Reese simply hopes it will be “Laini’s happiest dream.”
“We were both at a place in life where we were clear regarding what we wanted as individuals entering a relationship...There were never any filters or representatives with us. We wanted to share, listen, and learn one another from day one,” Reese adds, noting that she’s looking forward to “waking up at 80 years old and sitting out on a porch overlooking a body of water reminiscing over all of our ‘remember whens.’”
“We have expanded our love, understanding, trust, and appreciation for both our friendship and our relationship. Our relationship has taught me that love speaks and that it can be safe,” she says.
“I feel more confident about myself and my ability to love. I feel love for [Reese] because I feel healthy with her and through her, and I’m not afraid to mess up,” Laini adds. “Real love isn’t attraction and anxiety. Real love is reciprocated and nurtured, on both sides. Real love will expand and shape-shift to meet you both where you’re at.
“In real love, you know that you aren’t perfect; you know that you aren’t where you want to be, but you know that the other person values you where you’re at, and will be there with you through all of the phases of your growth and setbacks,” she continues, adding: “Most of all, real love fights to be—if they don’t fight to be with you, it was real like.”
You can read other installments of “How We Do” here.