Dear Level

It’s only one of the biggest moments of your life. No pressure!

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Illustration: Olivia Fields

I didn’t enter 2020 anticipating marriage. And yet here we are. Over the holidays, in a tiny period of respite between election shenanigans and a terrorist attack on the U.S. Capitol, I tied the knot with my betrothed. (Yes, something good happened during 2020!) Now I go around saying “Ize married now!” and wiggling my ring finger approximately six feet away from the face of anyone who will entertain me.

You might be right behind me. But if you’re ready to tie the knot, take the plunge, jump the broom, or any other euphemism for getting married, you’ve first gotta nail the proposal. It’s a custom that dates at least as far back as the Roman Empire, when men would put two rings on it before marriage — a gold one for out in the world, and an iron ring to wear at home while doing chores. (SMH.) …


John David Washington and Zendaya reflect on the do’s and absolute don’ts of arguing with your lover, both on- and off-screen

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Photo: Netflix

The Covid-19 lockdown might have ended some Hollywood productions, but it gave rise to others — and we have Zendaya to thank for one of the first. While so many of us were baking bread and watching comfort-food television, the actress hit up Sam Levinson, the creator of her Emmy-winning series Euphoria. “I knew I wasn’t leaving the house,” she says. “I also knew I had to work.”

The result, Malcolm & Marie, co-starring John David Washington and shot at the famed Caterpillar House in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, over the course of two weeks last summer, isn’t just one of Netflix’s most thought-provoking movies in a long time. …


DEAR LEVEL

Change is coming!

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Illustration: Olivia Fields

Let’s get this out of the way: New Year’s resolutions suck. They’re usually a setup for failure — it takes more than a new calendar for a complete lifestyle change-up. (Save for the 8% of you motivated ones out there, who are probably overachievers anyway.)

For as long as I can remember, my resolutions have been the same: eat better and work out. I’m the one you see in the gym on January 1, going hard on the treadmill, protein shake in hand. Just don’t count on spotting me within 100 feet of any workout equipment once February hits. …


Dear Level

Whether you’re long-term or still in the honeymoon phase, you might need some tips on how to get in your bag like Santa

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Illustration: Olivia Fields

The holiday season has always been a stressful time for gift giving within a relationship. You’re not only celebrating the season; you’re also letting your partner know exactly where y’all stand. Sometimes you’ll get it right — sometimes you won’t.

Once, years ago, I was expecting a present from my partner that said “We’ve been dating for a few years now, and I once nursed you through a bout of food poisoning.” Instead, I got… a book. It was a great book, and it was one that I’d previously shown interest in. But still: a book. There’s not much you can do to make a book festive. I was grateful and thankful nonetheless — hey, at least it showed he was listening — and as time went on, I got lots of awesome gifts from that guy. Like diamonds. …


LEVEL Best Man 2020

Black health care workers watch the pandemic continue to take a disproportionate toll on people who look just like them

The title, “The Medical Maestros on the Covid-19 Frontlines” alongside several profile photos of Black doctors and nurses.
The title, “The Medical Maestros on the Covid-19 Frontlines” alongside several profile photos of Black doctors and nurses.

In March, when Dr. Kameno Bell saw a patient come out of an ambulance and into his emergency room, he did a double take because the man looked so much like him. Black man, same build, about the same age as Dr. Bell — and all he could manage to say was that he couldn’t breathe. An emergency room doctor solves mysteries every single shift, so Bell looked the man over, noted no immediate signs of injury, and got ready to figure it out.

Before he could wash his hands, the man was dead.

“Listen,” Bell says now. “I work in an emergency room, we see death. I know how to manage it. But this man? I was looking at myself. And I couldn’t believe how fast it happened. …


Dear Level

Considering staying with an unfaithful partner? It’s time for some reflection.

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Illustration: Olivia Fields

So, you know how I always put all my business out there for Dear Level? In nearly a year of writing this column, I’ve shared insight about my sex life, thoughts on sexting, office love affairs, penis size, rules of courtship, and about everything else you can imagine. This time around, though, I’m not going to be so candid. Because we’re gonna discuss infidelity.

I’ve got experience here: I’ve cheated and I’ve been cheated on. …


Dear Level

You may not be on board with every makeover. Here’s how to be supportive anyway.

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Illustration: Olivia Fields

In 1993, I decided I wanted to stop chemically treating my hair and just let my natural curls do their own thing. It wasn’t a popular concept at the time; a woman’s beauty and femininity were still tightly connected to how she styled her hair. But for countless reasons, both political and professional, I wanted no parts of artificially straightened hair anymore.

My boyfriend, a college senior, was not supportive. His idea of glamorous was Mariah Carey, Janet Jackson, and Toni Braxton. And my plan — a half-inch Afro — was not what they were rocking.

I told him why the cut was important to me, but he didn’t budge. My shoulder-length straightened hair was all he’d ever known, and what I was considering was far too drastic for him to accept. …


Dear Level

Ways to cope when your romance starts to feel like a rivalry

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Illustration: Olivia Fields

So, I’m on a date with this guy. We’re walking to the train. I notice that it looks like it’s going to rain, but I tell him we should have plenty of time before it starts.

“It’s about to rain now,” he insists.

“How do you know?” I ask.

“I can just tell. I come from a long line of diviners.”

“A long line of what?”

This guy looks at me as if he’s puzzled. “You don’t know the word diviner?” he asks. “It means someone who can feel when something is coming.”

And then it started raining.

Within a few weeks, this guy was throwing out words I’d either never heard a day in my life (mulligan!), knew but had just never used (magnanimous), or were so old that they don’t even appear in modern dictionaries (diswont). …


Dear Level

We’ll walk you through this one, champ

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Illustration: Olivia Fields

Do you know what a Stroopwafel is? It’s a pastry, from the Dutch city of Gouda. (Yeah, the same place the cheese comes from.)

The official definition of a Stroopwafel is two thin layers of soft-baked dough pressed together around a caramel filling.

My definition of a Stroopwafel, though, is yumdroolomgsoftwarmsweetyum.

Up until last week, my temptations were the normal things: Ben & Jerry’s Half Baked, Doritos, soda — like any kind of soda ever — and homemade sugar cookies. But now I’m ruined.

How did I discover this amazing Dutch treat? My soon to be husband, Shane, brought some home. (I’ve been talking about him long enough, it’s about time you knew his name too.) He came in, wandered over to where I was working on the couch, and plopped a box of the treats nearby. …


Dear Level

Dating someone with kids is not for the faint of heart

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Illustration: Olivia Fields

The trope has been around since forever: A feisty kid, fed up with life, gets into it with a parental figure. Once the kid has had enough, he goes nuclear. “You’re not my real dad!”

You’ve seen it in Bebe’s Kids. And between Will and Uncle Phil on Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. It’s even the premise of that one Hitman Sammy Sam song. But it’s definitely a real-life scenario.

If you’re in a relationship with someone who has children, you just might face the same predicament. Wondering how to navigate? I’ve got a few words of advice. …

About

Aliya S. King

Aliya S. King is an author, freelance writer and editor.

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