Whether a relationship is passionate or platonic, imbued with romance or cemented in respect, love is the key. In 2021, Valentine’s Day should be an opportunity for us to celebrate the many forms love takes, so that’s what we’re doing. Here, 11 people to share their stories of devotion, highlighting the vast and varied nature of love.
Madison Cobb & Allegra Butera: Best Friends
In pure synergy with the theme of this photoshoot, 13-year-old Madi Cobb radiates love. From the moment she arrives on set, she urges the marie claire team to gather together for group hugs around her wheelchair, and nestles in close to one of her best friends, Allegra Butera, 12.
“She’s always happy and makes me laugh,” says Allegra of Madi, who was born with incredibly rare blood and brain diseases but has not been given an overall diagnosis. They play with a ball and bubbles, then grab the communication device (Madi is non-verbal) that they use to converse.
“The girls met in kindy, and Allegra sees Madi as her friend, she doesn’t necessarily see her disabilities,” explains Madi’s mum, Nerida. “I hear from parents at school that their kids are learning lifelong lessons around empathy and inclusion from Madi. Two people might be from different countries or backgrounds and still be friends – it’s the same thing.”
Madi has a photo of Allegra and another best friend, Eliza, next to her bed. “She’s always thinking of them,” says Nerida fondly. Meanwhile, Allegra is in awe of her “brave and resilient” friend: “She’s opened my eyes to see different perspectives.”
Anisha Khopkar & Nakul Legha: Married
When Nakul and Anisha exchanged vows in her mother’s backyard, they were interrupted by pots banging in a kitchen 10,000 kilometres away in India. “My parents had sent the Zoom link to lots of uncles, aunties and friends overseas,” Nakul says, noting the hilarity of having overseas relatives witness their intimate 20-person wedding, despite being separated by an ocean and a pandemic. “There were people who didn’t know how to mute themselves, and others who were sharing their desktop and overriding the ceremony,” Anisha adds, laughing.
For the young couple, falling in love has been a lesson in unlearning prior assumptions about what it takes for a relationship to work. When they met, Nakul was fresh out of a long-term relationship, Anisha had recently lost her father, and dating was not on her to-do list. Despite this, by their third date, they both knew it was more than just a hook-up. “I said to her, ‘There are all these things that I feel for you right now that I know we can’t say to each other [because it’s so early].’ And she said, ‘I feel the same,’” Nakul remembers, smiling at Anisha. “And that was it. Then we ate dumplings.”
“I’ve learnt that you can have fun the whole way through, which is so cool,” Anisha says. “I didn’t think that was possible until I met Nakul.”
Ned Henderson & Michele Peters: Grandson & Grandmother
How do I get Zoom?” It was the question that perplexed grandparents across the globe in 2020. Lucky for Michele, she had Ned, one of her four beloved grandchildren, on speed dial. “He’s always coming over to my place and fixing this and that, and teaching me how to do stuff,” she says. “Netflix, Zoom, WhatsApp. He does it all.”
As the duo take their place in front of the camera, however, it’s clear that Ned’s so much more than just her tech guy. The 18-year-old smiles affectionately at his immaculately dressed nonna – a pet name given by her first grandson, who lives in Italy. “I didn’t inherit her sense of style,” Ned admits, sharing that Nonna travelled to London as a fashion buyer in the 1960s. “But you’re very creative,” she insists. “He’s a photographer – he just won a big competition. I’m in awe of everything he does, and he does it with no drama, and such grace and sincerity.”
The pair agree that their intergenerational bond is special and rare. “We only live five minutes apart, so we’ve always been close,” says Ned. Adds Michele, “I’m blessed to have him in my life.”
Alyce & Caro Tran: Sisters
As a seven-year-old, Alyce Tran (left) was not the jealous or jaded type. “I was incredibly excited the day Caroline was born,” she says. “As the story goes, my mum had been so horrified by my labour that she didn’t want to have any more children – but eventually she felt sorry for me as an only child, so I finally got a sister.” From that day forth, Caroline recalls being “obsessed” with her elder sibling. “I never wanted to leave her so I’d pull my mattress into her bedroom and sleep there.”
Over the years, the pair’s age gap has evened out (they often get mistaken for twins), and they’ve both grown into successful businesswomen – Alyce as the co-founder of The Daily Edited and In The Roundhouse, and Caroline as an in-demand stylist and brand consultant. They share a friendship group, often work and travel together, and were housemates for six years – though that time around, Caroline stayed put in her own room. “It’s kind of flipped now,” she teases Alyce. “I feel like you have separation anxiety. She’s always texting me; she has me on Find My Friends and she tracks where I am.” Their constant contact – not to mention their clothes-sharing – mimics that of best friends, but it’s more than that. Says Alyce, “It’s unconditional love.”
Emily J. Brooks: Self
It’s commonly understood that the most important relationship in life is the one we have with ourselves. But when Emily Brooks set out to write her first book at 25, she was exasperated by the lack of literature that treated women as autonomous beings. “There are so many dating books for women, and they always encourage us to get the man and do what we need to, to attract him,” she says of the drive behind penning The First Move (Murdoch, $32.99). “I wanted to flip that on its head and say, ‘Well, who are you? And what do you want?’ Because your desires are equally important.”
While Emily, 29, is now in a relationship, she’ll never underestimate the one she shares with herself. “I’m one of those people who’s perfectly happy being single,” she explains. “I’ve always had the viewpoint of: I’ve got everything I need, anything else is in addition.” The purpose of writing the book was to share her perspective, and help women understand the empowerment that comes with realising being single can be a legitimate and positive choice.
“Love is a verb. It’s not a state you’re just always going to be in; it takes work,” Emily says. “That applies to a romantic relationship, and it also applies to your relationship with yourself. Through doing small acts that foster that relationship with yourself, the better relationship you’re going to have with yourself and with others.”
Kelly, Spencer & Alexis Dezart-Smith: Family
A Hole cover band was playing the first time Kelly (left) told Spencer they loved him. The couple had only known each other a few days – a Melbourne resident at the time, Spencer was visiting San Francisco for the Pride Festival and the pair didn’t expect the romance to extend past the holiday. But it just felt right. “I remember thinking, Well, it’s OK to immerse yourself in this for right now; whatever happens next, happens next,” says Kelly.
Nearly 10 years, a few stints of forced long-distance, a wedding, and one (exceptionally adorable) baby named Alexis later, the duo are just as in love. They credit couples therapy and an enduring commitment to each other for keeping their relationship strong beyond its whirlwind beginning. “Our story hasn’t always been perfect. We really work for our relationship,” explains Kelly. “Being queer, sometimes things like marriage or having kids feels really heteronormative and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s just not my vibe,”
Kelly continues. “I realised that you can do all those things and still be quite radical.”
When they welcomed their son 18 months ago, their concept of love was again transformed. “I’m in awe of watching my partner with our child, watching my family, and our friends,” says Spencer. “It’s so beautiful. Once you have a child, in our experience, love just expands to these whole new realms.”
For more, be sure to pick up a copy of the March issue of marie claire Australia, on stands now.