Who: Monique Johnson-Akram, 36, real estate agent and YouTube host; Rawa Akram, 38, renovator, contractor and owner of a custom glass business. Location: Toronto. Relationship Status: Married three years.
Monique: We first met at a night club on the waterfront when I was 18. I was born in Canada, but my parents are from Jamaica and they were very strict. I wanted to go dancing with my friends and the only way I could, was to say I was going to night church.
Rawa: I saw her inside the club with a group of friends but I didn’t have the courage to speak to her. I saw her leaving so I pretended I was a promoter and grabbed some flyers. I told her I wasn’t really a promoter and got her number.
Monique: I was in my last year of high school and we fell really deeply and passionately in love, as you do at that age. But our backgrounds were so different. Rawa was in a different lifestyle that didn’t work with what I was raised to believe was okay. It wasn’t a healthy relationship and my parents didn’t approve.
Rawa: My family emigrated from Iraq. We lived in metro housing for many years. My parents worked very hard to make a better life for us, but they didn’t know the language or the culture. Sometimes you take matters into your own hands. I learned early on to provide for myself. I hung around with the wrong crowd and made some mistakes.
Monique: For both of us it was our first serious relationship. We lasted two years and then I went off to university.
Rawa: We messaged each other on holidays, but we didn’t see each other for 10 years.
Monique: I had gone to a bar downtown with some friends and ran into Rawa quite randomly and we started talking again.
Rawa: We were both really busy with life and we were in different relationships at the time.
Monique: I knew we had a deep affinity for each other, but I also knew the next relationship I was going to be in was going to be marriage. We decided to each figure out our own situations. And if the time was right, and we each found ourselves single, we’d reconsider.
Monique: After my relationship ended, I went on a journey of finding myself and took a few trips. After my second one, I came home and something told me to reach out to Rawa and say hello.
Rawa: My relationship was also over. My birthday was coming up and I’d decided to go to Cuba.
Monique: Our birthdays are two days apart so I called to say hello. He invited me to come on the trip, and for me, that was like a promise for the future. I figured this is our moment and time to figure it out. It was a marvellous holiday.
Rawa: We were engaged three months later and were married in Jamaica in October 2017. Monique has hundreds of relatives, but I have very few. We eloped a month before the ceremony, and got married on a pier in Muskoka.
Monique: Rawa wanted that one special moment, when there was no one else, to exchange our vows. We’re very different people from very different backgrounds but we’ve assimilated into each other’s cultures.
Rawa: We’re both risk takers. That’s why it works. We encourage each other to be the full expression of who we are.
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