Hard Launch in NYT + Bonus Essay

Hi New York Times! 🥰  

My first rom-com web series, Hard Launch, was graciously offered an editorial platform by @r29unbothered Go Off Sis and now made it into the New York Times 🎉

I spoke to NYT about finding love online and bringing my 100k+ Instagram followers along via Hard Launch: “I wanted to shout the Black love I finally found after creating 250-plus videos about dating and swiping through over 2,000 profiles – and his name is Ivan Sakou.”

This love and this man seemingly came out of nowhere, but it was really a result of the manifestation I did on Instagram, and the way you sent me into every group chat, every girl’s group, to every Ex to share your laughter at my pursuit of love. We did this together, and @ivansakou does it for me 🚀💕

Watch Hard Launch E1 on YouTube here

Going a bit deeper with a special essay just for the blog readers below!

In the informal conversations I’ve had with some of the over 150,000 women who follow me online, I’ve noticed common patterns of yearning for more privacy in a digital world, fear that as soon as you post your partner, they’ll start acting up, or even paranoia that people will stalk your partner, try to cast a spell against your relationship, try to shoot their shot because the way realizes how happy your partner might be making you etc. We’re forced to disclose so much publicly to populate our digital personas; I don’t blame people for wanting to create and preserve a little mystery or keep their partner’s identity a secret from a circle they may not fully trust. 

Hard Launch to me means no elbows, no faceless voice in the back, no fake name tag – publish your partner fr at once, whenever you’re ready. Give the people what they want! I created the web series because I wanted to shout the Black love I finally found after creating 250+ videos about dating and swiping through over 2,000 profiles—- and his name is Ivan Sakou! I worked and dated and waited and prayed to find him. I don’t want anyone to interpret that I’m anything less than extremely proud of the man that he is, and I’m proud of being in a healthy romantic relationship with him. Ivan already hard launched me on his account months prior but didn’t tag me so as not to alert my followers. 

Soft launches are classic, but I think people are getting tired of the bait frustration, both as creators and consumers. It’s overdone. We get it, there’s a foot in the foreground, you know? I don’t knock anyone for sharing how they choose to, but soft launches seem to be for people who generally wouldn’t talk to the public or even friends about their relationship. If you don’t want prying eyes or are nervous about the reactions you’ll get, you can soft launch. If you don’t GAF about the public’s judgment of your romantic decisions and have nothing to hide, why not hard launch?

Ivan and I started dating in December 2021, and I only told my Close Friends on IG. I shared happy soft launch-y pics of his hand on my knee while driving, and some smoothies he bought me during our first time meeting. 

I confessed my status to everyone else 8 months later by publishing a Reels trailer for the Hard Launch web series I created, in which Ivan and I star. Millions of people have seen my Reels on Instagram and thousands have been closely following my dramatized pursuit for love— I didn’t want to leave them in the dark by waiting too long, but I didn’t want to take away from the special moment we were falling into by commercializing it. It felt icky and unoriginal to me to just post a photo and Drake lyric (too casual), and I didn’t get any solid bites from pitching brands on sponsoring the debut (too complicated) so I was stuck on how to move. 

One day on FaceTime with Ivan, realizing he’d already lovingly launched me and I was at a standstill, I was like “Why don’t I just produce the story I’ve been pitching to others? Why am I trying so desperately to give another company the most beautiful exclusive story of my adult life!?” And then I started spewing scripts. Then I called up editor friends— Isaac Deol from Active Management, Kwesi A. at The Knot, Jordan Marcero who’s wicked with credits and musicians Namarah and Omni! immediately let me license music. Suddenly there was no other way to do it!

Ivan is not an actor. I was so touched that he entered my world headfirst and agreed to support this idea. He was like “Baby. However you wanna do it. Don’t feel rushed. I know this affects your creative business so whatever you wanna do, however you wanna share, I’m down.”

In Episode 5 of my web series “Ignition”, you can see the moment where I decided to Hard Launch Ivan to imaginary reporters (my followers). I predicted almost every question my followers and friends would ask, and then aired it back to them with honest and somewhat cheeky answers. The series is very self-aware and I love how it’s making people reconsider posting their partners or have hope in dating online. I got voice notes of people crying.

My fav real responses to the series:

  • ((1,000 people followed me on YouTube in a week to subscribe to the series))
  • “I wanted to binge watch”/ “I’m way too invested”
  • “We were going through the exact same thing. We love you! It’s like we worked through all that pain together and now we all prospering! Yes Joy!”
  • “10 minutes ago I was watching a Reel of you on Instagram and now I’m here cough-laughing because the level of QT is 100. Almost threw out my back laughing! You went ahead and did the damn thing yourself! Well executed.”
  • “Appreciate everything you’ve shared with us!!! After watching all episodes and lives, knowing all the hard work and heavy decisions that went into your craft just helped enjoy it even more!!! Congratulations to years of joy and happiness!!!”

All of these comments assure me that people aren’t just watching and laughing at me, but GET me and support me. A soft launch couldn’t have done that. 

Before I started creating Reels, I was in a high school sweetheart relationship and was more focused on advancing my career supporting creators than being a creator. It all came to a crashing halt after seven years and I was suddenly at the romantic drawing board. It was distressing for like a week and a half, but I also immediately accepted it. I had been through grief before. I had mourned heartbreak before. Publicly sharing my creativity had helped me get out of those ruts before, so instead of holding on to the dream I put to sleep, I saw it as a chance to author a completely new one. 

If my last relationship amicably ended, that was obviously not my soulmate. So who was? Who would my next partner be, and where would I find him? What would he look like, sound like, believe in? What would we invest in together, watch together, what activities would we put our kids into? I’m wildly imaginative to put it mildly, so I let my imagination go all the way there, even if it was a draft version of the dream, even if it was eventually proved wrong. Every time I saw an inspirational post on Instagram about healthy Black love or about loving yourself while single, I would add it to my VZN BRD Highlight on IG. At one point, Gabrielle Union shared the vision to her Stories. I lost my mind, because Gabrielle and Dwanye Wade were all over the board, now here they are virtually endorsing it?!!!

The board was ultimately for me. Each post gave me a bit more confidence that I was on the right track to finding my love. I geeked out when I had dates that evoked the same feelings I got while scrolling through the board. I was OK with being wrong about who fit the picture, I was OK with dating around, and making drafts. 

When Ivan asked me out across multiple states, and we met and he planned so many thoughtful little dates for me in the span of a weekend, and then he asked me to be his girlfriend months later, I knew he was the manifestation of the VZN BRD. Here’s a strong, African, family-oriented, dorky engineer of a man who loves to get dressed, dance, but also cuddle and watch cartoons. He LOOKS like the men I saved on Instagram lol. It’s scary good. 

Because creator fatigue is so real, I wouldn’t be surprised if more people move like Issa Rae and don’t launch a boyfriend, but a husband. 11th hour launches. I think people will continue pulling “Niecey’s” and “Joy’s” and vocally share when their relationship is just in a place that feels more established. I also think not launching at all is on an upward spike. Private sharing and messaging are taking over. Very few people want to be judged by who they choose to partner with, and not launching at all is a way to iterate on your dream as many times or as messily as you want without needing to do public cleanup. 

But I’d love to see all the craters in dreamers go crazy with it. I’m talking gender reveal level innovation for posting about your love. Love doesn’t need to be validated by matrimony or an engagement to be shared with the public. It can come and it can go, and everything can be celebrated. I hope the Hard Launch series is evidence of that — Ivan and I aren’t married, nor are we under any voodoo curses – we’re just finally public and hella happy. 

– Joy

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